Everything here is haunted for me. Every room, every door, every street, every store. I once loved this city, but I don’t think I can stay here much longer. I know I won’t stay here forever. Of course, I would have liked to.
Looking back at last winter, at all the misery and the ecstasy, I’m reminded of something my older brother once told me, right before he moved out west. He said something to the effect of,
“When I get back I’m sure we’ll have some dreadful things to talk about between the two of us.”
At the time we had both laughed at the darkness of his joke, with a sort of gallows humor that would only befit two headsmen fresh on the job. And thus, he moved to San Diego to become some sort of ER doctor. I remained in Pittsburgh to finish up my last year in law school, pursuing a career as a criminal attorney. Two headmen indeed, but maybe ‘gravediggers’ is a better way to put it. We were somewhat sheltered as children, so we both had an appetite for calamity and a curiosity for all things broken.
Speaking as humbly as I can, without sounding like I’m trying to boast any amount of exceptionality, we Spooners are a peculiar family, and I think that growing up as one has allowed me to adopt a unique kind of perspective of the world. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, much less to someone who hasn’t spent their entire life as a Spooner, but I suppose the very fact that I’m saying this now ought to give one the idea. I expect that I will try and fail many times at explaining myself, since there are many things that even I don’t understand.
And so, it’s with somewhat of an encumbered understanding of who I am that I begin this story; this wretched story of love and hate, mistrust and intrigue. All of which are only reserved for those who still tend to the embers of their dreams, and feed those embers with anything they can. Such ambitions are only for those who have that ineffable yearning which makes one’s feet run faster when the mile gets longer. I once had that fire, that yearning, that incorruptible dream.
But now, no matter how I try my hand does nothing but fumble toward the past. And as cynical as I have become, I admit that I still find myself dearly longing for what once was. I don’t want any more love affairs, wild parties, or distinguished company. I just need to get back to Cacey Anne Bell. If only I could, and yet I know I can’t. She’s gone, and she left nothing but the indubitable feeling that I will never completely understand what she was trying to teach me. Every day I think about this, which is why this story is so readily told. I suppose the past endures, but only as legend which challenges reality, and haunts all those for whom the sun rises.
It all started at a birthday party back in the summer before last. It was a warm Friday evening, sometime in late June, and Bo Henderson’s house was erupting with excitement. It was his 45th birthday, and every person of notoriety in Pittsburgh, as well as a great many of their subordinates, had come to celebrate. I received my invitation because I was in my third year of working at Henderson and Heller Law Firm.
When I first arrived I was taken aback by the regality of the Henderson Estate. It was built to look like a castle one might find on a stretch of Tuscan coastline, even though the thunderous crowd of people inside made it look more like Penn Station. The main hall was filled with balloons, ribbons, and hundreds of party-goers, and up high was an adornment of particular extravagance that reflected light in every direction.
Various matters of importance and non-consequence were being discussed throughout the crowd. Love connections, business transactions, gossip reactions, and decorum infractions were all bouncing between the marble walls of Henderson’s home. I walked through the middle of it all, greeting friends and strangers alike, never wandering too far from the bar.
Halfway through the night I had begun to feel a little drunk. I thought this was strange until I looked back and remembered just how much I already had: a steady amount I’m sure. Still, a voice in my head told me that I was not in any special condition that the other party-goers weren’t also in, and that my insobriety would go unjudged if not unnoticed.
I turned to the bar to refill my glass when I was approached by my boss, Justin Heller. Even after three years I still hadn’t gotten to know Heller very well. However, from what I could tell he thought I was a good attorney and seemed to be somewhat fond of me. He approached me and said,
“Jay, Parker tells me you’re a bourbon man. Bo has a bottle of single barrel Buffalo…something. Here, you wanna try it?”
To this day I’m still not sure why he or Parker would call me a ‘bourbon man’, but I decided not to question it. Instead I graciously accepted the engagement, and understood the importance of the gesture. I took a glass and stood with the rest of the men Heller was talking with.
