Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Parting Words: A local tale, told piecefully.

The serial novel has a distinguished pedigree.

No less a writer than Charles Dickens published many of his novels in serial form, with a section or chapter appearing in a periodical from issue to issue. In fact, many magazines in the 19th century published novels serially.

The format never disappeared, but rather went out of fashion.

The internet, it may be said, has helped revive the form by priming readers to read differently—micro tales suit the text-byte attitude. And—surprise—there’s an app for that. Serial fiction apps are available for Android and IOS devices.

The Perry County Council of the Arts (PCCA) is restarting the tradition locally, with plans to publish a novella, “The Blue, the Gray and the Red,” in five monthly installments as an insert in the News-Sun, Perry County Times and Duncannon Record starting this month.

The novella (defined as a short novel, about 40,000 words) is set in Perry County in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. It places fictional characters in historical events and interweaves elements of family drama, romance, loss and the supernatural.

Right now, Perry County citizens are actively engaged in historically related initiatives as the county’s bicentennial is in 2020. So, according to former PCCA Executive Director Roger Smith, the novella project is timely.

Loose Ends

The novella is a product of PCCA’s “A Novel Idea,” a yearlong writing program for aspiring authors. The goals behind the writing course are to teach participants how to avoid writing pitfalls, rouse inspiration and benefit from the wisdom of published authors. Participants stoke ideas through writing exercises and group critiques.

The writing program also offers students publication opportunities. For instance, in December 2016, Sunbury Press published a collection from the program titled, “Strange Magic.” That anthology caught the attention of Wade Fowler, editor of the Perry County Times and chairman of the Robert H. and Beverly U. Fowler Foundation.

Fowler presented PCCA with a grant to publish the novella in his three newspapers as a practical way to honor his late father, who loved to encourage and support writers.

“I am excited that the Arts Council has developed this novel way to recognize and promote local literary talent,” Fowler said.

Carrie Jacobs, a third-year student writer, wrote the first installment. Her guidelines were simple—set the project during the Civil War somewhere in Perry County and include a supernatural element.

“The most challenging part has been writing without ending the story, leaving enough conflict and loose ends for the next writers to pick up where I left off,” Jacobs said.

Angela Binner, also a student writer, followed with the second installment.

“My job was to build the tension through additional conflicts,” she said.

Book Format

For Binner, the project combined two subjects of fascination—the Civil War and Pennsylvania Dutch magic. As a bonus, it allowed Binner to work one-on-one with Christian/Amish/romance writer Laurie Edwards (who also writes under the pen name Rachel J Good), whom Binner admires.

“One of our goals as teachers is to pass along our hard-earned knowledge and make it easier for beginning writers to learn the craft and avoid many of the pitfalls in the industry,” Edwards said. “As their skills improved, we hoped to provide opportunities for them to experience publication.”

Cindy Simmons, a second year student with the PCCA writing workshop, and contemporary romance author Heather Heyford partnered for the third installment.

Sandra Bush, a student in the “A Novel Idea 102” program, and writing program founder/author Don Helin, will pen the fourth installment.

Brenda Tadych, a participant in the charter “A Novel Idea” writing workshop, and yours truly (Catherine Jordan), will tackle the fifth and final piece.

Lawrence Knorr, founder and CEO of Sunbury Press, has agreed to publish the complete story as a novella in book format. Look for the completed novella in May.

“I think that ‘The Blue, the Gray and the Red’ will engage the readers of our newspapers in a uniquely Perry County story,” Fowler said.

For more information about the Perry County Council of the Arts, visit The next installment of “A Novel Idea” begins in March 2018.

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