Story of the Week: Profile of a mine disaster's last survivor



My new selection for story of the week is an excellent journalistic profile from my local paper, The Columbus Dispatch. The article revolves around reporter Randy Ludlow's interview with Sigmund Kozma, who at age 95 is the last living survivor of the 1930 Millfield Mine disaster. The 600 word article is a perfect example of how brevity in prose and writing style can actually heighten a story's emotional impact.

Note the sparse power of the opening:

There's the name of Sigmund Kozma's buddy.

WILBUR NORTH.

It's chiseled into the stone of the pillar next to the post office.

Wilbur was Sig's best friend. They grew up tramping the fields, hitting the swimming hole and chasing girls. Sig was sweet on Wilbur's sister.

Eighty-one other names are engraved in stone as well, men Kozma knew from the company town of the Sunday Creek Coal Co.

After that powerful introduction, Ludlow resists the urge to veer off into political or historical asides and simply provides the barest of needed background in two descriptive sentences. In the first, he states that "Kozma is the only miner still alive among the 138 who walked out of that hellish hole on Nov. 5, 1930." In the second, he writes that "It was spitting snow the day of Ohio's worst mine disaster." That second sentence is an absolute gem, with "spitting" providing a perfect counterpoint to snow, turning what would normally be a beautiful image into an apt illustration of the horror that unfolded 77 years ago. The story then provides more of Sigmund Kozma's memories of the disaster before closing where it began, with Kozma remembering all the friends he lost so long ago.

This is an absolute masterpiece of local journalism. I'd highly recommend the story not only to any budding journalists, but also to anyone who cares at all about story craft.

Read the entire story:

"Ex-miner mourns pals 77 years after blast" by Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch.

Story of the Week: Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate"



Forgive me father, for I have sinned. My first sin: I've been away on vacation, so I haven't updated this blog in nearly forever. My second sin: I've selected Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" as my new story of the week. Selecting the story, of course, isn’t a sin. The sin comes from praising a story so highly when it isn't online, meaning my readers will have to either buy a copy of the September 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction or order the limited edition book from Subterranean Press.

For those who don't know Ted Chiang, let me enlighten you. Chiang is a science fiction and fantasy writer who has published a grand total of ten short stories in 17 years. While that total would be insignificant in most literary genres (let alone in speculative fiction, where some writers churn out that many stories each year), Chiang is still one of the best living fiction writers. Notice I didn’t say best SF/F writers, or best genre writers. Chiang is simply one of the best fiction writers PERIOD.

This isn’t merely my opinion. Chiang’s first eight published short stories were nominated for numerous awards and won three Nebulas and a Hugo. His short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others is a must have for anyone who loves short fiction; I reread the stories in this book at least once a year. Even though Chiang only writes short stories, each of his stories have enough depth and life to fill entire novels. He also combines lyricism with philosophical explorations of the human universe in ways I have seen no other modern writer even attempt to do.

Chiang’s new story "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" is no exception. Set in ancient Baghdad, the story channels the Arabian Nights into a tale surrounding Fuwaad ibn Abbas and his experiences with the “Gate of Years,” which depending on how one reads the story is either a magic portal or a scientific wormhole through which one may go 20 years into either the past or future. While lesser writers have used this time-traveling theme to showcase paradoxes like killing your own grandfather, Chiang uses the story to explore how we are all responsible for our own actions, even when we use time itself to try and evade them.

I refuse to share more of the plot, other than to say that I both smiled and cried at the end. This is a great story, equal to Chiang’s best, and I suggest everyone pick up their own copy today.

Story of the Week: Harry Turtledove's "News from the Front"



Every so often you read a short story which rearranges your conception of life. You go in thinking up is up and down is down, then you finish the story and find yourself walking on the ceiling. Such is the effect of reading Harry Turtledove's "News from the Front" in the June 2007 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.

