With The Newspaperman, I wanted to write a novella that author Bentley Little would be proud of. Maybe one day he’ll read it and let me know if it’s worthy.
The book does, after all, have some Little-esque things about it: the evil, bizarre characters and their strange actions and way of talking; the temporary suspension of a belief in reality; shocking moments of horror that you almost have to laugh at. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when I wrote this book. All I know is that it started off with an image of a bedraggled guy and an unlikely scene.
The image was Cedrick, a.k.a. The Newspaperman; the scene was Cedrick selling newspapers on a downtown Champaign street corner. Selling the dang things for a measly dime at a time, and doing so in his 1930s-style get-up while hollering, “Extra, extra, read all about it!” How could that be in this day and age of cellphones and online stories? I wasn’t sure, but I liked the feel of the whole thing. So I went with it.
This book does have a message amid the absurdity, and many who have read it have commented on the sincerity of the main character, Seth Kesler, and his quest to give his town honest journalism in the face of corruption. I may have been pushing a bit too hard when I had Seth say to his wife, toward the end of the book, “I’m telling you, Meghan, if everyone read a quality newspaper from front to back, every single day, we’d live in a much better, more informed country,” but that’s where my head was at the time. And for the record, I still do believe in the power of a good newspaper.
Several months prior to writing this novella, I’d earned a master’s degree in journalism. Writing a from-the-heart book was a new and exciting project after the slog of four years of school. I wanted to share with the world some of what I’d learned in the classroom, but in a fun, scary way. I wrote The Newspaperman rather quickly in December of 2016, not long after Donald Trump became president, and then spent the next year editing it with the assistance of a good editor. The result, I believe, is a sharp and concise book that says a lot within its pages and manages to entertain.
I should mention the “Five Years Later” ending of the book, which many have told me left them shocked and mad. I don’t blame people for saying that. My inspiration for the abrupt, jaw-dropping conclusion of The Newspaperman was inspired by the late great horror author Richard Laymon, whose ending in the disturbing novel The Cellar left me, a mere freshman in high school when I read it, stunned for days. Laymon went on to write a few sequels to his horror classic, so maybe someday I’ll write The Newspaperman II. In retrospect, it’s not fair to leave people hanging from thirty thousand feet in the air.
Book cover illustration by Ted Veatch.