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.

~~

Links:

Rumi poem

Pat Conroy Letter

A Good Home, Cooking

SWEET POTATO & TOFU PATTIES

My family devours these at breakfast, lunch, dinner or whenever they please.

It means I now have to double or triple the ingredients and find a bowl big enough to mix them all in! 

It’s an idiot-proof recipe. (Why else would I even try?)

2 cups grated sweet potatoes (peeled)
6 oz tofu (grated if firm tofu, but I just squeeze the soft tofu if that’s what I have)
1 cup feta cheese – I use sour cream/Greek yogurt instead. Could also use coconut milk –whatever is available
5 eggs, lightly beaten
Half cup unbleached flour (or gluten-free substitute)
Half cup of corn
2 green onions, chopped finely
Half teaspoon ground coriander seeds
A pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ cup finely chopped coriander, if you have (not to worry if you don’t)
Salt to taste – if you wish

Blog Photo - Sweet Potato Patty

1. Mix all the ingredients together, sprinkling the flour last
2. Form a patty in your hands – very simply – you can flatten it in the saucepan
3. Quickly fry on both sides and place on parchment to remove oil
4. Place patties on fresh parchment paper on baking sheet
5. Bake at 350% for about 15 minutes. I let it stay in a bit longer and it still tastes good.

(Recipe changed by me, but original was in the Toronto Star)

DIPPING SAUCE Make a sauce of your choice, if you want.

For breakfast, I don’t use a sauce.

For lunch or dinner, I use a peanut sauce or Tzatziki with finely chopped mint. Really your choice.

Thanks to my friend Nory who provided the recipe for the peanut sauce to her idiotic friend, aka The Challenged Cook.

A Good Home

A Crash Course in Cooking

If you’ve read this blog or any of my books, you know that certain talents missed me completely.

Blog Photo - Jelly Jar one

I make herb jellies well enough, as I wrote in A Good Home. But cooking, baking, knitting, and any form of interior decoration are foreign lands. My husband, daughters, sisters and friends live there, and they speak a whole different language.

I once made cauliflower with cheese — a simple 2-ingredient dish — and forgot the cheese, as you may have read in An Honest House.

And that reminds me: I know part of the reason I never learned to cook. When my sisters were watching my mother cook, I was nowhere to be found. I was always in a tree, on a rooftop, or hiding in the field behind our house, reading books.

My poor husband sighs elaborately during Christmas dinners and says he knows he married the wrong sister but he’s stuck with her. 

Blog Photo - Christmas table2

“But why have you stuck with me?” I usually ask.

“You have other talents,” he laughs.

“Name one,” I demand.

“Err… ummm..”   He pauses, pretending to think hard about it.

I once joked that I’m gifted only at ‘exterior design’ — gardening — but stopped that joke for fear it would reveal an awful truth: that, deep down, I’m really superficial. I mean, what if when I dig beneath my surface, all I find is more surface?

TWIGS COVER

But I digress.

Since the interior arts are not my thing,  it’s weird that I’m the one doing most of the cooking in this house since the pandemic began.

Blog photo - Baby read a story by mother

Having invited daughter, son-in-law and new baby to come and live with us during this time, I knew we would cook more often, yes. I just didn’t know the cook-er would be me.

What’s more, the only thing I truly ruined took place last evening when the large salt grinder broke open over my one-pot meal. 

Blog Photo - Cookbooks - plant-based dishes

I’m still trying to figure out how I could have prevented that sad event, but as I stood at the stove and watched the destruction of the meal I’d spent hours preparing (yes, I am very slow at this), I froze, in horrified disbelief.

If a person has to ruin a dish, shouldn’t it be for a more splendid reason, like going off to get myself a glass of expensive red wine and forgetting the stove was on, or going to answer the doorbell because my husband had surprised me with a bouquet of fabulous flowers, or some such glorious thing?

But no. My big failure at cooking had to involve a large grinder of Himalayan salt falling apart in my own hands, over the entire meal.

Blog Photo - Cauliflower dish2

So, having declared that failure upfront, I am sharing a photo of a dish I made recently.   It starred a roasted cauliflower, which is slightly ironic, given my sad history with that vegetable.  It’s a stew, with potatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, tomatoes and peas.

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A Good Home

The Gardening Gloves

I head out to the garden

To stroll

To smell the spring-fresh soil

To see the tiny flowers

Walk on the spring-green grass

And hear the songs of birds

I do not need my gloves

~

Blog Photo - Crocus in Spring

I do not plan to weed today

Just stroll

Gloves would mean I plan to weed

To plunge hands into soil

Move leaves away from flowers

Or pick up wayward pine cones

I do not bring my gloves

~~

I open the kitchen door

Having strolled

Wipe my shoes on the mat

Turn on the faucet 

Wash dirt from my fingers

Brown water runs into the sink

I did not take my gloves

~~~

Blog Photo - Garden gloves2

Husband strolls into the room

Stands still

“I bought you gloves,” he says

“Next you’ll complain about

Cracked skin on your hands”

“I did not plan to weed”

I say, embarrassed

“I would have taken my gloves.”

~~~~

Cynthia Reyes is the author of Twigs in my Hair – A Gardening Memoir. On sale now online through booksellers including Amazon and A Different Booklist