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seeking feedback on a feature from Oct. '10

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Rowdy Burns, Apr 7, 2011.

  1. Rowdy Burns

    Rowdy Burns New Member

    Hello, I don't often post on here (clearly) but I track the site as much as possible. I'm posting a story I wrote for a weekly last year, just to get some more feedback on it. Tell me what worked. Tell me what didn't. Much appreciated, all.

    I can just say that in the time since it was written, I'd retool a few things but I'll let you all decide what you think before I offer my opinion.

    An Auburn football star, a killing, and redemption

    It was a warm night in Chattanooga, just past midnight on July 20, 1957.
    Chattanooga native and Alabama Polytechnic Institute student Bobby Hoppe, a standout running back on the Tigers' football team, was in town before heading back to Auburn for the start of football season.
    What transpired that night would change Hoppe's life forever, as well as that of his family and of 24-year-old Don Hudson, a local bootlegger.
    When the dust settled, Hudson was dead of a gunshot wound to the head. Hoppe fled to Auburn soon after, and the fact that Hudson died when Hoppe was in town seemed to be coincidence. Hoppe's departure proved to be more than just sheer happenstance, however, but no one found out for more than 30 years.
    Hoppe went about his business in Auburn that fall, playing a key role in the Tigers' 10-0 season that got the Shug Jordan-coached team its first and only National Championship.
    While he didn't tell anyone about killing Hudson, Hoppe was considerably more reserved when he came back, said his roommate and teammate Sentell Harper. Harper now lives in northwest Alabama.
    "He was withdrawn more, very submissive, but he was always a loner," Harper said.
    Harper added that one reason he thought Hoppe never told him was that "he didn't want to put it on anybody else's conscience."
    Hoppe kept his secret for more than 30 years.
    As Hoppe drove around that night, a car approached him from behind with its lights off.
    Assuming it was a high school friend (Hoppe graduated from nearby Central High) he continued on his way. When the driver unexpectedly got beside him on the road, Hoppe realized the driver, Hudson, was brandishing a gun pointed toward him.
    He reacted quickly and in self-defense, Harper said, grabbing a shotgun and firing.
    Hoppe didn't know initially he had killed Hudson, but when he found out, "it ate at him," said Harper.
    Hoppe moved on with his life, at least outwardly. Auburn won the championship and Hoppe later became a high school coach.
    His wife Sherry remembered the day the dynamic of their relationship changed. There were rumors in December of 1987 that the Hudson case would be reopened, and finally Hoppe had to come clean to his wife.
    "We were taking a walk," she said, "and he had always told me, 'I have never murdered anyone,' but that day, he stopped, took me by the hand and said 'Sherry, I killed Don Hudson.' We walked for three hours and he poured his heart out, secrets he kept inside for over 30 years."
    Shocked and rendered speechless for a moment as he spoke, Sherry recalled her initial reaction was compassion.
    "I was concerned about him," she said.
    The case was re-opened because back in 1957, when Hoppe got back to Auburn, he stopped at the First Baptist Church seeking a pastor. Bobby's chosen confessor was away, so Hoppe confessed to an assistant.
    That Auburn minister violated the confidentiality agreement by which the clergy usually operate and notified authorities—but not until 25 years later.
    Hoppe was indicted for first-degree murder on March 2, 1988. His attorneys were Bobby Lee Cook—who had represented Jimmy Hoffa and upon whom the TV character "Matlock" was based—and Leroy Phillips. If Cook and Phillips lost one of America's first "cold case" trials, Hoppe would have served 20 years to life in prison.
    At a time when he needed friends the most, Hoppe received a call from his old college roommate Harper.
    "I didn't think any differently of him after I found out, than before," Harper said.
    According to Sherry, Harper called and said, "wherever or whenever you need me, I'll be there."
    "That's a true-blue friend, and of all the people he loved at Auburn, Bobby always stayed in touch with Sentell the most...whenever he would call, Bobby's eyes would light up," Sherry said.
    Hoppe needed all the help he could get as the trial wore on, but he got the result he hoped for. Sherry Hoppe described an exhausting period that resulted in a hung jury, and Hoppe was never prosecuted further.
    Hoppe's wife said closure didn't come overnight.
    "He did feel some relief...he didn't always have to be looking over his shoulder, he had looked the world in the eye and told the truth," she said. "He finally accepted God's forgiveness and he was finally able to forgive himself."
    While he didn't discuss the killing for more than three decades, his wife said Hoppe lived in fear his secret would be made public without his consent.
    "We would be watching the news, and if something came on about an unsolved murder, he'd change the channel," Sherry said.
    "He told me, 'I'd look in the mirror as I shaved and I'd see this man with his face blown off,'" she added, recalling her husband's inner torment.
    A pilgrimage to Israel in 2000 swept away any remaining concerns Bobby had, and he lived at ease until he passed away at age 73 on April 7, 2008, Sherry said.
    "He walked where Jesus walked and he found peace, but he prayed for Don Hudson's soul 'til the day he died," she said.
    In her new book "A Matter of Conscience: Redemption of a Hometown Hero," Sherry documents her husband's life and the trial, as well as their lives as a couple.
    "We were blessed that it made our love grow stronger," she said.
    Her reason for penning the book was "to show the world what kind of person he was."
    According to Harper, Hoppe was "just a good person...he'd lay down his life for you if he had to, and you don't meet many people in life who are like that. I thought the world of him."
  2. rmanfredi

