The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 9, 2013

Commentary: Real life more dramatic than novel

By Karen Middleton
For The News Courier

— I’ve been asked by management to revive the concept of the serial novel to which our many local writers might contribute chapters. Some of you might remember the novella “As the Small Town Turns,” which The News Courier introduced in about mid-2010. The chapters still are linked on our Website.

We drew the novel to a close at the end of that year because I retired. But in the few short months our fictional lovers, Buck, a returning Iraq war veteran, and Raquel, a single mother struggling to make ends meet, fall in love and marry after overcoming many obstacles.

We saw Buck and Raquel through interference from Raquel’s no-good ex-husband, Rock, an Elvis-impersonating truck driver. Buck was finally forced to inflict a righteous smack down on Rock, who then came back and kidnapped Raquel’s daughter, Roxanne.

Whew!!

So, when the idea of reviving the serial novel was suggested, we had to decide whether to go back and resurrect the saga of Buck and Raquel or introduce a new storyline. Since the last plot was hatched over lunch at a Chinese buffet, a couple of us gals sat down at a local restaurant specializing in classic American meat-and-three.

My lunch companion suggested we open the new storyline with a murder for a “Who dun it?” serial. For the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over the many intriguing possibilities this idea offers.

It’s edgy and might activate the amateur sleuths lurking in many imaginations. “As the Small Town Turns” was set in a city bearing a striking resemblance to Athens, Alabama.

I read with interest the front page of The News Courier on Sunday, and this is where it gets serious. With three murders in the past year and two suspects in custody and a third person of interest still unnamed, and pistol permits up 21 percent over last year, I don’t know how to top this in a fictional storyline.

This is a town with many good people and more attractive features than I can name here. It is also a town that knows violence, bloodshed, crime and broken homes. In other words, we are a small slice of Americana 2013.

There should be a slew of intriguing storylines here, but in writing a serial novel for local readers we have to be extremely careful not to embarrass or incriminate or settle old scores on our pages. That means the plot must have fictional elements and not hinge on actual occurrences. With these admonitions, I am asking for submissions for our introductory storyline. Please keep submissions at about 600 words.

If you want to begin with a who-dun-it, that’s fine. If you want to involve Buck and Raquel, that’s also fine. If you would like to introduce a new romantic couple, that’s super fine.

Writers are asked to include their names and contact information and e-mail submissions to lora@athensnews-courier.com by Wednesdays to appear in the following Sundays’ editions. Successive chapters must pick up where the other left off. Please stay consistent with the established storyline.

If we do not receive a suitable introductory chapter, there are those of us at The News Courier who will be forced to go to lunch together and come up with something.

— Retired reporter Karen Middleton is an occasional contributor and editor of Boom magazine.