Santini Shrugs- My Wound is Paternity

My wound is paternity. Southern author Pat Conroy wrote in Prince of Tides, “My wound is geography.” I disagree. Pat’s life in our low country became a healing irrigation for the legacy left by his sulfur-veined father. I believe, paternity is our mutual wound.

I once shared my life story on a Southern writer’s panel, and a fellow panelist proclaimed, “Whoa, That beats Conroy.” No one will ever beat Conroy. That’s a given. But when I tell you that my Daddy died a woman on the steps where I hoped to kill her, you might have to take a breath. I do. Living with something so true and outside, robs me of clarity, self-definition. I can hardly believe it is my story.

Hating my father was easy. A New York City iron-worker, he was a tall drink of water with a leathered, fists-up attitude and a penchant for killing cats, dogs, and (if rumors hold true) men. Kids ran from him, coworkers fell from bridges he worked on. His size twelve work boot left an indelible mark in my mother’s ribcage. He was that ugly, domestic monster you hear about and pray your daughter does not marry. I came to my father’s home in the arms of a social worker.

To exit the womb on Christmas Eve and fight jaundice without a parent’s love was easy because it transpired before language. In the fleshy dialogue exchanged since I found my biological family, the reality of my given home singes. I spread roots in assigned cement, only to watch it crack under the constant pummeling of my adoptive family. So went adoptions in the 1960s. In the best interest of the child, they sealed me from familiarity and set my feet on fire.

Dad could not love the families he decimated. There were two. Ours and another secret clan, which ran from him changing their names for safety. Dad could not stop his angry tornado from pounding us into a shelter for battered families. His storm formed in the windswept years of his youth, while stealing women’s underwear from a laundry line in College Point. Gender was a given, so German mamas punished with rank sternness, and German papas crushed any hint of girlishness from their sons.

Act like a man, I told my ten-year-old self as I sat in the hall closet, clutching my father’s weapon.  Risking death if discovered, I reminded myself that Dad wouldn’t hesitate. Just kill him, I thought. Faith and femininity ordained my failure that day. I chickened out at the sight of the marble crucifix in the hall. Did Jesus move? Dad’s malevolent masculinity would always win in my teary eternal truth.

The truth, not beholden to scared little girls or damaged women, held its tongue for five decades. Dad died in 2015, on the stoop of the three-bedroom prison I once called home. He wore rouge and the full form of a female. The vile man who spun to toss my baby brother against the dining room wall died a woman.

Hyper-masculine behavior? Madness born of hiding her truth?
A risk too painful to take until it was too late?

My wound is paternity.  Daddy’s was her gender.
My forthcoming memoir explores both.

Blessings for healing of all wounds,

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Conrack Gone- Pat Conroy Remembered


When I read of Pat Conroy’s death, I prayed it was not so. In my continued prayers since learning of his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer, I imagined Pat fit, healthy, and miraculously healed by the prayers of his well-wishers, readers and fans.

Pat deserved to be well. Pat needed to be at the next book festival, filling literary minds with encouragement, humor, and his painfully honest recollections. The book world could not survive without Pat’s pink-cheeked smirk, wry humor or masterful manipulation of words. Yet, this dark day, we must find a way to do so.


Decatur Book Festival

Pat was my author. It’s hard to describe why, or how, he became ‘my’ author. It likely started where every literary love affair begins, in a book. Water is Wide was my first foray into Pat Conroy’s world. It was love at first read. After that, I devoured everything Pat wrote, and attended every reading, festival and signing where I might feast on his opinions, learn a literary trick, hug greatness.

I think a quote from Pat’s My Losing Season- A Memoir describes my feelings best-

“The great teachers fill you up with hope and shower you with a thousand reasons to embrace all aspects of life. I wanted to follow Mr. Monte around for the rest of my life, learning everything he wished to share or impart, but I didn’t know how to ask.”

I had the good fortune of breathing the same air as Pat Conroy many times. So many times in fact, that a few friends asked if I was a Conroy stalker. Every greeting from Pat buckled my knees, and quickened my heart in a fan girl manner that made deep questions on writing, survival, and other important life issues, impossible.


Savannah Book Festival

Pat was always patient and gracious despite my goofiness. He laughed when author Mary Hood (who’d witnessed my breathless approach) told me to, “breath” from a nearby signing table at the Savannah Book Festival. He teased me as we took a photo together, making up tales of knowing my mother in high school, and having a great time with her (wink, wink). He greeted my daughter and I at the opening of the Mina and Conroy Fitness Center as if we were long lost family, delivering a peck on the cheek that made me swoon.


Mina & Conroy Fitness Center

As a fellow abuse survivor, and writer, Pat represented for me, the hopeful idea that I might someday capture the brutality of my own childhood in a prose that prickled reader’s skin and healed their hearts.

