Former WXII news anchor and current writer of fiction, Cameron Kent, gave a one-session master class to Mount Airy’s Plaid Cloth Literary Society on Wednesday at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
“I’m making the transition from writing facts to writing fiction,” Kent said, adding with a laugh, “I promise I didn’t do that before leaving the news business.”
Despite receiving some early discouragement on pursuing a fiction career — “You’re not an alcoholic. You’re not from a dysfunctional family. You’ll never make a great American writer,” being some of the less than promising feedback he received — Kent retired from television news to devote full time to writing fiction.
When his day job took up 7o or more hours of his time every week, he had to do it piecemeal, writing bits at a time.
“But now it’s 13 steps to the office,” said Kent, describing the commute to his walk-in-closet-sized loft office in his home. And when at his Wilkes County cabin with no distractions, “I can write from 9 a.m. to midnight.”
His latest book, “The Sea is Silent” is the result, taking only six months to get through a first and second draft as well as a polished draft suitable to sending to publishers.
Previous books, “The Road to Devotion” and “When the Ravens Die” written for adults, and his first book, “Make Me Disappear” written for a middle school audience, all written when he was working at Channel 12, took longer.
“The Road to Devotion” set in pre-Civil War Winston-Salem took four years to write.
“I don’t know that I’ll tackle historical fiction again. My wife told me I was the only person she knew who read 12 books to write one.”
“When the Ravens Die,” a suspense thriller involving a legend of the British monarchy required on-site research in the UK, which included talking to people in pubs, an activity which he told his audience was a very good way to get a handle on the mindset of the British.
One particular man that Kent met was on an all day Pub-a-Thon in which he rode the Circle Line of the London Underground, getting off at each tube stop to have a pint at a pub, and then moving on to the next one, and repeating the procedure. It was 10:30 in the evening, and the “slightly glassy-eyed, over-served” man had been at it since morning. He told Kent that the key to understanding the royal family is that “regal” spelled backwards is “lager.”
“He became a character in the book right then,” said Kent. “I didn’t even change his name. There’s no way he was going to remember me.”
After giving the Society some more information on how he comes up with ideas and characters, Kent charmed his audience with a few self-deprecating stories.
“I hope you don’t think you’re going to sell a lot of these,” Kent said one potential reader told him after confirming that his book contained no foul language, no gratuitous violence and no lascivious sex scenes.
Kent told a former English professor at Wake Forest that everything he knew was because of him, to which the professor replied, “Don’t blame me.”
“You’ve got to write for yourself,” he told the Society. “Like any art form, it’s subjective.”
Kent then took questions from the audience which yielded the information that his favorite thing to write about is ordinary people doing extraordinary things, something that carried over from his days in the newsroom.
He told LaDonna McCarther that he knew a book was finished when “I don’t think I can add another word without taking something away.”
To Mount Airy librarian Pat Gwyn’s question about what he liked to read, Kent responded, “Whatever Oprah tells me to read.” Mostly fiction with a little bit of biography and memoir. He likes bios of the great newsmen of the past, Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw among them.
“Pat Conroy is probably my favorite writer. Followed by Hemingway. Conroy can take three pages describing a hammock in the South Carolina low country. Hemingway would say, ‘There was a hammock.’ Period.”
When asked about a possible memoir in the future, Kent said, “my life is not that interesting.”
When the questioner disagreed, reminding Kent he had run the bulls in Spain, he said, “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”
The adventure, brought on by his love of Hemingway in general, and “The Son also Rises” in particular, happened when Kent was 52, and his wife gently reminded him, “You’re not getting any younger. And you’re not getting any faster.”
Bettye Barrett asked Kent if he worked on multiple books at the same time. He sheepishly admitted that he did.
“It’s like I’m cheating on one novel with the second one,” he laughed, and then signed some books.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.