Cassandra King has some advice for the young women of the world: Be sweet.
But sweetness, like sincerity, can be faked, the author writes in her new book, "The Same Sweet Girls' Guide to Life: Advice from a Failed Southern Belle."
Part humor and part life lessons, King's book is based on a commencement speech she gave last May at her alma mater, the all-girls University of Montevallo.
Like her Southern mother, King's instructors at Montevallo, formerly Alabama College, tried their best to turn her into a proper lady, but their efforts failed miserably.
"My mother wanted me to be like Melanie Wilkes and Betty Crocker. I wanted to be Zelda Fitzgerald," King said.
Growing up on peanut farm in Pinckard, Ala., in the '50s, King was raised to be obedient and compliant. Her first rebellious act was to attend the college of her choosing and to major in English. Her mother would have preferred home-ec, or worse, an "M.R.S. degree."
Much to King's despair, however, Alabama College turned out to be "a perfect finishing school for Southern womanhood," with strict rules and a dress code. King felt unhappy and out of place.
Luckily, she was able to find kindred spirits in other anti-belles, who, like King, were more sass than sweet. From her friendships and experiences post-college, King discovered the important things in life. And they weren't white gloves or fancy dresses.
The Beaufort author shares this wisdom in "The Same Sweet Girls' Guide." Be sweet, she tells readers, even if it doesn't come naturally to you like it would a true Southern belle.
"Remember what your mama told you about honey and vinegar: Be nice, and you'll catch more flies, if nothing else," she writes.
King's other tips include "be a little bit crazy," and "become a lifelong reader."
"Don't ever take yourself too seriously," but do cultivate a serious passion for reading, she said.
"I'm the kind of person if I like a book, I will read it over and over and over. As a teenager, when I read 'Jane Eyre,' I lost myself in that book. It spoke to me on so many levels." King said.
In Charlotte Bronte's Victorian-era classic, passionate and determined protagonist Eyre battles various hardships while bucking traditional views of gender and class.
"Here was this woman that had so many struggles she had to overcome. She was not beautiful. We're not talking Scarlett O'Hara here. She was very intelligent, and her intelligence and her adaptability and compassion made her admirable as a character," King said.
"The Same Sweet Girls' Guide" is King's sixth book, after her best-selling novel "Moonrise." She and her husband, novelist Pat Conroy, are full-time writers and live on Fripp Island.
King said she is almost finished with a new book about a young woman and her relationship with a grandmother she didn't know.
Eventually, King said she'd also like to write a cookbook. Not surprisingly, her cooking philosophy matches her nonconformist tendencies.
"I never stick to recipes," she said. But everything she cooks is shaded with memories and experiences that would make for interesting essays, she added.
"I love to bake. And I love desserts. I usually always have something sweet."
Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.