Last week, we profiled how Mid-Continent Public Library is incubating the arts by resurrecting the art of serial fiction— the form that made writers like Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe famous, and then…well…died off in the face of new publishing technology.

With the advent of the internet and the ease of publishing personal narratives, news, and fiction on the web through blogs, the serial novel is making a comeback with a little help from the library.  MCPL’s Grandview Branch Blog  hosts weekly installments of The Timely Adventures of Rachel Evans, a serial novel written by library page Sally S., who, like Dickens, pays attention to reader comments and writes her next installment with their plot suggestions in mind. We’re delighted to run her work here at the Library as Incubator Project!

If you haven’t read Parts One and Two, start here, and then plunge into the next two installments below.

And don’t forget to leave comments for Sally!  What do you think should happen next?  Which famous time traveler would you love to see in a cameo role as Rachel explores NYC?  Share your ideas and stay tuned for the next episode!


The Timely Adventures of Rachel Evans, Part Three

Originally published by Sally S. on the Mid-Continent Public Library Grandview Branch Blog, December 6, 2011

“I can see we’re going to need to get more coffee in you before I try the logic.” Leigh looked around. “Alright, here.” She steered Rachel down the busy sidewalk and into a diner.

"Dot's Diner" by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass via Flickr's Creative Commons.

“Coffee,” Rachel nodded in agreement. She was still holding the coffee cup from home. At this point, she was loath to abandon it. It was part of whatever had happened. “Possibly the first time traveling coffee mug in existence,” Rachel held it a little closer. Arthur Dent’s preferred beverage, after all, had been tea. Not that he had gotten it, Rachel amended. True, the coffee cup was empty now, but the point was that it had traveled with them in time. It was part of events now.

Leigh grabbed a booth and nudged her toward it. “Go, sit down and don’t run away and get kidnapped by the Ziegfield Follies.” She leaned over to grab a menu.

“I don’t think that’s a thing that happens.” Rachel set the coffee cup on the table and stared out the window. The cars honking and grinding their way through the lanes, the people in their bright clothes. The advertisements on the billboards, hawking everything from coffee and Chryslers to Schlitz beer and fashion. It was definitely a classic movie come to life, only noisier, busier, and more far interesting. Guys and Dolls, or maybe An Affair To Remember.

“Okay.” Leigh sank into the seat across from her and opened the menus. “Right…they don’t have lattes yet.” She sighed heavily then folded her hands on the table and faced Rachel evenly. “Here’s the thing. Should we really be going off adventuring, or should we try to go home first?”

Rachel wavered. She could see the sense in that. It was a perfectly reasonable option, but…”What if it only works once?” What if this was her sole opportunity for time travel and this here and now was it? Granted, if she had been allowed to choose, this might not have been her first choice. Nevertheless, here they were, and she wasn’t going to waste it if this was her one and only chance.

“What if we never get home?” Leigh countered darkly.

Rachel resisted the urge to say, “So what?” All right, she would miss her home if she never got back there. At least, Rachel assumed she would. Okay, she’d definitely miss her family. Nobody would miss temping at the Bryden Northern Office where she was currently employed. Her dog would miss her. Probably?

The diner waitress chose to saunter over at this point to take their order. Her nametag read Sondra, which Rachel was pretty sure was fake. The woman looked like a Mabel if she ever saw one. Still, that was the great thing about New York. You could change your name and your life in one swift move. Rachel resisted the urge to beam at the woman.

“What can I get you…two?” Sondra-Mabel looked a tad baffled at their appearance. Rachel shot a surreptitious glance at herself. Clad in her usual garb of jeans, t-shirt and hoodie, she could see nothing out of the ordinary for her time frame, but after all, this was the fifties. She probably looked like some sort of urchin, and not the cute Dickens kind. At least Leigh was wearing a skirt, and a nice button-up shirt for once. For the hundredth time, Rachel wondered where in the world her friend worked. It had become a matter of some curiosity over the years they had known each other. One of these days, she would find out.

“Two coffees.” Leigh closed the menu sadly. “And fries.” Rachel added because she was hungry, and French fries were something she knew existed in the fifties.

“Two coffees and fries. I’ll be right back with that.” Sondra-Mabel moved on to the next booth.

Rachel waited until the waitress had disappeared back behind the counter to ask the question that had been preying on her mind. “So…how exactly are we going to pay for this?”

“I have money.” Leigh looked out the window. “Look at that ad. Whoa, don’t they realize the irony in having your doctor tell you what brand to smoke? No wonder the human race is dying out.”

“Leigh, your money is printed in the wrong time.” Rachel tapped the coffee cup on the table for emphasis. “Does it count here? Can we leave money here? Wasn’t it just ONE PENNY that ruined everything for Christopher Reeve?”

“I thought that was kryptonite.”

Somewhere In Time, not Superman.” Rachel cradled the coffee cup to her chest. “Look, I know you’re not thrilled to be here, but can’t we make the most of it?” She smiled winningly at her friend.

“Stop that. It’s creepy. I didn’t say I wasn’t thrilled.” Leigh shook her head. “I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic.” That was Leigh’s way of admitting that she might be up for an adventure, but that they should take precautions.

“Here you go.” The waitress set their coffee and fries down, and sailed off to deal with another customer.