To open a Conroy book is to watch Pat slice a vein, and bleed precisely and eloquently on every page. Pat Conroy was a beacon for the beaten down, a man who reigned over a kingdom of readers with the touch of a healer.

He was my author, and I miss him already.

Blessings for Pat’s loving wife Cassandra, his family & friends,

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For My Favorite Survivor – Pat Conroy at Decatur Book Festival

Yesterday, in a standing-room only session at the AJC Decatur Book Festival, I sat in the choir loft of the First Baptist Church, mesmerized once again by Pat Conroy’s candid and comedic telling of a life spent writing about survival. Pat was interviewed by his longtime literary agent Marly Rusoff, and shared the stage with novelist Jonathan Odell.

Like Conroy, I was raised in a family where mental illness, violence and dysfunction flourished. Unlike Conroy, I have not yet found my full voice for describing the damage and self-delusion of my parents. Conroy knows more than any writer, the danger of family estrangement that is inherent in writing novels that are semi-autobiographical. Conroy has lived a lifetime of emotional repercussions as a result of his near-mythic ability to bleed-out parental flaws onto page-after-page of heart-wrenching prose.

My debut novel hints at the atrocities of my childhood, including months spent homeless and hiding in a shelter for battered women and children. However,  unlike Conroy who slaughters familial beasts with open-fisted humor, Waving Backwards swats at the underbelly of childhood violence.

Waving Backwards is a story of family dysfunction, coming-of-age, adoption search and abuse.  Listening to Conroy yesterday, clarified for me the reasons (beyond my extreme newbie status in the craft of novel writing) that I did not delve into the morbid details of childhood terror with more clarity. Conroy explained how his book editor for The Great Santini, edited out some of his father’s bad behavior in the novel, because she did not believe that “any father could treat his children so badly.” Conroy went on to say that at the time of Santini’s publication in 1976, “America was not read for that kind of abuse.”

Long before editors tucked and trimmed my novel, I did a fair amount of abuse-editing. Conroy’s comments made me realize that I was seeking to protect the pro-adoption segment of American society.  An an author and adoptee, I judged them ill-equipped to deal with the fact that many adoptive parents are not suited to adopt; and that sometimes a biological parent is a better care-giving option, even if they are financially needy. Abundant monetary resources do not make someone a better parent. Adoption can be healthy and successful. However, that is not my story to tell.

I have been blessed to hear Pat Conroy speak on three separate occasions, and each time I am left with a new nugget of eloquent insight into the task of writing as an abuse survivor. Like Mr. Conroy, I am a reluctant memory keeper. The daily battles that my family locked away, flourish vividly and painfully in my writer’s mind.

Yesterday, as I descended from the choir loft, I thought about sharing my book with this masterful author. In typical writer’s fashion, self-doubt reared its ugly head, and I almost decided against it. Yet, the desire to give something back to the man who has gifted me (and the world) with such courageous literature, made me open a copy of Waving Backwards and write, “For my favorite survivor. Thank you for inspiring me to write.”

Hands shaking, in what I now refer to as the ‘Conroy quake’, I handed him my book, snapped a few photos of it sitting on his signing table, and walked off in a teary cloud of giddy delight. conroywb

Thank you Pat Conroy for accepting my humble gift, and for helping to pave a path for my next novel, which will delve more fearlessly into the life-long burden of child abuse in adoption.

Blessings for less self-editing and more truth,

Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
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Buy Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at
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Where Books Meet Brawn- Author Pat Conroy Opens Fitness Center

What does one wear to the grand opening of a fitness center? Sweatpants? A tidy leotard and tights? Perhaps in ordinary circumstances,  but this was the opening of an extraordinary venue by an extraordinary man.

It was a literary event. In attendance wMinaConroy_Logo-300x300ere a smorgasbord of smart folks, some lean, some (like myself) a tad round due to countless hours spent sitting, suffering and searching for inspired prose.  No matter our fitness level or girth, we all held in common a deep adoration of the 69-year-old, southern author at the helm of the proceedings.

On April 3, 2015, I dragged my flabby fiction-writing self to the opening of the Mina & Conroy Fitness center at 832 Paris Avenue in Port Royal, South Carolina.  Pat Conroy, author of such masterful literary works as Beach Music, The Great Santini, South of Broad, The Water is Wide, Prince of Tides, and The Lords of Discipline, co-owns the center with Japan native Mina Truong, his former YMCA trainer.conroy2

Conroy blogged about the healthful inspiration for opening a fitness center in this blog entry, which is written as if Japanese goddess Benzaiten smiled upon on every flowing, hilarious word. Read it, you will be glad you did.

Nestled amid quaint cottage shops on Port Royal’s picturesque Paris Avenue, the studio is a small, but mighty, exercise venue with walls of sparkling new equipment, designed to make even the most stubborn, desk-dwelling author break a sweat.

