“The Cost of Dehaunting” Write Up by Laura Mercado

In “The Cost of Dehaunting,” by Dominica Phetteplace, Petra is at a job in a super expensive condo, hired to dehaunt it. There’s nothing wrong with the house, though, just a crooked floor, so she walks around to waste time. We move onto her next job, a house that will soon be demolished but the owner wants it dehaunted to fetch a higher price for the land. There are ghost cats in the kitchen so Petra puts them in a bag instead of passing them over into the ghost world. Petra gets a third call, to go dehaunt some apartments. Turns out there’s no actual ghost and it’s a ruse to evict the people living there. She wants to connect with the tenants but is rusty in her Spanish. She has flashbacks to her relationship with her friend Corazon, which she kind of relates to, her and her mother, which she minimally relates to. Then, she goes to her therapist Joanna’s office. She talks about being a Latina but mostly talks about the other country, which her therapist doesn’t fully believe. Petra lets the cats out and the therapist kind of starts to believe, but not fully until Petra pulls a ritual to out the cats away that doesn’t work as well as it should because she uses a simpler, rusty technique. The cats cause maybe but finally get absorbs in a gem of Petra’s. Joanna finally fully accepts Petra’s story and sits down for Petra to tell her tales.

Petra is technically Latina. She’s Morena and her name is as Spanish as it gets; anyone can tell by looking at her she has a Hispanic background. Petra’s sphere she works in, however, is majority millionaire of Anglo descent. The only recognizable part of Petra to her customers is designer Mansur Gavriel bag, and she catches a realtor, Wendy, “eyeing the bag” as she performs ghost rituals. It’s the only part about her appearance and her rituals the Anglo clientele can immediately relate to. There are two main worlds in this story: this dimension, and a magical other world she refers to as “the other country”. It is from this other country she gets her wealth from, though she must reside in this dimension. Similarly, there are two cultural spheres Petra alternates between: her Mexican background, and her American present. Petra looks right at home in her Mexican background, but her core- the culture she knows best and was surrounded by her whole life- is that of her American present. She lives in a state of in-between, never able to completely cross over into one culture or the other. Some of the ghosts we see her deal with in this piece, primarily the cat spirits, live in a similar state of not quite passing over. Petra affords the high-class life she leads only due to the gems she gathered from the other country; additionally, she is only able to successfully complete the ghost rituals through a mix of Mexican rituals. Both of these instances show that Petra would not be who she is today without her backgrounds, both in culture and in the “other country”. It shows that the magical land of the “other country” is a physical manifestation of her Mexican culture, which Petra prefers to reside in but must pay the price of isolation. Petra attempts to get over this feeling of isolation by talking to her second generation Latina therapist, Joanna. She talks to Joanna about things she cannot talk to her mother or her friend Corazon about: her adventures in the other country. Joanna’s mother, fully Latina, cannot understand the struggles of juggling two cultures. Corazon, being mega rich, of light skin, and living solely in this American culture cannot understand Petra’s struggle. Joanna the therapist is the only person in Petra’s life with some form of connection to both cultures, although even she does not fully understand Petra’s struggle (Joanna is also of light skin, has a totally American last name, and has a first name that can be pronounced in both Spanish and English, depending on the situation. She is able to seamlessly cross over cultures). Petra feels anger upon Joanna’s attempts to relate her struggles of identifying as a Latina to her own, due to the privilege of having a transferable name and genetics that allow for a smoother cultural transitioning; she internally explodes in a similar way the spirit cats do when Petra attempts to gather them from Joanna’s office in a non-traditional manner. The cats are Petra; Petra is the cats. Ironically, it is the ghost cats’ anger that finally leads to Joanna accepting Petra’s struggles in fitting in from the other country, or other culture, to this one; it is once the cats almost destroy all that Petra finally has her struggles listened to and fully understood by someone, what she wanted all along.

I want to copy how deeply the metaphor of the ghosts and cats represented Petra’s conflict with living in two cultures. The chronic tension is incredibly intertwined with the acute, and in a literal manifestation.

Exercise: Pick an object and write a scene with it. Put that paper away. Pull out new paper. Pick a character and write a scene with them having an internal conflict. Then cut up each line from both pieces of paper and collage them together, making a new story with the object intertwined with the internal conflict. Then take this idea and write a more fluent, cohesive scene with it.


  • Was there a villain/ bad guy in this story? Who was the bad guy to y’all?
  • Thoughts on writing two cultures in one piece? Was they way the author switched between them confusing to anyone?
  • Satisfied with the ending? Did it feel like a cop-out or was it wholesome?

I’m a Believer (of Writing)

Summary Part 1: Erin

The story starts off by telling us how to live our life. It says to try at something and fail so you can write haikus about loss. The story goes on to say your mother will pay you no mind and tell you to do the dishes. When you do you’ll break a glass. In school, you write villanelles and sonnets about your teacher. You try writing a fiction story and turn it into your teacher, who says there’s no plot. It tells you to take babysitting jobs and tell your stories to the kids. You decide to take a child psychology major and sign up for a bird class. You find out the bird class is creative writing and you decide to stay there because sometimes mistakes happen for a reason.

