Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Being "A Friendly Hermit."

Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
- John le Carre

My writing/speaking nickname is "The Friendly Hermit." It's because I wear two hats and live two often separate lives.

In my public life of speaking, I enjoy being among crowds and sharing stories. I love people and want to be among them to encourage and influence my world. During the coming week, I'll have four speaking opportunities.

Then there is my private writing world. To write one must get away from life's wonderful distractions. Therefore, I spend part of my week alone, writing, thinking, dreaminig, visualizing.

I love both the solitude and the people. I'm thankful for both.

My prayer: Jesus, teach me to have balance in my life. The balance between "walking slowly among the crowds" as You did, and stepping aside as you commanded. "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." (Mark 6:31 NIV)

Teach me Lord.

This week's speaking:
Today, Sept. 28 Funeral for Ruby Moses Sherer 2:00 PM
Tuesday, Sept. 29 Dry Creek Camp Sr. Adult Day 10:00 AM
Sunday, Oct. 4 First Baptist Jennings AM and PM services

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Opening of A Spent Bullet

Below is the prologue and two epigraphs from my current novel in progress, A Spent Bullet. I'm about half through (50,000 words) the first draft.

Read over it and give me feedback. I have several questions below the prologue.

Curt Iles


Folks say the herds of wild horses still running free near Folk Polk are remnants of the U.S. Calvary units from the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers.

These beautiful horses were part of the September war games—before the real war started that December.

This story is not just about the horses; it’s about the men and women who watched them parade by, followed by miles of armored tanks, and endless lines of dust-eating infantrymen on western Louisiana’s dusty roads.

This story is about a young schoolteacher who saw it all, and was never the same.

“I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe.
If it doesn't work, find out what we need to make it work.”
– General George C. Marshall,
Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
Spring 1941

“Monday I go to Louisiana.… The old-timers here say we are going to a God-awful spot complete with mud, malaria, mosquitoes, and misery.”
– Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, August 5, 1941

What do you think this novel will be about?
What interests you about this story and time?
How would you make the prologue "grab the reader" better?


Thursday, September 24, 2009

My former student, Kay Campbell Fox, commented on my recent blog about a newlywed couple running through the lobby at the Denver Marriott.

It's a wonderful story.

From Kay:
Two weddings - one day - Just shy of 21 years - all to the same man. You see, Nick and I were married at 2 pm and 4:30 pm....on the October 1, 1988 with different ministers (two came from the church we attended in college to perform the 2 pm wedding). It was raining that day and both slipped away during the reception to return home, which was in Lake Charles and DeQuincy. We weren't paying attention because we were busy at the Dry Creek Baptist Church celebrating our wedding with our friends and families. It was only when we stopped long enough to sign the marriage license that we realized that no official from the ceremony was present. The concerned call went out to our friend and minister who also attended the wedding, Bro. Kermit Soileau, who gladly returned to the church in his suit to perform the final and most important ceremony of the day. And as he performed the ceremony again, he stated that "this wedding was just as important as the first." And he was right - I was less nervous and remembered more from it than the earlier ceremony.

I too, believe that marriage only gets better. And I'm grateful that God has blessed us with a special relationship that can be celebrated twice in our lifetime.

Curt, thanks for sharing memories.


The Ripple Effect continues

I received three journeyman prayer cards yesterday.

They were from Micah, Erica, and Lydia.

I've never met Micah, but I love him and am proud of him. His mother, Debbie Walley, was one of my closest friends through the Baptist Student Union at La. College. Micah is going to Kenya as an International Mission Board "journeyman," a 2-year program for single college grads. Micah is answering the question a veteran African missionary asked me, "Where are all of the Southern boys? (Over 80% of "journeymen" are journey-girls, or J-girls.)

Micah's mother reminded me of the part Dry Creek Camp played in her spiritual growth and missions vision.

Erica and Lydia are both "Dry Creekers." They've been part of our summer staff program at Dry Creek Camp. They didn't know each other until they were recently in training in Virginia. One of them had on a Dry Creek t-shirt (found all over the world) and they connected.

