Terry Kay doesn't write a book to tell a story. He writes a book to discover a story.
His characters take him on journeys that travel to places Kay never planned to go, and, if something gets in the way of that voyage, he creates another character.
Listening to him describe the art of writing is as enjoyable as sitting down with his wonderful prose.
Drawing on his background as a theater major at LaGrange College, he adds music to the lyrics as he shares stories behind his 14 books.
Kay, the 2012 Author of the Year in Georgia, was in town over the weekend to deliver the keynote address at the fifth annual Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference.
Many writers hide behind their keyboards, but he's at home on the stage discussing a craft that he said is rapidly becoming "a literature of abbreviation," produced by people who write with their thumbs.
Not that he planned to be a writer.
His career has been nudged along by challenges from people he loved, starting with Tommie, his wife of 52 years. After college he sold insurance -- until she woke him up one morning and said by the time she got home from teaching he better have another job.
Her words were ringing in his ears when a weekly newspaper plopped against his door.
Inside was a blind classified ad that turned out to be a job at that very newspaper.
Remembering his wife's ultimatum, he talked his way into the menial job. In a few weeks, he started writing a column that led him to the sports department of the Atlanta Journal.
That was 1962, and he has never stopped writing.
He left newspapers for public relations in 1973, and three years later his first novel was published.
"The Year the Lights Came On" was an accidental success, spurred by a challenge from novelist Pat Conroy.
His signature work, "Dance With the White Dog," evolved from an article written under duress after his close friend Lee Walburn ordered him to write something for a Father's Day edition of Atlanta Magazine. It was the first of three Kay novels made into a TV movie and the book has sold 2 million copies in Japan alone.
His books are comfortable reads, and his workshops are inspiring, whether you're a writer or a reader.
On Saturday, he shared concerns about where the written word is going.
"We'll always have prose, but I'm not sure we'll have poetry," said Kay, who said more people ask him how to get published than ask him how to write.
Past generations were moved by great literature, which included fully developed characters. He said writers today overlook their characters and the people that consume their words.
"Your characters are more important than you are," he said, "and so are your readers."
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org