For those who don't know him, Harry Turtledove is the master of alternative histories, having published a slew of novels exploring what would have happened if, for example, the South had won the Civil War. His stories are heavily researched and always historically accurate—right up until he diverges from how history actually happened and shows readers what might have happened if a few things had been changed.

Now he has written "News from the Front," a short story about World War II and the United States response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Where Turtledove diverges from history is to have the media back then behave as the media behaves today, which is to believe that the public's right to know if more important than helping the country win the war. In the story the media reveals military secrets and picks apart every error the Roosevelt administration and the U.S. Military make in the first year of the war (and as any history buff will testify, there were mistakes a plenty). To say the least, the war doesn't turn out well.

Of course, this is Turtledove's way of analyzing the media's handling of the current Iraq War.

Science fiction writer James Van Pelt says the story has already made him reconsider how the war in Iraq is playing out:

What was cool was how this form of fiction made me think about today's situation. Personally, I think we're wrong to be in Iraq, not because of any deeply informed study of the war on my part, but because I'd always believed that America was the "white hat" character in the western that is the world. In my vision of America, we never draw first. Invading Iraq because of what we thought they might do just feels wrong to me. It doesn't feel American (plus, it sets a horrible precedent that gives us no moral high ground when some other government does a preemptive invasion of another country).

Harry's story, though, made me rethink the progress of this war. The parallel he sets up is that we couldn't have won WWII if the press behaved like it behaves today. By extension then, would the war in Iraq been very different (and perhaps more "successful") if the press' behavior had been more like the press during out WWII?

I don't know, and I'm not a particularly political person anyway (unless you ask me about No Child Left Behind!), but Harry's story once again struck me with the power of fiction, and the power of science fiction in particular, to raise disturbing issues.

I agree. There is a disclaimer at the start of the story, saying it's "foolish to infer a writer's politics from his or her work." Readers can take or leave this disclaimer as they wish.* All that matters is Turtledove doing what all fiction writers should do, which is to cause readers to consider things anew, in this case a major difference between this war and the wars of our grandparent's time. Anyone interested in history or current affairs should read this story. Unfortunately, the June 2007 issue of Asimov's isn't online, so I suggest people run down to their nearest bookstore and buy a copy.

I'm sure Turtledove will be attacked for writing this story, which is a real shame. As they say, those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. Only with this story, Turtledove attempts to show that the alternative is also true: That those who don't consider how history might have turned out are also doomed to repeat it.


*Addendum: While I'm not a big fan of disclaimers before stories, and despite my comment about readers taking or leaving the disclaimer as they wish, in Turtledove's case it is definitely accurate to say one shouldn't infer his politics from his work. A few years ago Turtledove published a short story called "Bedfellows," about the Boston wedding of President Bush and Osama bin Laden. To say that story stirred up a hornet's nest is to put things mildly. Bloggers and commentators said that he must be a left-wing loony. Now, with "News from the Front," he'll probably be called a right-wing nut. The truth, though, is that he's simply a great writer who doesn't mind poking holes in everyone's preconceptions.

Stories of the week, hodgepodge edition



I'm trying to get back into the swing of selecting regular "stories of the week" (although I make no promise about always doing this on a weekly basis). Because it's been a while since I've picked a great story to share with readers, I'm making up for lost time by selecting a hodgepodge of recent—but great—stories.

My first selection is "Tabloid Reporter To The Stars" by Eric James Stone. This wonderfully written science fiction story deftly pulls off laugh after laugh while also illuminating critical issues surrounding science, religion, culture, and, most importantly, what exactly is that thing we call truth. The ending alone is worth the price of admission. My favorite line: "'Yes, I am a Seeker of Truth.' And I'm willing to lie in order to get it."

And about that price. The story is published in the new issue of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. IGMS is rapidly becoming one of the top speculative fiction publications, a fact that is all the more amazing because IGMS is totally online. Readers purchase each issue for the extremely reasonable price of $2.50. In addition to top-notch fiction, IGMS features excellent columns and reviews (which can be accessed for free) and a new story in each issue by publisher Orson Scott Card (set in his award-winning Ender Saga universe).