I can't tell you the countries these two girls are going to. They're traveling to closed countries where they'll face many challenges.

They each sent a letter detailing how their years on staff at Dry Creek influenced the missions direction they are following.

That's why I believe in the ministry of our Christian camps, especially a place I love called Dry Creek.

Pray for Micah, Lydia, and Erica.

Curt Iles


Dolly is the horse's name

Below is a draft passage from my current work in progress, A Spent Bullet.

The scene: a barn in Bundick, La. September 1941. 18 year old Butch struggles with his decision to join the military as war clouds loom. His father, a "Great War veteran" (what WWI was called then) is opposed and attempts to use this "teachable moment" to explain why he opposes the war.

The Passage:
Poppa and Butch had many mutual loves, their love of horses being probably their strongest bond. Neither man looked at the other. Poppa knelt down, checking Dolly’s foreleg. “I’ve always been bothered by the fact that a horse dying disturbed me more than the death of a man next to me.”
“Poppa, you’re talking about the Great War?”
There was a silence that allowed both men's minds to drift.

The barn’s strong smells of horse sweat, hay, and fresh manure was an atmosphere both men felt at home in.
"I am. I've seen war up close. It's a terrible thing, son."


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This is a press release from Ricks Institute in Liberia. This is the school we worked with in July.

The iMacs in the Ricks Library. The Liberian flag is shown in the background.


Brand New i-Mac Computers Installed at Ricks

September 23, 2009, Ricks Institute, Virginia, Liberia–Fifteen (15) brand new i-Mac 20-inch computers with wireless access have been installed in the main library of the school for students and staff use.

The new i-Mac computers were a gift from the First Baptist Church of San Angelo, Texas and an anonymous donor from the United States. The donation was coordinated through the kind heart of Mr. J. H. Law, Site Coordinator of Christian Men Job Corp, San Angelo, TX. After two short-term visits to Ricks Institute, where he coordinated in-service training with teachers and students, Mr. Law became motivated by the challenges and possibilities at the Baptist related school. Mr. Law shared his experience, and the various needs at the school, with several of his friends and colleagues.

The 15 computers, one network wireless printer and accessories, valued at US$27,000, which were installed through the technical assistance of friends from Passport Camps (Birmingham, AL) and Brookstone School (Columbus, GA) in May 2009, were officially presented to the Ricks community the second week of the 2009-2010 academic year.

Making the presentation at the regular morning assembly, the Principal and Chief Administrative Officer reminded the Ricks community that, “these gifts are evidence that so many friends of Ricks want you to have access to relevant educational means even in midst of our post-war conditions.”

In a statement associated with the donation of the i-Mac computers, Mr. J. H. Law wrote, “If Liberia is the phoenix of Africa, then Ricks Institute must be the phoenix of Liberia. A civil war, which devastated Liberia, wrecked havoc at Ricks Institute as well. Under the leadership of Dr. Menjay, Ricks Institute is rising from the ashes of war to point the way forward to a new day in Liberia.” Mr. Law, a member of the First Baptist Church of San Angelo, TX, further stated, “During my visit to Ricks Institute in 2008, Dr. Menjay suggested that a computer lab would make it possible for students there to develop computer knowledge and skills which are critical in the 21st century. My wife and I are gratified to know that along with a number of other people we have been able to contribute to making the dream of a computer lab become a reality. “

The second grade class, taught by a United States volunteer teacher, was the first set of students who begin to use the newly installed computers. For 100% of the 2nd graders, it was their first time using a computer. A 12th grader, who has less than seven months to graduate, confessed that this was his very first attempt using a computer. Dr. Menjay expressed his sincere thanks and appreciation to Mr. Law and the donors for this applicable 21st century gift, which will provide effective and efficient education for the Ricks community. “This gift made us special and placed us on the cutting edge at Ricks. They were not used computers. They were brand new, first class, apple computers.”

Since 2008, the main school building on Ricks campus has become a hotspot, where those with laptops can enjoy the internet, using the schools free wireless access.

