What Santa Saw

The News & Record started a three-part Christmas fiction series today titled “What Santa Saw” that runs through Sunday. Susan Ladd’s first installment is promising. If it maintains that quality — and knowing the other two writers I believe it will — News & Record readers are in for a wonderful Christmas present. (It isn’t posted. You have to buy a paper or access it from the paper’s e-edition. It’s worth it.)

Before I left the paper, city editor Teresa Prout pitched the idea of a fictionalized serial so I was aware it was coming. I had reservations because there was going to be a different writer on each segment, and there wasn’t a lot of time. But I knew the writers were top notch; I had confidence they could pull it off. Besides, I was going to be gone by then so ultimately, it wasn’t my call.

Yesterday, Teresa, who is now the paper’s acting editor, answered a few questions about the serial.

Me: How did you come up with the idea?

Teresa: We try to offer something special for the holiday – something that will pull people away from their presents and their big meals and make them want to read.

Cathy Frail, the news editor, and I were brainstorming ideas for Christmas content at lunch one day about a month ago. I told her that we had some particularly strong writers on staff and that I thought we should take advantage of that. At the end of the lunch, we went out with the notion of having a seven-part series, by seven reporters, running the week of Christmas.

I brought the idea to our futures meeting, and while everyone seemed intrigued with the proposal, there was also concern that we didn’t have enough time to pull it off. Someone suggested waiting till 2012, but I thought that would doom the idea. I went out of the meeting planning to have three reporters doing a three-part story to run on Christmas weekend.

I picked a writing team with complementary styles. That they also had editing, writing and planning experience was a huge help. I went to them with the notion of working together to come up with a theme, a story arc and a cast of characters. My only requirements: lots of Greensboro touches, a tease at the end of the first and second stories, and a happy ending with Christmas spirit throughout.

Me: Why was the framework of “The Gift of the Magi” chosen?

Teresa: The team – Susan Ladd, Betsi Robinson and Margaret Banks – picked the theme. They chose a take on “The Gift of the Magi” because it’s a holiday classic written by a Greensboro author, O. Henry. This gave them a strong foundation for their work and a nice local touch. They did decide, though, to give their story a little more closure – and a true happy ending.

Me: What do you think the reader reaction will be?

Teresa: I think – I hope –that many readers will enjoy the story, read it aloud and maybe keep a copy.Tim Rickard is illustrating, so the artwork is beautiful. I know that some others will say this is a waste of time and space and that this is not what we should put on our newspaper. But really, serialized fiction has a long history of appearing in newspapers. And it is Christmas.

Me: What advice do you have for other papers that might want to try this?

Teresa: Go for it. Give yourself plenty of time since one writer can’t start till the other finishes. But I have to say that it took less time than I would’ve have expected. One of my writers had her part done in just four hours. Also get the right group of writers. My group was uniformly strong and they worked well as a team – getting together to plan each part, to determine what from the previous part would be brought forward, and to critique each other’s efforts and make suggestions. Last but not least, edit the story in its entirety for inconsistencies. You’ll probably find them, even with the very best of writers.

I really loved how the story turned out,and I think it’s significant that Susan, Betsi and Margaret are already talking about doing this again.