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.

Nan and I were there to talk about my new book The Death of Santini, but I wanted to know what her other writers were doing. She always provides fresh news of Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan, and I wanted to hear everything about her writer Valerie Martin, whose book The Ghost of the Mary Celeste I had just read and admired. Because we’ve spent thirty years together, we wander back and forth in time. Editors and reps and bookstore owners we have known together. We still remember the editorial assistants using typewriters, and when tons of people smoked in the sanctity of their own offices. But we’ve always agreed that it’s the beauty and power and skillful use of the language that will sell a book – no matter what it is printed on. She’s found great happiness on a farm she bought several years ago in Connecticut. I wondered how long our relationship could last, but I was proud of the things we had accomplished together. Looking back, I wish I had not been so sullen and cantankerous when we were editing my books, and good God, I wish I’d been better dressed as I met them at their table at Elaine’s.

Great love.

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

  • Margaret Winter says:

    Ah, Pat, I loved reading this and thinking of you and Nan laboring over a manuscript. What a pair you make.
    One of the great sadnesses of my retirement from Random House is not getting to sell your books or–treat of treats–squire you around Los Angeles anymore.
    Wishing you the best.

  • Marsha Fetzer says:

    Lovely! And was was remembering my good fortune in spending a couple of serendipitous days with you so many years ago. Happy Birthday old friend. I take delight in following you and cheering from the wings.
    XO
    Marsha

  • Connie says:

    Will you be coming to Atlanta, GA. for a book signing?

  • Beverly Berry says:

    I find it difficult to put into words what your books have meant to me. When I read a PC novel it’s as if I’m in the company of a very dear and longtime friend of which I’ve had a complicated yet wonderful relationship. It brings to mind an old saying in which it says “anything worth anything is a lot of trouble” or something like that. I am definitely looking forward to reading your new book!

  • Judy Hall says:

    I plan to be at your book signing in Charleston in November. This will be my birthday present. During visits to Beaufort I have completed my signed hardbound collection of your books from McIntosh Book Shoppe. My friend and I found The Great Santini’s grave in the national cemetery. I am looking forward with great anticipation to seeing you and reading The Death of Santani.

  • Carol Everest says:

    I’ve so long respected you for the healthy way you worked out the pain of your childhood, by writing. Writing is such a constructive way to make sense of your life. I wish I could do that. But I live with too much fear of my life to really get into it. My mom was killed with my gun in an accident that has made my life hell. So I understand the anger your family felt at you, and the release that must have come for you. I have so much respect for you Pat. Your books sit on my bookshelf, in hard bound editions, the only books I won’t let anyone borrow. Thank you for the hours of being captured by your literary genius.

  • Dave says:

    This has nothing to do with anything, but if Pat Conroy actually reads this I was wondering something. Do you remember a basketball game at the Citadel when you made a hook shot from half court (almost)? Unfortunately, it didn’t count as a whistle had already been blown, but I was a kid sitting in the stands that night with my mouth hanging open, totally in awe!

  • MaryAnn Dodd says:

    Hey Pat, your books are so real to me. As an old Armybrat and named MaryAnn, I couldn’t believe the sister in THE GREAT SANTINI. It was as if you had invaded my soul. I was very excited when my son was graduating from Virginia in the middle eighties. Sorry, I can’t remember the exact year because we have five children and someone was always graduating.. I was so thrilled that you were to speak at Finals.. Unfortunately, you couldn’t be there due to bad weather for flying. The judge from Beaufort filled in and he did a mighty fine job, but he wasn’t my beloved favorite author. After my husband retired, we moved to Hilton Head for thriteen years and then moved back to Virginia to be closer to grandchildren and children. I loved going to Daufuskie before Melrose. We vacationed on Hilton Head since the early seventies and every time we went to Daufuskie, I thought about THE WATER IS WIDE. You have such a gift and thank you for sharing.
    MaryAnn Dodd

  • Victoria Cullen says:

    Loving you right back, Pat.

  • Carol Krouse says:

    What is Mr. Conroy’s itinerary for signing his new book? Is there a chance he’ll be in South-Central Pa.? He is one of my most favorite authors . Can’t wait for the book.

  • mark stewart says:

    Pat, I want to drive down to Miami on the 19th of Nov, but everything there on that date is still ‘TBA’. Anything finalized yet so I can start making plans?
    Thank you, sir.

  • Jayne Hughes says:

    Pat…You are my very favorite author. I met you at a party in Tennessee in the “90′s.
    You signed “Beach Music” and “The Prince of Tides”…in my eyes you’ re a Prince!.
    Thank you for creating such meaningful reads.

  • Elaine Pollack says:

    Pat:

    Are stops in DC, Baltimore or Columbia, MD planned on this tour. I would love to meet you get an autographed book.