My next two selections are from the April 2007 issue of Realms of Fantasy, which focuses this month on fantasy stories "from exotic lands." The first story is "The Rope: A New Tale of the Antique Lands" by Noreen Doyle. Set in a middle-eastern land in the 19th century, this inward-revolving tale focuses on a young girl and the rope charmer she travels with. The story shows the beauty, hope, and terror of reaching for one's dreams—and in letting one's audience influence what your dreams should be.

The other story to check out in the issue is "The Tao of Crocodiles" by Euan Harvey. Set in Thailand, this story of ghosts and violence is a creepy example of how each of us is embedded within our culture—even if we think we aren't. Not only is this a great ghost story, its also a wonderful slice of Thai life and culture. I spent two years in Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer and even though it's been ten years since I left the kingdom, the story washed over me as if I'd never left the country.

I should note that Realms of Fantasy is a purely print magazine. But with all the great fiction in this issue, it’s worth tracking down your own copy.

Of course, speculative fiction isn't the only game in town. The current edition of the Mississippi Review online focuses on "prose poems." Now, as storySouth readers may remember, I have said some harsh words in the past about short short or flash fiction. That said, a number of the prose poems (short shorts, flash fiction, whatever you call them) in the current Mississippi Review are top notch. My favorites are "Thinking of Hansel and Gretel" by Robert Bly and "To My Love" by Mark Budman. While I still believe that too many writers forsake plot, character development, and the other elements of traditional short stories for the easy writing thrill of short shorts, the prose poems by Bly and Budman show that in the hands of a skilled writer, the genre can reach the top levels of literature.

Finally, Blackbird: An Online Journal of Literature and the Arts has a new story by Liliana V. Blum (translated by Toshiya Kamei) called "A New Faith." As with all of Blum's stories (including "A Sip of Light," published last year in storySouth), the language of the story is extremely atmospheric and draws the reader through the lush tale.

So there you have it, the best stories I’ve read in the last month. One of the points I've tried to make over the years with both storySouth and with our Million Writers Award is that great stories exist both within and outside of the boundaries which define traditional literary genres. All of the stories named here may belong to extremely different genres and writing styles, but they share one common element: They are great stories.

Story of the Week:"Spinning Out" by Jamie Barras



My main intention in selecting stories of the week is to give added exposure to worthwhile tales. That said, I also want to prove that great stories are not merely found within the dry, dusty pages of esteemed literary journals. Great stories appear every day in newspapers, online journals, blogs, and other places. These great stories are being written in ever possible genre of fiction and nonfiction.

This week's story, "Spinning Out" by Jamie Barras, is a classic science fiction and sea adventure story published in two parts on the online magazine Strange Horizons. The reason I call this a "classic" science fiction story is that it includes all the elements of the great science fiction stories--namely, a larger-than-life setting, the use of technology as a main plot device, and a strong sense of adventure. In addition, the story is also a classic tale of the sea, as the young man narrating the story finds himself on a sailing ship in the adventure of his lifetime.

I love how this story so effortlessly melds the genres of science fiction and sea adventures into one beautiful written story. The call of the sea and the call to explore other worlds are in many way different sides to the same human coin--our instinctual need to see what is over the next horizon. That this story so perfectly combines the old and new versions of humanity's attempts at exploration is an amazing thing to behold.

As a side note, this story also resonates because it doesn't attempt to be overly "literary," which is something that has plagued too much of science fiction since the New Wave movement of the 1970s. In short, Jamie Barras knows he has a good story here and he simply tells it, without overreaching literary devices or angst. The story itself draws the reader in and the story is, in the end, what remains after we leave this wonderfully crafted world.

Read the story.

Story of the Week: Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living



A word of warning first: Anyone with even the slightest fear of flying should avoid the following story.

