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When the guardians of “Gone With the Wind” sued to bar release of a new novel based on Margaret Mitchell’s epic, author Pat Conroy waded into the legal fray. From the deck of a cruise ship en route from Alexandria, Egypt to Turkey, Conroy e-mailed an affidavit to U.S. District Court Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. in defense of Nashville novelist Alice Randall and her as yet unpublished book, “The Wind Done Gone.” In that letter, now part of the court record in Atlanta, Conroy recounted his negotiations several years ago with retired Atlanta attorneys Paul H. Anderson and Thomas Hal Clarke Sr. to write a second sequel to “Gone With the Wind.” Those negotiations eventually fell apart. But Conroy, in defending Randall’s right to publish, recounted in an outraged, unflattering and often funny narrative his experiences with the Mitchell trusts “and their tenacious and scrappy lawyers.” Last Friday Pannell issued a preliminary injunction halting the scheduled June publication of “The Wind Done Gone” while the case is being litigated. LIFE MODELED AFTER SCARLETT Conroy wanted to write a “GWTW” sequel “because my mother had risen out of a poor white South that had cheapened and ruined her childhood. She remade her life out of the pages of ‘GWTW’ and simply modeled her life after Scarlett O’Hara.” In undertaking contract negotiations, Conroy wrote, “I duly warned all the agents and lawyers and editors and publishers that Paul and Hal had defended the honor of the Mitchell estate with the bloodthirstiness of Caligula and they were greatly admired in the Atlanta legal community for it. My people, New Yorkers all, smiled indulgently at my praise of two Southern lawyers and were surprised in the end when Hal and Paul handed them all back their heads displayed neatly on plates. … I have a letter from Paul Anderson telling me that the project blew up because of my own insatiable greed.” In his affidavit, Conroy insists those negotiations fell apart because Anderson and Clarke wanted no interracial relationships or homosexuality in a “GWTW” sequel. The two attorneys eventually agreed not to include such language in a contract, but Conroy’s literary agency, IMG, was still uneasy, according to his letter. Conroy claimed that an agency vice-president warned him at one point, ” ‘I don’t trust these guys or anything about them, and I don’t want you to have anything to do with this project. No matter what you do, I think these Atlanta boys will sue you. I don’t know for what, but I know it’ll be for something.’ “I withdrew from the fray, your Honor, because everyone in my professional life found it unpleasant to deal with the Margaret Mitchell estate. I think Paul and Hal made a great error in judgment. I was going to try to write a masterpiece, a work of art that approached the high standards of ‘GWTW’ itself. I never asked any of my agents a single thing about money, then or now. I write for reasons that the estate of Margaret Mitchell will never fathom or ever slightly understand. I write because I am the son of Peg Conroy who took me to Margaret Mitchell’s grave when I was a young boy and told me she wanted to write a book as great as ‘GWTW.’ That sequel was for my mother and my mother alone. I know exactly the damage it would do to my literary reputation, and frankly, your Honor, I did not give a damn.” RE-ENTERING THE FRAY Which brought him to Randall’s novel. “Neither Paul nor Hal are eaten alive with a strong sense of humor, nor did they give me any indication they would know humor if it entered the same room with them,” Conroy wrote. “Does Alice Randall have a right to parody ‘GWTW’? Yes, your Honor, and an inalienable one. Does she have a right to make Scarlett O’Hara part black? She certainly does, and it’s far funnier to me because the men who are trying to censor her once wanted me to promise not to mention homosexuality or miscegenation in my book. Scarlett’s black and Ashley’s gay and Belle Watling’s running a house of ill-repute filled with lesbians. This is funny stuff, your Honor, and far, far funnier that it is being held up in court by the overzealous guardians of the rapacious Margaret Mitchell estate.” But Anderson and Clarke countered Conroy’s e-mailed affidavit with a letter the author sent to them in 1998 when he was still lobbying to write the second sequel. Contrary to Conroy’s assertions this month that money was never an issue, in his 1998 letter — addressed to Clarke, Anderson and Margaret Mitchell, who died in 1949 — Conroy wrote, “My editor, Nan Talese, still bristles with anger when she brings up the subject that I will be paying 60 cents for every dollar I make to a dead woman.” Although his literary agency had issued the two Atlanta attorneys an ultimatum, Conroy continued, “As I knew you would, you sent this ultimatum flying right back in his face. I know how Southern boys react to ultimatums. It once caused a Civil War.” In that letter, Conroy also bridled at conditions the lawyers had intended to impose on a sequel. “I ask you to trust me, Hal and Paul. I am a ’60s liberal of the worst, knee-jerk variety, but I understand very well that world that you came out of and inhabit. My political views would provoke a gag reflex from both of you. … Yet I want you to know that I feel a constant terror when I think about writing this book. I worry, I fret, and I tremble when I think I will write a bad or laughable book. One friend wrote me this suggestion: ‘Scarlett whispered, “Rhett, darling, set me on fire. The way Sherman did Atlanta.” ‘ I roared laughing, but it demonstrated the razor-thin edge I’ll be walking when I enter the hunting preserves of Margaret Mitchell.” Conroy also begged the lawyers to allow him to let Scarlett O’Hara die. “I wanted to write it because I understand the nature of tragedy and I wanted to write one of the great death scenes in all of literature. I think I could bring the world to its knees with the death of Scarlett.” Conroy then offered to leave Scarlett alive but write the chapter of her death “and leave it in the archives of the Margaret Mitchell estate to be possibly — and I mean possibly — published by the estate when the copyright runs out? This will allow me to save some face. … All my resistance to your restrictions — all of them, and I include miscegenation, homosexuality, the rights of review and approval — I do because they begin inching toward the precincts of censorship. You do not mean them that way, I know, but it is what they sound like to the writer who lives inside me. I cannot take Scarlett as a date to the Censor’s Ball and I mean that. I can grant you no rights of approval over my work — none whatsoever — but I promise I will bring honor to your estate and the memory of Margaret Mitchell.” Then Conroy embarked on an emotional description of his own family in which he defended Mitchell’s depictions of African-Americans and compared himself to the poor white Slatterys. “Margaret Mitchell did not hate black people, she hated poor Southern whites. She hated my people,” he wrote. “If you look back at ‘GWTW’ Miss Mitchell poured all of her considerable powers of contempt on the Slatterys, the poor white subsistence farmers who lived on a few acres adjacent to Tara. The Slatterys are my mother’s people plain and simple. My mother came out of the lowest born South possible. It was a source of embarrassment to her until the day she died.” Conroy said his mother “used Scarlett O’Hara as her inspiration to remake herself into something exceptional and fine. Her whole life was spent in heartfelt denial that she was a Slattery. She was, Hal and Paul, and so am I. It is part of the pure magic of human life that you have chosen a descendant of the Slatterys to write this book. … I grew up in trailer parks and Quonset huts, but I became a neighbor of Hal Clarke. I was born a Slattery, but I have worked hard to make the name Conroy an honored one in my country. “When I get to heaven, I would like Margaret Mitchell to ask me for the first dance. I don’t want you two boys cutting in on me. I’d like to tell her what it was like to take her fabulous book and try to turn it into something worthy of her spirit. I want her to be waiting for me with open, thankful arms. I’d like for this to work.”

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