Today my interview is with a fellow Vanilla Heart author Robert Hayes. Though I've never met him I read his bio and am impressed with all he's been involved with in the writing world.
1. What's your genre or do you write in more than one?
I probably don’t qualify as a genre author. In my fiction, I tell a story that I want to tell and it may not fit well into any particular genre. My three novels all have elements of romance, because I believe that love is a basic human emotion that plays a role in all our lives.
2. Did you choose your genre or did it choose you?
To the extent that I have one, it chose me. In my first novel, Circles in the Water, I wanted to tell the story of childhood sweethearts and their little circle of friends, growing up in small-town South Carolina, and how their lives took different directions as young adults. Their story was essentially a love story, obviously, and that had to be the underlying theme. My second novel, The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris, is about the loss of a longtime mate—again, clearly a love story.
3. Is there any genre you'd like to try? Or is there one you wouldn't?
At some point I might like to try writing a mystery novel. My latest work, The Baby River Angel, is tagged as a paranormal mystery—but more about that later.
4. What fiction do you read for pleasure?
I like stories in which ordinary people living ordinary lives are the heroes. My favorite contemporary writer is Kent Haruf. His characters and settings could be any of us, in the places we live, facing the difficulties of life.
5. Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been writing,
I’ve been a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, public relations writer and university professor and administrator. I loved being a reporter and I love both writing and teaching. As a journalist and academic I wrote a number of non-fiction books. I turned to fiction after I retired from the journalism faculty at the University of Illinois in 2008. My most successful book is G-2: Intelligence for Patton, a collaboration with Gen. Oscar Koch published in 1970 and still in print. But I’ve always liked creative writing best. I started writing short stories in the second grade.
6. Which of your characters is your favorite?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Like most authors, I suppose, I tend to love all my characters. If I absolutely had to choose just one, I think it would be Mack Brown, the used-car dealer in Circles in the Water who gives young Jimmie Broder his first job and becomes an importance influence. Mack came about more or less by accident; I needed a character to help carry the story at a given point and hurriedly created Mack out of thin air. I think that gave me the freedom to sculpt Mack as I wanted him to be, rather than forcing him into a preconceived mold.
7. Are there villains in your books and how were they created?
My most important villain is Jaybo, the young drug dealer in Circles in the Water. Jaybo is a sympathetic character up to a point, but in the end does a terrible thing. He came about because such a role was essential to the story of young people surrounded by poverty, racism, alcoholism and drug abuse and, finally, rape and its terrible consequences.
8. What are you working on now?
I always have more than one project going at a time. Since completing a couple of short stories for Vanilla Heart anthologies, I’ve started three new novels. I like them all, so far, and eventually one will rise to the top and get finished first. One is the story of a man coming home after twenty years in prison, one is about race relations in East Tennessee in the l950s, and the third is the confessions of a convicted psychopath awaiting sentence.
9. What's your latest release and how did the idea arrive?
My most recent release is a 10,000-word short story, “Paco’s Visions,” in the Vanilla Heart Publishing anthology, Passionate Hearts. I’d started a novel about a small boy who had visions of the future and changed the direction of the story to make the primary focus his caretaker, Mama Jan, and her romantic interest—thus fitting the theme of the anthology. Paco still is an important character, of course. And his visions an important part of the story.
10. Tell me about your latest book and how it came about. Enclose the opening of the book around 400 words.
My latest book is The Baby River Angel. I wanted to write about the people of a community coming together for a common cause. The cause turned out to be an abandoned baby girl found floating on a flimsy raft on the Ohio River and the community a small river town where residents had rarely agreed on anything. But they fear that if the baby falls into the hands of the child welfare people she’ll be called “Baby Jane Doe” and perhaps become lost in that impersonal system, and join forces to keep her presence a secret from authorities. Good things begin to happen and surprising alliances result. The story includes a bit of mystery, a bit of romance, a bit of the paranormal, and even a low-speed police chase. And there is a very happy ending!
It begins thus:
The makeshift raft, little more than a clump of brush, bobbed along in the ripples of the swift current close to the near bank of the river. When it was almost alongside the boat Birdie raked it in with his fishing pole, and the shallow reed basket lashed to two of the larger branches with a length of wild grape vine suddenly came alive. The two boys stared in fascination as he lifted a baby, its arms flailing, and gingerly pulled back a corner of the cocoon-like blanket to reveal the tiny face.
“Lordy, child,” Birdie said softly, “where’d you come from?”
“What is it, Daddy?” Birdie’s oldest boy asked.
“Why it’s a baby. Cain’t you see that?”
The boy looked momentarily chastened. Then he pushed closer. “Let me see it,” he said.
“Get the basket first. Set it down right there, in the bottom of the boat.”
The boy did his father’s bidding and Birdie very carefully lowered the delicate bundle back into the basket. The boy stooped over the squirming baby with an expression of awe and his brother, who had stayed back, crowded up beside him. Once within reach, the younger boy timidly lifted the edge of the blanket so that he could get a better look.
“Whose baby you think this is, Daddy?” the younger boy whispered.
“Now how would I know that? You seen it floating down the river same as I did.”
“I just wondered, is all.”
“Yeah, well . . . I just wouldn’t have any way of knowing. Sure seems like somebody was awful careless to let the little thing go floating off on such a flimsy little raft as that.”
The boys agreed. Yessir, it sure did look like somebody wasn’t taking very good care of the baby. How far upriver did he figure it had come from? Did he think maybe there was a nametag on it, like people looked for when they found a stray dog? What kind of baby did he guess it to be, a boy baby or a girl baby? It sure looked tiny, did he know how old it was? Did he suppose whoever lost it was on a picnic and forgot and left the baby in their picnic basket . . .?
“Now jest hold off with all your questions,” Birdie insisted. “I already told you, I don’t know any more about this baby than you do. All I know is it’s a good thing we seen it when we did.”
“How come you say that?” The older boy, again.
“Because it wouldn’t have lasted long on the river, that’s how come.”
Now the younger: “You mean it would have drownded?”
“Most likely, yes. If that little bit of a raft got tore apart on a stob or something. This basket might have floated for a bit, but sure not for long.”
Both boys were wide-eyed. Their daddy had just saved a baby from drowning and they had helped. Sobered by the weight of this reality, they sat quietly as their father turned the boat around and headed back down the river in the direction of the Cambria dock.
Back at the landing, Birdie gripped the basket firmly and climbed out of the boat while the boys held fast to the pilings. He rushed to Sam Gowdy’s bait shop.
“Sam,” he called, breathless and red-faced from exertion, “you gotta see this!”
Sam Gowdy was not a man to hurry. He took his time coming from the back of the shop. When he saw the child Birdie Wilson held in the basket his jaw dropped in disbelief. “Where ’n hell did you get a baby?” he demanded.