    Elaine Pollack – a huge fan, :-)

  • Barbara Revell says:

    Have read all of your books…looking forward to your new one.

  • Adrianna Rogers says:

    I finished The Death of Santini last night. It was a wonderful book. From dedication to epilogue it was captivating. It is understandable that tours can be tiring and somewhat draining. However, as you know, the opportunity to meet with an author who has really made an impact on you is a priceless gift. Your books are gifts but a chance to meet with you . . . that is incredible. I only wish I lived in the United States as I would gather all my Pat Conroy books and camp out at a signing and beg for you to sign them all.

    I have enjoyed every book you have created and I am looking forward to your next project as I am sure you will have a few surprises for us all.

  • Mary Tom Cashin says:

    Pat, I am really looking forward to reading your new book. I understand you write about your Grandfather who was born/lived in the small North Georgia community where I grew up. (or “was raised” as we say in the North Ga hills)

  • Vicki Johnson says:

    Have read all your books, some several times.You capture the heart and soul of southerners like no other writer ever has. Your lyrical style and compelling plots captivate me every time.Had the pleasure of meeting you when my daughters and I decided to ride by your home years ago on the island. We were in a golf cart, and much to our surprise you came out and graciously talked to us! Thank you for enlightening and brightening our lives all these years. Vicki Johnson, Spartanburg, S.C.

  • Glenn German says:

    There are few greater pleasures in this world than the arrival of a new Conroy book. Congratulations and thank you.

  • Sonny Roberts says:

    I’ve long enjoyed your writing, and even in this blog, you always tell an interesting story. I’m looking forward to The Death of Santini and feel confident that it will be exceptional,as have all of your other works!

  • Beverly Hodges says:

    Will you be anywhere near either Bennettsville, SC or Charleston as a part of this tour? I have missed seeing you on several occasions, but now that I am retired, my time is more flexible and I would love to hear and meet you. Thanks so much for all of the stories. I cherish them all, especially BEACH MUSIC.

  • Bobbi Hahn says:

    This post is absolutely delicious and is full of luscious groupings of words that could only come from the gifted pen of the incomparable Pat Conroy!

  • Will you ever come to Raleigh ? Can’t wait to get your new book, any day now….

  • Betty Reid says:

    I appreciate your humility and admire your talent. Listening to your comment on Audible about your mother brought tears to my eyes. She was truly an inspiring woman, and I am grateful that she gave you to us.

  • Janis Yeager says:

    Can’t tell you how many copies of Beach Music I’ve purchased and have happily shared with so many people who, just as promised, made their hearts sing with your words and stories, but as pages are turned, the last one, or one before, may be stained with tears. You are an author’s author.

    When I’m engrossed with one of your new, or past favorite books, I’ll get up and read just a sentence or paragraph to my husband which is so finely written “it makes your eyes ache with pleasure”….your words leave impressive imprints.

    Thank you for sharing your incredible talent.

  • Erik Kirkhorn says:

    Pat, like others here, I’m hoping for a Washington, DC-area visit at some point soon. The last I checked, it wasn’t (yet) on the schedule. What I would have briefly mentioned in person is that I appreciate your need for (sometimes painful) introspection and trips into the past to confirm (sometimes haunting) events. Thank you, again, for taking us along on the ride!

  • emily alt says:

    Hi Pat!

    My best friend and I met you a couple years ago at the Savannah Literary Festival–we were the teachers who flew in from Chicago to see you speak and you welcomed us with great open arms–thank you so much for that amazing moment!

    We went back to our classrooms and shared the pictures with our students and they were amazed that we could become so starstruck by meeting an author–but then, when they read your Prince of Tides, they understood. You truly have changed so many Chicago Public School students’ lives through your writing!

    Also, I’ll be spending most of this winter in Beaufort with my husband in our Airstream trailer and I am hoping to bump into you at some point. Or if you happen to want to meet up for coffee at any point, feel free to drop me a note (and let me just say that this would absolutely COMPLETE my life if you were to take me up on that offer!)

    Cannot wait to start your new book on Tuesday and thank you so much for all of you have done for the world of literature, teaching and me.

    –Emily

  • Love your blog posts. It’s almost as good as your books. I read somewhere that really all the readers want after reading an author’s books is to know the author. I believe there is some truth to that.
    Blessings as you travel.

  • Suzanne Hershey Ford says:

    Are there any book signings in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Wilmington, DE? …. I feel as if the friendship we shared while living in Laurel Bay has continued through your many wonderful books. My all-time favorite comment from a sixth grade student after having shared a chapter from Beach Music was, “Gee, Mrs. Ford, I didn’t know grown-up books could be so interesting!” (I had to swear the class to secrecy since one of your four letter words slipped out of my mouth without edit; the class loved it of course!)
    Looking forward to TDOS and perhaps seeing you. XXOO “Sue”

  • Tom Smith says:

    Since first reading The Lords of Discipline and My Losing Season, I have been hooked on Pat Conroy the writer and humble person. I have even traveled to Charleston and Beaufort and plan to go back soon. This time, however, I’ve threatened to call you ,Pat, or find your favorite haunts, introduce myself, and buy you a beer much to the chagrin of my sister who will be with me. I’m hoping the Boulder/Denver area is on your book tour. I’m anxiously awaiting the Death of Santini!

