The Great Conroy: Pat and The Great Santini

Meeting an IDOL is like winning the lottery: it’s wonderful and surprising and worth waiting in line for.

Last night, I met my Literary Idol, Pat Conroy, and it was sublime.

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When I asked, shyly, if he’d mind taking a pic with me, he said sure and reached his hand out to touch my shoulder. I felt like a little kid on Santa’s lap–thrilled. Just thrilled.

I had not known that the author of such great books as Beach Music, The Prince of Tides, and The Great Santini was going to be at the Free Library of Philadelphia, touring for his latest tome, The Death of Santini. I found out late–and by chance–and could only get tickets to the overflow room for a simulcast of his talk downstairs in the auditorium. I was a little disappointed (how could I not have known this sooner?), but still glad to be in the same building as the man I consider the greatest living American writer. As the program proceeded to the question and answer period, everyone in the simulcast room got up and got inline for the book signings to come. My very good and wonderful friend Marie Gilbert offered to stand in line for me as I ran downstairs and snuck, quietly, into the auditorium for those last few minutes. I love breaking the rules.

I stood in the back breathing the same air as this humble, funny autobiographical fiction writer, whose childhood was so tough that it’s been chronicled–as much for his own cathartic needs as any literary goals–in eleven novels, the last being the last, he says, as he bids goodbye to the parents who made and nearly killed him and his six siblings. In fact, his brother Tom, actually did throw himself off a building and, he says, five of the seven kids tried to kill themselves. That is one dysfunctional family, but my favorite one, as it has led to Pat writing down all he remembers–and it’s alot–for us to read, enjoy, cry over, laugh with and admire.

Yes, I have a writer’s crush on Mr. Conroy, 68 years old and very much the thick-bodied Irishman my father was. Although he’s an Irish Catholic, he was raised, he says, as just a “southerner,” but the Irish in him is undeniable. And if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know how I feel about the Irish!

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I was as nervous as a school girl as I zoomed in to take this shot and so, it’s shaky. I take a lot of pictures and they’re usually not blurry like this one. I felt like I was meeting a rock star!

I had written Pat a note on one of my “P” embossed note cards thinking, of course, that the connection of our names might inspire him to become, if not my best friend, at least a good one. I handed him the note I’d kept secret from the many book guards surrounding him (as they had posted that there would be no posed pictures, I was afraid they’d rip the pink envelope out of my hand: No Notes!), and asked him, in the geeky way I do when near a celebrity, if he’d “accept it.” Yep, like “Will you accept this rose?” I was that nerdy. He said “of course” and put it into his pocket and I’ve been wondering ever since if he’s looked at it.

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And what if he has? I wrote it quickly while waiting for the simulcast. It said something about being a writer, too, and having a story like “The Water is Wide” and thinking–when I read that book while writing my own–“damn, Conroy’s already done it, and done it better.” And then I asked him, I think, if we could correspond or something. What am I hoping for? That one of the most gifted and popular authors in the land will be my pen pal? Oh gawd.

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I don’t remember what I was saying to Mr. Conroy as he prepared to sign my copy of The Death of Santini, but I’m sure it was embarrassing. That’s how it is for me: I am totally cool until it’s important to be, then I’m an idiot. I remember telling him that my father’s name was Don, just like his father–another similarity, see Pat? We’re destined to be friends. I want you to be my mentor, to read my words and critique my prose because I trust you more than anyone else on earth. I want to sit at your knee and watch you work. I want to learn from the master, down there in your beautiful Beaufort, SC home.

So here I sit, waiting for his–what? Call? I slipped two different business cards into the note: one for my blog, one for my website. He has all the info he needs to get in touch with me. And I think he will because…because…well, because I really, really want him to.

2010-01-01 455I hope I will never forget the time my favorite author (besides JD Salinger, who I will never meet) signed my book “To Patti, For the love of family,” because it was a sweet moment in time. If Pat does call, I’m off for South Carolina and a course in writing I could never get anywhere else.

And if he doesn’t? Hey, I’m only on page 25 of the book and I’m already enthralled. So I got that, and the other books I plan on rereading once I’m done. Because if anyone can remind me what it is to be a writer during the month of NaNoWriMo, it is the Great Conroy, hero of my writing life.

Also by Pat Conroy: The Boo; The Lords of Discipline; My Losing Season; The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life; South of Broad; and My Reading Life.

(A hug and kiss to Marie for the pics xoxo)

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