Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O'Nan

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 5 1999 9:30 PM

Stewart O'Nan

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I can chew my food. I'm still a little sore--like coming home from the dentist after a bad cavity--but I can open and close my mouth now without pain. Thank you, tetanus.

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Did the interrogation scene at the tombstone company. Not really a scene, more like a recap with testimony inserted. It works though. They can't find all the big cheeses in charge of the departments, just one, and the guy basically covers his ass and implicitly blames everyone else, sending detectives off into the evening with subpoenas made out for 25 John Does.

Cut and we're back at the armory, learning how abdominal scars turn purple when the epidermis burns. Not too much school-type stuff, but enough to keep the ER crowd interested.

Then a litany of fathers and grandfathers coming to identify family members, some of them looking for two or three or four, finding one and then going through the rows again.

This morgue chapter is short and somewhat repetitious--naturally, since everyone is there to do the same thing. The effect is monotonous and the people become anonymous, which fits the imitative fallacy well but is finally boring. How to get around it? Maybe cut away, slip some Municipal Hospital bits in? No, I've already gone to that tactic too often: "Meanwhile, back at ... " I've got to come up with something already there that I haven't taken advantage of yet, something I've forgotten or failed to explain. Have to go over my notes.

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Got six OK pages in. A little thin maybe, but they're anchored by some heavier chapters fore and aft. Readers like to see a quick chapter (I know I do).

Next up, the mayor reads the lists of the dead and injured over the radio, his voice shaking. People remember him breaking down, but I'm not so sure. Over at UConn there's supposedly a tape of the governor reading his address to the state, but the librarian there can't find it.

And caught a break yesterday when the state Department of Corrections discovered inmate numbers for the circus folks who served time. Their prison records are in uncatalogued boxes in a warehouse downtown, and the state library owns them now. I'll have to get access somehow. All the men who saw time are dead, but that's no guarantee I can read the files.

The D of C woman also hooked me up with this guy who's the unofficial historian of the long-gone state prison at Wethersfield. She says he's just a buff with the historical society but he knows everything.

Also got a letter from a member of the Circus Fans Association of America who knows where I can get videos of the lot that day--taken by these guys whose names I recognize from the July 1944 newspapers. Amazing. Have to take a break sometime and catch up on my legwork. Every little bit helps.

Wrote a piece on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead last night for some Barnes & Noble online promotion of Prayer for the Dying. God, I love that movie! I even have a character in a book say, "God, I love that movie!" to end a chapter. That's how much I love it. Guess your roots always show through.

Finished the Grisham a second time. What's amazing is how large the book is and how little is in it. Perhaps that's the key to pop fiction. There must be a talent to that. I know I couldn't do it. I get too interested in my characters' lives.