What do you get when two writers fall in love? A sometimes funny, often collaborative union — and a lot of great literature.Every day around noon, there comes a racket from deep inside the Fripp Island, S.C., home of Pat Conroy and his wife, Cassandra King. The sound, which rages in stereo from distinct sections of the sprawling seaside home, is not the typical domestic cling-clang of a couple approaching retirement age. Instead, it is the din of keyboards smacked simultaneously into creation by two best-selling authors — he in a downstairs studio, she in a well-lit room upstairs.
Husbands and wives share a great deal, both by vow and by proximity. But more and more spouses are also sharing the job title of author.
Literature has long played stage to the careers of married couples, such as Mary and Percy Shelley or Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Contemporary literary superstars (1) Ayelet Waldman (whose Bad Mother was a best-seller) and Michael Chabon (he of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay fame) share a writing room in their Berkeley, Calif., home. “We work there in relative silence, with occasional interruptions to get help with a scene or to complain about the weird noises the other one is making,” Waldman laughs. “Michael says he’s more productive with me in the room, and I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for my husband.”
Not every couple gracefully merges love and literature, however. “Now and again, I’ll make the mistake of seeking Phil’s approval,” says A Tale of Two Sisters scribe (2) Anna Maxted of her husband, Charlie Big Potatoes writer Phil Robinson. “All he needs to do is criticize one word and I go bonkers.” Robinson concedes that his suggestions aren’t always the best: “I usually suggest that she ‘set it in space,’ ” he says. “And that doesn’t work for every kind of story.”
In the end, though, PBS Newshour host and author Jim Lehrer says he wouldn’t trade anything for his 50-year marriage to Kate, author of Confessions of a Bigamist. “We want for the other to write superbly and successfully,” he says. “I can’t imagine a better way to live the life of a writer.”