Summary Part 2: Alessa

Francie decides she likes college life, meeting all kinds of people with different levels of intelligence and different points of view.

The assignment that week in creative writing is to narrate a violent happening. The teacher tells her she has no sense of plot when he hands back her writing piece. She writes another story with six paragraphs and reads it out loud in class, someone later coming up to her to ask if she’s crazy.

Francie eventually decides that she should probably stick to comedies and starts dating someone funny. She writes down all his jokes without his knowledge and gives her socially handicapped characters the name of his old girlfriend. Francie’s psychology advisor tells her to focus more on her major. Francie says she understands.

For the next two years, she continues going to creative writing seminars and watches as her class looks through her writing for some plot. Francie gets depressed and finally switches majors when she realizes how happy she is while writing.

Her writing professor asks for altered realistic stories created through the power of imagination. When Francie tells her roommate about her idea, the roommate suggests going out for a big beer. The creative writing seminar doesn’t like her idea-turned-story.

The next semester, the writing professor asks for stories about personal experience, but only three things have happened to her in the past three years; losing her virginity, her parents getting divorced, and her brother returning home from the war with only half a thigh. She writes the first two stories with ease, but no words can be found for the last.

Summary part 3: Meghana

Francie is at an undergraduate cocktail party where her roommate says that all she writes about is her boyfriend, but Francie insists she likes to count the syllables. She is having trouble thinking of things to write about, and when her mom visits her, giving her a business book and a baby naming book, her mom doubts her writing will succeed. Her writing continues to disappoint those around her, and she attempts law school but backs out. Instead, she works small jobs, takes writing classes, and breaks up with her boyfriend. The story ends with Francie, still failing at her writing, with an unencouraging date.

The chronic tension is that Francie didn’t get any support for her writing from her family. The acute tension is that in her creative writing college course, she got a lot of harsh criticism for her stories.

Analysis Part 1: Erin


The first thing that I tracked in this story was the Point of View. The story is in second-person POV, evident from the way the author uses ‘you, you’re, and your’ as a way of talking to the audience. In this perspective, the story of ‘you’ is narrated. This way of writing is often used in instructions or directions, and in this case, it may be correct with the title of the story being ‘How to Become a Writer.’ The main character’s name is also a gender-neutral name, Francie can be the shortened form of Francis (male) or Frances (female). This can lead to the assumption that this is a how-to guide of how to become a writer told as if you’re the main character.

In your high school English class look only at Mr. Killian’s face.

This is the first time that ‘you’ is used in the story. It’s assuming every aspect of your life, to the name of the teacher and what you’ll be doing in class. It’s telling you, the reader exactly what to think and feel at each stage of life.

When you are home, in the privacy of your own room, faintly scrawl in pencil beneath his black-inked comments: “Plots are for dead people, pore-face.”

This line of the story is reinforcing the idea of what to think and what to do in every situation. It’s almost as if the story is told from personal experience like this is the author retelling her story of how she became a writer. A lot of details like this are very specific and interesting to think of a deeper meaning for.

Try to smile proudly.

Apply to college as a child psychology major.

Here’s the author detailing your life again. Because you are good with kids you try out for a child psychology major. Throughout the story, it always thrusts the reader to think certain ways. Because of the lack of a concrete main character, it relies on the reader’s personal experiences to fill in the blanks. This story has a lot of elements in it. It contains lots of writing styles like haikus, sonnets, villanelles, and fiction. It also is chock-full of personal experiences, the mother, the brother in the war, the boyfriend, how ‘you’ like birds, creative writing, the book of baby names for characters, and so much more. All of the story is chock-full of different narrative experiences. I think this is done because the story is supposed to be in ‘your’ point of view. It has a lot of experiences because it’s trying to connect to the reader. The reader is probably going to have experienced at least something similar to the main character in the story. This means a lot of people can see themselves in the role of the ‘you’ that’s prominent of the story. Especially writers, who can connect to the creative writing part of the story as well as all of the writing types.

You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.

This will also connect to a multitude of people. We all have a way of seeing the world, and this is explored here. We all think of the world in certain terms, a place to live, a place ruined by the older generations, a place ruined by an incompetent president, or just as a rock floating in space. No matter what your view is you’re set on a core belief of how the world works.

Why write? Where does writing come from? These are questions to ask yourself.

Here’s a line that also connects to plenty of people. I’m sure we’ve all fallen into creative slumps where we ask ourselves ‘why write’ or ‘what do I want to achieve with my writing’ or, the dreaded, ‘will I be able to make a living off of my writing?’

Later on in life you learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them.

This is also true for a lot of writers. It’s giving us foreshadowing for careers in writing. The half-believing what’s said of them also cuts deep. It’s like saying to take constructive criticism with a grain of salt, something young writers who, according to the author, won’t’ learn this until later in life because they’re taught that each criticism is something to be taken seriously.

