BY WIL CREWS
If you recognize the name Ace Atkins, it may be from his two-sack performance against No. 4 ranked Florida as a member of the 1993 undefeated Auburn Tigers football team.
Or it may be from his esteemed writing career that followed.
The image of Atkins sacking future Heisman trophy winner, Gator quarterback Danny Wuerffel, is engrained in the minds of thousands of die-hard Auburn fans.
The images portrayed in his writing, however, are engrained in the imaginations of perhaps even more.
So, how does one go from collegiate cult hero to established, award-winning novelist?
Seventeen years after graduating from Auburn with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, Atkins, now a New York Times Best Selling author, sat down at John Emerald Distillery in Opelika for “Cocktails & Conversations,” to explain his journey – and his new book, “The Heathens”.
Voice of the Auburn Tigers Andy Burcham moderated the event, making for some probing topics and fun banter.
Upon leaving Auburn, Atkins found himself a young reporter working the crime beat for The Tampa Tribune in the late 1990s.
“When I saw my byline in the paper, there was no going back,” he said. “It [that experience] gave me a lot of confidence. It gave me a lot of knowledge.”
Near the turn of the century, Atkins fortuitously got out of the newspaper business to wholeheartedly follow his aspirations of becoming a writer.
“It’s one thing to become a writer, but it’s another to actually stay a writer,” he said. “I was going to do this thing, whatever it took.”
Eventually, Atkins found his footing in the world of book-writing and published his first book “Crossroads Blues,” in 1998.
“I didn’t realize how tough it was to become a published novelist,” he said. “But the kind of storytelling I wanted to do always brought me back to the South.”
Now, “The Heathens,” is the eleventh novel in a series that follows Sheriff Quinn Colson, a former army ranger in rural northeast Mississippi’s Tibbehah County. The book places Colson and his former deputy on opposite sides of a case for the first time after a woman is found dead and three teen delinquent teens go on the run.
“He’s [Colson] is a major part of these books,” Atkins said. “He’s kind of the glue that holds these stories together. But when I create to write a series, I wanted a world that was always evolving and changing. I wanted a town that very true to the Deep South. I wanted a character that was very true to the Deep South.”
Publishers Weekly called the book, “Exceptional,” and a “rambunctious road novel … Evoking Edward Anderson’s 1937 country noir Thieves like Us, with a touch of Bonnie and Clyde.”
They describe Atkins’ writing as “hard-edged yet tenderhearted.”
A lot has happened since Colson first graced the fine print. Atkins was named the caretaker of author Robert B. Parker’s iconic Spenser series following Parker’s passing, and has since written nine novels in continuation of the set.
“Where do you go from here?” Burcham asked.
“There’s a limitless amount of stories I could do with Quinn,” Atkins replied.
For the time being, Atkins lives in Mississippi with his wife and kids, frequently visiting his office to write or the local book store in search of inspiration.
He admitted he sometimes feels the pressure to produce another best-seller.
“It’s like a football season; it’s like being a coach,” Atkins said. “You may have a good year, everything might be great, but it’s always, ‘what’s next?’”
Well, Atkins is “on a roll,” as Burhcam put it, and if his track record is anything to learn from, the anticipation of “what’s next,” for Atkins, will be well worth the wait.
More information about Atkins and his novels at www.aceatkins.com/.