Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Long Lasting Friendship: Charlie Gibson of Good Morning America

My desk

Hey, Out There…

It is a day before my 68th birthday and I ready myself for life on the road that I’m too edgy and tired-blooded to do as I did with pleasure in my misspent youth. When I was in New York, I taped an interview with Charlie Gibson for Good Morning America. Charlie has always struck me as a man of exceptional qualities. Because he is a creature of television, I fell in love with his looks and spirit long before I got to know him. The most difficult thing for a television reporter or anchor to suggest to an audience is authenticity. Charlie’s body language speaks a truth that can’t be faked of polished up or improved with time. It’s a natural gift and Charlie was born to his naturalness and it’s the rarest gift of the famous.

When Beach Music came out in 1995, Charlie and his crew (also delightful) came to my house on Fripp Island in South Carolina.

Charles Gibson and I

I have a small addiction to showing off the beauty of the Lowcountry, its white-sand beaches and its green mileage of marshlands, and Charlie’s enthusiasm matches his integrity. When we first met, he told me he thought I’d been influenced by John Irving and I told him about “Garp” thundering into my life and letting me know that I wasn’t being brave enough as a writer. It was a splendid literary appraisal and let me know that Charlie Gibson was a serious and thoughtful reader as well as one of the great students of politics I’d ever met.

New York is a city abloom with secret studios. They exist in buildings without style or architectural merit, but I met Charlie at one of them for a seven in the evening taping. In his elegance, he has become a handsomer older man than he was in his twenties. We embraced when we saw each other and he’s the only anchor I’ve ever hugged on a regular basis. It’s an emotional war between my Citadel and his Princeton, but he’s an affectionate, easygoing guy and I’ve taken advantage of that. At one meeting, he told me that he’d met everyone in the world for five minutes, but then, often never saw them again. He was an aficionado of five-minute friendships. If we’d lived next door to each other I think we’d have been best friends for life. But he was incising his name into the history of American news and I was trying to write those books of mine. The interview moved me. Charlie moved me as he always does. Once, I saw him treat two black high school girls as if they were royalty when they recognized him on a ferryboat in the Savannah River. Not every famous man or woman treats strangers with such open-hearted wonder as Charlie Gibson. His interview with me was superb. Gibsonian. Deep. It airs on Tuesday October 29th.

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On The Road Again… Airports, Editors, Publicists and my writing life

My desk

Hey, out there,

I flew to New York on October 1 for the opening shots of my upcoming tour for The Death of Santini. The book comes out on October 29, when I’ll be running my mouth and signing my books until I’m mercifully released to return to my writing desk to continue the writing life that has become my life. Though I far prefer writing to touring, I’ve always thought it was part of the contract to try with all the resources I can bring to bear to help sell the book and to give my publisher an incentive to publish my next book. Because I’m older now, travel takes a lot out of me, but my mother raised me to be a boy who likes to please and meeting readers has given me pleasure that few writers have ever known. It’s part of the business of being a writer, and I try to approach it with an open spirit and a clear-eyed understanding of how lucky I am to have been to be asked to do it.

After arriving, I was met at the Essex Hotel the following morning by Todd Doughty who has served as my publicist for the last three books.

Todd Doughty, Nan Talese and Marly Rusoff

Over my career I’ve come to revere the work of publicists, and the charming Todd Doughty is exemplary of the breed. Their work is back-breaking and constant and, I believe underappreciated. Very often, they are the best looking people in a publishing house, and I’ve met some great beauties and handsome men in my various swings through their hallways. Editors, in general, are a plainer but cerebral tribe, but even among this group, there are some dazzling exceptions to be found. My own editor, Nan Talese, has always walked the earth as one of those self-contained, well-composed New York beauties you catch glimpses of as you stroll down Fifth Avenue. In matters of goodlookingness, we writers are the ugliest of the bunch and normally our appearance is akin to that of someone investigating a crime scene; though the women in American writing keep producing world class beauty in droves and there are many breathtaking writers among them.

Todd had arranged five interviews that day. The first was with Bob Minzesheimer, the book editor for USA Today, whom I’d met before and liked a lot. He has great style and looks like he could have been friends with Hemingway if they’d known each other in Paris in the 20s. Our interview was cut short when he received a phone call that Tom Clancy had died and he needed to get back to his office to write an appreciation of Tom’s life for the next day’s edition. The next was a radio interview where Teresa Weaver asked questions of Fannie Flagg and me about our new books. I’ve long been enamored of the works of Fannie Flagg; her books have always made me howl with laughter and taught me a great deal about how southern women think. Hell, how all women think.

At lunch, Nan Talese and I had a meal brought in from the Random House cafeteria. Nan and I have been a team for over thirty years now and

Nan Talese and me in her office

I was present the night she received the first Maxwell Perkins award for lifetime achievement in editing. It was a proud night for both of us. I’ve worked with some of the great editors of my times during my career, beginning with Shannon Ravenel, one of the founders of Algonquin Books, who passed me on to Anne Barnett, who passed me to the superb Jonathan Galassi who has enjoyed one of the most successful careers in the history of publishing and whose departure left me in the able hands of Nan Talese. I don’t think that a writer and an editor have ever been so mismatched, yet made it work out in our own ways. In her elegance, I’m always somewhat of an aardvark in her presence. She wears Armani with an unmatchable grace while I wear L.L. Bean only for dress up occasions. Her husband Gay Talese writes a prose so impeccable that I find myself studying it between books. His suits are so perfect that they look woven from pelts of manatees. Together, Nan and Gay look like café society taken to its highest register.

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A Room Of Her Own… and the birth of Moonrise

My desk

Hey, Out There…

To write about your own wife’s novel should cause shame to any serious writer, but in this case I find that I can do it with pleasure and a strong sense of pride.

Since I met Cassandra King at the Hoover Library’s Writer Conference and we decided to spend the rest of our lives together, we have written our books on opposite sides of the house. When we got married, I discovered that Sandra had never had a room of her own to write in during her entire adult life; I promised her a room with a view and all the time she needed to do her work and craft her books. She has written five novels since we met and I believe that her new book Moonrise is the best of them. It eases my soul that I share a house with a novelist of such rare and distinctive gifts.

I know it must seem like home cooking for a husband to praise his own wife’s work. But the shadow of divorce court looms over a marriage where the spouses loathe each other’s work. When Sandra hands me a completed chapter or leaves it on my pillow to read, an immense joy fills me because Sandra always hands me a complete world to cast myself adrift in. In The Sunday Wife she changed the English language. I’ve met a hundred women around the south who’ve whispered to me, “I used to be a Sunday Wife,” or “I’m still a Sunday Wife; I’m married to the Bishop.”

Nor can I read the last section of The Same Sweet Girls without breaking down at the end because I’m so touched by those amazing ties of women’s friendship. I envy the tireless intimacy of women’s friendship, its lastingness, and its unbendable strength. Cassandra captures all this as well as any writer producing literature today and I love it that our house is the source of its creation.

I was present at the birth of Moonrise. I took Cassandra to Highlands, North Carolina to visit my dear friend Jim Landon, who owned a lovely mountain home made holy by well-selected books and Asian art. Jim is one of those perfectly charming southern men who dresses with distinction, decorates his home with unerring taste, makes a perfect omelet and is one of the best lawyers in Atlanta. Cassandra fell in love with Jim immediately, as I had done when I met him in 1974. All life has more savor when Jim is around. He introduced us to his cast of immemorial friends, and hosted elegant parties on a deck that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains have a clear call for certain people and my wife was a goner for Highlands after that first week. Her novel is the product of her love affair with the high country of the south, its natives and its “summer people.”

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