This picture, shared on Facebook by Landmark Booksellers, says it all. You can see it in his face. A man from lowly means, a drywall hanger for much of his career, a man who collected sassafras root in the woods, a man who is not pretentious, a man who is genuine, who likes to talk about his seventh-grade English teacher who encouraged him to read good literature and gave him The Sound and the Fury, and his reading of and influence by writers such as Cormac McCarthy, O’Connor, Faulkner, a man who will go down in history as one of the most acclaimed Southern writers of all time.
He looks strong and confident in this picture. Like he’s saying, Read me. Know me by my works. His chin is determined. His eyes take hold of me as I look at the image and almost against character tell me, You will remember me. I will be with you always.
Landmark Booksellers — Joel and Carol Tomlin — believed in him and hosted him many times for readings, signings, and just to sit out front of the book shop and talk to thousands of people during Main Street Festival. I think I was there every time William was. I think I bought all his books from Landmark. I loved being in the cozy literary environment with all the pictures of Southern authors hanging behind the butterscotch leather sofa.
I feel the need to go back there … and gather with other writers and readers … and sit on the butterscotch sofa and matching chairs and on wooden benches between the stacks … and read aloud works by this talented author. Somehow, Landmark seems home.
Somehow, we need to go home and remember.
From Bill Peach, Franklin, TN:
“I don’t know how much of the 2012 presidential election campaign you have watched. It started way too early and will last way too long. I have come to realize that everything I learned in school and Sunday school, everything I have ever read, and everything I have ever thought have no relevance to the Republican primary debate. I watch with masochistic agony and cling to every word, every nuance of speech, every emotive image, every mundane reference, and then I realize they are not talking to me. I am not one of their people. They don’t know or care that I am watching and listening. They are speaking to an audience with a political ideology that has no meaning for me. I cannot ignore them because that audience will still be there in November, when one of those candidates, as a diametric of his appeal to that audience, will make me appreciate the admonitions of my grandmother, and my roots in a one-room church and one-room school, and my seven-decade college education, and my love for my wife and daughters and grandchildren, for my years of work for public education and teachers, intellectual freedom, my fifty-two years of main street economics, the Christian ethic, human rights, and democracy. “
“I went on. I had no way of knowing what might happen. The doors of perception had not opened and I could see down the road no farther than the darkness permitted but I was on that road anyway. It was long but it was straight and wide and clean and my house lay at the end of it.
I went on into the night.”
Writing creative nonfiction is about real-life events, teaching the reader something as you explore, and making meaning out of the event for self and the reader. It’s writing to discovery. When you start out, you don’t know what is over the hill. Like riding the dune buggies on the Oregon coast last summer — flying at 60 mph, going straight up the side of a dune a hundred feet or more, bolting into the sky at the top and seeing the other side appear, then rushing headlong into it. It is wild and wonderful.
I’m presently working on a piece with an underlying message that changed my life and my world view. It happened twenty-five years ago. I’ve spent all that time searching for answers, flailing, hurting, trying not to grow bitter, trying to find meaning in my own life. Trying to answer the whys.
Selecting the slant for this piece — what to include and what not to include — and writing it with openness and honesty and writing it with some vulnerability (because I truly didn’t know the answers going into it) … all this lets me explore it deeply from all angles and come to grips with it in my own life. Putting it on the page allows me to share my life experience with others who may need the same message.
I think, I dig, I write, I learn, I grow.
There will be chapters of my new book that I won’t share with anyone during the writing, even my writers group. I’m not sure why. Not sure if it’s because I don’t think I can or should . . . or I don’t think they can or want to read it. They know me, they know some of what happened, but no one knows what’s down deep inside me, no one knows the story. And maybe the story is just too damn hard to read and take. I don’t know.
There’s always a push to move on, move on, smile, dwell on the positive, move on, move on. Cover up the bad like a cat in a flowerbed paws dirt over a pile. Shh, don’t talk about it, others don’t want to hear it any more. You should be way beyond it by now. What’s wrong with you anyway.
Writing a memoir, writing your own personal story is all about going deep, pulling up your soul, reliving your experience, putting the reader there in your experience so that he lives it with you, and making some sense out of the whole thing, so that others can learn and benefit from what you’ve been through. To make sense of it, you’ve got to go through it once more, relate the raw parts, the graphic details that come to you again and again, the parts that sting, the parts that are so tough and painful that you just want to get away from them. And you can. You don’t have to do this.
I’m at a point in my life that I can walk on and live as though it never happened, but it did, and it’s part of me, and it made me what I am and who I am, and I feel that to be true to myself and who I am and who I was, I must write this journey.
I teach creative nonfiction. I write creative nonfiction. I have never shared anything so personal as this journey. We’ll see how true to the genre I can be.
This is a turning point.
And at this point, I feel whole enough to round this bend and give it a go.