ELLSWORTH, Maine — It sounds like something out of Charles Dickens’ time: a new serial novel written to appear in the pages of a local newspaper. But it’s really happening, and it’s a brand new effort that will soon debut in The Ellsworth American’s new weekly magazine beginning on Aug. 7.
“Murder at the Black House,” is co-written by nine local authors who range in age from 20 to 73.
“We’re very happy to engage with aspiring writers in the community,” said Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American.
The idea sprouted from a letter to the editor where Ellsworth resident Scott Shields pitched an idea for a serial novel.
“I realize that this has been done before but I think this is unique in that there will be multiple writers,” Shields wrote.
The Ellsworth American Extra, which will be available only to subscribers, will feature a 15-chapter murder mystery set in Ellsworth — with each author writing different chapters of the tale.
Published in the tradition of serial stories featured in 20th century magazines, the fictional story set in modern-day Ellsworth offers a twist by featuring multiple authors instead of one.
“[Historically] it was quite an inducement for readers to come back to get the next issue,” Fay said. “A part of it is that it’s going back to a very old model and trying it out again. We think it might stimulate reader intrestrest.”
The story follows a female protagonist and includes many Ellsworth backdrops like the Woodlawn Black House Museum — the scene of the crime.
Blue Hill resident Sandy Cohen wrote three chapters. In two of those chapters he introduced a secret tunnel, thievery and a jeweled chalice. Working with other writers was a welcomed experience for the 73-year-old short story writer.
“Writing is a solitary thing for me, and the idea of writing in a group was an exciting thing for me,” Cohen said.
The authors — Cohen, Shields, Elizabeth Delano, Jenny King, Monica Giordano, Diane Gallagher, Michelle Knowlton, Mac Herrling and Andrea St. George Jones — all wrote chapters, some writing more than one to complete the 15-chapter work.
Sullivan artist Mary Welsh will illustrate each chapter.
“I learned small-group dynamics, cooperation, listening to the other comments, looking for the validity of criticism and trying to get into the group spirit,” Cohen said. “[It] did emerge. We sort of bonded with each other in this very nice way.”
Cohen hopes the group will write another serial novel or a continuation of “Murder at the Black House.”
He has already proposed another story idea to the Deer Isle Writers’ Group.