Author Cassandra King had heard for years from those in the industry — publishers, bookstore owners — about the devotion of her husband’s fans. But she understood that love more personally when Pat Conroy died last March.
The novelist/memoirist made his name writing about his harsh upbringing in a military household and his own experiences in the service; his chaotic childhood gained a sense of place when the family finally settled on the South Carolina coast. After his death, readers flooded Conroy’s Facebook page, one of the many modern technologies the writer didn’t fully understand, with messages of condolence.
They mourned his passing, but also mourned for themselves. “One of the main things they were saying was, ‘I’m so sad for myself that I’ll never get to read another Pat Conroy book,’” King says. To ease fans’ grieving process, along with her own, she helped compile his unpublished essays, speeches, and letters, plus blog posts from his website, to form A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life. The volume, published in October with an introduction written by King, reached The New York Times Best Sellers List, a place where most of Conroy’s novels, including Prince of Tides and The Great Santini — both turned into major movies — have enjoyed long spells. King herself is a decorated novelist: The Same Sweet Girls and The Queen of Broken Hearts, among other works, have been honored by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, Booksense, People magazine (“page turner of the week”) and the Literary Guild Book-of-the Month selection.
Her last book, 2013’s Southern Gothic mystery Moonrise, was recently published in paperback, and makes use of the WNC mountains as its backdrop. King will speak in Lake Lure this month about Moonrise, Lowcountry Heart, and related topics.
“My husband had a soft spot for Lake Lure because he remembered going there as a child to his grandmother’s place,” says King. She wrote Moonrise — the book’s title is the name of the historic estate where the story’s newly married couple plans to summer — while she and Conroy stayed in Highlands, where the plot is set.
“I tried to really get the feel of the mountain area and the mountain people, the scenery, the feeling of escape you have when you get to the mountains,” she says. “It just seemed like the perfect setting for the book I was writing at that time.”
King is now working on a memoir-cookbook combination, Supper for One: A Love Story Told in Recipes. She and Conroy loved to cook together and plan for dinner parties.
“I like to bake,” she says over a bowl of ice cream, offering a light memory: “I used to bake all my bread. I never bought a loaf. My husband and I both had to watch that. You’ve got a fresh loaf of bread, some butter from the farmer’s market, there’s no way you’re not going to eat half a loaf after it comes out hot from the oven.”
Cassandra King will be featured at the “Books and Bites” literary luncheon, sponsored by the Friends of the Mountains Branch Library, at 11am on Thursday, February 2, held at the Lake Lure Inn & Spa. The event will begin with a meet-and-greet session, followed by lunch at 11:30am and King’s presentation/signing. For ticket information, call 828-287-6392 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.