 …the same way you said it when someone in the fourth grade accused you of really liking oboe lessons and your parents weren’t really just making you take them.

This is another specific detail that was, in my opinion, put in to connect to certain and specific people. It’s symbolic of not wanting to do something and insisting you hate it just to win an argument, even if you actually like it. I myself can think of plenty of examples of myself doing just that.

Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working on a novel and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. Perhaps you are losing your pals, your acquaintances, your balance.

The repeated use of ‘perhaps’ here is what caught my attention. When a word is repeated, be it fiction or poetry, it’s always to put stress on a specific point or draw attention to something the author thinks is important. Here the thing that’s important is that the story has a very set form of this is exactly what’s going to happen in your life from the names of your teachers to what you write about.’ Here is the story saying that this is perhaps what you’ll do instead of this is what you’ll do. It’s giving the reader creative liberty of the story, taking you out of the cookie-cutter form and giving flexibility.

“You Are Here,” says the red star on the back of the menu.

This is one of the last lines of the story. It’s when you’re an adult, out of school, ready to make a name for yourself now that you’re on your own. The story has layed all the groundwork out for you on ‘how to become a writer.’ And now you are here, your training is complete, and now the story is saying, go off, be your own person, I’ve given you the steps now make use of them.


I’m going to contradict myself here and go with the assumption that Francie is a real person and the story is being told through her eyes.

Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back at you with a face blank as a donut. She’ll say: “How about emptying the dishwasher?”

This is one of the first insights into Francie’s character. She immediately dismissed Francie’s writing and suggests something for Francie to do that will only benefit her. The mom doesn’t show interest in her kid’s hobby and doesn’t compliment her for doing something creative, seemingly seeing it as a waste of time.

Decide faces are important. Write a villanelle about pores. Struggle.

This gives us knowledge of the beginning of Francie’s writing life. Through the story, we always get a front row seat to what’s going on in Francie’s life, including her thoughts. The beginning of the story is literally the beginning of her story, starting with what she first writes about and her struggles.

 You start to get up to leave and then don’t. The lines at the registrar this week are huge. Perhaps you should stick with this mistake.

This is what jumpstarts Francie’s life as a writer. It’s where she gets critiques when she explores what she can do with writing, where she finds her calling. It’s the start of her career as a writer, the baby steps to the life she’s about to lead.

You have, however, a ludicrous notion of plot.

This is her first critique in a real creative writing class. The plot in her stories is something that Francie can never seem to overcome. It’s like her terrible crystal, her class always picks apart her stories for not having any plot, and regardless her stories seem to never change.

Start dating someone who is funny, someone who has what in high school you called a “really great sense of humor” and what now your creative writing class calls “self-contempt giving rise to comic form.” Write down all of his jokes, but don’t tell him you are doing this.

This shows Francie’s manipulative relationship with her boyfriend. She dates him, perhaps because she likes him but also because he helps her stories. She’s always ridiculed by her class for having no notion of a plot so she tries something different. The fact that she writes down all his jokes without telling him is a big teller that she’s also using him to get better at writing.

On days when it is your turn, you look at the class hopefully as the scour your mimeographs for a plot. They look back up at you, drag deeply, and then smile in a sweet sort of way.

Despite her attempts, her class still doesn’t like her writing. They smile in pity and still don’t think much of her writing. It’s frustrating for her, even as she keeps writing and writing people always say her images are great but lack plot.

Say to your roommate: “Mopey Dick, get it?” Your roommate looks at you, her face blank as a large Kleenex. She comes up to you, like a buddy, and puts an arm around your burdened shoulders. “Listen, Francie,” she says, slow as speech therapy. “Let’s go out and get a big beer.”

Here is Francie coming up with an idea on her own. She finds it witty and funny and presents it to her roommate because she likes it and seems to be seeking confirmation from her friend. She’s repaid with her roommate giving her a blank stare and, without commenting on her story idea, suggests they go out for beer. This is, without a doubt, probably very frustrating for Francie. Now not only is her plot being criticized but her friend seemingly shoots down her idea without so much as batting an eye.

Insist you are not very interested in any one subject at all, that you are interested in the music of language, that you are interested in in syllables, because they are the atoms of poetry, the cells of the mind, the breath of the soul. Begin to feel woozy. Stare into your plastic wine cup.

This is Francie when confronted with the prospect of writing as a major fiercely denying it. When trying to say a different interest it still loops back to writing. This is because of all of the criticism her writing has gotten. Throughout her life- her mother and roommate turning a blind eye to her writing, her teacher and classmates always telling her she has no plot, she is unsure of her path now. The idea of writing as a profession scares her because she’s not sure she can pull it off at this point.

From here on in, many things can happen. But the main one will be this: you decide not to go to law school after all, and, instead, you spend a good, big chunk of your adult life telling people how you decided not to go to law school after all. Somehow you end up writing again. Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working on a novel and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. Perhaps you are losing your pals, your acquaintances, your balance.

