I had such a good time with my friend DeAnna at a dinner for the Friends of the West Florida Public Library, Friday night. The speaker was novelist Alex Kava, whose thrillers have been New York Times bestsellers. Neither DeAnna nor I had ever read Alex Kava. In preparation, we read her latest, Hotwire. Well, now we’re fans. Kava has a neat economical style that I can’t quite pin down. You know all about a character’s personality very quickly without having been aware of reading a description. She writes short chapters with cliff hangers. Her protagonist, FBI agent Maggie O’Dell, is easy to relate to on a personal level; she’s kickass but also someone you might know. Hotwire’s plot revolves around a possible government conspiracy and weird shenanigans with the nation’s food supply. DeAnna and I would text each other, saying, “Man, I’m never eating out again!” or “I’m giving up meat!”
As a speaker, Alex Kava was wonderful. She was funny, self-deprecating, and warm. She talked a lot about what it was like starting out. How subjective the feedback was; one rejection letter saying, “it needs more detail” and the next rejection letter saying, “it needs less detail”. And how there’s a double standard for crime-fighting protagonists such that Maggie O’Dell really can’t develop a drinking habit or swear a lot or cat around. She spoke movingly of her respect for the contribution that libraries and librarians make to community life. She encouraged aspiring writers to stay true to their vision and believe in themselves. She talked about her friends who live in Pensacola and who were in attendance. She spoke of her friends’ mother having been a lifelong supporter of our library and of their father, on whom she based one of the characters in the Maggie O’Dell novel, Damaged. It turns out, she bought a house here in Spring 2004. This made the audience laugh ruefully. It was Fall 2004 when Hurricane Ivan made landfall at just under Cat 4 strength and devastated our region. Alex buckled down under the storm with her two friends and used the experience to write the plot for Damaged set against a hurricane.