About Ricks: Ricks Institute (K-12), established in 1887, is a dynamic and comprehensive learning center that attracts students from all over Liberia and beyond. Since 2006, the institution remains the only private school in Liberia offering free primary education to its students. As a community and nationally recognized school in Liberia, 40% of its 607 students are residential students. Additionally, it operates a free Accelerated Learning Program in the afternoon with 125 (over aged) students. The school is located in Virginia, Liberia on some 1200 acres of land. For more information, visit


Olu Q. Menjay, PhD
Principal/Chief Administrative Officer
Ricks Institute
teaching, learning and servicing since 1887
Providing Free Primary (K-6) Education
Please visit us at:
Mobile: +(231) 771-RICKS or +(231) 6561809


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Running through the Lobby: 8 short minutes;30 years ago

It's nearly midnight-- Mountain Daylight Time on the last night of a great Writers' Conference. I'm sitting on the floor in the Marriott Denver lobby. (I'm close to an electric plug for the laptop and on the floor because I can spread out "my gear.")

I'm doing what I love best: writing. It's quiet. Everyone with any sense has gone to bed.

I'm glad I'm up because if I hadn't been I'd missed them.

I heard them before I saw them. A young couple in white, running and giggling. She was in her beautiful wedding dress (carrying her slippers) and he wore a white tuxedo. They were running (as much as you can run in a wedding dress) toward the elevator.

Visibly deeply in love. Laughing. Full of emotion of a special day that'll live on in their hearts.
They didn't see me but I couldn't resist, "Congratulations."

They both smiled and waved. I added, "My wife and I just celebrated thirty years. Believe me, it only gets better."

They both replied. "Then congratulations to you." I heard the elevator door open, then shut, and they were gone.

I was so glad I saw them for that brief moment in time. My prayer is that they'll feel the same way in thirty years that DeDe and I do.

I thought back to that Thursday-- August 9, 1979.

We got married in her parents' living room. I have a photo of us as a newly married couple with the mantel clock behind us. It reads 2:08 PM.

Our wedding took eight minutes. However, a knot can be tied securely in less than eight minutes. It's a matter of the heart.

8 minutes.
30 years ago on an August afternoon.
Brought back to me by a running giggling newlywed couple in the lobby of the Denver Marriott.

Long live love.
Life is good.



3 am, 40 miles, 4 trucks, 2 cups of coffee

I left home this morning at 3:00 am, on my way to the Houston airport, then Denver for a writing conference. On my forty mile drive from Dry Creek to DeQuincy, I only meet four vehicles—all trucks.

The road is quiet. The woods are dark. It’s peaceful. Out my car window I visit with old friends: The Hunter, The Big Dog, Pegasus the Horse, and the Seven Sisters. These are winter constellations, still low on the southern horizon. Their presence, just like the shorter days and
recent cool spells, are reminders that our season is changing.

With the few houses, and fewer lights, along highways 113 and 190, I have a good view of these stars out my window. For the millionth time in my life, I thank God I live in the country.

I’m not alone, even though the road is empty. I poured two cups of coffee before leaving home. Both now sit in console cupholders. I recall the words of T.W. Hunt, the author of The Mind of Christ, “Sometimes when I’ve not felt as close to the Lord as I wish, I’ll pour a second cup of coffee and take it with me to my back porch table. Setting the second cup down, I’ll say, ‘Lord, I just want to invite you to have a cup of coffee with me. This morning—today—I want more
than anything to just visit with you.’”

I’ve never forgotten Dr. Hunt’s story. The act of that second cup doesn’t bring God’s presence to us. He’s already here. It simply makes us aware of this presence. That’s what fellowship is : enjoying being in the presence of Someone you love and admire.

Honestly, my second cup of coffee was poured so I wouldn’t have to stop before Vidor, Texas for more. But in the drivers seat of our Oldsmobile, in the darkness of an early morning, it reminds me to just talk with the Lord as I travel south and then west.

It’s ironic that my drive to the Houston airport takes longer than my flight to Denver will.
As I near Houston on I-10 traffic picks up on the inbound lanes. Cars, trucks, and 18 wheelers pass as the first pink light of another day dawns behind us.