This is Francie’s adult life being described in a nutshell. Like a lot of her life, it’s hard and she’s losing a lot to achieve what she wants. She still wants to be a writer, working incredibly hard to make her dream a reality. It shows the life a lot of aspiring writers lead and the harsh reality of making it big as a writer.

Possible plot? A woman gets on a bus.

This is one of the last things in the story. It’s Francie, after working incredibly hard, finally taking all of her criticism to heart. She’s growing and considering how to become better. She’s starting to do plot and writing down plot ideas. It’s a small step, but it will mean a lot in the long run.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you think the story would have differed is Francie’s mother had been supportive of her efforts to become a writer?
  2. Do you think this story was created with the intent of connecting to writers or telling the story of Francie?


Analysis Part 2: Alessa

The craft elements that I tracked were conflicts and literary devices.

One of the many conflicts is when the main character discovers that the computer has made an error in her schedule when she shows up to the wrong class. Aside from that, the most commonly mentioned one in this story was how the main character had “a ludicrous notion of plot…outrageous and incompetent.” After reading one of her stories out loud in class, someone later approached her afterward to ask her if she was crazy. Later on in the story, Frankie, the main character, gets into an obsessive/depressive state (spent too much time slouched, demoralized, self-mutilating and losing weight) but continues writing nonetheless. Later on, Frankie realizes how deep her love for creative writing runs and decides to switch majors which means she has “fallen in with a bad crowd.”

Now, moving on to literary devices. It is commonly used throughout the story, especially lines that mention blank faces (which is followed further on Meghana’s analysis). Metaphors and similes are the most commonly used such as: “…she says, slow as speech therapy…” and “…writers are merely open, helpless texts…”


  • Some of your images are quite nice, but you have no sense of plot.
  • You have, however, a ludicrous notion of plot.
  • They say your sense of plot is outrageous and incompetent.
  • After class someone asks you if you are crazy.
  • You spend too much time slouched and demoralized.
  • You are said to be self-mutilating and losing weight, but you continue writing.
  • You have, as your mother would say, fallen in with a bad crowd.

Literary Devices:  

  • It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain.
  • These are questions that you keep in your wallet, like calling cards.
  • let your imagination sail, to let it grow big-bellied in the wind
  • she says, slow as speech therapy
  • a permanent smirk nestled into one corner of his mouth.
  • Your type-writer hums.
  • writers are merely open, helpless texts
  • Now you have time like warts in your hands.
  • Consider how it looks like the soggy confetti of a map

Discussion Questions:

  1.      What was the main conflict of the story?
  2.      What is the significance of dialogue in the story?

Analysis Part 3: Meghana

I first tracked the repeating phrase of “face as blank as.” In the story, the writer uses the phrase to make the reader pay attention to a significant change to Francie’s mindset and emotional state. The first time it is used, it says, “She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face blank as a donut.” This shows that from the very start, Francie had little support from any parental figure in her life. After this, her mother tells Francie to do the dishes, which she does angrily. This was the first sign in her life that she wanted to write, so it is understandable for her to be upset. This creates an unstable emotional base to build the rest of her writing career off of. She says that this is “a required pain and suffering”, meaning that this lack of encouragement contributed to her writing. She also doesn’t get the support she needs from her teacher who says that she has no sense of plot. Her frustration is again shown by her scratching out the comments and writing “plots are for dead people, pore-face.”

The next time the phrase is used, it says,

‘Excuse me, isn’t this Birdwatching One-oh-one?’ The class stops and turns to look at you. They seem to all have one face – giant and blank as a vandalized clock. Someone with a beard booms out, ‘No. this is Creative Writing.’

This begins her college experience where she continuously feels isolated and left out. She is already not supposed to be in the class, so Francie feels alienated. She sees herself in the middle of everyone else, which is apparent in the lines,

Some are smarter than you. And some, you notice, are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.

People in her class even ask her if she’s crazy. She is different and feels as if there is no place for her.

The phrase is used again in the lines,

Your roommate looks at you, her face blank as a large Kleenex. She comes up to you, like a buddy, and puts an arm around your burdened shoulders. ‘Listen, Francie,’ she says, slow as speech therapy. ‘Let’s go out and get a big beer.’

She is being treated like a child and dehumanized because everyone close to her is acting as if her writing is making her insane. At a cocktail party when asked if her writing is all about her boyfriend, she says

you stiffen and say, ‘I do not,’ the same way you said it when someone in the fourth grade accused you of really liking oboe lessons and your parents really weren’t just making you take them.

In this part, it shows her trying to be more like everyone else. She feels uncomfortable and stiffens up when she is singled out. She also compares herself to a fourth grader, someone younger than her. This line is highlighting the fact that her roommate was babying her.  When speaking to her mom, Francie says that she enjoys writing, and her mom says sarcastically, “Sure you like to write. Of course.” The fact that her mother won’t outright tell her that she doesn’t like that Francie is writing may make her feel like her mom isn’t treating her like an adult. Other people also ask Francie if writing was some kind of fantasy of hers, which says that it’ll never be a reality. They have no faith in her abilities, but they’re trying to cover it up to sound polite. This makes Francie feel alone because no one will truthfully talk to her anymore.

