3rd SR Crapometer #50

Dear (in)Famous Agent:

A gravestone picture of an apple-cheeked teenage girl. A 24-foot-long monument, etched with the names of a mother and her six young children, victims of a car-train accident in 1959. Cousins begging to see Uncle Davey’s legs, hidden by the bottom half of his casket’s lid.

These images and the stories behind them are recounted in my book, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, a memoir about growing up as a gravedigger’s daughter in southern Minnesota. I spent long summer days in cemeteries with my dad and mom, who also tended graveyard grounds. To my family, death was simply a part of life. Growing up in this environment gave me a unique perspective on both death and life. The lessons I learned in the cemetery came into abrupt play when I was 15, after my father’s sudden death. The death of our gravedigger irrevocably changed my family’s dynamics.

The first chapter of my book reached the semifinals for the 2006 x nonfiction award and was runner-up for the 2006 XYZ Award for Creative Nonfiction, with publication forthcoming in XYZ Review. Excerpts from the memoir landed me a writing residency/retreat in 2005 and grants from my local arts council in 2006 and 2002.
(here is why pub credits are helpful. Up til now, I'm yawning cause there's no hook, no action, no plot and a lot of dead people, none of whom left Latin clues in the Louvre about secret societies. Thomas Lynch corned the Dead is Groovy Literature market years ago, and the bar now is pretty high. The pub credits are the difference between no dice and reading the pages. Without those credits I'd probably have said no right here)

This project feeds off my many years of writing experience. For seven years, I worked as a full-time reporter and copy editor at The Daily Planet, a daily newspaper in southern Minnesota. I now am a full-time freelance writer and I also teach college-level English and editing classes.

I have finished a first draft of the memoir and am now revising the manuscript. (ZAP---revise forever but I don't want to read the first draft of anything, ever)) If you would like more information, please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Thank you so much for your time today.



I grew up in a cemetery. Well, not literally. I lived in the country, my yellow rambler house surrounded by corn fields and soybean fields, and barns and silos of every height and color dotted the landscape of south-central Minnesota’s fertile plains. But my summers weren’t like the ones other kids lived, my friends who played in Waseca’s parks on playground sets or ball fields or swam off the sand of Clear Lake’s public beach. Instead, I ran around the necropolis, the city of the dead, taking in the fresh air, living and breathing and laughing as those below me no longer could. Spending so much time in a cemetery didn’t bother me, though I often thought of the dead and the families they left behind. I was in the cemetery simply because that’s where my parents’ jobs brought them.

Dad and Mom made a living on people’s inability to keep on living.
(there's your lead)

Good writing, no enticement. I'd read the next page or two but I'm going to need strong emotion of some kind to keep going. Laugh, cry, revolt me if you must, but I need something gripping here.

* * *

My dad was a gravedigger from 1976 until his sudden death in 1990. He and my mom, sister, and brother also mowed and maintained cemeteries in the Waseca area. In the summers, Dad woke up before dawn and made a pot of coffee that was a daily standard, no matter how warm the weather. With a cup of the black, strong brew in hand, he padded down the brown carpeted steps into our furnished basement and took a quick right into his small office. His desk was a long piece of tan countertop that had been left over from a home project and his chair, a barstool with a cracked vinyl seat. He’d reach to the 1960s model, brown AM radio on a shelf and turn the knob. The voices of WCCO’s Charlie Boone and Roger Erickson crackled to life, as they did in other homes and on car radios throughout the upper Midwest. He listened to the morning duo, drank his coffee, chain-smoked, and played a few games of solo cribbage or solitaire. By the time I woke up he was always gone, the acrid smell of smoke left behind. Sometimes he was at the cemetery at daybreak, getting a head start on Mom, Renee, and Andy on the three lawnmowers that soon followed him. He used the weed whacker to carefully trim around each gravestone—no short task even in the smallest of cemeteries. A cigarette dangled from his lips nearly constantly while he worked. His hands stayed busy guiding the trimmer, so he quickly became adept at puffing, exhaling, and dropping off the ashes without them.


Anonymous said...

How does it feel to be halfway through yet another Crapometer Marathon?

Daisy said...

There once was an agent named Snark
Who took on critiques for a lark
She asked, am I there?
Then ignited her hair
For it was only the halfway mark

River Falls said...

I think this is one of the best witten Crapometer submissions posted yet.

And the title is great. Was that the author's original, or Miss Snark's?

writtenwyrdd said...

This is really well written. Not sure how much longer I'd continue, though. You need to have something to keep my interest soon. Either that, or the back cover of the book needs to be catchy enough to assure me it may be worth it.

The Gambino Crime Family said...

Actually, for what it's worth, I'd buy this. A quiet little study on growing up and mortality? Perfect for the Harpers/NPR set.

Manic Mom said...

I might have missed the title, but I think a great one would be The Death of Our Gravedigger, as you mention in your query.

Miss Audrey said...

I guess I'm a strange one. I could run with this. (In my case it would have to be fiction though.) I'd lose all of the daddy detail and weave it into the story later though. You want a draw. Like Miss Snark said, get out your own shovel and dig up some emotions. Get sad, get angry, write a dysfunctional eulogy. Anything to make me "FEEL" the loss or the irony, or the emptiness of the situation.

Make it personal. Put me inside of your head, cause ya know, I want to know more...

JJ said...

Good writing and interesting premise, but too much backstory in this opening; put us in a SCENE and run with it.

chisem said...

I'm curious. Who dug the grave diggers grave? Might be a good opening if the family dug it because no one was available, or they just wanted to do it.

And, this is a pet peeve with me. Everyone dies suddenly. One second you're alive, the next you are dead. I think the writer is looking for the word "unexpectedly" which would explain shock, horror and loss.

That said, I like this. It might be better as fiction, and a bit of a light approach would make it more appealing. I love drinking coffee with ministers and funeral home directors and listening to their wonderful stories about human foibles.

Jo Bourne said...

I know this sounds trivial -- but I'm daunted by the length of that paragraph.

Maybe ... more white space ...