They’d find it odd that I started my drive at 3 am, drove forty miles and only met four vehicles, and had two cups on coffee with seemingly only one occupant in the car. They think I'm driving solo-- no HOV lane for me, but I'm not alone.

It’s going to be a good day.
It already is.


Monday, September 21, 2009

After the Conference Ends: “What to do when the circus leaves town.”
“Turn out the lights, the party’s over.
They say all things must come to an end.”
-Willie Nelson

I’ve read many excellent articles about preparing for, and attending, writing conferences. However, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one on what to do after the conference.

What a writer does after the conference may be more important than what happened during the event. As an avid conference goer, I’ve thought about several items essential in the hours and days after the conference ends. Here are some thoughts:

1. Plan some time for introspection and reflection. Leaving a conference means returning to our busy worlds at home: family, phone calls, jobs, and responsibilities. If we don’t have a plan for both written and mental reflection, many of the things we’ve learned will fall through the cracks. If you’re flying, take time to journal, set goals, and during your waiting and flight time.

2. Take time to follow up on relationships you’ve started and continued. Being a professional writer involves building relationships with other authors, and industry doorkeepers (agents, and editors.) As soon as the conference ends is the perfect time to solidify these friendships by:

A. Follow-up up with emails or notes to all of the business cards you’ve collected. A good plan is to use a glue stick to attach the cards in your journal or event program. Jot notes of details about this person. Follow up with an E-mail, Facebook invitation, or Tweet. Adjust your email signature where it includes a small photo of you. This will allow recipients to remember who you are.

B. Building relationships is a privilege of being a Christian writer. It’s also one of our responsibilities. Networking is a key ingredient in building a writing career.

C. Don’t forget the power of a personal note. E-mail is great, but a hand-written personal note is one of the most cherished things you can send a speaker, conference host, or award winner.

To read my article, “The Power of a Personal Note” click here.

D. Send a thank you email/note even to professionals who may have turned down your proposal. This shows Christian grace and class and is the sign of a professional writer. Never burn a bridge on the road of life, especially with writing doorkeepers. As my mother reminded me, “You can’t have too many friends.”

3. Make time to follow up on all requests for proposals, book ideas, and requested information. I’ve heard agents and editors relate how many times they never receive requested materials from authors. Don’t miss the chance to walk through the door of opportunity.

4. Set written goals to send requested materials. A common disease after conferences is “WritersDoubtSyndrome.” You’ve gone to the conference with that next bestseller firmly in hand. After sitting in seminars on the craft of writing and receiving critique feedback, you feel the need to start all over on your novel or project.

Even if a doorkeeper requested a sample or proposal, the tendency is to rework it until we feel it is editor worthy. This is good unless it leads to never sending until we think it “is perfect.” Enlist the support of fellow writers and friends who will hold you accountable to update and submit your work by a certain date.

5. Make a folder of materials you brought home from the conference. If you attend the conference next year, it will be a valuable resource.

6. In this folder prepare a “L.B./N.T.” file. In a ministry I formerly led, we had a “Liked Best/Next Time” form. After each event, every employee wrote what they liked best about the event as well as what we’d do differently next time. It was an invaluable aid in planning and preparing for the future.

Going to a writing conference is a thrill and privilege for all authors. Our investment of time, travel, and money is worth it. By developing your own follow through plan after the conference, it will result in the greater benefits.

Copyright 2009 by Creekbank Stories Curt Iles
Learn more at


Working Title: The Power of the Note

Sub title: Living gratefully/Living compassionately

By Curt Iles

Recently when meeting a former student of mine from my earlier years as a high school teacher, he pulled out his billfold and showed me a dog-eared letter I had written him years ago. The fact that he had kept this short hand-written note reminded me of the power of personal correspondence. This written note sent during a difficult period in his life had still meant something to this student decades later.


When it is all said and done, our success in camp ministry will rise or fall according to our ability to build and maintain healthy relationships with our guests, staff, board, and donors. John Maxwell calls this ability to build relationships, “The Law of Connection.” Maxwell wisely counsels, “You can’t move people to action unless you first move them with emotion. The heart comes before the head.” There are many ways to build relationships by connecting with the hearts of others, and one of the best is the habit of writing short hand-written notes.

