Guest post: "A giant of the writing world has died…Pat Conroy" by Ian A. O’Connor

America lost one of her greatest novelist sons on March 4, 2016. That man was Donald Patrick Conroy, a national treasure, and he was laid to rest five months into his seventieth year. The void now left with his passing in the world of letters is as expansive as the title of his second book, The Water Is Wide.
Why do I mourn for a man I never met but admired from afar for over forty years?  Pat Conroy and Ian O’Connor had little in common other than the fact we both came of age in a turbulent time—the 1960s. And we both loved books. I learned later that he read two hundred pages every day from an early age on, and that his memory was prodigious. It had to have been, for no other author I can think of had the power to produce a string of pearls with every sentence he wrote. We all know that good writing stems from incessant reading, and his writing just begged to be savored like a rare American bourbon whiskey. Sipped slowly, swirled around on the palate for an eternity, and then begrudgingly swallowed. This will be repeated until the book is read or the bourbon finished.
My first Pat Conroy story was The Great Santini, and I almost took a pass on it because the title didn’t grab me and the cover art was terrible. But the friend who lent it to me mentioned the story was about a son growing up in a fighter pilot’s household, and that singular fact sealed the deal. I had just come off of five years active duty as an Air Force officer, was still in the reserves, and loved to fly airplanes.  By the end of the novel I had grown to hate the Great Santini, aka Bull Meecham, the father-figure to the novel’s eldest son, Ben, and stand-in for Conroy’s own mean-spirited, heartless, selfish dad.  I had discovered one of the great writers of our time. 
I read The Boo and The Water is Wide, his only other published works at the time, and then kept a weather-eye peeled for his novels as they were published. The Lords of Discipline, was next, followed by The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, My Losing Season, South of Broad, My Reading Life, and lastly, The Death of Santini. Each masterpiece was better than the one before it, (if that’s possible) but I oftentimes felt he wasn’t writing enough stories for me to enjoy. Unbeknownst to him, he had become my literary mentor, harkening from the time I began my writer’s journey in the mid-1970s until today. As we both grew old, my novels improved as I read each new work of his. I earned my Masters, then finally my Ph.D., under his tutelage, and the price of admission into his prestigious writing program was nothing more than the cost of his next book. The entire curriculum took me forty years to complete and, in an unexplainable coincidence, I graduated the same day he died.
Pat Conroy and I differed in one respect. He never gave up using pencils and yellow legal pads in the crafting of his stories, while I, on the other hand, fell in love with my computer’s wordsmithing capabilities in the early eighties. From everything I’ve read, whenever he presented a new manuscript to Nan Talese—an editor with her own prestigious imprint—it would invariably run to as many as two thousand handwritten pages. She edited The Prince of Tides, then other editors followed as the manuscripts were completed. Conroy and his editors would spend weeks paring the work down to a publishable size. I am in awe of how Nan Talese was able to find within herself the mettle to give final approval to delete so many bejeweled pages of his prose…..but she did, book after book, and soon thereafter, another Pat Conroy bestseller was born.

And now the candle has been extinguished. Pat, you made my life immeasurably richer with your stories, so farewell, rest in peace, and forgive me for closing this tribute with a co-opting of your trademark book-signing catchphrase, “For the love of books.”

 Title: The Wrong Road Home – A story of treachery and deceit inspired by true events
Release Date: March 31, 2016 
Publisher: Pegasus Publishing & Entertainment Group 
Pages: 280
Genre: Historical Medical Crime 
Format: Trade paperback and EBook
Purchase on Amazon 

Book Description

“An intimate look at a life lived as a lie.” – Kirkus Reviews

Inspired by a true story, The Wrong Road Home is the story of Desmond Donahue. Born into abject poverty in Ireland, Donahue went on to successfully practice his craft as a surgeon for 20 years—first in Ireland and then the United States.  So isn’t Donahue’s tale a classic rags-to-riches, American dream story?  Hardly.  Donahue was girded with nothing more than a Chicago School System GED and several counterfeit medical diplomas. It seems impossible—and understandably so—but it’s a story based on a Miami Herald Sunday edition front page exposé.  An Oprah producer pursued the imposter for weeks, as did Bill O’Reilly. Simply put, Desmond Donahue’s story is a story that really happened.

A gripping story that is alternately shocking, heartbreaking, and unbelievable, The Wrong Road Home will leave readers spellbound. Ian A. O’Connor, an imaginative and skillful storyteller, paints a vivid portrait of a complicated, complex character who comes alive within the story’s pages.   Reminiscent of Catch Me if You Can, The Wrong Road Homefuses elements of true crime, memoir, and drama.  Groundbreaking, inventive and innovative, The Wrong Road Home is an extraordinary story exceptionally well told. 

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