The men talked about various professional and personal matters, none intruding on the casual atmosphere of the night. I politely listened, nursing my drink. The air began to smell of tobacco when I saw that one man who I did not know had begun passing around cigars from a box on the bar. Shortly after Henderson’s wife approached and asked us to take the matter outside, to which we obliged.
9 thoughts on “For Whom the Sun Rises”
Love your intro! I’m intrigued. As a reader there were a few hiccups in the narrative flow for me but nothing that couldn’t be ironed out, e.g.’ He said something to the effect of’ is unnecessary and breaks the flow. I’m British and I’ve never come across the term ‘head(s)men’ so I don’t know what it means.
I’m intrigued too. Like KarenGrikitis, I was confused by the reference to headsmen. Particularly because it was in the paragraph where we’re learning what the brothers do for a living. I wondered if they were actually gravediggers as a summer job! I wonder if this opening would be more effective if the first half was tightened dramatically (or removed entirely). The second half had better pacing (in my opinion). I’d keep reading! One other question: is the similarity to “The Sun Also Rises” intentional? I’d suggest choosing something different to avoid confusion.
I want to be honest and say that I found it difficult to read to end of this submission.
+ I fell that the writer is making an effort to be creative in their descriptions. I couldn’t say the writing style was bland by any means.
Things To Consider
– I’m not sure what happens in this entire submission. I don’t believe there is any conflict at all, if there was supposed to be one then it was not clear enough. I think the writer should examine this submission again and consider what is happening.
– I feel that because there is no real conflict I was able to notice the exposition more and it didn’t feel very original or interesting.
– There are a few redundant phrases and sentences. Example: “…and feed those embers with anything they can…” It gave me the feeling that you were ‘padding-out’ the paragraphs.
Would I Read On?
Not in this case.
To be honest, I think this is good style to begin with, but the contents could use some improvements.
The first paragraph sets the mood, but the city the narrator describes doesn’t really connect with the rest of the first part of this piece.
The joke of his brother seems out of context, and I personally don’t get the point. Maybe it would be better if you cites it indirectly.
The narrator sounds not quite humble when he says “Speaking as humbly as I can” and then to introduce the uniqueness of his family, instead of showing the readers how. To me, that gives me an impression that he feels superior to others but no quitet convincingly, not yet at least. That sounds a little annoying.
I also agree with Duncan on the part of lacking of conflicts, either external or internal.
KarenGrikitis, Jryan, Duncan, and Kevin,
Thank you so much for your input! I greatly appreciate both the praise and the criticism. Please allow me to respond to each of your points, in order, as well as share some additional comments of my own.
– It’s my understanding that the nature of a first person narrative is that the voice is that of the narrator to the audience, speaking as both the provider of information and the central role in the story. Because of this I’ve attempted to include certain things here and there that are flawed in nature or flase/embellished. I attempt to add these things because my narrator is a flawed person (like we all are) and at times he even tries to make himself seem more desirable or important than he actually is. However, I now see that is important to be sure to not let this convolute the quality of the story in general.
– I apologize about the ‘headsmen’ vs ‘gravedigger’ confusion! A headsman is the profession held in medieval times by those who would behead anyone who merited such a punishment under the law. My narrator and his brother have both pursued very noble professions, however the narrator is commenting on how both professions (criminal attorney and ER doctor) require involving oneself in a variety of dreadful situations. His shift from ‘headsmen’ to ‘gravediggers’ is included to show 1) the pensive nature of the narrator’s mind and 2) for the narrator to shift the burden of their professions (crime and medical tragedies) away from them (‘headsmen’ doesn’t seem to fit to the narrator, and instead he goes with ‘gravediggers’ because while both professions deal with dreadful things, the headsman kills people, but the gravedigger simply carries out the necessary task of burying the body). This shift in blame foreshadows future events. In general, these lines appear to be a failed attempt on my part to gain a first glimpse into the narrator’s mind. They definitely need revisiting.