“High tech, yet high touch

In our camps and conference centers we should strive to be on the cutting edge of all communication technology. However, in striving to be “high tech,” we should never neglect the importance of personal communications, or being “high touch.” This “high tech/high touch” balance is essential in our ministries.

In his excellent book, The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell shares about how the explosion of e-mail and computer generated communication has created a need for personal correspondence. He writes, “The fact that anyone can e-mail us for free… creates immunity… and makes us value face to face communications all the more.”

Even in the New Testament we see examples of the power of the handwritten note. The Apostle Paul evidently dictated his letters. At the end of each letter, he would add his personal signature and a closing remark. An example of this is found in the closing words of 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18 (NIV) I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

I communicate primarily through e-mail and the telephone which are quick and efficient ways to stay in touch. However, when I really want to thank someone or express a deep thought or inspiration, I get out a pen, a small card, and an envelope. A note connects with people and the result is many times both a deeper relationship and a cherished item that will re-read over and over.

The time taken to personally encourage and thank others is not time wasted, but rather time invested. Some may say they cannot afford to spend this time. My reply is that they cannot afford not to. Time invested in connecting with others is never wasted.

At Dry Creek Baptist Camp, where I served as the director for the past fourteen years, we learned about the power of concise handwritten notes. During this period the camp went from being deeply in debt to having donor gifts averaging over $200,000 for the past five years. Our staff realizes this is completely due to God’s blessings and the generosity of friends who believe in Dry Creek’s ministry.

However, this wonderful growth in giving correlates to when we began personally signing every donor receipt and memorial gift. The time taken to jot a short note of appreciation on a typed letter is one simple way of saying thanks. In doing this, we are not writing notes to ask for more funds, but to show our appreciation for the giving of our friends and supporters. It is simply common courtesy mixed with gratitude.

The innovative book, Permission Marketing by Seth Godin, is written on this premise: “In business we are seeking to turn strangers into friends, and friends into customers.” Personal communication helps the wise camp leader make this leap from stranger to long time customer/guest/donor. Notes of appreciation shows folks that we value their involvement.

Notes of appreciation

The writer of Proverbs, in chapter 3:27 (NIV) wrote, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.”

When we have the opportunity and words to bless someone, we should not hold back our gratitude, concern, or encouragement.

Another thing our staff observed is how the great men and women God uses nearly always are writers of notes of appreciation. We continued to be amazed at how many well-known busy speakers and musicians found time to write a personal note of thanks to our staff. Sharing these notes at staff meetings, it was very touching to see the reaction of our key staff who work behind the scenes. A quote from Mark Twain comes to mind, “I can live for six weeks on one good compliment.”

One of our favorite speakers, Dr. Bill Thorn, told me of his longtime habit of writing at least three encouraging notes per day. Over the course of a lifetime countless relationships have been built on this discipline he has built into his daily life.

Former president George H. Bush is also known as a great note writer. According to a Readers Digest article, throughout his career Bush has followed up virtually every contact with a cordial response. One surprised person received a warm, calligraphic back pat for lending Bush an umbrella. If a busy president can find time for note writing, any of us can too.

In camp and conference center ministry we are dependent on volunteers. These folks who serve without pay are the lifeblood of any organization. What a great opportunity to show our appreciation with a well-timed concise note of appreciation.

Another group needing our appreciation and gratitude is our staff and co-workers.

One of the keys to staff morale is saying thanks to our workers. Whether it is on a paycheck stub, a card, or note, staff needs to know we appreciate the second mile work they do. These sincere timely notes will let them know you value them and recognize the work they are doing. .

Notes of compassion

One of the best times to write a note is when someone has had tragedy or sorrow befall them. At Dry Creek we receive many memorial gifts in memory of loved ones. We send a letter of acknowledgement to both the donor and family. It is a privilege to write a short note on the letters, especially to the family member who has lost someone special. Kindness doesn’t have to be expensive. Just letting folks know we care and are praying for them is important…and there is no way to better express this than with a note.