Pat Conroy and his wife Cassandra King (author of Moonrise, Queen of Broken Hearts, The Same Sweet Girls, The Sunday Wife, and Making Waves) signed books at the party. While studio space was tight, there was nary a complaint, as rapt friends and fans stood in line clutching cute book signing number cards (which were ditched at #42 when crowd control was deemed unnecessary). Apparently, we literary fitness fans are a polite bunch.

In case you’re wondering, I wore a skirt; had two beloved books signed; garnered priceless writing encouragement; and nearly swooned when Pat kissed me on the cheek.

To learn more about the studio, or sign up for a session check out the Mina & Conroy Facebook page, or give them a give them a call (843) 263-0548.

Blessings for a state of supreme literary fitness,


SYP Publishing cordially invites you to the launch party for
Waving Backwards, a Savannah novel by V.L. Brunskill
Imagine not knowing who you are,
until you find yourself in a statue 800-miles from home.
July 10, 2015 6-9PM ET at the Savannah Marriott Riverfront.



2013 Savannah Book Festival: A Treasure Trove of Talent- Al Gore, T.C. Boyle, Richard Paul Evans, Claire Cook & more


Telfair Square

Last year, in a post titled, Stephen King, Pat Conroy Inspire at Savannah Festival, I wrote about all of the inspirational, thought-provoking moments at the 2012 Savannah Book Festival. As many of you know, my passion for writing runs neck and neck with my passionate belief in open records for adoptees.

This was my fourth time attending the Savannah Book Festival. The last two times, I attended with a wish in my heart and a manuscript in the works.
This year, I had to quell the urge to skip from presentation to presentation, because while I am still looking for an agent, Waving Backwards is done, and I have started my next novel.  The FREE book festival has been a part of my growth as a writer, and gives me the rare opportunity to meet authors, and like-minded humans who adore books.

This year’s event opened for me with author James Patterson on Friday, February 15th at the Trustees Theater. Although his talk was short, I was thankful to have a question answered during the Q & A period.  After Patterson described writing 50-60 manuscripts at one time, all  from detailed outlines, I asked for clarification, “You mean you write 50-60 books at once? I just finished my first book, and that seems overwhelming.” His answer, “It’s not for you. Now that you’ve written the first book, don’t worry about PR, marketing and sales. Write your next book.”  I am taking his advice.


Hoda Kobt

Saturday morning, February the 16th, opened with bright-eyed, svelte, TV personality Hoda Kobt from the Today Show. Hoda discussed her recently released book, “Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives.” She was delightfully awake for 9AM and the crowd loved her.


Al Gore

From the balcony of the Trinity United Methodist Church, I was  privileged to watch Ex Vice President Al Gore speak next.  His speech explored the themes presented in his book, The Future  and his points on the  climate crisis were animated and well-received (even though Savannah is primarily a Republican city). I have to admit, I was waiting for a few Q & A zingers. They never came, as Gore went over the allotted presentation time. He stayed on to sign books.

From church, I skipped over to the Telfair Sculpture Gallery, to see Susanna Sonnenberg discuss her books, She Matters and Her Last Death.  Softspoken, elegant Susan seemed a beacon of hope to many in the audience dealing with the loss of loved ones.

T.C. Boyle

T.C. Boyle

After a breathtakingly, brisk walk up and down Broughton Street during the lunch break, I went to the Telfair Rotunda to secure a seat front and center for T.C. Boyle. The author of World’s End, East Is East, The Road to Wellville, The Tortilla Curtain, and many more bestsellers, T.C. read his short story- The Lie.  He is one of the most stunning writers of our time.  I wish he had spoken a bit more about his career, but was thrilled to be in the same room with an author who’s command of the English language gave me the urge to bow when I met him.  Oh, if you are reading this T.C., I have no idea what you inscribed in my book, but I’ll cherish it anyway.


Richard Paul Evans

Richard Paul Evans was up next, and his presentation was refreshingly down to earth and forthright.  Evans revealed a few childhood scars, and the fact that he suffers from Tourette syndrome. Evans is the author of dozens of inspirational, hopeful, faith based books including, The Christmas Box, A Winter Dream, The Walk, and Michael Vey.  His writing style is touching and heartfelt. Evan’s foundation, The Christmas Box International funds shelters for battered children. Having been an unwilling shelter guest as a child, this charity is near and dear to my heart. After the presentation, I spoke to Evans and that brief, emotional moment turned into the start of my next novel. Believe me, no one was more surprised by this than me!

