Last week I posted about Fandom Fest, a pop culture convention held in Louisville. If you read that you’ll know that there was a lot going on, bordering on sensory overload at times. To get noticed at an event like this you typically have to do something extraordinary, usually involving an extravagant costume. This is especially true in the exhibition hall, which housed the autograph booths, photo op locations, and the booths for all of the merchants. Despite all of the distractions surrounding me as I walked through looking from booth to booth, one voice caught my attention and drew me in. That voice belonged to Tony Acree, Kentucky-born bestselling author and huge UK/KSR fan. He didn’t do anything dramatic, or extraordinary; rather, he asked what I like to read. Next thing I know we’re talking about Tyler Ulis and how much fun basketball season is going to be. I had the opportunity to talk with Acree throughout the weekend about his books, his career, and, of course, the Cats.
Tony Acree has been writing since high school, but it wasn’t until a college final when he realized he might have a career in writing. He caught his first writing break when a college professor told him he needed to show proof he had submitted a story for publication before he would receive his grade. Not only did Acree submit his story and get published, he got paid for it. “I couldn’t believe it, somebody actually gave me money to use my story.” Though this was the first time Acree had been published, it was far from the first time he got paid for his writing. That actually began in those high school days, when he was paid fifty cents by friends to write poems for their boyfriends and girlfriends.
Acree has come a long way from his days as a high school Cyrano. Fast forward to now and Acree has had multiple books published, owns his own press, and is even on the verge of possibly sending one of his books to the big screen. Acree’s first novel, The Hand of God, was published by Hydra Publications. The Hand of God is a supernatural thriller about bounty hunter Victor McCain (a UK grad working in Louisville) and how he gets drawn into dealing with the Devil. The novel became a big hit, reaching #1 on the Amazon bestselling list and spawning two sequels (so far). Acree’s novels have even received international attention, with sales across the world reaching France, Brazil, and as of this year, India. Not bad for someone whose career got kick started by a college final.
Acree credits the success of Hand to many things. He has a supportive wife, Karin, who helps him run a concierge business and serves as a soundboard for characters and ideas. He also maintains a very organized schedule, writing three hours a night at Starbucks. Another contributing factor to his success is his ability to engage people and have fun. This was how I initially got drawn into a conversation with him in the first place. While others would sit and watch you pass by their booth, Acree and the authors at his table stood up and talked to you. Several people stopped Acree as we walked through the exhibition hall to say hi and he talked to them, knowing most of them by name. He likes people and he likes to “… write people I know, the good and the bad.”
This type of engagement shows in Acree’s writing as well. “I write books for people to read without stopping. When they get to the end of a chapter, I want them to think, ‘just a few more pages.'” Acree’s characters are irreverent and no subject matter is off limits. Religion and science are just a couple of prominent themes which pop up throughout Hand. This stems from his desire to make a personal connections with his readers. What better way to make a personal connection than to write about themes which people take personally? This relationship with the fans can at times be a double-edged sword though. Being part of a small publisher allows you to have a close connection with fans, but it also has inhibitions, especially when it comes to killing off characters. “In conflicts, people have to die…it ups the emotional tension.” Acree knows that if certain characters (part of the “Scooby gang”) are killed then his readers may revolt. G.R.R Martin he may not be, but fans shouldn’t get too comfortable as he did hint at a future death which readers will certainly feel.
With the success of Hand, Acree was approached with movie interest so he went to the publisher to buy back the story rights. Instead of the rights, Acree ended up buying Hydra Publications. Hydra now features over 20 authors and is a sponsor for many events, including Imaginarium, a convention for creative writers held in Louisville. Acree has also used his platform to help support local charities. If fans donate at least $50 to WHAS Crusade for Children (a charity based out of Louisville), he will write you as a character in one of his books. You even get input as to whether your character is good or bad.
One person he has been toying with the idea of writing has been KSR’s very own Matt Jones. Acree is a big UK fan and when KSR hit the airwaves and internet, it gave him an outlet to show and enjoy his fandom with others. “It feels like our show…we’re proud to say we listen to KSR.” The sites’ irreverent tone also strikes a note with Acree, as the main character in Hand is also “very irreverent”, another underlying connection of his writing and being a UK fan. He also has his own little part of KSR history. A few years ago during a pregame show Acree called in to let listeners know that anyone coming from I-64 would need to leave soon or they wouldn’t make it due to a traffic backup. According to Acree, after he hung up, Matt indicated this was the first ever traffic report on KSR from I-64.
Like most UK fans, last April was a rough time for Acree. What was bad for many of us was worse in some ways for him due to having in-laws in Wisconsin. Acree even makes a regular trip to Wisconsin and even has a local place where he goes to write (and incite basketball related shouting matches with the locals). Fortunately for him, he is attending the UK-UofL basketball game is in Rupp this year so he gets to prolong his trip and the inevitable trash talking that will accompany it. Hopefully he will write in the 2014-15 Wisconsin basketball team into one of his novels as a horde of demons to be taken out by UK-grad Victor McCain.
Of the upcoming seasons for UK football and basketball Acree is excited. His major concern for football (and many other UK fans) is the risk of losing Stoops to another program, comparing that possibility to his writing philosophy. “You don’t rewrite a book until it’s finished. My biggest fear is keeping [Stoops] or we’ll have to start all over.” A season-ticket holder for basketball, Acree is “excited to see the Dribble-Drive and I’d like to see Alex have a monster year.” Though his excitement for the basketball team was very clear, he was equally excited about the trips to Lexington so he could visit The Sweet Spot, his go-to diner, before each game. With a big smile on his face Acree summed up what many of us are thinking, “I can’t wait for the season to start.” Neither can we.
To find out more about Acree, his books, or what else is going on at Hydra Publications, check them out here. You can also follow Acree on Twitter @TonyAcree or on Facebook here. Acree also maintains a blog.