The Fish, the Plane Crash, and the Coyote
By: Lynn Chandler Willis
In my former life, I owned and published a bi-weekly newspaper. Circulation 15,000, thank you. Not bad for a totally ad-supported paper that covered one incorporated rural town and a couple unincorporated surrounding communities. The paper lasted thirteen years and probably could have gone on a few more but I was tired. I was tired of small-town politics, the neighbor against neighbor, the curses of angry mothers because you misspelled their kid’s name in the Honor Roll report. Or worse, spelled the Mayor’s son’s name correctly in the police report.
The paper did have its bright side and they far outweighed the down sides. I met people I never would have met and was introduced to some of the most amazing experiences – like watching the Hinshaw brothers make homemade maple syrup, meet the Budweiser Clydesdales up close and personal (and they are MASSIVE), and get courted by a guy who brought me a fish. Dead.
The guy kinda had a crush on me and dropped by the office – we’re talking rural community so the office isn’t a skyscraper – and asked me to come outside with him for a minute. He said he had something to give me. I walk outside with him and he reaches into his Coleman cooler in the bed of his truck and pulls out this massive fish. It might have been a bass, I don’t know. It was big, and it was dead. He’d caught it earlier and knew I’d be impressed because I was such a down-home type girl. I told him I couldn’t accept it because my husband might not appreciate it so he took his fish and went home. And no, I wasn’t married.
Then there was the plane crash. A small charter plane went down in a field near our neck of the woods. I head out there dressed for field trials and get right up to the crash site to take pictures. One of the large daily papers showed up but the reporter, in her high heels, couldn’t get anywhere near the site. They ended up using my pictures. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries, unless you count the reporter’s ego and sprained ankle.
Often, people would drop by the office for a cup of coffee and some chit-chat, or to offer me a fish, or a photo op. This particular time, an avid outdoorsman wheels up to the office in his heavy-duty truck and rushes in to get me. Bring your camera, I’m instructed. We get outside and he drops the tailgate of his truck and there’s the largest coyote I’ve ever seen. Like the fish, dead. The thing stretched nose to base of tail across the tailgate. Coyotes in our area are considered a nuisance so it’s always open season. And we have had problems with coyotes in the past so people are a bit scared of them ‘round here. So this guy wants me to take a picture for the front page – above the fold – to warn people coyotes are in the area. The problem was, the coyote was dead. With very visible bullet wounds. And blood. I could not run that kind of picture on the front page of a family friendly newspaper. The guy accused me of doing a disservice to the people and their pets and every cat and Yorkie that got attacked by a coyote was on me. I’d have the blood of many small pets on my hands. At least a picture of blood wasn’t going on the front page.
I gave up the newspaper business in real life but write about it in my fiction. Ava Logan of the Ava Logan Mystery Series is – surprise—a small town newspaper publisher struggling with work-life balance, and the brutality of small-town politics. And the occasional murder.
Set deep in the Appalachia Mountains, The second book in the series, Tell Me No Secrets, involves serpent-handling churches, granny women folk healing, and muddy river baptisms. I never covered any of these in my newspaper but I did interview Prince WadaWada DuDu of the Great Zanbini’s Traveling