Finally, I personally know about the value of notes. During an intense difficult personal period in my life in 2000, I began to receive cards and notes from friends and churches. I taped these sweet notes of encouragement on the windows of our home’s sun porch. Soon the windows were covered with notes and cards of all sizes, colors, and shapes. I still have those notes in a large manila envelope. Behind each of these notes were affirming words, scriptures, and the ongoing prayers of my friends. I call them “my bundle of prayers” and will cherish them for the rest of my life.

In camp ministry, it is the little things done daily that add up to great things for God’s Kingdom. As Mother Teresa stated, “We can do no extraordinary things, only ordinary things in an extraordinary way.” Making the consistent habit of blessing others by writing notes of appreciation and encouragement will benefit others as well as enrich our own lives. The wise camp leader will ensure that part of their ministry includes the simple, but essential, task of writing notes.


Monday, September 14, 2009

It's all about influence.

I'm very privileged to write and speak full time.

This is a fine royalty check I got last week for $1.04.

It's never been about the money.
Of course, it allows me to make a living and hopefully a difference.

To me, it's about influence. Recently, my friend Gary Hahler wrote of success, "Success is the ripple of your life going as far down the lake as possible."

In 2006 I quit my perfectly good job as manager of Dry Creek Baptist Camp. Lots of folks thought I'd lost my mind (they were quick to tell me.) DeDe and I both knew the Lord was showing me my mission at the Camp was closing. It was time for the next part of the journey.

That summer I received a phone call that's still ringing in my heart. A quiet male voice said, "Sir, you don't know me, but I read one of your books in prison. God used it to change my life. I'm just calling to say thanks."

I didn't get his name.
I remember he said the book was my first one, Stories from the Creekbank.
He didn't know how the book got to Angola, and I sure had no idea.

I only know the thread of the influence of my writing and influence reached inside the walls and fences of a prison. God's the Living Water. I'm just the PVC pipe through which He travels.

It's about influence.
It's about living.
It's about doing what we're called to do.

Royalty checks for $1.04.
Surprise calls from a changed parolee.

A horse by any other name...

I'm gathering names for a plow horse in my new novel, A Spent Bullet. See nominations below and read the passage that relates to this horse.

(Curt) My grandfather had two horses: Dallas and Sam. (Dallas is Joe Moore’s horse in The Wayfaring Stranger and he makes an appearance in A Good Place.
My Papaw, Lloyd Iles, on "Dallas." Circa 1967 Dry Creek, Louisiana.
"I don't care how long your grandparents have been gone, you still miss them."

Interested readers have suggested these names for my horse. Read the passage below and tell me which names fit best.

Gus, Gussie, Duke, Bud, Mule, Horse, Ben, Red, Jenny, Blue, Blackie
Pearl, Mr. ED! or Rosco, jim, skeeter, nanny, tom, dolly ,Old Duke , Blossom, Buttercup, Big John, Ol Dan, Mable, Maude, Claude, Shorty, Murk.

This is the rough draft passage (I've left it rough on purpose. It was written this morning. I'll insert one of these names.) It is from my new novel, A Spent Bullet, set during the 1941 Louisiana Army Maneuvers.

It is told through the POV (point of view) of Butch Reed, a 17 boy itching to join the military as America nears joining in the European War. His Poppa, a veteran of the Great War (what they called WWII in 1941) objects passionately. They had a 'knock down drag out' fight several days before this scene.

This scene from their barn reveals why Poppa was so opposed.

A Spent Bullet by Curt Iles Copyright 2009 Creekbank Stories.

As Butch carried his stool and milk pail from Bessie to Flo, he eyed his father’s meticulous grooming of __________ HORSE NAME NEEDED. Poppa loved all animals, but horses were his favorite. He’d grown up in the horse culture of the piney woods where they were the main form of transportation and work. Horsepower meant something to his father.

“It was the screams of the horses that tortured me the most.” Butch heard Poppa’s words and glanced over thinking he was talking to him.

Silence returned to the barn except for the squirt squirt squirt of milk into the pail and the horse’s movement.