– I always appreciate a new perspective on my writing because I always know exactly what I’m trying to say, but that means that I can sometimes overlook ambuguity that seems obvious to an outside opinion. As far as the first part vs the second part goes, to me the first part is very important because I’m hoping that it outlines the broad strokes of the story, i.e, the narrator’s fall from grace, his tragic loss of Cacey Anne Bell, and most importantly that he is going to spend the novel telling just how that happened. Thus, I’m hoping that the first part is intriguing enough to make the reader curious to hear the story the narrator is about to tell, and also have a small look into the narrator’s current situation so that when he begins the story they know where he’s coming from when he tells it. That’s why I can’t strike the first part, however I am definitely open to hearing ways in which it can be improved, so thank you very much. Subsequently, the second part is a little bit easier to digest (and to write) because it starts from the beginning of the story, not the end.
– “For Whom the Sun Rises” is a provisional title that I picked up from the last line of the 6th paragraph. It actually does sounds a lot like a combination of “For Whom the Bell Toals” and “The Sun Also Rises”! Wow. Well I guess I won’t be using that title! All unintended Hemingway references aside, that line, “I suppose the past endures, but only as legend which challenges reality, and haunts all those for whom the sun rises.” is supposed to be a broad-strokes sum up of the narrator’s situation. To the narrator, the past is like something like Harry Potter or Star Wars is to us. Its a legend, a fictional reality, that he would much rather be in than the reality he is currently in. And since he is speaking generally, the last part says that this past haunts everyone who will have to carry that memory into the next day, when the sun rises. Thus, the future is in the hands of people who are too busy carrying with them the ghosts of the past. Aaaanyways, I figured that this particularly powerful line (at least I hope it succeeds in what iI’m trying to make it do!) would make a good provisional title but it looks like Hemingway beat me to it…twice.
– I appreciate that you seem to appreciate the style of the voice. That above all things has been what has worried me the most. I am attempting to make the narration in line with the narrator’s character, which is to say that I want to do a good job of painting his pensive brain without overdoing it. To me its a balance between him only being in his late twenties and growing up as a part of that generation, and him being a Spooner, a family which holds its own unique quirks.
– The somewhat restrictive nature of writing in a first person narrative where the narrator has already experienced everything is that the intro hook can’t rely on plot action. I can’t really start right away right in the thick of the story because 1) that’s not how my character would start this story, and 2) I’m hoping to initially get the reader interested in the mind of my narrator first, as well as wonder how he got to be in such a miserable state. It was also slightly unfortunate that the first major plot movement happens within the next 500 words from where I had to cut it short. I am also hoping to structure the story in a way that withholds certain pieces of information until the opportune moment. Like I said before, my character is a flawed person, and as people do they often embelish things to put themselves in a better light…but also as poeple often do they then feel ashamed of their embelishment and come clean. This is very hard to convey in just 1000 words of my manuscript and something I definitely need to work on.
– Redundancies and gramatical errors are always worth pointing out so thank you! The message I was hoping to convey in that paragraph (which I now see needs A LOT of work) is that the narrator is trying to say three things: he doesn’t know himself as well as he’d like to, some people are willing to keep their dreams alive no matter what it takes, and he no longer has that will to strive for his dreams or even believe in them in the first place. I now realize I did a poor job with the ’ember’ sentence in particular, but the idea behind it is to have the narrator imply that some people will even resort to immoral means to keep their dreams alive…to shield the embers with whatever they can… This was supposed to foreshadow an experience Spooner had with such a person and their dreams, possibly himself, possibly someone else.
– The first paragraph is supposed to introduce the narrator’s situation, and I apologize if it was unclear. Ideally, I meant it to mean two things: the city where the narrator’s story takes place is invariably corrupted for him, and he dearly wishes things had turned out differently. This city is Pittsburgh, the city where the story takes place.
