Award-winning novelist Terry Kay's approach to what he'll discuss at his Nancy Guinn Memorial Library speaking engagement on Thursday is a lot like his writing process. There is little planning. Instead, he waits and watches where the characters, in this case the audience members, will take him.
"You read the audience," said Kay, author of 12 novels and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Writers Association. "You go and say 'OK.' If you've been doing this for a long time, you have many stories recorded and you start telling those stories. It's a fun thing."The Nancy Guinn presents An Evening with Mr. Terry Kay on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the library, 864 Green St. in Conyers. The free program is sponsored by the Georgia Council of the Arts, the Georgia Writers Association, the Friends of the Nancy Guinn Library and the Rockdale Genealogical Society."Terry Kay is a Georgia icon when it comes the genre of Southern fiction," said Alisha Blevins, adult services librarian, who added that Kay has the distinction of being the first writer to visit the Nancy Guinn Library in 1991 shortly after it first opened. "We're delighted to have Terry Kay visit with us again, and we're grateful for the generous contributions from our sponsors."
A storyteller for most of his life, Kay worked as a journalist for 14 years, which included an 8-year career at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a sports writer and film critic. He then spent 16 years as a public relations officer and corporate executive.
While in the corporate world, he published three novels -- "The Year the Lights Came On," "After Eli" and "Dark Thirty." In 1989 at the age of 50, Kay abandoned his job as a vice-president at Oglethorpe Power Corporation and devoted himself full time to writing.
"It scared me to death," said Kay.
In 1991, Kay published "To Dance With the White Dog," the book that served as his entryway into regional acclaim as a novelist. "White Dog" is the story of an old man who, after losing his wife of 57 years, is befriended by a mysterious white dog which becomes the man's companion and confidant.
The book garnered numerous accolades, including earning Kay the Outstanding Author of the Year in 1991 from the Southeastern Library Association, and it became a top success as a movie presented by Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1993.
After "White Dog," Kay produced a steady stream of novels -- such as "The Runaway," also produced as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie; "Valley of Light," which won the 2004 Townsend Award and the Best Fiction Award from the Georgia Writers Association, and served as Kay's third novel-turned-Hallmark movie; and "The Book of Marie," a book about the civil rights movement as told from the perspective of a young white woman in the South, which Kay calls his "most important book."
Kay is the recipient of the Governor's Award in the Humanities and an inductee in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. He has earned the Author of the Year honor four times from the Georgia Writers Association, including for his most recent publication, "The Greats of Cuttercane," a collection of short stories about characters who live in a small north Georgia town.
At age 74, Kay, who lives in Athens with his wife of 52 years and has four children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said he devotes about 30 days out of each year to speaking engagements and workshops.
During workshops, he teaches students the "DNA of writing." His three main pieces of advice for those wanting to learn how to write novels? Find a good book and copy it word for word for 45 minutes each day; use strong verbs; and write with rhythm, using short, medium and long sentences.
Kay said he avoids outlines when writing and instead lets his imagination guide him.
"I don't start a book to write a story. I write a book to discover a story," Kay said.