A Good Home, Book Readers, Books, Famous Authors

The Writing Life: Pat Conroy & Me

I tell you: that Pat Conroy is going to be the death of me as a writer. The ‘Balzac of the American south’ who wrote Prince of Tides, South of Broad and other bestsellers, said things so much better than I do.

Blog Photo - Pat Conroy books

This morning, I got a note which led me to start writing this post about how incredible it is to have readers — and readers who actually enjoy my books — when I came across a letter Conroy wrote in 2009:

“To have attracted readers is the most magical part of my writing life. I was not expecting you to show up when I wrote my first books. It took me by surprise. It filled me with gratitude. It still does.”

And I loved this, because attracting readers is something I hoped for, but never expected when I was writing my books. You get so absorbed in writing the story that when you get to the end of it, you sit with hope, and a sense of something big finally completed — but you don’t know what will happen afterwards.

Will anyone read it? And having read it, will they love it? 

The note I got was from Karen, a reader, with a Rumi poem. She said, simply: “I read this and thought of you.” 

Sometimes, readers’ notes are so personal that for a moment I wonder: How did they know that? 

And then, I remember, with a foolish smile. Of course. They’ve read my books.

I had read that Rumi poem multiple times when writing both A Good Home and An Honest House. (Thank you, Karen!)


 Perhaps it’s the frailty of creators: we always find fault with our own work. And though I’ve won a few awards for my books, and many more in television, there’s never been a book or television show that I felt was perfect.

So yes — having readers is a wondrous, magical thing.  And when readers think enough of my work to write to me — some repeatedly — it’s always a surprise, and a joy.

Back to Pat Conroy — a literary hero with legions of readers.  They visit his grave on St. Helena’s Island in S. Carolina.  In 2016, he became the first White person to be buried in the Memorial Garden Cemetery on this island where he had taught Black children, and whose Gullah people inspired his first book — the Water is Wide.

Blog Photo - Spring 2018 Blue Pot and Chair

In my own garden, and inside my house here in Ontario, I read his books and letters this past year and thought:  “Damn, he’s good. I’m never writing again. I can never be this good.” I especially enjoyed South of Broad.

The fact is, authors like Pat Conroy inspire me to do better. Challenge me to do better.

I love his way with words.

The depth and breadth of his plotting. His mastery of the skills we writers struggle to get hold of.

The telling details that bring the reader right there;  the development of each character; dialogue so effective, you can hear the person’s voice; the way Conroy ‘cast’ his story — bringing very different characters together against a backdrop of a famous place (e.g. Charleston, Rome, Georgia), big social issues and events — and making these characters the unlikeliest of close friends.

Ironically, some longtime fans did not like South of Broad, the one I most enjoyed. They felt it was too lavish in parts, one or two characters too outlandish (true) or simply too laden with social justice values.  But I loved it.

To fall into a book — in that weird way that books can grab and pull you into their worlds  — is a wondrous experience.  To write books, and have readers feel a connection to them and to you, is magical.

Thanks for reading my books. I love hearing from you.



Rumi poem

Pat Conroy Letter

37 thoughts on “The Writing Life: Pat Conroy & Me”

  1. I love your first two books Cynthia. They touched my heart and Drew me in to your life. Many of your posts do this too. And now I want to know more about Pat and his books. Thank you.

    1. Double thanks, Brad. I wish I’d met him, and am very interested in the Literary Center that he requested his childhood friend (a well-known community health leader) to run. Pat wrote his Black characters with a confidence and understanding that few White writers do. But I didn’t know his background when I read that first book of his.

  2. I have enjoyed your books, and your thoughts on various subjects, Cynthia, and look forward to more!

    On a general note, comparing oneself to others can be a useful exercise in the ongoing process self-improvement, but too much of it can stifle creativity and leave one with the feeling their work will never amount to anything of value, even to oneself. Readers, listeners and admirers are a true blessing; they help keep one moving forward.

  3. Hi Cynthia,
    When I lived in Charleston, S.C., I read all of Pat Conroy’s books. I especially loved knowing where the streets and landmarks were that he used in his writing. I loved the way he could develop a person’s character through words. I especially loved The River Is Wide since I could see how black kids were treated differently through my experience in teaching in the schools.

    Then I took your memoir classes and was spellbound when you read us your work. I remember listening to your writing when you and your daughter spoke about your accident after many years. Your dialogue was gut wrenching and raw. The words were powerful. You are an extremely talented writer and I learned so much from you.

    Yes Conroy is good, but then so are you!

  4. Thank you Cynthia, I have never read Pat Conroy, but maybe I will. Interesting comments about book tours and meeting readers, something that’s been taken away from us.

  5. Thank you for your thoughts on that lingering sense of imperfection and for sharing Pat Conroy’s letter. Both are enjoyable and thought provoking.

  6. It’s strange that I always think my stories are so much better when someone tells me they’re good or decides to publish one! It’s that outside validation thing….I love it when I read a writer who inspires me to write – when I can hardly read their book because I’m itching to pick up the pen.

    1. I know. And a writer like me reads your writing, sees the beauty and power of it and thinks you awta know! But I get it. And yes, some writers get us writing again.

  7. Yes, falling into a book is truly wondrous. I haven’t had that kind of experience recently but the next book could be the one 😊

  8. What a wonderful and revealing post, Cynthia. I occasionally write blog posts but have never had the urge to write a book. It must have been a special moment when you received Karen’s note with the Rumi poem and knew that you and she had really connected through your writing.
    I have never heard of Pat Conroy; I will try to find something of his.

    1. Thanks, Clare. Pat Conroy wrote thick books, all by hand, and so thick that the edited version is significantly shorter than his original manuscripts. It delights and still surprises me when readers write to me and reveal something special about how a book touched their lives.

  9. Cynthia, you have summarized what makes reading a good book so fulfilling, so joyful, regardless of how happy or heartbreaking the subject matter is. Reading so enriches our writing and inspires us. I’ve also only heard Pat Conroy’s name – but the two titles mentioned directly above? as movies, but now reading possibilities! You are inspiring me! 🙂 I love Rumi – great quote – thanks.

    1. Thanks for your lovely response, Jeanne. I am glad I read S of Broad first of all his books, as I brought fresh eyes to his books and I was unprepared for the beauty of his storytelling. I hope you are doing well. I feel out of touch so when time permits, I’ll be visiting you at your blog!

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