By Anne Harris for Island Eye News
Photos by Barb Bergwerf
The ninth Annual Wild Dunes Author’s Event, held Jan. 10, may have been the most successful to date. The event featured Pat Conroy, in a rare speaking appearance, and his wife, Cassandra King. Author Mary Alice Monroe, a resident of Isle of Palms, served as moderator of the panel discussion, while Judge Alex Sanders provided the introduction.
The Author’s Event is the Wild Dunes Club’s largest charitable effort, and supports literacy and education. For the first time the event was held in the evening, due to the popularity of Conroy and King and the excitement over Conroy’s new book, The Death of Santini. The night kicked off with cocktails, a silent auction and book signings by all of the authors in attendance. Barnes and Noble was on hand to provide the books and all proceeds from the event went to Charleston Volunteers for Literacy and the College of Charleston’s School of Education, Health and Human Performance.
Judge Alex Sanders is a longtime friend of Conroy and King. He introduced the couple and told the story of their wedding, which took place in his garden during his tenure as President at the College of Charleston.
Sanders joked that he was the one to provide Conroy with most of the stories in his bestselling novel, The Prince of Tides, but that Conroy had completely mixed them up, adding that it is “the mixing up of the stories that makes them art.”
Bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe, another friend of Conroy and King, started the panel with a discussion of Conroy’s book, The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son. The memoir is a look into Conroy’s often troubled family life, something that serves as inspiration for most of his fictional work.
Conroy writes in the prologue: “Mom and Dad, I need to go back there once again. I’ve got to try to make sense of it one last time, a final circling of the block, a reckoning, another dive into the caves of the coral reef where the morays wait in ambush, one more night flight into the immortal darkness to study that house of pain a final time. Then I’ll be finished with you, Mom and Dad. I’ll leave you in peace and not bother you again. And I’ll pray that your stormy spirits find peace in the house of the Lord. But I must examine the wreckage one last time.”
The finality of that statement and Conroy’s declaration that he is moving on from a subject that has been so central to his success brought Monroe’s first question of the evening for both Conroy and King, “What’s next?”
Conroy’s next work will be a major departure from anything he has done in his career, he is working on a young adult novel with one of his daughters.
When asked how it was going, Conroy joked that he “hates all books (he) writes.” However, King interrupted to assure the audience that is was one of the most incredible books she has ever read.
King’s writing took a departure with her last novel, Moonrise, a Southern Gothic novel that serves as homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. King is now working on a coming-of-age novel, another genre she has not written before.
Monroe asked if Conroy and King ever planned to collaborate in future works and both laughingly and definitively answered, “No.” However, they admitted that they often run ideas by one another and appreciate having that sounding board. Conroy says that having two novels going on in the same house at the same time is something he delights in.
One major difference in their writing styles is the subject of family. While Conroy has never shied away from writing about his family, and in fact has done so almost exclusively, King has always said her family is perfectly safe in her writing…something for which Conroy says he should probably be grateful.
King’s one exception to that rule so far has been in her bestselling novel, The Sunday Wife. King says she was once The Sunday Wife and it was Conroy who encouraged her to write a novel about that time in her life. King says that it was a wake-up call for her.
“You can’t be a writer if you are afraid to write the truth,” she says. Monroe closed the discussion by asking both writers how they would like to be remembered.
King said that for her, the most rewarding moments are when a reader says something in one of her books moved them, or the occasional person who will say her work changed their lives.
As for Conroy, he says he still can’t believe this is the life he has. “I didn’t have the life I was supposed to have. It’s magical to me, and I could not be more grateful”.
Monroe’s final remark was to thank the two authors for an intimate evening, calling them “giants in their field.” Based on the applause that went on long after the last word was spoken, it appeared the audience agreed.