Alabama reporter explores death penalty and local newspapers in new novel “Tell it True”

JACKSONVILLE, Alabama (WIAT) – Much of what Lisa saw around her was wrong, but in a new novel by a longtime reporter from Alabama, she learned to “tell the truth.”

In his new book, “Tell it True,” former Anniston Star reporter Tim Lockette tells the story of Lisa Rives, a senior high school newspaper editor who fights to cover an in-person execution.

The book is set in Beachside, Alabama, a fictional town along a lake formed by the construction of an Alabama Power Dam.

Lockette calls the novel – his second – a “northern Alabama book.”

“There is a landscape that people here would recognize,” said Lockette, who grew up in Jacksonville and lives there today. “I like to give people a clear picture of Alabama. I try to leave out the things that are stereotypical about the state in the book – the things that aren’t very there. “

In some ways, “Tell It True” is a story that could only happen in Alabama. Its plot reflects the realities of Yellowhammer State in a way that allows Lockette’s intimate knowledge of Southern life to shine through.

The cover of “Tell It True”
(Courtesy of Tim Lockette)

Lisa is facing signs that her father is having an affair with his employee. She is forced to face sexual harassment from her classmates and unfair and unrealistic beauty standards imposed by her mother. She is pushed, even in the first pages of the novel, to deal with complex but critical questions about the ethics of journalism.

The main characters in “Tell It True” are women, something Lockette said came from his desire to both challenge gender roles and simply reflect the experiences he has had with women in his own life. .

“Somehow my male characters have always been very passive,” he said of his past work. “They were like storytellers. And there was always a friend who stepped in and would be the active character. There were moms and teachers who always had some really smart things to say. And I found that if I write a character, a teacher who looks like my mother or a teacher who looks like the teachers I had, suddenly I can say something better.

The development of female characters has provided Lockette with a way to help, he thinks, tell the truth.

“I have these quotes which are much wiser than I could possibly get myself. Pretending to be them made me smarter, ”he said. “And I was done when I finally decided to take the boy out and have the girl active and have all these wise women around, everything went so much better. It was really strange. I realized that I didn’t want to steal someone’s voice or steal someone’s role, but I have to write the characters that work.

What is clear throughout the book is Lockette’s genuine and deeply rooted respect for the journal as an institution, a respect Lisa develops throughout the story.

“I see the diary as a place where if you’ve died and worked in a foundry all your life, and no one has ever pinned a medal on your chest or you’ve never received an honorary degree or something. thing like that – you ‘are just a simple joe – someone writes a story about you and your life, and you are recognized and honored in the obituary page, ”he said.

This type of service, he said, while increasingly rare in today’s media landscape, is one we should all be entitled to.

“It strikes me as a fundamental form of dignity that a human being should have, that Americans should have,” he said. “I see the newspaper as a place where the daily life of ordinary people is elevated for their peers to see, and a place where the daily life of our democracy is recorded.”

When it comes to the heaviest subject in history, the execution of a convicted inmate, Lockette’s attention to detail is at its best.

The story draws on Lockette’s own experience spanning five executions, three of which he witnessed. He said that witnessing such a process changes you, something his main character had to learn on his own.

“Lisa, she launches into this thought: ‘What a big deal can she be? “And I think a lot of people do that when they’re covering something like an execution,” he said. “You underestimate the impact this will have on you. And as you get older, maybe develop more respect for life, it weighs more on you. “

The release of “Tell It True” comes when Alabama is about to send a man to his death. Willie B. Smith, a death row inmate with an IQ of around 70, is due to be executed on October 21, unless there is a new lawsuit or stay from Governor Kay Ivey. The state of Alabama restricted press access to witness the lethal injection to a single Associated Press reporter. Media and organizations have expressed opposition to the restrictions.

Lockette said he also opposed limiting press access to Smith’s execution.

“Journalists – plural – should be there because it’s a hard thing to see,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to go through. And journalists need more colleagues with them to help them, in a way. “

Lockette said that since the death penalty is in part, at least in theory, a deterrent to crime, even supporters of the policy should be in favor of opening up around executions.

“If you believe in the death penalty, you believe in the transparency of the death penalty, I think,” he said. “You would like us to know how this is all done,” he said. So it makes the secret that emerges sometimes seem strange to me. I don’t understand the reluctance to be open about this.

Lockette said he’s not sure yet if Lisa will reappear in another novel, but said he has some ideas on what she is currently doing.

“I have it like a list of ideas,” said Lockette, who now teaches English at Jacksonville State University. “But I have a lot of homework to correct. And so right now the students come first.

You can read more information about Tim Lockette and his work on his website. “Tell It True” can be purchased here.

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