Photo Credit Mary Hays
Robert Hays has been a newspaper reporter, public relations writer, magazine editor, and university professor and administrator. A native of Illinois, he taught in Texas and Missouri and retired in 2008 from a long journalism teaching career at the University of Illinois. He has spent a great deal of time in South Carolina, the home state of his wife, Mary, and is a member of the South Carolina Writers Workshop. His publications include academic journal and popular periodical articles and eight previous books, one released in paperback under a new title. Robert and Mary live in Champaign, Illinois. They have two sons and a grandson and share (long story!) a cat named Eddie with the family next door.
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In the autumn of 1955, at the height of America’s concern over the murder of a black teenager by white racists in Mississippi and in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation, Rachel Feigen’s Baltimore editor sends her South to report on a missing person case. Guy Saillot’s last contact with his family was a postcard from the Tennessee Bend Motel, a seedy establishment situated on scenic Cherokee Lake. But she finds no record that he ever stayed there.
Feigen gets a tip that the motel caretaker, a deaf-mute named George, may know something about the missing man. George’s consuming interest is the Tennessee Bend’s arresting rose garden—its only truly positive quality—and she gains his favor by showing her appreciation for his beautiful roses.
Feigen quickly finds herself caught up in the bigotry she expected to observe as an outsider when three local extremists decide to teach a lesson to this “uppity jewgirl” from the North who’s poking around in things that are none of her business. Their plan? Kidnap two black men and lock them and Feigen in Room 10 of the Tennessee Bend, complete with its two-way mirror voyeur’s window, and let nature take its course. They’re confident the men’s “jungle instincts” will take over and she’ll get her comeuppance, after which they’ll give the “boys” a good whipping for messing with a white woman. But the two men taken at gunpoint, an Army sergeant just back from Korea and an Urban League attorney from Philadelphia, don’t play the game the way their captors expect.
Appalling as it is, her own maltreatment is a mere sidebar to Feigen’s mission: finding Guy Saillot. George’s rose garden holds the key that unlocks the shocking secret and reveals the malevolent extremes to which unfettered intolerance can lead. The author leaves it to Charlie Monroe, the venerable FBI man from Knoxville whose Southern roots run deep, to sum up the pervading evil of this time and place: “It’s easy to condemn. But prejudice is an unpastured dragon . . . Let it loose, nurture it with a little ignorance and fear, and pretty soon it’s in all the dark places and if we’re not careful we’ll all be devoured in its ugly flame.”
In his fourth and finest novel, Robert Hays writes with the journalist’s careful attention to detail and an exquisite authenticity drawn from his own half-century love affair with the American South. Blood on the Roses is a frank and honest story that does justice to its splendid east Tennessee setting, stunning from beginning to end in its juxtaposition of raw ugliness and beauty and its historical veracity that captures both the engaging qualities of the Southern people and the terrible wrongs of discrimination and outrageous acts of pure racism carried out by a few.
Circles in the Water by Robert Hays
The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris by Robert Hays
Circles in the Water by Robert Hays
When young Jimmie Broder witnesses the death of a friend's father in a brutal domestic quarrel, he's left with a sense of helplessness and an unwitting habit of taking the easy way out that follow him into adulthood. Unable to face their painful circumstances, he runs away and seeks refuge as an Army paratrooper at the very time Colletta, the woman he loves, needs him most. This is the backdrop of Circles in the Water, which picks up Broder's story after a training accident leaves him seriously injured, brings Colletta back into his life, and forces him to face not only a jumpless future but also his troubled past. His ordered military existence and the exquisite thrill of the jump no longer insulate him from memories of life in small-town
Just when Broder least needs the added complication, he gets caught up in a mysterious and dangerous conflict between two superiors that places him in a vulnerable position that feels all too familiar. No longer the "good soldier" who follows orders without question, ready and eager for service in
Whatever else this story may be, it is primarily one of young love—of childhood sweethearts in a setting both charming and ugly, and the young man and woman they become. It interweaves their contemporary lives with the chronicle of their early years as part of an inseparable foursome of troubled youth and the tragedies that befall their comrades, DJ and Ray-Gene.