Ace Atkins is the author of nine novels, most recently The Ranger and Infamous. A former journalist at The Tampa Tribune, Atkins has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into a 1950s murder. He lives on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi.
AM: What I suspect everyone wants to know is, how do you stay so prolific? How do you write so much, so quickly?
AA: I’m very fortunate to be a full-time novelist. I’ve been writing full time since 2001 and that gives me the freedom to concentrate completely on my stories. Many terrific writers I know have to carve out time from from their jobs to work on a book. I am able to go to my office every day and work on that new novel. I feel pretty damn lucky and that in turn means I get to work on more projects.
AM: You seem to have located The Ranger in regions of the South that you know well. Would you call this book “Southern literature”?
AA: Absolutely. I don’t get into working in a certain genre—that’s up to readers and critics—and can hurt the writer and reader. My new series of novels could not be set anywhere else but the South and certainly centers on many Southern themes. I gain a lot of inspiration from the gritty world of Faulkner’s crime stories and turn my attention to the descendants of those people.
AM: I noticed that country music and country musicians appear throughout The Ranger. Can you tell us about the significance of this to the novel?
AA: My first four novels were stylistically and thematically about blues. I always wanted to work on a novel that felt like an old Johnny Cash ballad—a solider returning home to town, unrequited love, guns and violence. I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash and also tons of Outlaw Country—Waylon, Merle, etc.—when coming up with the background of Quinn Colson.
AM: Who is Colonel George Reynolds? I noticed his name in the Acknowledgments.
George is the guy who saved my ass. I had contracted to write a novel about a U.S. Army soldier without knowing enough about the modern war in Afghanistan. Colonel Reynolds contacted me from Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan about signing a copy of my novel, Devil’s Garden. He offered help if I ever needed. It turned out, I needed help immediately. He offered terrific insight direct from the battle front and introduced me to the real Ranger who provided the background for Quinn Colson.
I could not have written the book without him and he still provides me with a ton of answers to picky questions.
AM: Where did the character Quinn come from?
AA: I never really planned on writing another hero-based series. But I’d thought about a movie or a TV show about the South and what kind of person would be a modern hero. It didn’t take me long to think about all these men and women home from the front. We haven’t seen a return of vets like this since Vietnam. I also had grown up in Lee County, Alabama—not far from Fort Benning—and was very familiar with the mystique of the U.S. Army Ranger.
AM: Women seem to have played a major role in your last two books. Kate is the villain of Infamous, and Anna Lee, Lillie, and Lena, among others, shape the narrative of The Ranger. Are you after something in particular with these compelling female characters?
AA: I like strong women and often men can’t write women worth a damn. They are often sounding boards or sex objects but seldom adversaries or equals. It’s much more fun for me to write a woman like Kathryn Kelly in Infamous—who runs her husband—or Lillie Virgil—the deputy in The Ranger—who can keep up with the hero step for step. That’s based on many women I’ve known in my life—on personal and professional levels.
AM: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I know I’m not alone when I say that I can’t wait for your next book