The last time the phrase is used, it is to describe a date she is on where the man’s face is as blank as a sheet of paper. While she is talking, the man begins smoothing all his arm hair in one direction. He is clearly uncomfortable in the conversation about her writing and distracts himself. He seems to see Francie as a crazy artist who has no real talent, so the world’s perception of her hasn’t changed since the beginning of the story. While tracking the phrase “as blank as”, you can see Francie’s progression of her reactions to the lack of support. She is used to no one believing in her by the end. I would like to incorporate a repeating phrase in my fiction to see how it keeps the reader’s attention.

The second craft element I followed was theme. I believe the theme is her confusion with her own identity. The very first words from the story are “First, try to be something, anything, else” which sounds like she isn’t very confident in what she is doing now. This confusion continues into her college life when she thinks her placement in creative writing class was fate. If you believe in fate, it is like you have no control over your own life because it’s been planned out for you. Francie may feel like everything in her life, including her being a writer, is simply happening to her without her being able to affect it. Francie also has a hard time committing to one thing. She tries comedies and attempts to focus on the syllables in writing. She also switches majors. Her inability to stick to one thing is because she isn’t sure who she wants to be yet. Her teachers also confuse her. The first professor is “stressing the Power of Imagination. Which means he doesn’t want long descriptive stories about your camping trip last July” but then her second professor wants personal experiences and camping trips. These two conflicting people in her writing career could’ve only confused her.

The lines “Begin to wonder what you do write about. Or if you have anything to say. Or if there even is such a thing as a thing to say. Limit these thoughts to no more than ten minutes a day; like sit-ups, they can make you thin” are very important to the theme. Francie starts to question whether her writing is saying anything since she doesn’t know what she wants to say. Her uncertainty about her identity is overwhelming and stressful, which is why she says she must limit the thoughts or else she’ll become thin. Writing can help you find out more about yourself. Francie isn’t ready to figure out who she is yet, so she feels safe in her other classes. Also, at the end when she compares writing to polio, this is saying that writing is hurting her. Throughout the story, we see that Francie does hurt herself to get through her writing. This shows that she doesn’t understand herself yet. At the very end of the story when she is looking at coleslaw on a menu, she says how it looks like “the soggy confetti of a map: where you’ve been, where you’re going- “You are Here,” says the red star on the back of the menu.” Francie is obviously lost about her individuality. She is trying to figure it out by looking back at her past and where she plans to go next, but she finds herself on the back of the menu, which is kind of nowhere. This reflects the theme throughout the whole story.

Discussion Questions

  1.       How did the writer portray Francie’s feelings toward her own writing and how did it grow throughout the story?
  2.       How does the mother add to the theme?

Jim Was Super Convincing

Summary Part 1: Michael

As Stephen King’s “A Death” begins, we meet the protagonist, Jim Trusdale. He is sitting on his porch where he reading a paper before being accosted and arrested. Sheriff Barclay along with some deputized townsmen approached Jim due to the murder of a young girl from town, Rebecca Cline. After detainment, he is placed in the back of a mortuary van. His home is searched thoroughly along with Sheriff Barclay personally sifting through his oven ashes looking for a silver dollar which was stolen from Rebecca. As he is taken to the town jail for holding awaiting his trial, he is heckled by the townspeople. Upon arrival at the town holding cell he is stripped, groped and violated by Sheriff Barclay. The townspeople request for him to be hung that day however he has the right to a trial and therefore his death is postponed.

Summary Part 2: Ben

After being stripped and searched, Jim Trusdale is asked buy Sherriff Barclay about why he killed Rebecca Cline, which Jim, again, denies doing. He’s then forced to live in prison, where people come to harass him about Rebecca Clines murder. When it’s found out that there’s no one in town to see to his legal defense, a business owner named George Andrews was assigned to him for his trial. The trial was swift and biased, all the jury and even the judge (which was the prosecution) was against him. When Jim began to recount the story, Abel Hines, a townsperson had an outburst that caused him to be expelled from the court room. And when Jim’s testimony was done, Barclay was on Jim’s side.

In the ending of Stephen King’s “A Death,” we start off with the trial of Jim Trusdale, a man accused of killing a little girl named Rebecca Cline. Jim’s hat was found underneath Rebecca’s dress after she was strangled to death, and most of the townsfolk automatically believe that Trusdale was accountable for this. Trusdale had been at a nearby bar, “The Chuck-a-Luck”, right before Rebecca’s death, which gives him both an alibi and an “inability” to remember what happened. Mr. Trusdale refuses all of the accusations, and everyone in the stands votes against him. Rebecca’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cline, call Trusdale a “lying son of a bitch” and the trail aggressively continues like this for quite some time. Sheriff Barclay, the main authority of this story, begins to believe Trusdale because of the lack of evidence that they have. Before Rebecca was killed, it was her birthday and her mother had given her a silver dollar to go buy candy and visit the apothecary down the street.  Because they cannot find this evidence, Barclay begins to believe that Trusdale is innocent–but it is already too late. Trusdale is accused guilty and is scheduled to be hung soon.