Today's story is "Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living" by Joe Sharkey, published in the New York Times. Sharkey is a journeyman writer who has penned the “On the Road” column for the Times' business-travel section every week for seven years. Over the years I've enjoyed a number of his columns because Sharkey writes as one should write for his intended business audience: descriptively, accurately, and to the point. This style enables Sharkey to condense and distill the overload of sensations one has when travelling into a readable, and useful, column.

In "Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living", Sharkey recounts a harrowing flight he took a few days ago on a corporate jet. Sharkey was working on a freelance article for Business Jet Traveler magazine when the Embraer 600 he rode on clipped a passing Boeing 737 at 37,000 feet. As Sharkey states, people rarely survive mid-air collisions. His descriptions of how he and his fellow passengers survived--through extreme luck and the hard work of their two pilots--will leave readers gripping their seats.

Sharkey's writing style is perfect for this article. Where a so-called more literary writer would have tried to plumb the depths of human emotions--and would likely have ended with an unintended parody of the whole affair--Sharkey's factual and descriptive account perfectly renders the humanity and fear he and his fellow passengers endured. When Sharkey and the other survivors learn that all 155 people aboard the 737 that hit them died, he perfectly expresses the pain and horror felt by himself and the others on his plane.

A writer once told me that the simplest rule of writing is when you don't have a good story to tell, use plenty of fancy language to express it. However, when you have a good story, simply tell it and let the story speak for itself. Sharkey truly understands this rule.

Read the story.

Stories of the Week: Online Graphic Novels



Once upon a time, comics were seen as fodder for illiterate teenage boys. The thought of serious subject matter mixing with coarse illustrations so frightened the literary masses that an entire book, Seduction of the Innocence, was published in 1954. The book stated that “comic books were a bad form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency” (to quote Wikipedia).

Of course, that's the once-upon-a-time view of comics. To rephrase a now infamous smoking commercial, "Baby, you've come a long way."

Today comics which focus on serious and intellectual stories are called graphic novels and find themselves being touted by the once-disdainful literary elite in places such as the New York Times Book Review. The funny thing, though, is that for people like myself, who grew up loving comics, this acclaim is old news. In fact, while the literary elite now fawn over graphic novels the medium is already moving on to the next new thing: Online or web comics.

A new classic of the web comic genre is Nowhere Girl by Justine Shaw. This beautifully drawn tale is about a "college student who feels like an outsider in her own life" (to use the comic’s own HTML page summary). As with most online comics, you click through the panels to read the stories. This web comic is equal to the best print graphic novels I have read in recent years and should be checked out.

Another well-received web comic is Megatokyo, originally created by Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston (but now authored and illustrated by Gallagher). With artwork strongly influenced by Japanese manga, the story follows a group of anime and video game lovers as they live their lives in a fantasy-version of Tokyo. The comic is updated several times a week and has proved so popular it’s been republished in book format. While the characters in the earliest Megatokyo comics were rather wooden, in recent years they’ve undergone a good deal of, dare we use the literary word, character development. As a result, even readers who are not fans of anime and video games can relate to and enjoy these characters’ trials and tribulations.

A final web comic that I’ve enjoyed recently is Shooting War by writer Anthony Lappé and artist Dan Goldman. This political satire has been praised by a number of places, including Rolling Stone and The Village Voice and is definitely worth a read. While the writing often stumbles into left-wing diatribe, the story remains an interesting look at how new media outlets like blogs are both changing the world and being changed by the world. Special note should be made of Dan Goldman’s artwork and the fact that this satire is updated weekly. This last fact harkens to the 19th century glory days of fiction, when writers such as Charles Dickens published their novels in monthly or weekly installments. I hope the success of Shooting War, and the other web comics mentioned here, create more of a demand for both new online graphic novels and episodic fiction.

Story of the Week: The Smile on Happy Chang's Face



I'm a little hesitant to pick Tom Perrotta's short story "The Smile on Happy Chang's Face" as my new Story of the Week because the story has already received so much praise, not the least being the opening tale in the 2005 edition of Best American Short Stories. That said, this is a great little story and I don't see any harm in heaping even more praise upon the pile.

