Writing about their time together in her tender, domestic memoir, “Tell Me a Story: My Life With Pat Conroy,” King Conroy had to leave out as much as she included. “I guess I had so many stories to choose from, I may have to do a sequel,” said King Conroy, who will speak about the book Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.
Conroy, author of sweeping novels of Southern life including "The Great Santini" and "The Prince of Tides," died March 4, 2016, from pancreatic cancer. His death triggered an outpouring of affection from his readers and a brace of biographies from fellow writers.
King Conroy’s memoir arrives on the heels of a pair of books — “The Lost Prince” by Michael Mewshaw and the oral biography “My Exaggerated Life” by Katherine Clark. Right around the same time as hers, another memoir will arrive: “Pat Conroy: a Lifelong Friendship” by Conroy’s friend from childhood, Bernie Schein.
King Conroy said she knew her book would be one of several, and she has kind words for most (but not all) of the other memoirs and biographies.
She can afford to be generous in spirit because she knows her unique vantage point makes her own account invaluable. "Tell Me A Story" traces her relationship with Conroy, from their accidental meet-cute at an Alabama literary event to their two-year courtship by telephone, to their long, fruitful years writing together, he at his end of their Beaufort, S.C. house and she at hers.
Entering into a relationship with Pat Conroy was like entering one of his novels, boiling with drama and characters. Because of King’s youthful appearance, she was described as a “young filly” by a family member when Conroy brought her to a family reunion. She was actually 18 months older than Conroy.
When the pair discussed marriage, she told him her age might be a consideration: "Who knows, I said — he might want to start another family," she writes. "Pat had hooted at that notion. The last thing he needed, he said, the very last thing, was another (expletive) family."
Conroy already had, at that point, two rather complex blended families from his two previous marriages. What he and King Conroy enjoyed was a respite from that drama, a quiet coda on the shore of Beaufort, South Carolina’s tranquil Battery Creek.
Not that being married to Pat Conroy was a bowl of Cheerios.
King Conroy often found herself answering the phone for the famously gregarious and yet also famously antisocial Conroy, who consistently ducked phone calls from those seeking him for blurbs or speaking engagements. “He was such a great speaker, he would probably get three or four invitations a week to speak somewhere,” said King Conroy, “but he also had legitimate requests, calls from his agent or his publisher, and somebody had to take care of it.”
It was a thankless task. “If he found out that he didn’t do something he was supposed to, he’d blame me for it. I would get so furious.”
King Conroy had just finished her first novel when the two met, while Conroy was riding high on the success of “The Prince of Tides” which had been made into a movie featuring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte.
The imbalance wasn’t a source of friction, she said. “Maybe if it had been something like ‘A Star is Born’ — where we started our careers together and suddenly Pat is taking off and I was sitting there looking pitiful — I would be telling a whole different story. But Pat was very well established when we met, he was kind of at the pinnacle, and I had put writing aside, it had taken a real back seat to my family life.”
She went on to write best-selling novels, including “Moonrise” and “The Same Sweet Girls,” and learned much from Conroy about contracts and contacts. The story circulated that the two met when King asked Conroy for a blurb for her first book. It didn’t happen that way, she said. During their first conversation at a book event, Conroy found out she was a writer, with her first book, “Making Waves,” coming out.
“Have your publisher send me your book, okay?” he told her. “If I like it I’ll give you a blurb. If not, I’ll pretend it got lost in the mail.”
He liked it.
Other Conroy biographies and memoirs:
•”The Lost Prince,” February, 2019, Michael Mewshaw: befriended Conroy during the years that they both lived in Rome, only to find their friendship broken during Conroy’s divorce from Lenore Fleischer.
•”My Exaggerated Life,” March, 2018, Katherine Clark: In the spring and summer of 2014, Katherine Clark and Pat Conroy spoke on the phone for an hour or more every day. Those conversations became this book.
•”Understanding Pat Conroy,” April, 2015, Catherine Seltzer: This slim biography is as much a study of Conroy’s work as it is an account of his life.
•”Pat Conroy: Our Lifelong Friendship,” September, 2019, Bernie Schein: Bernie Schein befriend a teenaged Pat Conroy in Beaufort, S.C., and they stayed friends (off and on) through adulthood in Atlanta, where Schein taught at the Paideia School.
Cassandra King Conroy will speak about her memoir, "Tell Me A Story: My Life with Pat Conroy," in conversation with Teresa Weaver, 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 30; free, at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, 441 John Lewis Freedom Parkway NE; www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/
Learn about how Pat Conroy’s home of Beaufort, South Carolina, honors his legacy with a literary center and annual festival (held Oct. 29-Nov. 3). Also, discover what makes Beaufort such a charming Lowcountry town. And read our review of Cassandra King Conroy’s “Tell Me A Story.” In Living & Arts