Last night I began reading Pat Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to have briefly met the esteemed author at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Rockville, Maryland.
I attended the conference because I had won second place in their short story contest and my family was good enough to spend way more than the $200 prize money to take me up there so I could indulge myself in the literary world for a day. I attended a great writing workshop, listened to Conroy speak, have the chance to ask him a question and then get a book signed.
Up until that point in my life, I'd never heard of Pat Conroy. I had no idea the man even existed, much less that he wrote very critically acclaimed novels. I purchased a beat up copy of Lords of Discipline at the Goodwill store to see if he was any good. Turns out, he's an amazing writer.
So while I was at the conference I purchased a new, trade paperback copy of Lords of Discipline and had it signed. He saw on my name badge that I was the second place winner in the short story contest and personalized my book with a note of congratulations. I'm proud of that autograph. In fact, if my library was burning down, that's probably one of the first books I'd try to save.
Conroy is one of the few authors I can point to as having a major influence on my own writing. In My Losing Season Conroy writes about the first time he thought of himself as a writer and how that changed his writing career. He wrote about a lot of things in that novel that helped me as a writer and consider some aspects of my life in a different light.
In reading South of Broad, Conroy has made me better understand one of my favorite songs. On Edwin McCain's Misguided Roses album there is a song called The Holy City. It's an awesome song full of imagery and depth and a song that I always thought was about New Orleans. I had no idea that Charleston, South Carolina, is called The Holy City because of the number of churches located within the city.
In the first chapter of South of Broad the main character rides his bike along his early morning paper route and is drinking in the sights and sounds of Charleston. Conroy is describing it so vividly that I can almost smell the salt on the air. What was neat about that for me is that he's writing about some of the same stuff McCain sings about in The Holy City and now I'm seeing that song in an entirely new light.
It's amazing how the written word can change the way we see things.