This painting by my beloved uncle, Bill Iles, hangs in DeRidder’s Beauregard Museum. It features one of DeRidder’s earlier meeting places, The Royal Cafe.
Uncle Bill is my greatest writing encourager as well as a mentor and friend for life.
The following essay is from my second book, The Old House (2002). It is the final story in that book and describes the pain and pride of finishing a book. I thought of this story as I struggle to finish Trampled Grass.
As I end this book, I’m aware of something I’ve learned through this process: You never really finish a book. Just when you think you have it ready, along comes an idea for an addition, correction, or something else you discover that you believe could “make it better.”
It has always amused me when I’ve attended art shows featuring the work of my Uncle Bill. More than once, as I’ve stood up close to one of his oil paintings, studying the detailed texture, I’ve had him ease up to me and whisper, “Don’t get too close to that one. The paint is still wet. I stayed up all night ‘touching it up.’ ”
I now understand why Uncle Bill kept touching up his paintings- when we step back and look at something we’ve “made,” we can always see some way it could be improved. So please accept this book from me- even though the paint is still wet.
Make it your own and enjoy it.
During Christmas 1973, this same uncle, Bill Iles, gave me a very unusual present: a blank notebook. Little did he, or I, know this little book would be the starting line of my journey of writing. Since that Christmas three decades ago, I have filled many notebooks with my scribbling.
Many of the stories you’ve just read evolved from those journal entries. Many more lie buried in that precious stack of journals I keep in a cardboard box. Some stories may find their way into future books, while others are so personal I would never share them with anyone.
Some are pretty good (I think.) However, when I read other entries, I say, “What in the world was he thinking when he wrote that garbage?”
The following words of encouragement come from the original letter Uncle Bill inserted in that first journal. I still cherish this simple handwritten note in his descriptive handwriting,
I hope you use this book as if it were a silent friend– something to confide in. Write down your personal observations about the world around you. . . whether it is something specific, like the fragile mystery of a spider’s lace-like web, or something general like, “All people are interesting– sometimes.”
But write– don’t worry about sentence structure, or spelling, or punctuation, or anything else– invent your own way of putting it down. . . but write.
Write about the things that turn you on– the things you like, and the things you love. And also write about the pain you see and feel– the things that upset you or disturb you. In writing these things down in this, your little book, you will be discovering parts of yourself that lie deep within, next to the soul of your being . . . and also discovering parts of the awesome sacred mystery of life– and the beauty of words. The more we feel (both joy and pain), the more we are alive and complete as human beings.
With my love I offer you these blank pages– fill them with your feelings.
So once again, here I sit on the front porch of the Old House. In my hands, I hold a journal full of empty pages. Again, I begin the joyful and painful task of turning the deep feelings of my heart into visible, written words.
I write for the same simple reason as when I wrote the first sentence in that original journal: I write because I enjoy it! It doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees this new story I’m writing, or if it ever makes it into some future book.
I write because it brings me joy… and helps me better understand this miracle we call life.
. . . And there is no place where I see this surrounding miracle more clearly, than when I sit here on the front porch of this house…
. . . The Old House, at the end of the road, deep in the woods on Crooked Bayou.