Thanks to HarperCollins, we have a great letter from Greg Iles about the struggles of writing Natchez Burning. We look forward to his new book, which publishes on Tuesday, April 29th, and don’t forget, you can order a signed copy here! Greg Iles will sign at Lemuria Tuesday, April 29th from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
All my life I heard, “It’s the journey, not the goal.” I never believed it. I believed the obsessive pursuit of dreams was worth any sacrifice—even time. Most of us go through life with our eyes averted from mortality. Where death is concerned, ignorance is truly bliss. Illness forces some to face loss early, yet when I had a health scare in my thirties, it only pushed me harder to sacrifice the present to provide for the future. Then, two years ago, as I pulled onto Highway 61 near Natchez, a truck slammed into my car door at 70 m.p.h. Shattered bones make a hell of a wake-up call, but when you tear your aorta, as I did, you truly shake hands with death. After eight days in a coma, I learned that I would lose my right leg but not my life. More important, my brain was unhurt, my mind intact.
I could still write.
But what now? Should I abandon all commerciality and try a purely literary novel? Or should I stop writing altogether and start living in the present? For a few days I considered both. Then I realized that throughout my career. I’ve written novels dealing with the most traumatic events human face: murder, war, sexual abuse, kidnapping, racial strife, even the Holocaust. I’ve explored the “old verities” Faulkner talked about—love, honor, pity, pride, compassion, and sacrifice. Reading the flood of reader mail that came in after my accident, I realized that the best thing I could do was to accept the past, forget the future, and keeping writing about “the only thing worth writing about—the human heart in conflict with itself.” As my fellow Mississippian Morgan Freeman said as Red in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”