In the next scene, Barclay serves Trudale his last meal, “steak and eggs, with home fries on the side soaked in gravy.” When Barclay comes back later to check on him, he finds Jim crying, saying that he will go to the grave with steak and eggs still in his belly. This is an eye-opening concept for Barclay, since he is still convinced that Trusdale could be innocent, yet he is incapable of doing anything about it. Barclay tries to jog his memory to try and think back to where he left his hat, or if anyone might have taken it by accident and framed him for the murder. When that fails, Barclay leaves Trusdale in his cell alone, where he continues to contemplate the possibilities of Trusdale’s case and its justifiability.

Summary Part 3: Ella

The next morning, Trusdale is marched up to the gallows, kicking and screaming, pleading his decency the whole way. He still sticks to his original claim, saying he doesn’t know who Rebecca Cline even is, and that he certainly never killed her. Moments later, his last plea is to see the mountains one last time, but the Pastor refuses and hangs him without another word. People in the crowd are cheering, finally feeling the slightest ounce of justice has been done in Rebecca’s name.

The story ends with Barclay being summoned by Abel Hines, the owner of  Hines Funeral Parlor and Mortuary to see Trusdale’s body. It is revealed that when someone is hung, they soil their pants because a reflex in the body stops working. In Trusdale’s pile of feces, they find Rebecca Cline’s silver dollar, which shows that Trusdale actually wasn’t innocent after all, and had Barclay fooled the majority of the story.

Chronic Tension: The Murder of Rebecca Cline.

Acute Tension: Jim being accused of the murder

Analysis Part 1: Michael

Time & Place

This story takes place in the small town of Spearfish, South Dakota. During the late 19th century after June 8, 1876  yet prior to  November 2, 1889. It takes place during the month of November. The “Black Hills Pioneer” is a newspaper local to the town of Spearfish which was established on June 8, 1876. The frequent mentioning of lanterns along with horseback riding also enforces this time period which it was written in. The brown plainsman is a somewhat classic looking cowboy hat and it is the model which Jim Trusdale wore. November is often mentioned and Jim shivers when he is strip searched.  The Nevada silver rush is mentioned, which began in 1858.

“And although we are not one of the United States just yet, we will be soon.”

Nevada became a state of the United States of America on November 2, 1889.


Jim Trusdale

Jim Trusdale was a small man of little education who seemed to lack common sense. He is very poor and I assume he is an alcoholic due to his spending of the remainder of his money on booze. He believes in good luck and bad luck due to not wanting to ride in a funeral wagon and because of his his lucky marble. He is very naive yet his words seem sincere due to his lack of common sense. He is extremely scared of death and it is revealed at the end of the story that he has a silver dollar meaning he did in fact murder Rebecca Cline.

Sheriff Otis Barclay

Sheriff Barclay is upright and righteous. He is a true man of the law and he puts the justice over his personal feelings. He is devoted this is displayed throughout the story numerous times, from him sifted through stove ashes and checking Jim’s anus for the coin, he never gave up on finding the truth. He beilievd Jim was innocent when no one else did and he bought Jim his last meal because of it.He questions why they never found the silver dollar and made sure Jim got a trial.

Steven King’s “A Death”  discussion questions

1: What does Sherrif Barclay’s payment of Jim’s last meal reveal about him?

2: Do you think Jim murdered Rebecca Cline? If so…why?

3: If you were one of Rebecca’s parents would you mind having to wait for Jim to be murdered?

Analysis Part 2: Ben

After being stripped and searched, Jim Trusdale is asked buy Sherriff Barclay about why he killed Rebecca Cline, which Jim, again, denies doing. He’s then forced to live in prison, where people come to harass him about Rebecca Clines murder. When it’s found out that there’s no one in town to see to his legal defense, a business owner named George Andrews was assigned to him for his trial. The trial was swift and biased, all the jury and even the judge (which was the prosecution) was against him. When Jim began to recount the story, Abel Hines, a townsperson had an outburst that caused him to be expelled from the court room. And when Jim’s testimony was done, Barclay was on Jim’s side.

My craft elements were epiphany and narrative structure. Epiphany, being a moment of great clarity for characters in the story, and narrative structure being points in the story where the plot moved forwards, or ways that the author meticulously wrote events in the story

The author’s seamless incorporation into the characters of “A Death” was impressive to read. One example of that author’s use is:

‘Did he at any point take off the hat? Perhaps hang it on one of the hooks by the door?’ No one could remember.

‘Only I never seen him without it,’ Dale Gerard, the barman, said. ‘He was partial to that hat. If he did take it off, he probably laid it on the bar beside him. He had his second drink, and then he went on his way.’

