Robert Hays – The Baby River Angel

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent novel, The Baby River Angel, is a light-hearted story in which people come together in a common cause: saving an abandoned baby from the child welfare system, where they’re sure she’d be named “Baby Jane Doe” and get lost in the impersonal bureaucracy. This becomes a project of the whole community, an out-of-the-way Ohio River fishing village. Good things begin to happen to all those who get involved. Yet they still face the challenging question, where did the baby come from?

Tell us something about yourself.

I’ve been a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, public relations writer and university professor and administrator. I’m an Illinois native and live in Champaign, Illinois, where I retired from the journalism faculty of the University of Illinois. I also taught in Texas and Missouri. The Baby River Angel is my third novel (all published by Vanilla Heart) and I also have several short stories and non-fiction books to my credit.

What inspired you to write this book?

I usually begin two or more stories at a time and see which one I like best. I began writing about a fisherman and his two boys finding a baby floating on a makeshift raft on the Ohio River and loved the idea. The story flowed easily once the setting and characters were set.

How did you choose the title?

After the story developed the way it did, the title was almost automatic. I already had begun to refer to the manuscript as the “baby river angel story.”

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

None, actually. Two previous novels, Circles in the Water and The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris, had been published by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Kimberlee Williams, VHP managing editor, bought into the plot of The Baby River Angel right away and was eager to get it into print.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I loved to read from the time I first learned how, and love of writing seemed to flow naturally from that. I began writing little stories in the second grade. In high school, I liked my creative writing class and, later, a journalism course. After a stint in the U.S. Army I went to Southern Illinois University and earned a journalism degree. I enjoyed being a reporter very much and eventually went into journalism teaching. When I retired from that, I returned to creative writing and published my first novel at age 73.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Not really. As a reporter, I always faced deadlines and learned to write virtually anywhere, any time, and under almost any circumstances. I still work that way today, meaning that whenever I have the notion I sit down and write. I do try to write for at least two hours a day.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

For major characters, I think of three or four names that seem appropriate to each. I use each name for a few pages in early drafts and then see which one strikes me as the best in full context. For minor characters, I may just look at the newspaper or the phone book and grab a name at random. For example, in Circles in the Water I needed a name for a colonel I thought would be a minor character (he turned out to be more important). I noticed the name on my HP printer and he became “Colonel Hewlett.”

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I think I learn something from everything I write. In the case of The Baby River Angel, I learned that I enjoy writing light-hearted fiction as well as stories with more serious topics. I always considered myself a realist, coming from a journalism background, and still do. But I think this book broadened my outlook.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I probably would start writing fiction earlier.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction, and usually read a book of each at the same time. I have written some military history and enjoy reading it (along with most any other kind of history). I admire the work of Rick Atkinson, whose World War II trilogy is monumental. In fiction, I like stories with everyday people in everyday settings as heroes. I consider Kent Haruf the best of contemporary fiction writers.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

From the three works I’ve started, I’m most likely to go with one that deals with race relations in eastern Tennessee in the 1950s. The backdrop is the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v The Board of Education decision on school segregation and the infamous Emmett Till murder in Mississippi.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Accept the fact that much of what goes on publishing is beyond your control. Read good books and write, write, write. Then rewrite—over and over, until you have done the best writing you’re capable of. Until you reach that point, don’t even think about looking for a publisher.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

The Baby River Angel is for the reader who enjoys a pleasing story with a happy ending. No sex, no violence. A reader who liked my earlier books, which are much heavier reading, said she would love to see The Baby River Angel made into a movie because “everyone would leave the theatre happy, with big smiles on their faces.”

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Please go to my Amazon author’s page.


  1. says

    I love hearing how other writers approach stories. While I’ve been known to read several books simultaneously, it’s hard to imagine writing multiple stories just to see which wins over my time and attention. Wow, who’d have thought? :-)


  2. charmaine gordon says

    What a fine interview with interesting questions asked by Cathy Stucker answered by Robert Hays so precisely.
    Thank you both for introducing me to The Baby River Angel.