‘A Book of Matches’ author makes return to Adams County
The following article was published on January 2, 2020, via The Peoples Defender (peoplesdefender.com). It was reprinted with permission from Austin Rust, the author of the article, which highlights Robert Hawkins (Eta Gamma/Morehead State 1993).
The author of “A Book of Matches”, Robert E. Hawkins, made his return to Adams County with visits to the public libraries in West Union and Peebles from on Friday, Dec. 20, and Saturday, Dec. 21, respectively. At these events, the author signed and sold copies of his first printed work, a novel which retells the story of a shocking murder in Peebles, to crowds which included his family, friends, and former educators, all present to support his work, hear of its journey from first inspiration to the page, and learn of Hawkins’ plans for its future.
Hawkins graduated from West Union High School in 1988. His formative years were spent in Adams County, which he affectionately refers to as his “stomping grounds”, where he was encouraged from an early age by family, friends, and educators to pursue a career in music. Hawkins wrote his first songs while still a student in high school, and after graduation, he became a successful musician in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has been able to record over the course of his career with numerous high-profile celebrities, musicians, and stars of all genres.
“A Book of Matches”, Hawkins’ first novel, recalls the life of Oliver Elliott (or “Zeke”) Stayner, his grandfather, who was born Sept. 22, 1918. It details his legacy, noting graduation from Peebles High School, service in the Army Air Corps, marriage to his wife Edith, and becoming a successful business owner in Peebles, all to his untimely end, when he was murdered at age 31.
“A Book of Matches” revisits the cold, dreary night of Monday, Nov. 28, 1949, when in a characteristic act of charity, Zeke Stayner left his home to help a young couple stopped near the road with their car, taking the household’s only flashlight with him. His wife Edith came to look for him with a book of matches, striking them to light her way in the darkness, and found that her husband had been “.brutally slain”. The novel champions Hawkins’ grandmother and her two daughters, Susan and Dottie Stayner, who found the strength to move forward from this tragedy.
The novel was made available Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Jesse Stuart Foundation Bookstore in Ashland, Ky., where it sold out twice in its first week of publication, with online orders received from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and even Australia. Local support for the novel was strong from the start, with standby stores and services such as Blake’s Pharmacy in Peebles and West Union, the Hallmark Store, and McNeilan’s Trash Removal asking to carry the book.
At the author visit held at the West Union Public Library, Hawkins signed and sold copies of the novel to eager visitors, excited at the chance to catch up with him and hear the news of his first novel. Hawkins thanked everyone in attendance for their support, and noted that due to the novel’s instant success, and its impact, he plans to pitch the story as a movie.
“I feel that the story is very compelling, and already, it has impacted people in ways I couldn’t even imagine,” Hawkins explained. “I feel that as a period piece, or historical piece, with all of the ramifications that came about from the case, it would bring new life to the story, if it were made into a movie. My wife has thought from the very beginning that it should be one.”
Hawkins made note of the large crowd gathered to support his work, saying “to see this kind of support on a Friday, to have former teachers, people that I went to church with, folks that are here from the Adams County Historical Society, and family (here to catch up). This is our story. This is something that in Adams County – it was one of the biggest things that ever happened. I feel like this story still reverberates (in Adams County) today; the residue of the story is still here.”