02/08/12 — Wayne County Reads begins year

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Wayne County Reads begins year

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on February 8, 2012 1:46 PM

Tommy Hays

When Tommy Hays began writing his novel "The Pleasure Was Mine," he didn't set out with the specific goal of creating a story to inspire readers who were dealing with a family member with Alzheimer's.

He just wanted to tell the story of a character he had formed in his head, a cranky, eccentric uncle who had only finished the eighth grade but could fix just about anything.

But his book, which was chosen as the Wayne County Reads selection for this year, has inspired people who are dealing with the disease, earning national attention since its publication in 2006.

Hays said Tuesday night at a kickoff reading and signing at Wayne Community College that the fact that Alzheimer's and its effects on a family are prominent in the book is based on the fact that his father suffered from the disease. But it still wasn't intended to comfort people who are trying to cope with its effect on their families, although it has.

"I had no idea when I wrote this book it'd end up like this," he said. "I was busy with the characters."

Hays, who lives and works in Asheville, noted the difference when he took the stage to read. He first read passages from a previous work he had started when his father first got Alzheimer's.

"I had decided to save as much of my father as I could in words," he said.

The writing was straightforward and sad. In one scene, he goes through his father's room, cleaning it out "as if he were dead, not downstairs watching baseball on the TV."

Then he read from his book. The situations were similar, but story was lighter, and funnier, with the writer taking note of ironies that couldn't help but make a reader smile despite the somber topic -- that a husband was losing his wife as her memory faded.

"I forgot my story and just told these characters' stories," Hays said. "It allowed me to think of it differently. It allowed me to explore the humor and surprise. It allowed me to forget about my family and think about Prate's family."

Prate is the ornery house painter whose beloved wife is gradually being lost to Alzheimer's. At the same time, he is having to deal with his son and grandson, giving the book a broader storyline.

"For me, the real crisis is Prate's having to deal with his grandson. He has to either step up and re-connect with his family or lose them," Hays said.

Hays said he writes slowly. He wrote an entire draft of "The Pleasure Was Mine" over a period of several years. Then after having friends and colleagues read it and give him feedback, he wrote and re-wrote, eventually cutting its length by nearly half.

When he writes, Hays said, the characters eventually take over the book. When a characters does something unexpected, he is as surprised as anyone.

"When you spend day after day with these characters they will do things that will surprise you. If they don't, then the work is dead. If you're writing well, the characters will start doing things that will surprise you."

Hays said writers do best when they write about what they know.

"Place is important to me," he said. "If there's a place you know, that's where you write from."

The Wayne County Reads campaign will continue tonight with a creative writing workshop with Hays at the Moye Library at Mount Olive College. On Saturday at 8 p.m, at Moffatt Auditorum at WCC, will be a performance of the one-man play by Quinn Hawksworth, "The Best is Yet to Be." The campaign will continue with films, speakers and panel discussions throughout the month.