This, among other bits from Jim’s trial, is what ultimately led the sheriff to believe Jim’s story. When no one could point out any evidence about Jim lying about his hat, it opened the possibility, for Barclay, that Jim was telling the truth. Stephen King wrote credibility to Jim, through his stupid but well-meaning demeanor, and the fact that Jim has not lied about a single event up to now, made the reader feel sympathy for Jim’s situation, as well as Barclay. Barclay’s epiphany comes here:

‘I ain’t lying,’ Trusdale said, and that was when Sheriff Barclay believed him.

The Sheriff, up until now, has been convinced that Jim was lying. But, truth after truth, unfair treatment after treatment for Jim, and the Barclay’s sense of morality and deductive reasoning gave him an epiphany. His sense of justice told him that Jim was not lying. The author was very clear in his writing of Sheriff Barclay, a good man who just wants justice to prevail. When he sees Jim’s stories and pleas are not fiction, he has the epiphany that any good person would have, Jim’s innocence.

Stephen King also presented this realization rather masterfully. We, as the reader, gain sympathy for Jim every time someone yells at him or slanders his name.  When he says,

‘Ma’am,’ Trusdale said, standing on the bunk so that he could look down at her upturned face. ‘I didn’t kill your baby nor no one.

We believe him because he’s written, in dialogue, to genuinely not know what’s going on, or why these accusations are being pointed at him. Every extra detail written into his character reinforces his general ignorance, mental illness running in the family, his father’s reputation, his obsession with his hat, all point to Jim’s ignorance of the situation and therefore, innocence.

The Narrative structure of this story was also well defined. Its general pace was very good, I had no trouble recognizing events in the story when they unfolded. There are a few points where the narrative structure added to events in the story, here’s one:

The trial lasted through one November morning and halfway into the afternoon. It was held in the municipal hall, and on that day there were snow flurries as fine as wedding lace. Slate-gray clouds rolling toward town threatened a bigger storm. Roger Mizell, who had familiarized himself with the case, served as prosecuting attorney as well as judge.

This particular piece of structure was exposition, and it did not slow the pace of the story unnecessarily. It told us what we needed to know for the upcoming scene of the trail and didn’t waste time with superficial details where it wasn’t needed. It progressed the plot to bring us to the scene of the courtroom. We also learn that Roger Mizell is the prosecution as well as the judge. That sets up the expectation that this trail will be as biased as it could possibly be, even the judge is out to get Jim. We got a lot from this paragraph, and it doesn’t waste our time. Another example of good narrative structure is as follows:

‘Did you order two drinks?’

’Yes, sir, I did. Two was all I had money for.’

‘But you got another dollar right quick, didn’t you, you hound!’ Abel Hines shouted.

Mizell pointed his gavel first at Hines, then at Sheriff Barclay, sitting in the front row. ‘Sheriff, escort that man out and charge him with disorderly conduct, if you please.’

Barclay escorted Hines out but did not charge him with disorderly conduct. Instead, he asked what had got into him.

This scene was not exposition, it was an action scene, but we still got a decent amount of characterization and action without our time being wasted. First, we see a small exchange between the judge, Him, and Abel. It’s short, but we get characterization of all three. Abel is very heated by Jim, who he feels is a monster, so much so that he breaks the rules and yells during a trial. The judge, Mizell, just wants to get the trial done with and keep order. And Jim, who is answering to the best of his ability and generally doesn’t want to be convicted. The whole short story tells us what we need to know, adds a little bit extra for Jim’s personal life, doesn’t get too fast or too slow with its pace, and doesn’t waste our time.

I thought the author’s execution of Narrative Structure and Epiphany were used to great effect in “A Death.” Epiphany is a very underrated element to a story, not every story has a major twist or realization, and some authors choose to leave it in the dust. But, in this story, we are shown time after time, harassment after harassment, the evidence for Jim piles up. At the trial’s end, we are just as sympathetic to Jim as Barclay and have the same epiphany during the trial. Jim’s innocence, regardless of what the town thinks. I grew attached to the sheriff and Jim through the events leading up to the epiphany, and I would do well to mimic Stephen King’s use of Epiphany.

Narrative Structure was, as explained before, exceptional in its pace and execution. (Though this analysis is of the middle part of the story,) we get exposition at the beginning and the rising action, then the climax, then the short falling action, then the resolution. Standard structure but done very well. There is no useless detail that distracts from the plot, everything said adds to the atmosphere and narrative. There is a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, who the characters are and their motivations, and a solid narrative. While it wasn’t particularly innovative, the organization of the plot was simple and very well done. It’s admirable how great of a story that the structure enabled it to be, and I should try to emulate it it my own writing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did the author portray Jim’s conflict in the story?
  2. How did the the town going through a harsh winter symbolize the conflict?


Analysis Part 3: Ella

In “A Death,” I took away a lot of useful writing techniques that I hope to use in the future. The main ones that I found especially captivating were those that involved dialogue. The way that King uses speech in his writing is very distinct and realistic, and I could hear the characters speaking in my head vividly. The characters in “A Death” all has a distinguishable voice, many of them having accents (in my personal experience).

