In last week’s blog I described the literary summit of three dead writers (Faulkner, Proust and Nabokov) and one very much alive writer, Pat Conroy. Today I want to tell you about the day Pat became an editor.
A restaurant in Beaufort, South Carolina called Griffin Market specializes in Italian cuisine from the Piedmont region of Italy. Pat’s time in Rome made him passionate for the food, so that the opening of this restaurant by Chef Laura and Sommelier Riccardo was a bit like having a small corner of Torino dropped into the Lowcountry. The Thursday lunch that Pat presided over made it home, and I have enjoyed many a memorable meal at the round table in the back.
In the spring of 2013 Jonathan Haupt of USC Press joined us for lunch. Chef Laura’s garlic and oregano froliced in the kitchen while Riccardo poured Barbaresco. Pat, Jonathan and I sat together at one end of the table. I had signed a contract with USCP months before, anticipating the publication of A Southern Girl in the spring of 2014. In the months leading p to this lunch, Jonathan had kept me apprised of USCP’s intent to create a distinct imprint for fiction, complete with its own editor. He also mentioned a South Carolina writer that the Press had been wooing to serve as the first editor. Over lunch, I asked Jonathan if there were any new developments.
“Our choice for editor is being evasive,” Jonathan said with evident frustration. “We have sweetened the deal but he won’t commit.”
At which point Pat, who had been silent during this exchange, said, “If he won’t do it, I will.”
I’m not sure who was more stunned by this statement. Jonathan looked at me as if to say, “Is he serious?” and I looked back with a giant question mark on my forehead. In the forty-seven years I had known Pat, I had never heard him express the slightest interest in being an editor. Of anything. Ever. But, as we learned in the days following, his offer was genuine, and USCP lost no time in sealing the deal. To have Pat as the editor-at-large for the fiction imprint promised to put it immediately on the literary map.
But what to call the imprint? USCP came up with the name Story River Books, a name I liked but one I connected with nothing I knew. It turns out that Story River is an actual river in Beaufort, and to Pat’s surprise he realized he had swum in it as a boy, a delicious irony that portends good things. Quite by serendipity, Pat is the first editor of the imprint that will publish A Southern Girl as its first offering. For such an honor, it was a small sacrifice to “kill my darling.”
The theme of “killing” reminds me of a favorite writing story about the absolute worst mystery writer of all, and I’ll need your help on that one. Next week.