Iles honored by Mississippi Writers Guild

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 7, 2016

NATCHEZ — Natchez author Greg Iles received the second Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Mississippi Writers Guild Saturday.

The guild was hosting its 10th anniversary celebration in Natchez, as president Mark LaFrancis said, because it was a no-brainer with the tricentennial going on. If you are giving away a lifetime achievement award in Natchez, LaFrancis said naturally it should go to Iles.

LaFrancis prefaced the award to Iles saying this was not an indication they thought he should stop writing.

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“I hope you continue doing this a long time,” LaFrancis said.

Mayor Darryl Grennell introduced Iles to the group of writers, noting not only his New York Times best-selling novels, but his efforts in the community as well.

“Greg has been on a mission to save the young people of this community,” he said. “He knows the future of this community is tied to the young people.”

Being a best-selling writer, Iles said, is not sitting at home with a mint julep in hand, cranking out two to three pages a day.

“As my buddy Stephen King says, talent is as common as table salt,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work, and it takes luck as well.”

Aside from getting lucky, Iles said an aspiring writer has to be willing to outwork everyone else.

Iles said he also comes down on the side of the argument that writers are born, not simply taught.

“If I tell you I can sing, how many seconds do I have to sing before you tell me I can sing?” Iles said. “Three seconds or four seconds is all it takes.

“Writing is not any different than that, yet sometimes people don’t understand.”

If it were just about command of the English language, teachers from around the country would be novelists and playwrights, yet for the most part they are not, Iles said. Great writers come from all walks of life — Iles himself being a musician before he was a writer.

A Harvard University English graduate does not have better odds at becoming a great writer than the guy who grew up in the Mississippi Delta pulling stumps out of the ground, Iles said.“If (the guy from the Delta) has something to say, and has a knack for saying it, he will beat the guy from Harvard every time,” Iles said.

Iles said the work goes into having a voice.

“When I read the first line on the first page, I may not know where the story is going, but I know you know where it is going,” he said. “I am confident you are going to take me there and I will enjoy it.”

Writers are like everyone else, Iles said, and they experience the same things everyone else goes through. The difference is they see things from a different angle and they remember it a little more.

“That’s what lets Stephen King write ‘The Shining,’ and get in the head of a little boy,” he said. “And the writing is like little explosions in your head, and you remember what it felt like to be an 8-year-old kid yourself.”

Speaking to a Natchez audience, Iles said he had to get in a Natchez story. All over the country, people ask him what the people of the town think about his writing about Natchez as sort of a backhanded compliment.

While a fiction writer telling a quasi-historical story set in a real town has to walk a fine line, Iles said Natchez is special.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “You don’t have to lie when you grow up in a place like Natchez.”