Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Finding an ending when the ending isn't obvious

Houston Schwartz watches as his father, Matt, gives him Tylenol.
This package by YDR staffers Leigh Zaleski and Chris Dunn is one of the best art/story packages we've published this year.

There's a compelling storyline, evocative photography and writing that deftly navigates that space between maudlin and clinical.

From the opening of the story:

Matt Schwartz sat in a mahogany rocking chair in his mother's basement in April, leafing through a 3-inch binder of medical papers.His son Houston, then 5 months old, lay next to him under bee-and-teddy-bear mobiles in a light wooden crib. A bag of formula hung beside the baby on a metal IV pole and fed him through a tube directly into his stomach. A scar on his chest marked where his ribs were cracked during two open-heart surgeries.
He weighed 8 pounds 4 ounces, half of what he should for an infant his age. Breathing tubes clung to his face. A glowing red light, taped to his left foot, monitored his pulse.
A poster on the wall detailed how to give an infant CPR.
Sunlight and signs of spring peeked through a small window, shining life on Houston in the dim room lit by two fluorescent bulbs.

One of the challenges of the story was how and where to end it. In many cases, a story like this ends when the child dies or is cured (even if temporarily). In this case, we knew neither of those were likely to happen during the time frame we had set for our story to run.

So, Leigh wrote an ending that showed Matt Schwartz pulled between his desire to do everything he can to keep his son alive and the knowledge that at some point, he will have to stop. Once Leigh had that ending, there was the question of: How do we give people the very latest information on Houston and Matt? We settled on the epilogue -- spare but, we hope, in keeping with the emotion of the piece.