Auburn alumnus, bestselling author speaks on his journey to become a novelist

Published: April 07, 2015
Font Size

Article body

He never expected for anyone to follow his football career, but after sacking future Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel of the Florida Gators, Ace Atkins appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the image of Auburn's perfect season in 1993.

A College of Liberal Arts alumnus, Atkins never had plans to play in the NFL. Instead, he came to Auburn as a student-athlete to follow his passion of writing while he stayed active.

"I was thinking this was a good opportunity to go to school, be on scholarship and get an education, but I was pretty clear that I wanted to be a writer," said Atkins.

After graduating with his bachelor's degree in mass communications in 1994, Atkins decided to head to Hollywood to pursue his dreams of writing screenplays, but simply couldn't find a job.

"There was a transition and that was tough," Atkins said. "How do you become a novelist?"

He returned to the South and began his journalism career in Tampa, Florida, while continuing to write novels in his spare time. Soon, he gained attention with a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a series of stories on an unsolved murder that Atkins discovered working the crime beat at The Tampa Tribune.

In 1998, Atkins published his first novel, "Crossroad Blues." His stories produced for the crime beat would later develop into his critically acclaimed novel, "White Shadow."

After 10 years as a journalist, Atkins decided to focus on his novels and left the newspaper business in 2001. He moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he currently resides with his wife and two children and continues his writing career.

Atkins recently came to Auburn and delivered the Graduate School's 2015 New Horizons Lecture where he gave attendees insight into his journey of becoming a New York Times Bestseller after leaving his football career behind.

"I do believe that the work ethic you learn in football and the practicing can make yourself better," Atkins said. "And when you get knocked down, you get back up."

Atkins is the author of 17 novels, including four crime novels and four novels in the Quinn Colson series. He was selected by the estate of Robert B. Parker to continue writing the Spenser novels, of which he has written four.

When an audience member asked how much of his time is spent writing, Atkins said he treats his work as a "9 to 5 job," reporting to work each day in a building with nine lawyers where he sits at a desk to write.

George Plasketes, professor and associate director for media studies, who taught and mentored Atkins during his time at Auburn, gave a heartwarming introduction as he expressed how proud he was of his former student.

"Ace Atkins has always had that resonance to me," Plasketes said. "It's as if his destiny was to be a writer."

Atkins said his journey to success wouldn't have started without the influences of many of his former professors. In fact, he said he has never returned to Auburn to reminisce on his football days.

"My favorite part of coming back to Auburn these last few times has been coming back and seeing some of my old professors," Atkins said. "I am a football fan, but this is the core of the university."