I grew up in small town Illinois. That was my childhood. There were tractor pulls, pep rallies where they actually piled up wood and had bonfires, as often as not stealing that wood from the barns, outhouses, and sheds of surrounding farms. We lived in the middle of Neil Gaiman's amazing novel "American Gods," playing basketball against the boys from Paris, Illinois. We bailed hay for money in the summer, and helped shovel grain from the bottom of the neighbor's grain elevator.
My grandparents lived in an even smaller town; Flora, Illinois. Flora was a dying place alongside a highway that had been re-routed when they widened it. There was a truck stop where my grandfather took me for ice cream in heavy-glass dishes. I drank the real cream they gave him for his coffee out of tiny glass containers that looked like miniature milk bottles. They had Minah birds who could speak, and the collected memorabilia and curios of decades - a time when the highway out front had been busy and the trucks rolled in and out all night long.
We used to walk up and down the railroad tracks, trying not to fall on the large cinder block gravel, or to trip on the ties. We brought home glass insulators and railroad spikes, and back along the tracks there was a place my grandfather knew of where persimmons grew. We gathered hickory nuts and walnuts in the park, checked out books from a library so old it had developed it's own scent - a scent I associate with books and wonderful stories to this day. I must have rented Robin Hood a hundred times from that place, and every time it came to the end and he fired the arrow out the window to find his own burial spot, while being bled, I teared up, and I knew I had to learn to write stories like that.
One of the places where I tell those stories is the city of Random, Illinois, part Charleston, and part Flora. All the best and the worst of those two places I've combined to create a backdrop against which my own experience rings true. I know the people I write about, or I knew them when they went by other names. I've done the same with San Valencez, California, and Lavender, California - based on places I lived and learned and loved in later life - when I first joined the US Navy and lived the life of a crazy man.
You build with the blocks that feel most comfortable in your hands. I create fiction with bits and pieces of myself. I once wrote a poem many years ago that explains how the people of Rome built themselves into the walls of St. Paul's Basilica. You'll find mine in my words, my blood in my stories...and my house on the end of a road near the outskirts of Random. Stop in for a hot mug of Sassafrass tea. I'll loan you my copy of Robin Hood, and we can talk while the basesball game plays on the AM radio, and the Cicadas sing. Maybe I'll tell you a story.
St. Paul's Basilica
(A Cautionary Statement)
By David Niall Wilson
They built their lives
Into the walls of
The Basilica in Rome.
Days, years, lifetimes,
No difference to the stone,
No difference to history.
Only the church remains.
Men long forgotten carved stone,
Worshipped with characters from
The world's best selling novel,
We never met them,
But we know them through the walls,
Rising to challenge the skies,
The paintings, brilliant and inspired,
Ancient and admired.
Through colonnades and altars
They reach to us through time,
Embracing each new face,
Filling each mind, heart, and soul
With the wonder
Of their lives.
We cannot reproduce,
In our modern, technological world,
What they built from desire.
We cannot copy what they
Accomplished through faith.
We have walked upon the moon,
The cost the heart of the Earth.
They built their lives
Into the walls.
We fling ours to the stars.