Lake Q & A: Pat Devoto

Author Pat Devoto spends memorable family time and quiet, writing time at Lake Martin.

Photo by Mitch Sneed


Author Pat Devoto spends memorable family time and quiet, writing time at Lake Martin.

Photo by Mitch Sneed

When did you first begin coming to the lake?

I first came to Lake Martin when my sister and her husband – Joanne and Bill Walker – moved here from Auburn to make the Sandy Creek area of the lake their permanent home. I immediately loved the natural beauty and easygoing lifestyle.

Where do you live on the lake and why did you choose that area?

In the late 1980s, a lot across the road from my sister became available, and I snapped it up, even though I didn’t have any idea what I would build. I kept walking the lot and looking at all the beautiful views, trying to decide where to place the house and trying not to disturb the hardwoods. I did this for so long that my sister began to call it, “Pat’s Mythical Lake House.” Finally I decided on just the right view, and Jerry Hall, my builder, came out with a sack of Martha White from The Pig (Piggly Wiggly) and marked off the foundation to make sure I was satisfied with the view I would be getting – a very patient man. Back then, building the actual house and dock was a casual process, interrupted by hunting seasons – Jerry’s helpers liked to hunt – and football season – well, who doesn’t follow one of the big two? After a while, it was completed and just what I wanted. Not too big and with the perfect view – I think – looking across the water to the islands that populate our part of Sandy Creek. It’s been a great place for family gatherings and also a wonderful place for me to write – quiet and solitary with Poplar Dawg’s just down the road when I want to take a break and get some of his delicious chicken salad. 

What is your fondest lake memory?

The most memorable times at the lake are when we have family gatherings. With Joanne and Bill just across the road, we can have bunches of people with plenty of room to spread out. I couldn’t resist taking advantage of another view on my lot and built a small guesthouse a few years back. That can accommodate my other sister and her husband when they come; we call it Sal’s Place. Sometimes we have as many as 30 people during the Thanksgiving holiday.

How did you begin your tennis program in the Dadeville schools, and what do you hope to accomplish through the program?

I was on my way to the Piggly Wiggly one day, happened to pass by the Dadeville tennis courts and saw the Kiwanis sign with the names of all the people in town who had contributed to refurbishing the courts. I knew if that many people were interested enough to give their time and money, this would be a perfect place to introduce tennis to Dadeville Elementary. We began a program several years ago called Reading for Racquets and last year expanded it to the middle school. We had to take a step back when the middle school closed last year, but we are going to start up again as soon as our equipment, storage shed, etc., get moved to the high school. My leaders in this endeavor are Coach Brownie Caldwell and Tallapoosa County Superintendent of Education Joe Windle. Basically, I just do what Windle and Brownie tell me to do. Coach Brownie has all the athletic knowhow and is a great leader.

The program philosophy is centered around introducing tennis just like you introduce any subject in school, with a multi-disciplinary approach: tennis in art; tennis in reading; tennis on the playground. When we started the program, the USTA gave grade-level-appropriate tennis books to all the classrooms at Dadeville Elementary, and we had a contest to see who could read the most. Prizes were tennis racquets. The great thing about this sport is that once introduced, the child can play for a lifetime, so if they learn the fundamentals in elementary school they can take it up again when they are 40, or older, and play.

Where do you get the ideas for your novels?

Alabama is my source – I was born and raised in North Alabama, in Florence up on the Tennessee River. Alabama has such a unique and varied history. When I finished my second novel, my publisher (Grand Central) sent a sample of the proposed cover to me for my opinion,

I said, “It looks like a duck pond in Connecticut.”

They said, “We don’t know what it looks like down there, so send us something.”

I sent them a picture of the Alabama River, framed in Spanish moss, and they used that on the cover. All of my novels – except one about tennis – are set in Alabama. And I do most of my writing over here at the lake, a great place for peace and quiet.

What do you like to read for pleasure?

I used to teach history, so I’m a sucker for stuff by David McCullough (all of his biographies); Ron Chernow (just finished his wonderful biography Washington: A Life); Michael Korda (Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee). On long road trips, I love to get CDs of their works and listen as I ride along. Also, I recently finished The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools by Dale Russakoff – a very interesting read indeed.

What is the greatest life lesson you learned from a child?

Learning – any learning – is a new and awakening experience every day. There is no greater pleasure than seeing a child when the light dawns – whether it be when he realizes he actually can hit a ball over the net or she can actually read the words on a page and know what they mean. That eureka moment is new and thrilling to see every time. It never grows old.