Author Cassandra King
CASSANDRA KING is an award-winning author of five bestselling novels and two nonfiction books, as well as numerous short stories, essays, and magazine articles. Her latest book, Tell Me A Story (William Morrow 2019), is a memoir about life with her late husband, Pat Conroy. A native of LA (Lower Cassandra King is an award-winning author of 5 bestselling novels and 2 books of non-fiction, as well as numerous articles, essays and short stories. A native of LA (Lower Alabama), Cassandra resides in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she is honorary chair of the Pat Conroy Literary Center.
TELL ME A STORY: My Life with Pat Conroy
TELL ME A STORY begins when the author, a college instructor and first-time novelist, meets acclaimed writer Pat Conroy at a writers conference. They form a 2-year friendship that develops into a long-distance romance. After their marriage in 1998 when both are in their 50’s, they settle down into a busy life of writing, travel, entertaining family and friends, and book tours. The author details their 18-year marriage and the final illness that took Pat Conroy’s life in 2016.
In a sentence or two, what is your book about?
My book is about the 20 years I spent with Pat Conroy, which started as a friend
ship, developed into a romance, then our marriage of 18 years until his death of pancreatic cancer. In the book I describe what it was like to be married to a literary icon, and the way two writers in the same household manage their careers as well as interacted with combined families.
Why did you write it?
I wrote this for several reasons. One, a lot had been written about Pat since his death, most of it favorable and some of it less so. I felt like no one really knew Pat like I did, on a day-to-day and deeply personal basis. I wanted his readers to know the complicated but wonderfully loving and generous man that I knew, not just as Pat Conroy the famous writer but as Pat Conroy the man. He was always encouraging others to tell their stories, so I wanted to share my story of my life with him.
What was the spark for the story?
I was working on a cookbook (still am!) and telling a lot of family stories and stories of the times Pat and I entertained together. After his death, I returned to the cookbook, but when I started retelling the stories, I knew I wanted to tell more than just the 2-or-3 paragraphs that precede recipes in a cookbook. One story would lead to another, and some of them didn’t have to do with cooking. Why not expand those into a memoir, I thought, which would always help others know the Pat Conroy I knew? And that’s how it happened.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I hope readers will take several things away from this book, and since the book’s release, I’ve heard from readers who got various things from the book I hadn’t even thought about. When I met Pat, I was recently divorced, as was he, and I had no desire for a relationship. But I treasured his friendship. So the book is about friendship, but it’s also a love story. It’s about starting over after fifty, and some of the hurdles involved. It’s about navigating complex relationships in families. And finally, it’s about loss and grief, and the hard life lessons of both. As I stated earlier, I hope readers will also take away a more complete understanding of the writing life, and of one of its most celebrated writers, Pat Conroy.
Can you share something interesting that happened while you were writing the book—an unexpected encounter, something you learned about the subject or about yourself?
Although I had written several personal essays for magazines or anthologies, I’d never written memoir before. It came to me that I was recounting events as I remembered and experienced them, and others involved might have a different experience or interpretation of the story I was telling. So the question arose, do I ask anyone to verify my memory? Do I check with family members or friends to ask if it’s “okay” for me to include them in the book? What if they say no, yet their story is a vital part of mine? Ultimately I realized that I wasn’t writing a biography, backed up by extensive research and fact-checking. Instead, I was recounting MY experiences and telling MY story. I did check on a few things–for example, I asked Pat’s daughters if my memory was correct of the first time we met, and they verified that it was. I did take care not to impose motivation on others, though I certainly felt okay about speculating at times. But it made me realize how much courage it takes to write about personal things–and that’s where the self-discovery comes in. There were things in my life or personal failings of mine that I didn’t particularly want to include. After reading my first draft, my editor told me she knew Pat better, but knew nothing about me. So I had to go back and make it more personal. I wasn’t comfortable doing so, but I knew if I couldn’t, then I had no business writing a memoir. So the whole thing was a fascinating experience in writing.
Do you have any suggestions for our book clubs—a link to a reader’s guide, or a question or two that might open a lively discussion at a book club meeting?
There is a reader’s guide on my website, cassandrakingconroy.com.
Is there anything else you would like the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs to know about you or your book?
I would like to emphasize one of the main themes of the book, that everyone has a story to tell, and that we each have much to learn from each other’s stories. Storytelling is an age-old tradition, an essential way of connecting and empathizing with others.
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