"The Smile on Happy Chang's Face" is the story of a Little League Umpire who is overseeing the biggest game of the season. Despite the supposing impartiality of his profession, this umpire not only hopes one team will win but desires to throw the game toward said team. However, the umpire (who is also the narrator of the story) is a good man and, during the course of the game, relives the mess he's made of his life in recent years. Naturally enough, the umpire gets his chance to make the decision that will decide the game. But when this chance comes, the umpire decides to simply be honest for the first time in years. The result is something that no one--not the reader nor anyone in the story--can accept or understand.

Not only is this a great story, it is one of the best sports stories to be written in recent years.

As a side note, I want to mention that the 2005 edition of Best American Short Stories is the series' best collection in years. Editor Michael Chabon made a point of selecting stories that are not only well written but also entertaining (as he says in his introduction). If this wasn't sure a revolutionary selection process for the United State's preminent literary short story anthology series, it wouldn't be worth mentioning. But Chabon's decision is revolutionary, and that says a lot about the sad state of our literary world at the moment.

Except from "The Smile on Happy Chang's Face":

"The Superior Wallcoverings Wildcats were playing in the Little League championship game, and I wanted them to lose. I wanted the Town Pizza Ravens and their star pitcher, Lori Chang, to humiliate them, to run up the score and taunt them mercilessly from the first-base dugout. I know this isn't an admirable thing for a grown man to admit—especially a grown man who has agreed to serve as home-plate umpire—but there are feelings you can't hide from yourself, even if you'd just as soon chop off your hand as admit them to anyone else."

Read the complete story.

Story of the Week: An Essay by Diana Fu (PS: She just won a Rhodes Scholarship!)



First off, my confession: Today's "Story of the Week" isn't an unbiased, neutral selection, even though the writer I've selected—Diana Xuan Fu—is as perfect a young writer as I've ever seen. No, the truth is that I have known Diana since she was a sophomore in high school. Back then, Diana’s school district sought me out as her creative writing mentor. We both enjoyed and gained so much from the experience that we continued the mentorship throughout high school and into her later years at the University of Minnesota.

Well, the big news is that Diana has just won a Rhodes Scholarship. In honor of this, I've selected one of Diana's essays, "China: Waiting for God," as my "story of the day."

Before you read the essay, though, I need to give you a little more background. Diana was born in China, immigrated to Winnipeg with her parents when she was 8 years old, then spent her high school years in the Twin Cities. As a freshman at the University of Minnesota, Diana began writing editorial columns for the Minnesota Daily, the university's highly regarded student newspaper. From the start, Diana's columns showcased her amazing writing ability and unique grasp of the human condition, an insight brought about by her continual attempts to understand and examine anew everything she encounters in life. In honor of these abilities, Diana's essays have been reprinted in the college-level composition textbook America Now and have won her the prestigious Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Even though I consider myself a decent writer, words fail to express the pride and happiness I feel for Diana.

Read "China: Waiting for God". You can also read all of Diana's columns from The Minnesota Daily.

Story of the Week: The Man Who Walked Away



The New York Times is, in many ways, a living contradiction. The newspaper is the so-called paper of record for the United States, yet it has also been embroiled in numerous scandals in recent years that have called into question the accuracy of its reporting. (Jayson Blair or Judith Miller ring a deceptive bell for anyone?) In addition, the old gray lady is continually attacked by those on the left and right, with one side screaming the paper is the voice of corporate America and the other believing it is the last bastion of left-wing hippie types.

Among all the controversy, though, is one undisputed truth: The New York Times regularly publishes news articles that transcend the news to reach the level of pure art.

Today's example of this is "Tracing Steps of the Man Who Walked Away" by Michael Brick, published in the November 18, 2005 edition of the Times. At first glance, this is the standard news article we see too much of, namely an article about the upcoming anniversary of a disaster. Every few days we see examples of these news articles in the media's remembrances of past earthquakes, tornados, assasinations, and so on. In this case, Brick's article covers the Dec. 16, 1960 airplane crash in Brooklyn, New York.