“I’ve never got their dying screams out of my mind and it’s been a bit over twenty-year.” Poppa said in the same even tone, his eyes on the horse’s flank.

Butch stopped his milking. “Poppa, are you talking to me?”

When his father looked up with misty eyes, Butch saw a stare he’d never seen before. He knew without acknowledgement that the words were directed at, and for, him.

Moving the bucket where the cow wouldn’t kick it over, he walked to the far side of the
HORSE. He knew this was his father’s conversation. His tone revealed it wouldn’t be an argument. Butch also knew he job was simply to listen.
Each stood on one side of the horse as if they needed this physical barrier to break the emotional one between them. Butch began stroking _________’s mane and the horse shivered at the attention of its two owners.
Poppa and Butch had many mutual loves; their love of horses being probably their strongest bond. Neither man looked at the other. Poppa knelt down, checking _____ foreleg. “I’ve always been bothered by the fact that watching a horse die disturbed me more than the death of men next to me.”
“Poppa, you’re talking about the Great War?”

The strong smell of horse, feed, and manure. No answer was needed as Poppa continued. “I was so excited to get out of these woods and go serve my country—to see this big world across the ‘Big Pond.’ Even we they told us about the trenches, the machine guns, the artillery barrage, I wasn’t that scared.

“But when we marched through the connecting trench to the front lines and I heard the first horse screaming, I knew I was in a bad place. I’d been around horses like ol ____ here for all of my life, but I’d never heard such terror-filled sounds. I wasn’t even sure what it was at first.”

Butch looked over ________ withers down at his dad. “What’d happened?”

“The horse was pulling an ammunition cart when a shell struck nearby. The explosion had knocked it and the cart to the ground; shrapnel had cut it up badly. It lay there. The only word I know to describe it is ‘screaming.’ It was screaming in pain and terror.

“No one could go to it because of the ongoing artillery barrage. Finally a muddy veteran in the main trench sighted his Enfield on the twisting head and with two shots put it out of its misery.

That ended the horse’s tortured pain, but I’ve never got it out of my mind. I realized that day the cruelty of men against men, and how we’ll take animals God made and subject them to that same cruelty.”

“Did you see many men die, Poppa?”
He looked up at me. “Everyday. And everyday I expected to be the next one.”

He resumed his work on ________ ‘s leg. “I can’t talk about it: the gas attacks, laying flat in the mud full of fear as a box barrage neared your location, the lice, the mud, watching men beside you die both quickly and in agony.”

It was the most Butch had ever heard his father talk about the war. The look on Poppa’s face made him understand why. “Butch, I’m still bothered by how the sound of a dying horse on my first day on the front lines affected me way more than the men I saw die daily after that.”
“It’s because of how you—how we—love horses, Poppa.”

“Yeah, but I should love people a lot more.”

“You do. It’s just different.” Butch hesitated after saying this. He was commenting on something he didn’t have the same degree of experience as his father.

Poppa stood to his full height, bright _____ eyes staring across the horse’s flank.
“Can’t you understand why I don’t want you as part of any war?”

“I can, but…”
Poppa, cut him off. “And can’t you understand, just a little, why folks like me agree with Lindbergh?* We’ve been to Europe and seen firsthand what war is like. Because of that, it’s to be avoided whenever possible.”

A day before, Butch would’ve argued but now he softly said it, “But what if that war can’t be avoided?”

“Well, right now it can be, so let’s do what we can to keep it that way.”

“Poppa, I’ve nearly made up my mind to join up. They’re gonna draft me sooner or later anyway. I thought I’d just beat them to the punch.”

“Your mind’s ‘nearly’ made up?”

“Really, it’s made up.”

“I understand although I don’t want to hear I was about your same age in ’16 when I signed up. I won’t stop you—I can’t stop you, but I would like to suggest something. I’ll call it a ‘compromise’.”

“What is it?”

“Let’s go to the house for a cup of your momma’s coffee and talk about it on the porch.”

Father and son walked side by side from the barn, with only a milk bucket now between them. They were silent; the only sound being the contented neighing of a good plow horse named __________ back in the barn.

