The premiere of the Apalachicola Margaret Key Library’s new author series could not have been a more fitting honor to the woman for whom it is named.
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. A. J. Tata kept the gathering of about three dozen glued to their chairs at the library Saturday afternoon, as he debuted the new Susan Buzzett Clementson Author Series.
An Apalachicola native and Chapman High School graduate, Clementson, a retired librarian and strong supporter of the new library, passed away last year, and the series was developed in her honor.
Tata opened by connecting with the audience by sharing details of his family, and that of his own life, which has encompassed both a military career and later that of service as superintendent for Wake County, North Carolina public schools, which includes the city of Raleigh, and that of North Carolina Secretary of Transportation.
He interspersed his remarks with insight into his success as a writer of suspense fiction, and the process of collaborating with Nicholas Irving on his Sniper series, the third installment of which “Reaper: Ghost Target,” is hot off the presses, and was offered for sale and signing by Downtown Books.
A graduate of West Point, and his brother of Annapolis, Tata told of how he convinced his father not to press for a service academy appointment for their younger sister.
“It was only the second class at West Point for mixed gender,” Tata told his dad. “It’s all going to be OK someday, but it’s not OK now.”
Their sister, master of a 4:42 mile, went on to the University of Virginia on a track scholarship, and was second in the nation in her junior year.
As a combat infantryman, Tata said he always had a drive to write, and used the perennial question that perplexed him as an officer “What’s the worst thing that can happen to my troops?” as a launching pad for many of his plot twists.
“When I need something, it goes through that scenario in my mind,” he said. “I’m asking ‘how would a bad guy use that?’”
He said it’s “ an absolute blast” working with Irving, the coming together of a general with a sergeant who served as a talented Army Ranger sniper. The pair are busy completing two works to come out by next May.
Tata said he typically writes in the evening, cranking out a minimum of 1,000 words per day, sometimes two or three times that. “It’s important that I touch the story every day,” he said.
“The joy is the creativity,” Tata said, noting that he has a playlist of music that helps him get into the zone of writing. “That creative process is so much fun. The drag is when the editor gets it, and editors make the story better, but it’s painful. It’s not fun; you have to discipline creativity. There’s the artistic part, and there’s the science of writing, the editing, and the marketing.”
Tata said that he and Irving use their combat experience to give authenticity to their writing, but it is by no means an exact rendition of real events. For example, Irving once had a duel with a Chechnyan sniper in Helmand province, but the fictional story that unfolded took great liberties with the actual happening.
“I could tell that was a searing memory for him,” Tata said. “There’s a very distinctive tactile feel to combat.”
Earner of a bachelors of science from West Point in 1981, Tata is a self-taught writer, who wrote and read at night while at the academy. “After lights out I had my flashlight out,” he said.
He said among his favorite writers are John Sandford, Lee Child, Brad Thor and Brad Taylor.
Tata was introduced by publicist Kathie Clemons Bennett, who had become friends with Clementson after the two met following a booksigning by Cassandra King, wife of novelist Pat Conroy.
“There began a friendship that will forever be a gift in my life,” she said.