"Basically, it was something I've always wanted to do," Autry says. But on a plane ride home to Richmond from his 36th birthday celebration in Cancun, he realized he hadn't fulfilled his goal.
So he grabbed a cocktail napkin and wrote down five things he'd like to accomplish before turning 40. He finished the book just in time, he says. "I sold it by the time I was 40, but I turned 41 last month." (He declined to divulge the four other birthday goals, but says he's checked those off his list, too.)
The premise for Autry's book struck him while covering a story in 1992, when he was a television reporter in Raleigh, N.C. Fifty years earlier, during World War II, a German submarine had been captured by the Coast Guard about 18 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The surviving German crew members spent the rest of the war as prisoners. Then in 1992, the men who were still living from the Coast Guard and the submarine held a reunion.
The story intrigued him, he says. "It struck me, what if someone still viewed them as the enemy? What if someone still wanted them dead after all this time?" And that's the jumping-off point for his 283-page book ($24.95 from Poisoned Pen Press), which begins with a deadly explosion.
It took Autry three years to complete the novel, six months to find an agent and another six months to find a publisher, who bought the book in September.
Rejection wasn't easy, he says, although he recalls one letter with amusement: "Dear Mr. Autry: Your writing and plot intrigued me. Unfortunately, I'm not intrigued enough to have any further correspondence with you."
Channel 12 anchor Gene Cox himself a published author encouraged Autry to press on, Autry says. Cox also served on the "unofficial reading committee" with other station employees who provided feedback.
Now Autry is getting ready for book-signings and appearances at mystery conventions. And he has more work. "I have an agreement to do another one," he says, "and it's already underway." JASON ROOP