– The joke with the brother isn’t really a joke, it a bitter piece of memory for the narrator that he recalls given his current state. It shows how naive he was back even just five years prior, as the tone of the first part is shrouded in mirthless bitterness. With this I am trying to establish clear divisions between who the narrator is, and who the narrator was. Again, clearly this needs more work.
– As far the description of the Spooner family goes, I admit that here I’m not quite sure what is meant by saying the narrator seems to feel “superior to others”, simply because he does not even offer too much of an explanation as to why he thinks his family has conditioned him to se the world in a unique way. The only evidence that he more or less spells out is that he feels the need to say that they are unique, but can also appreciate the fact that the idiosyncrasies of his family are too difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t spent almost thirty years living with them. So in essence all he is saying is that he thinks his upbringing, somehow some way, has allowed him to think in more open-minded ways, and appreciate different points of view. But again, if this wasn’t clearly conveyed then this too needs some work.
– Similarly to the above paragraph, I’m not sure what is meant by there being no conflicts, as I think I’ve done a good job of basing the entire premise of the book around the narrator’s longing for the past, specifically Cacey Anne Bell, and that he tragically cannot get back to it to understand ‘what she was trying to teach him’. If you wish, please clarify what you mean.
Again, thank you so much for responding and I’m looking forward to hearing new feedback from you and/or new commenters!
All the best, and good luck with your own endeavors,
While this sample needs judicious editing to make it shine, I like the voice. Unfortunately, there were too many repeated words, but this kind of thing is easily fixed. Here’s a small sampling:
Every – used 7 times
Only – used 5 times
Still – used 5 times
Once – used four times
Sure – used four times
Somewhat – used three times
In your opening, you write:
“Everything here is haunted for me. Every room, every door, every street, every store. I once loved this city, but I don’t think I can stay here much longer. I know I won’t stay here forever. Of course, I would have liked to.”
The word “here” is used too many times. It detracts from the writing. I’d rephrase the last part to something like this:
“I once loved this city, but I don’t think I can stay much longer. I know I won’t stay forever.”
In general, you want to eliminate unneeded words from your writing.
As for sentence structure, you begin 14 sentences with the word “I”; this isn’t horrible but sometimes less is more, if you know what I mean.
You should also seek to eliminate unnecessary use of forms of “to be” in your writing. For example:
“I turned to the bar to refill my glass when I was approached by my boss, Justin Heller.”
I’d write it like this:
“When I turned to the bar to refill my glass, my boss, Justin Heller, approached me.”
Remember that even really good writers benefit from professional editing. Keep going with this! Good luck.
I also was interested enough to want to keep reading. I thought the first section had too much telling in it. Some action or more dialogue or more of the setting could redress this. I also thought there were a few cliched phrases that you could avoid. The “story of love and hate” was one such example. Also the second section starting off with “It all started…” was similarly hackneyed and detracted from the freshness of the story otherwise.
In general though I was engaged and curious and wanted to hear more. Good work and good luck with boot camp and your writing.
My favorite part of it was where the narrator starts to wonder why his bosses would think he was a bourbon man. It seems to sum up a fascinating dichotomy between how this man perceives himself and how others see him. What about starting there? The rest of your exposition/self-reflection/etc could be woven into the party he’s remembering. I appreciate that you are trying to get us into his head, but there’s no reason the two can’t go hand-in-hand.
I also found myself confused by the narrator’s voice. The narrator seems to dither. In the first section he reads like someone who has never been able to make up his mind about anything. Something could almost, maybe be true, except it isn’t, he doesn’t think. If this person is a 3L who has been interning at a prestigious law firm, he would be a bit more decisive. The dithering would be a mark of what has happened to him, a break within himself. What happens if he makes a short declarative statement, then in the following sentence questions himself as to why he seems so sure of that?
I like it, it’s an interesting voice, a little fond of the big words perhaps but it seems to set up a lot of things nicely for the rest of the novel to follow