You've probably never heard of one of my favorite authors because he hasn't finished his novel yet, but T. Kyle King is the real deal: a freakishly talented wordsmith who can bend the English language to his will.
Before I go any further, some disclosure is in order: I have known Kyle for fifteen years and consider him one of my closest friends. The circumstances of our meeting are pretty illustrative of who he is as an artist, and it's fitting that we first crossed paths at a meeting of an organization called the Phi Kappa Literary Society: an eccentric collective of University of Georgia students who suit up every Thursday, share creative writings, and debate political, philosophical, and cultural issues. Midway through a heated session one evening in 1994, a rail-thin, ghostly pale, almost tubercular figure sporting an impressive jet-black beard ascended to the lectern to give his side of the argument (the topic of which is lost to history). Even behind the obscuring frames of his glasses, his eyes burned with the intensity of a young Rasputin, and his voice proved equally hypnotic--he would drawl certain words out, let them get bogged down in sticky stuff and then gently pull them back up. His cadence was like a marsh: full of deceptive softness but hiding all kinds of things that could kill you.
Shortly thereafter, I learned that Kyle, like me, was an aspiring writer; and, sure enough, his work proved so monstrously good that I began to wonder if he had conducted some kind of occult ritual granting himself extra hours in the day; he appeared at first glance way too busy with Phi Kappa, law school, a serious football addiction, and diligent courtship of his future wife Susan to be able to crank out the polished short stories and essays he sent my way. His voluminous email correspondence alone--seemingly tossed off every morning before breakfast--matched in eloquence and incisiveness the nonfiction work of Walker Percy.
Kyle is often dismissive of his talents, saying that he really only holds expertise in five subjects: Christianity, William Faulkner, football, Star Trek, and the TV show Mad About You. That may very well be true, but through the prism of those five subjects he somehow addresses the whole of human experience. Don't ask me how; we are in the realm of magic here.
In the late '90s, he began work on a sprawling, fitfully brilliant novel called By Awful Grace, which he eventually tabled when his son Thomas was born. At its best moments, the book aspired to a slot in the top shelf of American literary fiction. The multiple points of view and kaleidoscopic scrambling of past and present were impressive flourishes for a first-time novelist, but what most distinguished the work was its deep rootedness in place--a steadfast fidelity to home and hearth that was equally characteristic of the writer himself, manifested in his reluctance to venture north of the Mason-Dixon line (which he did not finally do until his late '20s).
If T. Kyle struggled with anything as a writer of fiction, it was the imposing legacy of William Faulkner--whose pervasive influence has threatened to consume and smother the originality of so many modern Southern authors. In recent years, Kyle has stumbled upon an ingenious solution to this dilemma--a shift to sportswriting, specifically to the subject of college football. It is his literary end run. Bill Faulkner never touched upon the triumphs and travails of the Georgia Bulldogs in his work, which has left Kyle free to develop and deploy a wholly original writing voice. When his blog really gets cooking, he does for grown men in shoulder pads and tights what Homer did for Greek dudes with spears. I have no doubt that his inevitable return to fiction will benefit from this fruitful foray onto the gridiron.
You may be wondering why I am devoting all this space to a novelist who has not yet published a novel. Look at it this way: we constantly exalt remote figures such as Faulkner and Hemingway, forgetting the massively talented artists in our midst--who even now may be meandering their way towards future greatness. I'm putting my money on T. Kyle King as one of those future movers-and-shakers. Stay tuned.