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.

What’s Next?

The writers sit around a kitchen table. There are four of us and we take turns hosting. The host provides breakfast and then we get to work. We are all novelists and have been together for 7 or 8 years. In that time, all our members have published, most of us several times over. And as Bob remarked at Saturday mornings’ meeting, we’ve all become better writers in the process.

Luck played a part in the four of us coming together, because we each have different strengths. It’s helpful that we are two women and two men. Also helpful that our spouses all encourage us in our meetings. Indeed, Tom at one point was working long hours, didn’t have much time to write, and considered quitting the group. His wife would not allow it, telling him he needed us. We are grateful because we need him too.

We have a routine with the coffee and chat at 9 am, then breakfast, then work (we go through a chapter or scene received a week prior page by page). After we’ve finished the critiques, which include side discussions of plot or other big picture things, it’s noon or later. This past Saturday we got into a writerly conversation after the critiques. Basically we went around the table with the question “What’s next?”

When we started only Bob was retired, now everybody is except Tom. We write books, yes, but that’s our pleasure. We are doing what we couldn’t wait to get to. But things have changed through the years and we’re each facing new challenges. Vernie is on the last of her four book fantasy series and she’s near the end. Tom has begun a promising novella, but work stops him from writing as much as he’d like. Still, with each session, he moves the plot forward an inch. Bob is revising an old manuscript we’ve all read before, and I’m revising my St Pete novel. None of have any idea of what we’ll do next.

I know a few things. 2019 will be the last year I’m able to meet regularly with my group. In 2020, Al and I hope to spend six months in Florida and travel, too. We have two houses: one too big and one too small. So we’ll be looking to sell both and buy something just right.To my surprise, I am fine with ending my book writing career, if it proves too difficult to continue in this next chapter of real life. Writing a novel takes several hours a day for several months in a quiet place. I’m not sure I’ll have that when Al retires. He’s worked at the same place for 47 years, so retirement will be a big adjustment for him, too.

I’ve been writing novels for a long time too. Several practice novels and then the published ones. I feel like it’s okay to stop now. I’ve written my share of books. If I include my poetry chapbook and the writing manual, plus this novel I’m going to polish before Al retires, it will be an even dozen. I’m satisfied, ready to move onto the next chapter of my real life. I know writing will always be there, even novel writing, if I want it. I plan to keep blogging and the website will be here. I may write flash fiction and just publish on the website. That’s my idea for “what’s next?” right now.

Anything can happen, and it will. Life is an adventure. Everything I think I know, every plan I ever make, shifts in some ways before it ends. Adventures, like novels, are always unpredictable. That’s the fun of it all.