Last but certainly not least in my Saturday at the Savannah Book Festival experience, was the incomparable, bubbling and enthusiastic Claire Cook.  Claire Cook is the ClaireCook2author of the much acclaimed book turned movie Must Love Dogs.  Her story of getting started as a writer at the tender age of 45,  kicked my can-do attitude in the can-can. Claire talked about the surreal experience of walking on the red carpet, and dished on the joys of working with John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, and Christopher Plummer. At the end of her presentation, Claire took a picture of the audience. A whirlwind of wonderful is the best way to describe this talented lady!

The closing ceremony for the festival was back at the Trustees Theater on Sunday, with guest author David Baldacci. Baldacci’s speech was not followed by questions. However, his story about speed boating with Ex President Bush Sr. was an absolute hoot.

As another Savannah Book Festival fades into memory, I am settling in for a year of productive writing, and prayer that the next time I attend, I will be a published novelist. Forget skipping, at that point I’ll float from speech to speech.

Bravo Savannah Book Festival coordinators, and blessings to all for a year of great reads and miracles,

Stephen King, Pat Conroy Inspire at Savannah Festival

This post is a tad off the adoption search topic. However, as  I  continue to edit ‘Waving Backwards’, the inspiration of other authors is  important to me.  I hope that the insights shared will be of some interest to other writer’s (and fans) who stumble upon AdoptionFind.

This weekend, I attended the Savannah Book Festival and was privy to the expressive hilarity, and brilliance of four authors:

  • Pat Conroy– ‘Beach Music’, ‘The Great Santini’, ‘Prince of Tides’, and so many more.
  • Melissa Fay Greene– ‘Praying for Sheetrock’, ‘The Temple Bombing’, ‘No Biking in the House without a Helmet’
  • John Warley- ‘The Moralist’, ‘Bethesda’s Child’
  • Stephen King– ‘Carrie’, ‘The Shining’, ‘Pet Sematary’, ‘Shawshank Redemption’, ‘The Green Mile’, ‘Misery’, ’11/22/63′ and many more.

The session featuring Pat Conroy, and his longtime friend  John Warley was a comic (think Martin & Lewis) presentation of Conroy’s writing life. One of the south’s most beloved writers, Conroy talked about the time he shared with Warley at The Citadel, among the “meanest people I ever met.” Warley gifted Conroy with most of the allotted presentation time. However,  Warley’s tale of moving to Mexico for a year to write, left me writhing in jealousy!

Pat Conroy spoke of his father ‘The Great Santini’ and when Warley suggested that Pat’s Dad was “not that bad”, Conroy went into detail about the abusive Marine who raised him. As a writer, and the adopted daughter of an abusive man, I was interested in the way Warley viewed the abuser, without an inkling of the evil wrought in private quarters.

Conroy also explained how the publisher of  ‘The Great Santini’ said of his main character that, “No one is that evil” and that Pat should, “Make him human.”  Pat did so, adding kindnesses to the character that were foreign to the real man.  As a result of that comment, I spent hours yesterday adding humanity to my meanest characters.

Melissa Fay Greene‘s session was a laugh a minute! Greene, who is best know for her successful and serious non-fiction works, has penned the book ‘No Biking in the House without a Helmet’.  ‘No Biking’ chronicles the adventures of parenting 9 children, 4 biological and 5 adopted from far away lands. Greene shared with the audience a handful of the funniest, most poignant parenting moments, and did so with a genuineness and animation that was heart-warming.

Stephen King’s presentation to a sold out theater of 1300, was a literary trip through the horror master’s past works, and plans for the future. We learned that a sequel to ‘The Shining’ titled ‘Dr. Sleep’ is forthcoming. We also learned that King has another of the ‘Dark Tower’ series in the works.

King talked about the movie version of ‘The Shining’, polling the audience to see who had read the book, as opposed to seeing the movie, and praising the ‘bookies’. He discussed Jack Nicholson’s performance in the movie, saying, “He seemed nuts from scene one.”

King also shared the moment when Stanley Kubrick first called to discuss the making of ‘The Shining’ movie. King painted a scene as vivid as a novel excerpt saying, “There I stood in my skivvies, shaving cream and blood dripping down my face.” Kubrick’s first words to King went  something like (not a direct quote), “So Steve, all ghost stories are essentially optimistic, don’t you agree.”  King wondered, “what will we discuss next, the existence of God?”

King’s also revealed that, “Of all monsters, werewolves are my least favorite.” The reason, werewolf stories are laden with too much detective work.  King earned a collective chuckle when he brought up the latest iteration of werewolves by Stephenie Meyer, author of the ‘Twilight; series, saying “now they’re all sparkly. and romantic.”

When King suggested that he is an “everyday Joe” and that anyone can do what he does, I thought,  maybe not everyone, but at least I’m giving it a whirl.

There were MANY more sessions at the Savannah Book Festival, and I extend my sincere thanks to those who worked so hard to pull off the amazing festival!  Who knows? Maybe someday it will be my turn to inspire.