Novelist Cassandra King will present a reading and book-signing at Flagler College on March 20.
Best-selling novelist Cassandra King will present a reading and book-signing at Flagler College on Tuesday, March 20 at 7 p.m. in the Flagler College Auditorium. King’s books include “Making Waves,” “The Sunday Wife,” “The Same Sweet Girls” and “Queen of Broken Hearts.” She is currently at work on a new novel, “A Place of Flowers,” which is set in a small town in Florida. King lives in coastal South Carolina with her husband, novelist Pat Conroy.
Q: Tell us about your writing journey. When did you start writing stories?
A: I always wanted to be a writer. And actually, I wanted to be a playwright. When I was a child, one of my favorite things was to get my little sisters to act as my audience, along with our stuffed animals, and we would act out our own plays. I started pretty early, but I got sidetracked, and I did not think in terms of writing a novel for years. I wrote mostly short stories. The first thing I ever actually got paid for writing was a poem. I love poetry so much that I got a notion I wanted to be a poet, but I am absolutely one of the worst poets in the world. I mean, God-awful. I admire it so much, but I cannot write it.
Q: So you found your way with fiction.
A: I did. My first novel, “Making Waves,” started out as a collection of interrelated short stories. I was working on my master’s degree and had all these stories, and my thesis professor suggested that I try linking them as a novel.
Q: You’re known for writing strong women characters who navigate enormous personal challenges. Are there women in your life who influence your storytelling?
A: I grew up on a peanut farm in Pinckard, Alabama, and I came from a very female-oriented upbringing because there were three girls in my family. My father was a country farmer, and my mother was a very strong woman. In some ways she was the steel magnolia type, but she was also a farm wife, right out there working with my father on the farm. I had a lot of respect for her. She gave lip service to the man’s place in the house; for example, if we girls wanted to do something, spend the night at a friend’s or something, she’d tell us “You gotta ask your daddy,” but the truth was she ruled the roost with us. We were also surrounded by our aunts, who were very strong characters in the molding and upbringing of all of us girls. So yes, I had strong women all around me.
But my generation—well, let’s say the women’s movement really did influence me later on, but it took me a while. For a time I was a “Sunday Wife,” myself, but that’s changed. (Laughs.) I have two sisters, and they’re both pretty sassy girls, too. We didn’t turn out with a single Southern belle among us.
Q: Your books seem to have a special appeal to book clubs and book groups. What is it about your characters and their lives that sets people talking?
A: In speaking to book clubs and visiting with them, I think I’ve found that it’s because there are usually underlying issues in my books – not in a didactic way, I hope – but issues that people like to talk about. In “Making Waves,” for example, I wrote about an issue of sexual identity in a character. In “The Sunday Wife,” I have a woman struggling to find her own identity, because her identity has always been defined through her husband. I think so many women, even today, can be identified as “the doctor’s wife” or “the professor’s wife.” That’s something people can relate to and talk about. In “The Same Sweet Girls,” there’s a large issue, as well, dealing with the pacts we have in our lives with the people we love. My husband and I say, “If I succumb to disease and dementia, you have to be strong enough to pull the plug.” But that’s a question: can any of us ever really do that? I wanted that to be a question in the book. Can we ever love someone enough to do that for them? I suppose the books get people talking. I’m happy about that.
Q: Your novels are infused with a strong sense of place. How does place influence your books and your characters?
A: You know, it’s such a cliché to be a Southern writer. People make jokes about it. But the truth of the matter is that it’s so much a part of who I am. I’ve never lived anywhere else but the South. It’s very much a part of me and would become a part of my writing, naturally. But also, it’s an important place for my characters. Setting is almost another character in my novels, because I think of the characters as being formed by their settings as much as I was.
I’m not in Alabama anymore, but I’ve been living in South Carolina now for fifteen years. We have friends who spend their summers in Maine, and my husband and I spent several summers up there. I love it so much, how cool it is. It strikes me as so ironic, because I really hate the heat here in the South, but I’ve never lived anywhere else. I can very much picture myself living somewhere else. I just never have done it.
Q: What’s next? What projects are you working on now?
A: I’m under contract right now to do another book (“A Place of Flowers”), but I’m already looking ahead. Once I can get this one finalized, I do have plans. I’d love to do something with St. Augustine. It’s the kind of little town that I get totally entranced by. The stories, the secrets, the ghosts. I love it.
King’s reading, to be held at the Flagler College Auditorium, 14 Granada Street, will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20 and will be followed by a book-signing. The event is free and open to the public. King’s reading is the latest event in the College’s “Ideas and Images” 2011-2012 series, a popular program that debuted at the College last year and has welcomed a host of scholars and artists to St. Augustine. For more information, visit www.flagler.edu/our-community.