Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Medieval Master Tony Hays

Tony Hays has traveled extensively and lived in locations around the world. He's worked in partnership with the American government and was a founding chairperson for the Overseas Security Advisory Council - Kuwait. But his writing love exists in a different kind of travel, time travel. He is a master with the historical mystery, especially the Dark Ages, where his acclaimed series is set.

Next week, the third book in that series, THE BELOVED DEAD, releases. It has already earned a starred review from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Tony is here today, though, to talk about writers and their readers. I hope you agree that this is an inspiring look at that relationship through the eyes of an author:

Readers and writers.  Writers and readers.  We complain about each other.   But we need each other.  That was a lesson I learned long ago.

It was October 1993.  Bill Clinton was still in his first year of office.   Russia was having a constitutional crisis.  I was in Omaha, Nebraska at my first Bouchercon, the International Mystery Convention. 

My mystery novel, Murder on the Twelfth Night, had been published the summer before by a small press in Tennessee, and I was learning the pitfalls of being an author at a very small publishing house.  Since I had written the first mystery published by this house, I was the only author from Iris Press at the convention.  I knew no one.  I had no fans that I knew of.  My only claim to fame was that the previous summer I had participated on a panel at Booked for Murder in Madison, Wisconsin with Carol Higgins Clark and British author John Harvey. 

Carol was and is not only a kind and gracious woman, but one with a surplus of class.  Just as is her mother, Mary Higgins Clark.    Unless, however, I wanted to flirt with being charged for stalking, I couldn’t cling to them too much.  I did meet a very kind Clive Cussler, and made friends with authors Tom Kakonis and A.W. Gray.  But I kind of felt like an orphan child.

Looming even larger than the potential loneliness was the MASS BOOK SIGNING.  I was booked in to the great room for thirty minutes on one day.   It was next to the booksellers’ hall.   I studied the roster of those I would be joining at the table – if memory doesn’t desert me, the legendary Hammond Innes was among the names.  I had already had enough experience with book signings to know that they can be wonderful, exciting events.  Or, they can be cold and lonely affairs.

I remember tossing and turning the night before my 30 minute turn at the signing table.  I just knew that my international embarrassment was right around the corner.    All those other writers would see me fidgeting, fanless, and secretly laugh at me.  Somehow, attending my first Bouchercon seemed a really bad idea.

The next morning, I arose, fortified myself with a hearty breakfast, and headed to what I had decided was my professional execution. 

You’ve heard of “The Long Walk.”

This was mine.

But where I expected to see only an empty chair with my name attached, a surprise awaited me.

A middle-aged man stood in MY line.

And he held a copy of my first novel.

And that was worth all the anxiety, all the concern, all of it.

We spoke at length.  He was from the upper Midwest and had found my book in a local mystery bookstore.  And he really liked it.  The only reason, he said, that he had come to Bouchercon that year was to see me and get his book signed.    After nearly 20 years and 30 countries, I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget him.  My first fan.

Now, I look at every book signing as an opportunity, not a chore.  I still have my share of flops, but I’ve had plenty of successes along the way.   That signing though, at my first Bouchercon, taught me a great deal about the relationship between authors and fans.  We exist because fans exist.  I hope that I’ve become a better writer because of my fans.  That relationship, that author/reader relationship, is the most important in our little world.


Clare2e March 23, 2011 at 5:58 PM  

Such a nice experience to have! The relationship between reader and author is kind of the whole deal, right? Otherwise, you'd write a diary!

Tony Hays March 23, 2011 at 7:29 PM  

You write to be read. Sure, you want to be satisfied with your own work, but you want your readers to be satisfied too.

Pop Culture Nerd March 23, 2011 at 7:38 PM  

What a great story, Tony. I'd love for that man who stood in your line to read this and come forward to identify himself!

Looking forward to more great posts from you on the Macmillan crime site.

Tony Hays March 23, 2011 at 8:18 PM  

I was very excited to be included in that project. I can't wait for the launch.

I wish I knew his name now. I'd send him free copies of the new Arthurian series.

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