April 24, 1994
San Francisco, California
The two lovers heard the newspaper flop against the front door and watched the paper girl ride down the street on her BMX bike. Stacey slowly rose and retrieved the paper. When she got back to the kitchen, she spread the newspaper on the table. Her bloodshot eyes opened wide.
Stacey put down her muffin and looked at Craig. “Craig? Don’t you know somebody that works for the Air Force in Turkey?” she asked slowly with her hangover-thickened tongue.
“You know I do. You know him too. Remember Jack? Who loved you from afar for so long he missed out? We hooked up playing Marauder last night and played for a few hours before you got home. And this is weird. This morning, when I got up to go running, my machine was still connected to his in Turkey. I was sure I logged off. That’s the second time that’s happened. Remember that big phone bill we got? I hope we’re not going to get another. I don’t know how I could have forgot to log off.”
“I do,” Stacey said. You were so anxious to get me you forgot and left it logged on,” Stacey teased.
“Very possible,” Craig answered, a smarmy grin spreading across his muffin crumbed lips.
“Anyway. That guy you know is in Ancirik right?” Stacey said.
“Yeah,” Craig answered.
“And you were playing with him last night?” she asked.
“Yes,” Craig answered a little more slowly.
“You have got to read this,” Stacey said, sliding the paper his way. Craig took the paper and began reading.
April 24, 1994
Assembled From Wire News Reports
Two U.S. Air Force Blackhawk helicopters were shot down by missiles fired from two Turkish Air Force F-15s patrolling the no-fly zone over northern Iraq today. Twelve airmen were killed. There were no survivors. Air Force officials explained that an AWACS plane vectored fighters to intercept the helicopters when IFF (Identify Friend or Foe), radar and radio failed to identify the helicopters. Air Force officials refused to confirm or deny reports that the helicopters had not filed a flight plan. The flight recorders have not yet been recovered since the helicopters went down inside Iraqi territory. Iraqi officials are on the scene and are refusing access to “American aggressors.” The State department confirms that negotiations are underway with Iraqi diplomats concerning the return of the downed Airmen.
“What’s Jack do over there? He’s not a pilot is he?” Stacey asked.
“No. He’s a civilian contractor for the Air Force. He’s called a ground service engineer. Whatever that is,” Craig said.
“I hope he didn’t ground service any of that stuff,” Stacey said.
“Yeah. I hope not too,” Craig said. His teeth clenched down together and slowly ground back and forth as an ice pick of pain began developing behind his right eye.
(Page submitted by the author, jt kalnay; ebook is available here, here, and here)
I'm afraid the style of this one didn't sit well with me. The events of the page are quite grim -- an acquaintance of the characters may well have died, and even if he didn't, twelve other people did. But the dialogue and the tone of the prose are thoroughly glib throughout, starting with the way they hear the newspaper "flop" in paragraph one. "Flop" is an irreverent and silly-sounding word, and while it's an accurate description of what newspapers do, a writer should be cognizant of tone in every word he chooses. "Thump" would have been as accurate and more neutral in tone, and newspapers can also "smack into" doors.
More importantly, by paragraph three we're running into one of my biggest pet peeves: characters telling each other things that they already know. The dialogue here is almost exclusively intended to convey information to the reader, without regard to whether someone would actually speak such lines to another person who had prior knowledge of all the details. Furthermore, we have to sit through a protracted information dump about their prior knowledge of Jack and some online gaming references and a bunch of other stuff before we find out what was so startling on the front page of the newspaper. How hard would it have been for Stacey to say, "Who's that guy you know in Turkey?" and him to reply, "You mean Jack? How can you call him 'that guy' after he practically stalked you for six months because he was crushing so hard?" Her: "No, I'm being serious. Look." (Shows him the paper.) Craig (after reading): "Geez, I was just playing Marauder with him last night…" Instead, not only does Craig tell Stacey things she already knows, he goes a step further and tells her that he's telling her things she already knows.
When we get to the newspaper report, it doesn't improve things much. Journalists write in a very specific style, and structure their stories in a very specific way. You're just never going to find a newspaper article that contains the following sentence: "Air Force officials explained that an AWACS plane vectored fighters to intercept the helicopters when IFF (Identify Friend or Foe), radar and radio failed to identify the helicopters." The individual pieces of information will probably be somewhere in the article, but not all in the first paragraph, and certainly not using words like "vectored," since newspaper articles are about informing mainstream readers, not about proving that they know how to use military jargon. (Okay, never say "never," but I would be aghast to see a journalist write that sentence in the opening paragraph of a major metropolitan newspaper story.)
By the end of the page, I didn't feel any particular fondness for the characters (a "smarmy" smile never engages my sympathies), I didn't know whether I was supposed to be more worried about the safety of Jack or about the terrible hangovers that Stacey and Craig have, and I hadn't gained a great confidence in the author's style and skill at conveying information. Possibly, all of this would be improved by context; maybe Stacey and Craig are but two of many characters and aren't supposed to be very sympathetic. Maybe by the end of the scene their relative insouciance about the tragic news story will have segued into deeper emotions. But Page 82 Reviews aren't about context, and unfortunately my experience on this page just didn't make me want to investigate further.