However, instead of taking the usual track with the article (which is to interview survivors and publish over-wrought quotes about how bad the disaster was, as if any disaster is ever good), Brick explores the tragedy through the lense of Jimmy Moy, a 70 year old man who owned a laundry where the airplane crashed in 1960. After the crash, Moy simple walked away from his life of decades, "leaving the lights burning and neatly packaged shirts on the shelves of his seared shop."

As Brick mentions in the article, "The man who never returned is a common legend . . . because it describes two ways of navigating life and times." In short, people either want to come back to the places they once lived and find that nothing has changed, or they want to reinvent themselves from scratch, to walk away from their lives and never return.

Jimmy Moy reinvented himself, leaving his shop and never coming back. By tying the article about the plane crash into this legendary motif, Brick's story transcends being a mere news account and becomes both an excellent story and high art.

Excerpt:

"He walked these avenues and then he was gone, as the inhabitants of one city give way to the next, as some are hurried along. Everyone leaves behind a name, a time, a place and a role, and his were Jimmy Moy, 1960, Park Slope, Brooklyn: the man who never returned."

Read more.

In the interest of total disclosure (something most newspapers preach endlessly about but rarely practice), I must admit that I was initially drawn to Brick's article because of my own research into the Brooklyn Aircraft Disaster. Here's my poem about Stephen Baltz, a brave little boy who survived the plane crash only to die of his injuries a few days later.

Story of the Week: "The Woman in the Rose-Colored Dress" by Gina Berriault



As a writer, one of my goals in life is to write a story that will live on long after I have passed. To my view, stories are like children. You birth them. You raise them. You send them out in the world and pray they will live on after you are forgotten.

Gina Berriault was a writer born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1926. During her career she authored four novels, three story collections, and won a number of awards (such as several O. Henry prizes) for her short stories. In 1996 her collection of stories, Women in Their Beds was published and received both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. While there are a number of excellent stories in this collection, one of my favorite is "The Woman in the Rose-Colored Dress".

This story is a small dynamo. Clocking in at 1,180 words, the story has a depth and understanding of life that most novels lack. In addition, the writing is Berriault at her best. For example, early on there is this line: "Whenever I glanced up I met a glance, and nobody spoke jokingly to me the way they do to a child, and when men came up to me they treated me with a kind of knowingness, as if I were already steeped in the experiences I had only imagined." Amazing. Simply amazing.

Berriault's story melds memories of a childhood long past with the narrator's current life. However, we learn none of the specifics of the narrator's current life, instead glimpsing this life by the analysis the narrator gives to her own memories. She simultaneously describes her memories and stands apart from them, seeing herself "as if I were observing another girl from a corner of a room: how she looked in a pale green dress that clung to the small breasts and the rounding hips, not in gathered stuff nor pleats anymore, not in autonomous material, but in the kind that conformed to the young body that was just beginning to make itself known, or its willingness known, or its own will known."

Berriault died in 1999. To me, "The Woman in the Rose-Colored Dress" stands as a story with it's own life, a story destined to live on and on. There is nothing more a writer can ask than to create a story like this.

* * *

Read "The Woman in the Rose-Colored Dress", which is reprinted at Narrative Magazine. I should note that Narratice Magazine requires people to register for their stories, but since this registration is free and the magazine published top-notch fiction, I'd strongly recommend people do so.

Story of the Week: "Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier" by Alexandra Fuller



One of the points I am trying to make by selecting a "Story of the Week" is that great literature can be found in many places, even in everyday media accounts. As if to assist me in achieving this goal, there is the Lettre Ulysses Award for "The Art of Reportage," which, as the title suggests, honors reporting that rises to the level of literature.