    rmanfredi Active Member

    My first question is: why were you writing that story then? It took me until the last few graphs to understand that it's because Don Hudson's wife had written a book about the circumstances. I would like to see that addressed much earlier. Since she's the reason you were writing the feature, you want to shape the story from her perspective - introduce her right away and get to what she was feeling throughout the process. Right now, I don't know exactly who the focus of the story is about, until I get to the end when I feel like it should be about the wife.

    Something like...

    "Sherry Hudson loved taking walks with her husband Don since before she had married the former Auburn football standout in the 1960s. But one day in 1987, a walk would change their lives forever. As Hudson details in her new book "A Matter of Conscience: Redemption of a Hometown Hero," Don Hudson told her a secret he had kept to himself for more than 30 years - that he had killed a man in self-defense while in college."

    That's not a great lead, but you get the idea. She wrote the book, so make the story about her from the beginning.
  3. MartinonMTV2

    MartinonMTV2 New Member

    The lead is really bad. Weather in July in Chattanooga was hot?

    I also agree with the previous poster that it takes way too long to get to the main details.
  4. Rowdy Burns

    Rowdy Burns New Member

    I was told to drop in the info about her but to tell his story, so that's the way I worked it.
  5. MartinonMTV2

    MartinonMTV2 New Member

    I don't think that idea worked. If you were locked into doing that, then you still could have sped up the pacing or dropped in her part sooner.

    I know someone who used to write features stories. At one of his first paper, he had a decent one about someone unusual in town. The best part of it was his friends, who did not want to be named in the article.

    The editor tried to squeeze the round peg into the square hole and asked for a bunch of changes that would have hurt the story. The writer did the bare minimum, reworked things a little, and left the rest the same.

    Unfortunately, one of the friends took advantage of not being named in order to exaggerate a few things, so the article ended up with a couple of flaws.
  6. Rowdy Burns

    Rowdy Burns New Member

    As frustrating as it may sound, or what have you, I did but I posted the final version here. It was edited. It happens. If I had it to do all over again I'd have made several changes. But I'm not going to jump so far as to say it was awful. Not some of my best work (not fully ready to post that here yet) but I chose something mid-level to mediocre to throw it to the hounds and see what came of it.
  7. MartinonMTV2

    MartinonMTV2 New Member

    If you weren't included in the editing process, then that's a problem.

    If you were and lost the discussion, then that's just life.
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