“Come out of there, Jim, and do it with your hands up. I ain’t drawn my pistol and don’t want to.”

Not only did King do a great job with his dialogue, but he also had great visuals and settings. Because my craft elements included setting, I began to notice that his backgrounds would constantly shift. Some of them had such smooth transitions that, at times, it was difficult to highlight where the characters were at that moment.

“…You have three choices, gentlemen—innocent, manslaughter, or murder in the first degree.”

“Girlslaughter, more like it,” someone remarked.

Sheriff Barclay and Dave Fisher retired to the Chuck-a-Luck.

In addition to these things, I believe that King’s work is very thorough, and did an excellent job keeping the mystery fresh until the very end. I was very surprised by the ending, because I too believed that Trusdale was innocent.

Something gleamed in the mess. Barclay leaned closer and saw it was a silver dollar. He reached down and plucked it from the crap.

I enjoyed the way that I was interested with the story until the end, because it is both a hard device to pull off  and an important aspect when keeping the reader engaged.

Lastly, Stephen King’s work is overall compelling, suspenseful, and very entertaining to read. I hope that after reading some of his work, I am able to use this advice when it comes to writing my own stories, such as the improvement of dialogue and the authenticity of my settings and details.

On another note, my discussion questions! My first one is “Do you think that the ending was predictable/ were there any hints that Jim Trusdale actually killed Rebecca?” My second question is “ Do you think Jim’s plea as guilty was really worth it? If he ended up getting hanged either way, then was his scheme really worth all the trouble?”

“Paper Pills” Write Up by Edward Clarke

Paper Pills” by Sherwood Anderson tells the tale of the Doctor Reefy and his young wife, both prominent residents of the small and rural town of Winesburg, Ohio. He is a lonely man, very set in his ways and she has been left with dozens of suitors after her parents died, leaving her a vast fortune of land and capitol. After becoming pregnant by one of these suitors, she goes to see Doctor Reefy who, instead of giving her medical attention, takes her on a ride through the country. They quickly fall in love but she dies but a year after their marriage.

I’ve never read a story in which the sense of touch is so monumentally important. One of the things I highlighted were the dozens of references to hard, rounded objects, and both the sicknesses and beauties that lay within them. In the paper pills, there lie the thoughts of the good Doctor Reefy, in the belly of the tall dark girl there lies an unwanted child. In the gnarled apples, there is a tender lump of sweet flesh and in the jeweler’s cold eyes there is a lurking lust. The repetition of this symbol creates a very interesting impression on the reader’s thoughts surrounding Doctor Reefy. To the outside world, he is cold and “jaded”, as is his horse, but to the tall dark girl he falls in love with, he seems to be a warm “summer afternoon”.

I also think it’s interesting to examine how stories such as this one function when removed from the context of their larger collection. “Paper Pills” is a short chapter from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio which chronicles the comings and goings of a small town much in the same fashion as John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row or Carsen Jensen’s We, the Drowned. In my opinion, this story does stand up to being removed from its kin dually through its incredible description and its grip on the narrative. I don’t usually like stories with basic hooks like “Within a year after the marriage she died”. Lines like that are supposed to make you wonder whether or not the rich lady was married for her money and murdered for her land and the tactic is somewhat cliché, I think. But this story does something really interesting with it. It leaves the question totally open but hints, again and again, as to a lurking evil within both the doctor and the setting itself. The text is ripe with “twisted apples”, “dripping” jaws, and blood running “down on [a] woman’s white dress”. Each of these is dark because it takes something sweet and turns it rancid; the sweetest apples are trapped within the deformed skins, the kisses of a lover are turned into bloody and bruised bite marks, and the pregnancy of young woman is contrasted with an old lady roaring as her teeth are pulled, raw and wet, from her jaw. This lurking contrast serves to cast a rather horrible and uncertain light on the marriage of Doctor Reefy and his tall dark bride. Was their loving marriage ended so suddenly by foul play? It is this nagging question that keeps the reader invested in the story despite the lack of it’s collection.

I also highlighted indirect characterization because I think it’s a really interesting tactic in fiction that I’m still working on getting down. The perfection of Anderson’s indirect characterization is that there’s no question about it. You know immediately that the horse Doctor Reefy drives to and from the town is not the jaded one, but him. His wife wasn’t merely left fertile land, but left alone and rich in her child-bearing years. It is obvious and yet incredibly elegant and nonchalant.


  1. Write a story in which the ending is revealed in the very beginning.
  2. Pick a story you’ve already written and choose an unimportant character. Write that character a story.


  1. Did it bother you that this story was from a larger work? Did you know it was?
  2. This story functions almost inversely from “Backpack”. In that story, the truth is revealed only at the end, while in this story the ending is revealed at the beginning and the truth is never truly revealed. Which worked better? Did this one feel more like a “gotcha hook”?
  3. How did y’all interpret the repletion of the hard objects?