  • Claire B. Cozzi says:

    Any chance you will come to Wilmington, NC or anywhere near Myrtle Beach?

  • Julie Thomas says:

    I didn’t see Asheville NC on the schedule. I have been there twice for signings. Is this one you may add to your schedule?

  • Sharon jones says:

    You are my favorite author. I so hope you are coming to Minneapolis. Or during the winter months to Florida???

  • Sharon jones says:

    Had to tell you that the last sentence in The Water Is Wide made me cry. Just loved it as all your books.

  • JGD says:

    In the 70′s and 80′s I was a teenage son of South Carolina, Charleston specifically. I read all of your beautiful novels at once bewildered by the violence and betrayal often depicted yet transfixed by your ability to describe the rhythms, sounds, and lush beauty of a place that I saw everyday yet didn’t rightly appreciate until I saw it through your eyes. Alas, I fear that world no longer exists, but thank you for forever capturing in words it’s wonderful, slowly decaying essence.

    Is there a stop planned for Houston, TX?

  • Robert Lamb says:

    I’ve read all your books, bubba, and can’t wait to read this new
    one. How about returning the favor and read my Journey’s End, now at USC Press?

  • Dave Corless says:

    Greetings to a great guy (and basketball player) and fellow Camp Wahoo Basketball Camp counselor. Those were some great times. Do you have any photos from those days, by chance???

  • Hi Pat,

    Glad you’ll be out and about. I’ll check for a Portland Oregon stop. You’ve given me two Conroy moments: One was sitting with my mother at the end of her life. I thought of you and your Mom who said, “It’s difficult to die while you’re taking notes.”

    The other was reading South Of Broad in Seville, Spain. It was all so Catholic.

    I appreciate your work and the way you turn places into Conroy Country. Not many carry that weight.

  • Barb says:

    I cannot wait for next Tuesday, read all of your books. So looking forward to this next one.
    All the best to you and your staff.

  • Lisa McCormack says:

    Pat – What a lovely post! Todd is charming, Nan is beautiful and everything you write flows effortlessly. I am looking forward to seeing you in Nashville. – Lisa .

  • Mark Kelly says:

    Pat, I met you in the early 70s during your book tour for the Water is Wide. I grew up in Savannah and always wait for your new releases and read your other work on a regular basis. So much of your work is based in the Low Country, and I have an instant connection with the locations, flora, fauna, water and regional quirks.

    You work has inspired my writing life, though it hasn’t, and won’t, reach your level of success. However, your ability to fight through the pain of a nightmarish childhood helped me beat back the temptation to stop writing the most difficult story of my life: my only son’s memoir.

    So, thank you for your work. Thank for your your fight through those dark places no one should enter, but lead us to the stories that allow other people to know there is path to a sane acceptance of pain and grief.

    Cheers to you on the launch of a new work. I can’t wait to read it!

  • Thomas W. King says:

    I’ve got a nearly complete Pat Conroy library!! Is it possible to have books signed at an upcoming signing event that have been previouly purchased and read at an earlier time?

    Looking forward to reading your most recent work!!

    TW King

  • Jackie Parrett says:

    I’ve been checking frequently but it appears you are not coming to the west coast. I’m in Seattle and hoped you’d come here. From this blog it sounds like the schedule is now complete. Just checking to be sure. Can’t believe your publisher would skip Seattle, known to be a true reading city. ;-) By the way, I never tire of reading and rereading “My Reading Life.”

  • Stephanie Houston says:

    Hi Pat. I cannot get enough of your beautiful writing. I’ve read your books over and over. I have Beach Music on audio tape in my car. I play it all the time and am transcended to another place. PLEASE COME TO PHOENIX!! I need to meet you before I die. I’ll be 70 next April. I still have some time.

  • Luke Esser says:

    PLEASE do a book signing in the Pacific Northwest or at least somewhere on the West Coast!!!

  • pat garrison says:

    Today has been one of my luckiest days. I found Pat Conroy’s blog page.

  • Rachel Sipchen says:

    I vividly remember standing in the Eckerd Drug in Salisbury, NC and picking up a paperback called “The Great Santini”. I purchased it having only read the back cover, and from that moment on Pat Conroy became my favorite author! I have reread this book a dozen times since discovering it back sometime in the late ’70′s, as well as absorbing all of your other books. I gave my first copy to a beloved cousin from CA. Each time I talked to her I asked her if she had read it. Each time she answered that she was saving it. She died March 1, 1998, and each time I think of her I hoped that she had read “The Great Santini” before she left us! I cannot wait to read “The Death of Santini”! Thank you, Pat Conroy!