The winner of this year's prize is the book Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier by Alexandra Fuller. The book follows Fuller as she travels to Central Africa with a former soldier and mercenary (whom she only identified as "K"). As this soldier revisits his war-time experiences, Fuller weaves a narrative that goes beyond the destruction and devastation they witness to accounting for their shared and divergent experiences (Fuller is a white woman who grew up in Rhodesia; K is a black African who lived what he describes as a decent life until a series of tragedies overtook him and his land).

As a side note, the title comes from something Fuller's father once told her, which is that "Curiosity scribbled the cat," with "to scribble" being Afrikaans slang for "to kill."

While the complete book is only available in print, an online excerpt can be found here.

Story of the Week: Diamonds and Lemons by Omar Beer



If you don't believe that great fiction is being published online, then you haven't read "Diamonds and Lemons" by Omar Beer. Originally published in Fiction Warehouse, this amazing short story is a tragic tale of love in which death hits a couple shortly before the happiest day of their lives.

I'm not spoiling the story by saying that one of the lovers dies since this fact is presented in the opening sentence. By starting the story with a death, Omar Beer avoids the cliched trap of many tragic love stories—i.e., having one of the couples die at the end—and instead focuses the story on the doubts and misgivings all humans have about the decisions they make in life and how people try to hold onto what they have. To heighten this focus, Omar Beer uses a staccato writing style that drives home how narrow and limited our understanding can be of life's big decisions.

Be warned: This story will grab your emotions.

Excerpt:

She would die without feeling any pain, the doctor told him. The car had hit her as she crossed the street, sent her flying over its hood, onto her head. The police closed the street even to pedestrians until morning, so they could wash the pavement.

More

Story of the Week: Anything by Kevin Sites



Instead of selecting a single Story of the Day, today I am selecting the continuing work of Kevin Sites.

Sites is a veteran war correspondent who has entered into a unique relationship with Yahoo.com. Essentially, Yahoo is paying for Sites to travel around the world for a year and report on different wars. In return, Sites posts his reporting on a blog associated with Yahoo. I'm hesitant to select a single story by Sites as worthy of praise because they are all so good. Sites has a firm grasp on how to combine factual news reporting with vivid descriptions of his surroundings and quick yet illuminating summaries of the people he meets. All of these aspects combine to truly humanize the horrible situations and events he writes about. While Sites' excellent writing alone would makes his articles worth the read, the new way he and Yahoo are reporting the world's news turns his site into something I recommend people check out on a regular basis.

Read Kevin Sites blog

Story of the Week: Some Days, I Feel Like the Grim Reaper



Stories are all around us. Everytime you experience life, you are creating stories in your mind. Everytime you revisit a memory, you are retelling a story. Stories are what make us human. Stories are what we use to define us as human.

Great stories are not only found in the realms of fiction. They also appear every day in newspapers, literary journals, blogs, and small postings on comment pages of websites. I will highlight one story each day and explain why it is a great story.

The first story is "Some Days, I Feel Like the Grim Reaper" by Del Quentin Wilber.

The story is a newspaper article originally published on Oct. 21, 2005, in the Washington Post and this piece definately belongs to the "crime noir" genre of newspaper writing. However, because Wilber deals with the subject with such understanding and empathy, his article transcends most news articles about the police and instead becomes a simple, but great, story. Of special notice in the story is the way Wilber makes notice of small details, such as the cigars one investigator uses to mask the smell of dead bodies, to humanize both the individuals in the story and the situation they are in.

Excerpt:

Panning his flashlight inside the darkened Northeast Washington rowhouse, D.C. police detective Chris MacWilliams examines knee-high heaps of newspapers and magazines on the floor. Some are from the 1970s. He pokes through a stack of unopened bills.

The investigator turns to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. The shelves are empty. The house lights don't work, and dust floats like snowflakes in the flashlight's beam. Flies, hundreds of them, are buzzing and bouncing off window shades. That's why MacWilliams is here: Neighbors called about the flies.

More: "Some Days, I Feel Like the Grim Reaper"