Her Name in Lights

I am writing from Florida where I shall begin my mission to read real books again. I brought a few with me, although I did have one final full priced Kindle book I traveled with, a memoir I really liked.

Cassandra King was married to a preacher and lived the life of a parish wife and mom to two sons when she met famous author Pat Conroy at a literary event. King was a teacher who had just written her first novel, about to published by a small press. Her marriage was falling apart. She lived in the same house with her husband but they had separate quarters.

Conroy’s situation was a bit different. He’d just published The Prince of Tides to great acclaim. He was a friendly guy who loved talking about writing and books. He also told and heard many a tall tale. He drank to excess and ate the same way at fancy restaurants. He’d already divorced two wives. He had a serious lover, but was trying to extricate himself from that relationship.

Then King met Conroy and the rest is literary history. Conroy was a megastar, his books had been turned into movies with top actors, the biggest novel of his already stellar career was taking off. And he asked to read her book and loved Cassandra’s writing. He offered to blurb her debut. And that’s about all I knew of this later in life marriage. (They were in their 50s). At the time, I thought wow good for her. She’ll be fast-tracked up the author ranks. And I never thought of her again. I continued to read Conroy’s novels. But I never picked up any of King’s fiction.

Until this one. A favorite genre is memoir. Memoir by a fiction writer is icing on the cake. Especially a memoir written by the wife of an author I’d long admired. I knew Conroy’s history: his brutal childhood, his drinking, his fame. His novels drew heavily from his tormented early life. Now I’d learn the whole story. And wow.

King and Conroy remained phone friends for a number of years before they started seeing each other IRL. By this time they were both free of the relationships that had been in trouble when they met and the very romantic Conroy proposed. I can’t say more without spoilers except that they had twenty years together, full of drama and fueled by their twin creative spirits. Cassandra met all Pat’s famous writer friends, wrote many more books, went on author tours and became a bestselling novelist herself.

She did well and judging by the blurbs on her book covers, she was a wonderful writer. Certainly in Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy (the title puts the word CONROY in extra large letters on the front cover) she tells a good story herself. She brings the writing process alive and includes all the fine trappings of a fortunate writing life from an almost bygone era. The agents, publishers, book parties, contracts, book tours. There’s conflict, too. Conroy had a temper.

I really liked this memoir of the high-style writing life. Pat Conroy was quite a character and he seems to have met his ideal match in Cassandra King.

Where Mystery Readers and Writers Meet: Bouchercon 2018

UnknownMy head is crammed with information gleaned since the four-hour workshop that kicked off this years’ Bouchercon here in St Pete. I’m only down here in my new second hometown for ten days, most of them gone. I miss my husband, so it’s good I’m going home, even though events conspired to get me here. Last year, at about this time, I thought my book might be out and I could sell it at Bouchercon. I’d heard as many readers as writers come to this event.

First crime novel + Home = Synchronicity.

It seemed too good of a coincidence to pass up. If it all came together, and it did. Just barely. My book came out a few weeks before the conference and I was able to get them into Murder on the Beach bookstore. My sweet little home away from home is always ready for me, all I had to do was book a flight and turn the key. The drive downtown every day was a treat as the conference hotel is on the water. Also, it’s a beautiful venue.

Right away I found out that anyone who wants to can suggest their city for Bouchercon. But if you do, you’re agreeing to do all the work required to set up this massive event. This happened when a was writing in one of the many cozy alcoves at the Vinoy and some people came to join me, asking how I liked the conference so far. Everyone at Bouchercon is very friendly. You really can’t find a quiet corner to write, and why would you want to? People are so interesting and I spend enough time with my characters.


Did I say that I met my friend Marla, who I have known on the internet for many years, IRL for the first time? That was fun. When we shared our schedules, we found that we’d chosen many of the same panels. That’s a big difference at Bouchercon: panels, not workshops, rule. Readers want to hear from their favorite writers, as many of them as possible. There were also interviews with super-popular writers like Karin Slaughter and ¬†Denmark’s “Queen of Thriller”¬†Sara Blaedel.

During Sara’s interview, I spotted Lee Child in the room. Just like he was a regular person. Earlier I’d seen Karin Slaughter on a panel where, aside from the occasional wisecrack and one or two anecdotes, she mostly kept her head down. Both Sara and Karin said they were introverts and public speaking didn’t come naturally to them. That explained Karin’s demeanor during the panel, otherwise, you’d never know it. They are both eloquent, inspiring and funny.

My biggest take-away was that almost all the mystery writers, and especially the thriller authors, used at least pieces of true crime stories to springboard off and start writing their novels. I felt comforted by this fact, since my crime novel also has shades of a famous Detroit criminal case. I was just like them!

I’m also introverted, like so many writers. We are most comfortable in our writing chairs, working on stories. Or reading books. That was another common theme that came up over and over again: these world-famous best-selling authors read all the time. Novels, poetry, non-fiction. It was something brought up on every panel. If you want to be a writer, you must be a reader. I already knew that and I read more than I write, so again, something in common.

imagesMy biggest personal a-ha was realizing that I was happy not to be famous. I would not have been comfortable up there in the spotlight. One famous author confessed to using beta-blockers, and he got plenty of knowing laughs. Many performers use this medication as it masks the symptoms of stage fright. Musicians particularly can’t play their instruments if their hands are shaking with fear and their head is full of panic. I have used beta-blockers myself for migraine, but found that they are equally effective when I popped one for a migraine before I gave a talk at a library.

I don’t like giving talks. I was a teacher for a long time, so I got used to having workshops ( taught creative writing and literature courses). But the ease of teaching doesn’t translate into feeling comfortable on a stage. So I came away from Bouchercon feeling that my own writing career is working out just fine for me. Would I love a million dollar contract, like Karen Dionne (fellow Detroit area writer, who won Best Novel award for The Marsh King’s Daughter) or Michael Connelly (also in attendance) or any of the other stars? Sure. But I’m also fine as I am, and I am for sure not holding my breath.