  • Shaken and teary-eyed after reading your essay in Chapter Nine in My Reading Life about military brats. I am still ruminating over the Death of Santini. You were blessed to get to know your dad, as unknowable as these Korea/WWII Warriors were trained to be. My dad died in 1971 at the age of 59, and to this day, so much of his military record is redacted. His greatest gift to me was his comment to my mother when she told him how I was handling my husband’s severe and disabling wounds from the Vietnam War:”She’s got guts.”
    Is it only we of the Fortress who would so highly value “guts”…courage, steadfastness,
    loyalty?
    Thanks, Mr. Conroy, for your lyrical voice. I will pray for reconciliation with your daughter.
    Your Friend, Darlene Weaver

  • Janet Ricard says:

    Hi,
    I was so disappointed to not be able to get a signed copy of your latest book yesterday in Mt. Pleasant. I came in and would have stood in line for the hours needed had I not had to go to a dear friend’s 50th birthday party. My husband and I are loyal fans of yours and I, of your precious wife. I am so excited to know she has a new book out for me to read. Yay! My husband and I are both educators—he a former band director and now a middle school principal. I am a former first grade teacher and currently an assistant principal. Several years ago, our nephew won a statewide contest based upon your book, My Losing Season. After his grandmother let you know, you most graciously replied with a handwritten note. I continue to appreciate that. My nephew graduated from Clemson at the top if his class and is now a second year law student at UVA. He also graduated from the Officer Candidate School in Quantico, VA this summer for the JAG program . We are very proud. We try to get down to Charleston often as our precious son is a sophomore at C of C. He is an English major:)!! A teaching fellows student!! Mama is very proud! He has a love of literature…..always has! Thanks for inspiring us and continuing to supply us with your beautiful writing!

  • JustAReader says:

    I am one of your many fans born with a book attached to their umbilical cord. You have taken me to a new level of reading and brought a lot of joy to this phase of my life (61). When I share my love of your writing with others, I tell them to approach your writing they would approach multi-flavoured ice cream–don’t try to taste every flavour one by one; just grab a big scoop and enjoy it. When I do that with your writing, I am there. I smell the shrimp. I feel the salt spray. I hear the voices. I become part of everything.

    I am reading “The Death of Santini” right now and am hoping that this catharsis will allow you to let go of the sadistic father who controlled your life and the lives of your sibs and Mum.

    Best wishes from a small fishing village in Nova Scotia.

  • Chet and Andra Kowalski says:

    Pat,
    We are wondering if you could update us on Mary DeRosa–our former Fripp friend.
    Our last correspondence to her in South Carolina after she moved from Fripp was returned with no forwarding address.
    As always, your latest book touched my soul.
    Peace be with you!

  • Marion Firestone says:

    I have read and loved all your books and movies, but “The Death of Santini” has them all beat. I had to stop reading it several times because the story was so powerful. You really know how to tell a story. Thanks.

  • Gigi Lynch says:

    I still remember reading my first PC novel, PRINCE OF TIDES. I called friends and family and read them passages because I was so overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and soul-wrenching agony of your words.

    I am a struggling writer (aren’t we all?) and have prayed for years for you to write a book or teach a course on writing. My prayers were answered with the publications of MY READING LIFE and THE DEATH OF SANTINI, although I’d still sign up for a course anywhere you would deign to teach, and that’s saying something because I live in Alaska. (By the way, the welcome mat is always out). Our writers’ groups up here would be ecstatic. Oh, and did I mention we have great restaurants and it looks, as my daughter says, “like we live in the middle of a National Geographic magazine”?

    Thank you for sharing so much of your soul. By giving your readers an understanding of the hell you and your family endured as well as the rare glimpses of grace that kept you sane enough to write all these wonderful novels, you have given us an awareness of what it takes to be a great writer. I am forever in your debt. And, if there’s any little corner of The Old New York Book Shop in heaven where I can reside, please let me know. I promise to keep it clean plus I make great apple pie.

    Merry Christmas from The Great White North!

  • J.P. Cunningham says:

    Pat, I can’t help thinking about the time that an interested editor traveled down to Mississippi to visit in person with Eudora Welty and her parents, after she’d spent about two-hundred bucks of her dad’s money for a train trip to NYC, where she carted around segments of manuscripts from “house” to house (as in publishing house). The relationship developed during the visit in MS and continued for decades. Your praises of Nan T. are uplifting. The idea of an author being given the gift of quality editing from someone like that is truly uplifting. Thanks for sharing your impressions about this particular editor. Jim Cunningham By the way, if you’re only 68, then you’re just a youngster. Keep that in mind.

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