Rachel took a sip of coffee, which was hot, dark, and strong. “This,” She looked at appreciatively, “is good coffee.”

“Look at the grease on these fries.” Leigh’s eyebrows were as high as they could possibly go. “I can’t even…”

“Delicious.” Rachel dipped one in the ketchup and dropped it in her mouth. “The real question is, do we really trust this book?” Leigh peered at it suspiciously.

“Listen to yourself, Leigh. You’re asking if we trust a book. Notably, a collection of historical facts.”

“But history is really just a matter of opinion.” Leigh declared. “It’s only what the people in charge at that particular point in time decide that ends up in the history books that we learn about in school. I’m just saying, where exactly did you find this? A library.” She made it sound like the dregs of a Parisian sewer.

“Yes, right, a library.” Rachel nodded seriously. “A place where people go to get books.”

“Yeah, but librarians. I don’t trust them.” Leigh ate a fry cautiously.

You don’t trust librarians. They’re supposed to be trustworthy. Like firemen.”

“But they always watch you when you linger too long in one section, and then they want to know if you really want to request all the books you requested and whether it’s okay with your parents if you check out that book on explosives…” Leigh trailed off.

“What kind of library did you go to when you were a kid?” Rachel stared at her.

“You don’t want to know.” Leigh muttered.

“Fine…but what’s the alternative?” Rachel wanted to stay, more than anything else in the world at this moment. She wanted to stay right here in 1950’s New York City and experience this. Whatever it was, whatever was about to happen. Even if it had technically already happened before.

To be continued…


The Timely Adventures of Rachel Evans, Part Four: Funny Money

Originally published by Sally S. on the Mid-Continent Public Library Grandview Branch Blog, December 21, 2011

Leigh sat back and surveyed her friend across the table. “You really want to stay, don’t you?”

Rachel took another sip of coffee. “I think we both already know the answer to that question.”

"Fun with dishes" by Flickr user cursedthing via Flickr's Creative Commons

Leigh didn’t say anything else, merely studied the offending plate of french fries. There was silence in the booth, while the noise of the diner went on around them. Rachel could have kicked herself. It wasn’t that she wanted to make Leigh feel bad. All right, perhaps she did a little, but not that much. She would have wanted to stay regardless of The Thing They Still Needed To Talk About. But an adventure with an unwilling friend was hardly going to be enjoyable.

“Look,” She fiddled with the handle of her coffee cup. Her cup, not the one that actually held the coffee. “If you think we should go back, then, okay.” It didn’t sound very gracious, but it was the best she could manage.

“All right, all right.” Leigh reached for her own coffee with a sigh. “We’ll stay. One adventure. No changing things. No starting World War 3. We walk, we look around, and then we go home. Deal?”

“I knew you’d come round.” Rachel said happily.

“I haven’t come round to anything. I simply know you. We’re not going anywhere until you say deal.” Leigh waited.

“Okay, it’s a deal.”

“Good.” Leigh took a sip of coffee. “Besides, I’m sure there’s something we can find to do around here that’s not too threatening to the future. See a show maybe.”

Sondra-the-waitress chose that moment to reappear. “Can I get you girls anything else?”

“No, thank you.” Leigh murmured, reaching for her wallet.

“What’s that?” Sondra gave the time-traveling coffee cup a dubious look.

“A coffee cup.” This was not a response Rachel felt she should have had to give. The answer was obvious. A waitress should definitely know what a coffee cup looked like, even one from the future. Things hadn’t changed that much.

“You take a coffee cup with you to get coffee.” Sondra raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a good luck memento.” Rachel said defensively. She picked the cup up and put it in her hoodie pocket, giving it a little pat.

Sondra shrugged amicably. “Sure thing, hon. I’ll be right back with your check.”

“You better put that,” Leigh nodded at the pocket dictionary, “Somewhere safe as well.”

“I will, I will.”

“We don’t want it getting lost now, do we?”

“Leigh, I know how this works.” Rachel put the PD in her other pocket and reached for her coffee again.

Sondra returned with the check and laid it down. Leigh opened her wallet and handed over a five. Sondra picked it up and studied it. Rachel took another sip of coffee. It was probably the last one she would get for a while. She had a feeling things were about to get sketchy.

“What is this, some kind of joke?” The waitress waved the five at them, her other hand placed combatively on her hip . “I don’t need this kind of trouble.”

“Something wrong, Sondra?” A beefy man in an apron leaned over the counter, giving Rachel and Leigh a long, calculating look.

“These two.” She jerked a thumb at Rachel and Leigh. “Trying to pass a phony five. The nerve of them!”

“I told you.” Rachel mouthed at Leigh, who kicked her under the table.

“Look, ma’am.” Leigh smiled apologetically. “I am very, very sorry about this. I got the five from my younger cousin. He probably meant it as a joke.”

“Some joke.” Sondra sniffed. “Okay, you got any other cash on you?”

“Unfortunately, no.” Leigh pressed her lips together. Rachel moved her feet slightly just in case.

“Harve,” Sondra looked at the guy over the counter. “They say they can’t pay.”

“Is that right…” Harve came around the counter. “So you…ladies can’t pay your bill and you try to pass phony money…”

To be continued…


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