Allen Kent’s readers may or may not know about Kent Farnsworth, the former president of Crowder College. But most of the people who know Farnsworth also know about Kent’s existence.
Farnsworth does not hide the fact that the two names belong to the same man: As a college president and later a leadership coach with the community college development group Achieving the Dream, Farnsworth has written papers and books about education systems.
But when he wanted to write thrillers, including one about a special agent getting tangled up in a plot to manipulate a presidential election, he wanted to make sure there was no confusion between his fiction and his scholarly work.
The sound of his name didn’t help, either.
“I wasn’t sure that ‘Kent Farnsworth’ sounded like a good name for a thriller writer,” he said. “I used to collect cartoons and comics with my name, and I couldn’t help but notice that all the characters with that name looked a bit nerdy. ‘Allen Kent’ seemed to be more crisp.”
The name change is one of several changes that have come to his life since making a dream of being an author a reality.
All throughout his career, including time spent working for a Silicon Valley semiconductor manufacturing plant and serving as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Farnsworth has aspired to write fiction. But early in his path to working in education, he didn’t think it could work out for him.
“It’s always been a dream to be a fiction writer. I had a couple of stories in college published in anthologies,” Farnsworth said. “I just didn’t ever believe I could make a living doing it.”
His career included earning a doctorate in mass communication from the University of Iowa, master’s degrees in international relations from California State University, Sacramento and in guidance and counseling from Truman State University, and a degree in political science from Brigham Young University, according to a biography from Achieving the Dream’s website. He was the president of Crowder College from 1985 to 2004 and was a faculty member at the University of Missouri-St. Louis for six years afterward.
Farnsworth got to write books before retiring, however: While working at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, he authored three books related to the education field.
The experience of writing those books cautioned him about some of the more frustrating things about writing, he said — he learned lessons that helped him in the future.
“I was not encouraged about working with publishers,” Farnsworth said. “I found it frustrating. My last book was about school reform. (Publisher) McMillan and I had differences about content, style and length, and I lost on every one of them.”
Farnsworth retired to the Neosho area in 2010, ready to devote serious energy toward publishing the stories he had simmering. The evolution of e-books away from vanity publishing and more toward serious business led him to working with Amazon for his first works.
His most recent book, “The Wager,” released in 2015, was his first through Kindle Press, a more developed publishing service offered by Amazon. The release of the book through that platform has brought better sales numbers to it and his other works, he said.
“I had reservations about self-publishing because of the vanity press reputation,” Farnsworth said. “Things really took off with ‘Wager.’ Until then, I’d sold maybe 200 of a title at most. But during its first month, it sold 1,700, and it’s brought sales to the other titles. They promoted it quite well.”
Facts and fiction
The differences between writing scholarly research publications and made-up stories vary, he said. Writing both are hard, he said, but fiction brings a sort of fulfillment.
“I wouldn’t say (writing academic works) is harder, but it certainly is less satisfying,” Farnsworth said. “My natural style is much less formal. When I wrote my dissertation, my adviser had to tell me I wasn’t writing a novel.”
Researching his fiction stories is almost as demanding as nonfiction work, he said. And there is plenty to research — he said he is inspired by what-if questions that get raised when looking around the world, he said.
Such a situation inspired his first book, “The Shield of Darius,” a story about an American businessman who is kidnapped while vacationing in Europe with his family. As a teen, Farnsworth lived in Iran; he moved shortly before the Iranian hostage crisis.
“It struck me how easily the U.S. is (also) held hostage when citizens are,” Farnsworth said. “What if a nation decided to kidnap, hold and warehouse American citizens, anticipating that at some point tensions would develop and they could be used as human shields?”
Research plays an even larger role in his historical fiction titles. Farnsworth turned to a darker moment in Missouri’s history, when in the 1840s the state and Iowa issued execution orders against Mormons. That period is central to the plot of “River of Light and Shadow,” a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” story that plays out in northern Missouri’s wilderness.
The couple at the center is featured in his next book, “Wild Whistling Blackbirds,” to be released on July 12. Part of the book happens in a theater of the Civil War.
“One of the scenes is set at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas,” Farnsworth said. “I spent a lot of time researching it to make sure my account is as accurate as possible.”
Farnsworth has also kept ties to Neosho and Crowder. Throughout 2016 and into June, royalties from his books went toward a naming donation for the school’s Behavior Support Center. Through sales and some generous donations, the campaign was a success — on July 8, a ceremony will be held to formally name it after his grandson, Maddox Hill. Two of his grandsons have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
Want to read?
Links to Kent Farnsworth’s fiction written under the name Allen Kent can be found at joplinglobe.com.