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Former Enterprise reporter releases debut novel

Christopher Mele (Photo provided)

Though his first novel is on bookstore shelves and he’s almost finished the outline of a sequel, Chris Mele likes to tell people that he’s an “accidental” novelist.

“When I started it, it was kind of a lark almost. I had this half-cooked short story idea and it involved a former reporter,” he said. “The more I added to his backstory, I was kind of, ‘Oh, there’s a lot here, this isn’t a short story anymore.'”

Mele has spent the last 40 years as a reporter and editor, working for two years at the Enterprise in the late 1980s and the Plattsburgh Press-Republican from 1988-92. He’s now a deputy editor on the breaking news team at the New York Times and spent time at newsrooms in the Hudson Valley and as executive editor of The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. His debut foray into fiction, “Goodwill’s Secrets,” hit bookstores earlier this month.

The novel is set in the fictional village of Goodwill in the Adirondacks and tells the story of reporter Alex Provetto as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of a local teenage girl. Mele, a Bronx native, was first introduced to the Adirondacks in his early 20s, while cutting his teeth as a cub reporter at the Enterprise, covering Harrietstown and Saranac Lake. Though it’s Mele’s first time working with fiction, he said that he did a fair amount of old-fashioned reporting to inform the story.

“An overarching, guiding principle for me was I wanted this to be as rooted in reality and plausibility and fact-based as possible,” Mele said. “It was not necessarily based on a single true-life event per se as much as a lifetime in news.”

It took Mele about three years to write the novel. He’s a planner, he said, not a “pantser” — that is, an author who flies by the seat of their pants while writing. The first six months or so of the writing process consisted of intensive research and outlining.

“I outlined the living daylights out of this thing,” he said. “That was my saving grace. Without that, I don’t think I could’ve been able to fulfill this thing.”

Writing a mystery novel was like a puzzle — at once both a Rube Goldberg machine and a Rubik’s Cube, according to Mele. He went through several drafts, all with his trusty outline in hand, to make sure that the mystery worked. He also wanted to make sure that the novel kept its readers engaged, a sensibility that he said comes from his decades in the newsroom.

“That news sensibility … says, ‘Well, is it clear? Does it get bogged down? Does it get lost in the weeds?'” he said. “I wanted this thing to be something that had momentum. It had propulsion, it didn’t sag, it didn’t drag. I didn’t want this to be some ponderous thumb-sucker.”

He knew he’d cracked it when he finally gave a draft to his wife to read and she finished it in less than two days. Throughout the writing process, Mele kept her in the dark so she could read his draft with fresh eyes. Even though she knew little about the novel itself, Mele said that she helped him quiet his inner critic and finish his drafts.

Mele was also inspired by his late father, Eugene Mele, who was “kind of a closet writer.” Mele self-published a collection of his father’s writing, “Any Blank Sheet of Paper,” in March.

“I would just be sort of in awe or admire the fact that he could conjure up these characters or settings,” Mele said of his father. “Some of them were rooted in — I knew they had some real-life roots and some was vaguely autobiographical — but the fact that he could come up with these scenes and stuff, I found that sort of daunting.”

Now that he’s caught the fiction bug, though, Mele said that he plans to keep writing.

“If you had told me two, two and a half, three years ago that I would complete this (novel) and that I’d want to write another one, I’d say I want some of what you’re smoking,” he said. “I have a sequel strongly in mind, I would say probably 85% to 90% outlined … and then I’ve got some other short stories.”

Mele will be in Saranac Lake to promote “Goodwill’s Secrets” throughout the summer, first from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 8 at the Harrietstown Town Hall for a book sale and signing as a part of the Kicka** Writers Festival, then again on July 3 at The Book Nook for another signing.

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