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,

V.L.
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Waving Backwards book trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_ufjmq0l-U

 

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,

V.L.

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~SAVE THE DATE~
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.