Author Pat Conroy's roots run deep in South Carolina. Growing up a military brat, he finally settled in the Lowcountry. He's written about the charms of Charleston, the isolation of Daufuskie Island, the righteousness of The Citadel. South Carolina has infused itself in his fictional and real persona.
"The state seemed to take over my whole life," he said. "I owe this state a great deal."
He's paying back his home state through literature. The "Prince of Tides" author will serve as editor at large for the University of South Carolina Press's Story River Books series, a new venture that will publish fiction from South Carolina writers.
The first two writers to be published, Bernie Schein and John Warley, are from Beaufort.
Both are also friends of Conroy -- Schein is a high school buddy and Warley a fellow Citadel cadet. However, their works were selected before Conroy came on board, and he has recused himself from the editing process. The novels are scheduled to be released in 2014.
Story River Books -- named after a river on Conroy's home of Fripp Island -- is a new expansion into the world of fiction for the press, said director Jonathan Haupt.
Specializing in nonfiction, the press was only occasionally publishing novels. But the quality of fiction submission improved. Haupt thought the press could create a series, something that would give some branding specific to fiction writers. Conroy had been involved in some unrelated projects with the press when he brought up the idea of helping. The name recognition of a best-selling author was nice but not the reason Haupt chose Conroy for the editor-at-large role. He saw a genuine interest in Conroy to help fellow authors, stemming from his teaching days on Daufuskie Island that he wrote about in "The Water is Wide."
"Pat never really stopped being a teacher," Haupt said. "He has such a generosity of spirit."
Schein, an educator who previously published "If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom" about his experiences teaching middle school students, will release "Famous All Over Town." It's an epic that tells the story of a small Beaufort-esque town over 50 years, touching on civil rights, classism and its evolution from an isolated community to a tourist-friendly destination.
The lawyer-turned-author Warley will publish, "A Southern Girl: A Novel," a family saga based on his experiences adopting a South Korean daughter. Warley hopes the series can be the start of a Southern literary tradition.
"I think (Conroy's role) is going to give it instant credibility," Warley said. "And (Haupt) is also an excellent editor. The combination of (Conroy) and (Haupt) is a terrific one."
Although the first two books announced are from Beaufort authors, Haupt said the series plans to include a diverse array of authors from various locales and experience levels.
"The goal is to get a good cross-section of the state," he said.
In the process, Conroy said the press can help buoy a segment of the publishing industry that's fading -- the mid-level author. As the publishing industry struggles to survive, many quality novels are getting passed over nowadays in favor of sure-fire hits, Conroy said.
"Presses are suffering. I decided I wanted to help," he said.
"There's not room for a lot of terrific novelists who don't sell one billion copies or who don't write about zombies and vampires."