My mind is spinning with the compromise Poppa's going to offer. What's your idea?

* Charles A. Lindbergh was America's greatest hero of this time. He was as famous as either Michael (Jordan or Jackson), Bill Gates, or Neil Armstrong. He passionately opposed American involvement in the European war as spokesman for the Isolationists "America First" group. This made him a divisive figure and enemy of FDR's administration.

When the war started, Lindbergh served as a pilot in the Pacific.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Some people go to their graves with their songs in them; let this not be said of me."

Mr. Tiger's Song

I met Mr. Tiger today at the Southeast La. War Veterans Home in Reserve.

We had a great time telling stories to the veterans. Best of all was hearing their stories. Nearly all are WWII and Korean vets and had memorable and touching stories of their service to our country.

As I left I encountered Mr. Tiger playing his bongo to Cajun music. According to the workers, he spends lots of his day playing. I thought about the saying quoted above. "Some people go to their graves with their songs in them; let this not be said of me."

See his song at YouTube:

Or scroll down to view the video here:

Mr. Tiger is playing his song, and it appears to me that he's going to play it to the end.

I told DeDe when I arrived home tonight. "When you send me to the nursing home one day, send send my conga drums and a CD player and I'll be fine."

I plan to be like my new friend, Mr. Tiger: playing my song... telling my story to the end.

I laughed when I saw the poster at the Veterans Home. (I did not tell them I was an 'awesome story teller!')

There are five war veterans home in our state. I've now visited two (Jennings and Reserve.)
They are new, fresh, and there is a spirit of dignity and respect for our veterans. I encourage you to drop by the one in your area.

Learn more at


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Folklore from Africa and Louisiana

One of the best parts of our Liberian trip was being with students at Ricks School.

I worked with them on using symbolism in writing.

Majoe drew this picture and explained it. Here is what I learned:

The Kola tree (from which the cola nut comes that is used in our sodas) is considered very special in Liberia. Every home plants one in their yard.

When a child is born, the navel string (I had to ask Majoe about this: it's the umbilical cord) is buried at the foot of the tree. This is a tradition, especially among the rural folks.

I've studied rural folklore all of my life, especially in my home state of Louisiana. The following passage is from my upcoming novel, A Good Place. It tells of the Southern tradition of planting a cedar tree where the first/oldest grave is in a cemetery.

With the building straightened, we looked at the lone cedar tree in the center of the graveyard. It had lost several limbs, which we began sawing up. Momma and Colleen straightened up some of the wooden grave markers knocked over by the limbs.

Momma turned to Colleen. “This cedar tree was planted when they put the first grave here. With its year-round green leaves, it represents eternal life.”

“What’s ‘eternal’?”

“It means forever—without end.”

I think knowing about our folk traditions is a part of our heritage. Whether it's Louisiana or another continent, there is so much to learn.


A Good Place is coming soon.

Listed below are the covers on our upcoming novel, A Good Place.
November 15 is the projected release date.

Click on the covers for a closer look.

Look over the covers. If you have any suggestions on wording for the back cover, we still are making minor changes. Give us your feedback.

Writing for a reason.
Curt Iles


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

My grandson Jack Iles explores a hollow log. When I told him there might be a coon or possom in the log, he had to go inspect it.

This was taken during a day hike he and I took last week on the Wild Azalea Trail.

"Don't you know that the laughing hole ain't there
just for the kids and the bears." -Jerry Jeff Walker "He was the Kind"

"I'd rather drink muddy water and sleep in a hollow log
than to be here in Atlanta get treated like a dirty dog."
- "T for Texas" Jimmie Rodgers


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

More thoughts on Work: "Work is not a four-letter word.


*Leave this world better than you found it."

Our work results in a world that is better than when we found it.
Whether it's a weed-filled garden, the open mind of a child, or a Bible shared with a grieving friend, it's our work and calling.

From my friend Beth Koop
"There's something about pulling weeds that I like!! Maybe it's the thought of ripping out the bad, harmful things that choke out good, inspiring things."