Tony Hays has taken a circuitous route from teacher (and intelligence operative) to author of The Stolen Bride, the fourth in his Arthurian mystery series.
How did you end up chairing the Overseas Security Advisory Council in Kuwait?
I was at loose ends and took a job teaching with the Kuwaiti Air Defense Brigade, which led to my becoming the academic director at an American nonprofit in Kuwait City. We held the U.S. embassy contract for advising students who wanted to study in the U.S. The nonprofit was between country directors, and I was acting in that capacity in the interim. A warden’s notice came in about the formation of an OSAC for Kuwait, and I went to the meeting. Charlene Lamb, now an assistant deputy secretary of state, was the regional security officer at the time, and it was her office that coordinated OSAC activities. I volunteered to be the first chairperson.
And you also worked for the Company?
It’s not unusual for American intelligence to turn to American citizens overseas in certain situations. One of the key requirements for any intelligence operation is access. It may be access to a building or company or to a particular expatriate community. I had that sort of access, and when I was asked, I was happy to serve. It was one of the most intense, pressure-ridden experiences of my life, but I’m proud of it. I like to think that in some small way it contributed to our national security.
Connect the dots from there to Arthur and Merlin.
At a layover at an airport, I saw a book that piqued my interest, The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, edited by Geoffrey Ashe. I had followed the debate over whether Arthur was real or a myth for some time, but I hadn’t read anything recent at that point. I bought it and became fascinated. There had not been a historical mystery series set in an Arthurian context, so I sat down and wrote the first 10 pages.
And then eight years passed?
When I returned from Kuwait, I wanted to write a contemporary satire based on my Kuwait experiences and to try my hand at investigative journalism. The contemporary satire died a very silent death, which is probably for the best. My investigative journalism, particularly about narcotics trafficking in the mid-South, did well and was primarily responsible for earning my paper the 2000 Public Service Award from the Tennessee Press Association. But I ultimately became disenchanted with investigative journalism and returned to my first love, historical mysteries. I picked up those first 10 pages and went full steam ahead.