R. S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Sunset, Yellow Jacket Creek


Troup County, Georgia – 7 October 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 8/24/16


“Waiting on a Train, Part 3”
Anniston, Alabama – 23 June 2016

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Hillside Monday: 8/22/16


Pure Life Studio
LaGrange, Georgia – 29 May 2015

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Gardenia Ghost


LaGrange, Georgia – 6 June 2016

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Wednesday Photo: 8/17/16


“Waiting on a Train, Part 2”
Anniston, Alabama – 23 June 2016

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Hillside Monday: 8/15/16


These are likely bathroom tiles, judging by their shapes and color. This shade of greenish-blue was popular in working people’s homes around here from the 1920s through the 1960s. I found them lying on the ground after a heavy rain. They were probably buried decades ago, after the house came down to make way for a public library.

Photo: “Blue Tiles, Coleman Library”
LaGrange, Georgia – April 2014

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View from Salem Road Bridge


Troup County, Georgia – 3 May 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 8/10/16


“Waiting on a Train, Part 1”
Anniston, Alabama – 23 June 2016

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Hillside Monday: 8/8/16


“Blackberry Chair”
LaGrange, Georgia – 13 May 2014

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Leaves, Water, Wire, Sky

2014-11-30 18.29.22

Heard County, Georgia – 27 November 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 8/3/16


“Ripening Peach, Early Summer”
Heard County, Georgia – 9 June 2016

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Hillside Monday: 8/1/16



“Sweet Gum Leaf, Autumn”
LaGrange, Georgia – 5 October 2015

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Joy, to the World


NOTE: This is a slightly edited re-post from 12 May 2015.

On a hard-freezing December night nearly seventeen years ago, Paw-Paw, Grandmommy, and I rescued you from a drug dealer’s porch. Barely eight weeks old, flea-bitten, and bony, you still had a meow we could hear a hundred yards away. That’s how we figured out where you were, and how badly those people had been treating you. I stuffed you into my winter coat as we ran to the car—whew. A clean getaway. The entire drive home, we enjoyed the 20-pound purr coming from your two-pound body.

You never did get much bigger than that. At your tubbiest, you weighed eight pounds. What you lacked in size, though, you made up for in attitude. For years, I thought the older cats were beating you up. Then, one summer afternoon, I walked into the den just in time to see you wa-babababababababa-BOWWWW!!! light up poor elderly Graya’s head, then fall over with a finesse that not even the 1989 Detroit Pistons—those masters of floppy Game 7 double-overtime fouls—could ever have imagined.

I know, I know: she was bogarting your ‘nip. Whatever, cat. I couldn’t help laughing as Graya finished what you had started. After that, though, you settled down and became everyone’s sweetheart.

When people came to visit us, you ended up their favorite cat. If someone made a lap, you were in it, purring and head-butting their hands, your huge green eyes convincing them to pet you non-stop for the next three hours. As Aunt Val says, “Joy sets the bar pretty high for lap kitties.” She’s right.

For most of your life, you slept right next to my head. The only time you’d leave your spot was around 3:42 a.m. That’s when you paced from kitchen to bedroom and back, again and again, all meow-meow-meow-Mama-look-what-I-hunted-and-killed-for-you. In your mouth, you’d have a toy mouse. Or a jingle ball. Or a Beanie Baby. Or a dirty sock. I was so sleepy, but you were so proud.

Today, I lay your rumpled, frail body on the exam table and thought of all this. Somehow, even as sick as you were, you turned your wobbly head in the direction of my sobs—though your eyes no longer worked, you could hear my sorrow. I wept anew thinking of all the times when, crying and out of options, I looked over and saw you next to me, one paw tapping my arm as if to ask, “What’s wrong? Can I help?” And, climbing into my lap and purring yourself into a tight gray-striped ball, you did help. Always, and without fail.

Thank you, sweet Joy, for being my companion for the last 15½ years. I miss you already. But, Bastet willing, one day I will see you again—on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.


© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Bluegrass and Pabst


David Peterson & 1946, at the legendary Station Inn
Nashville, Tennessee – 22 May 2015

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Wednesday Photo: 7/27/16

WarmUpWithBlackGraniteAndBlinds_COPY_2015-06-16_09.48.15 HDR

“Warmup with Black Granite and Blinds”
Louisville, Kentucky – 16 June 2015

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Hillside Monday: 7/25/16


“One Way to Get To Nashville”
Pure Life Studios
LaGrange, Georgia – 26 June 2015

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Aren’t we all.

As usual, I’d let the Johnson grass in the back yard grow too high to mow. Instead, Mom and I chopped it into submission with machetes. It was hard, piss-you-off-quick work, what with the sweat running in our eyes and the sweat bees stinging us faster than we could shoo them away. Plus I hated the late September slant of sun. It made four-thirty in the afternoon feel like the end of the world.

The sudden whonnk-whonnk-whonnk startled me. In the washed-out blue distance, there they were—their neat, strict V flawless as always. Canada geese, of course, here taking jobs from American geese and wrecking the avian economy. They swagger around the backwater as if they own the red clay banks, hissing to rival the biggest cottonmouths, crapping glossy greenish-black all over the picnic area.

Arrogant, rude, noisy, messy—and stunningly beautiful, with those graceful black velvet necks and elegant white chinstraps. No charcoal, no gouache could duplicate their shading. No couturier could duplicate the white contrast seam binding along their smoky flight feathers. Subtle gray-brown scallops on their ivory bellies provide relief between the stark palettes above and below.

At the slightest threat to nest or wounded mate, WHHHHFFFFF! Beauty takes near-noiseless flight. A dozen sixteen-pound waterproof feathered mortars bear down shrieking and scare the bejesus out of combat-hardened Army Rangers jogging by the lake.

They were flying north.
In September.

“Dumbasses,” I muttered. “They’re going the wrong way.”

Mom pitched another clump of grass over the fence. “Aren’t we all.”

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Keep Your Faith


Stovall, Georgia – 21 July 2016

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“You can’t know if it’s any good while you’re writing it.”

Like most professional writers, I get a lot of people asking me for advice. The other day, someone asked how I know if a piece is worthwhile. “Do you know it’s good stuff before you start? Do you know while you’re writing it?”

Those are fair questions, and ones I hear pretty often. And the answer is: DEAR GOD, NO.

Most of the time, I start with very little—the barest sketch of a scene, a snippet of conversation, a fragment of an idea written half-assedly on the back of my hand. I don’t dare judge my idea at this point. No, no, no. I have to get everything out before I know if it’s still worth pursuing.

Often, it is. Sometimes, it’s not. But having written about it is never a waste of time. The ideas need to percolate through my brain and out my fingers and onto the page. Then they need to sit a while. That’s how writers figure out if what they’re working on is worth a damn.

Easy enough, right? But, no.
I forget this truth all the time. And I have to remind myself of it all the time—as in, daily. Other writers remind me of it, too.

A couple years ago, I was having trouble hammering out the first draft of my novel. Nothing I did seemed to work. So I asked a writer friend for help. She had just published a stunning book of exquisite new poems—the kind of stuff that, as Emily Dickinson put it so well, “takes the top of my head off.” My friend invited me to her house on a thick July evening, where we sat on her back porch, sipped bourbon, and talked writing.

“I’m struggling,” I told her, “struggling like I never have before.”

“Mmhmm.” She nodded. The melting ice in her glass clinked as it collapsed on itself.

“The words are so slow to come. Paint dries faster than I can write. All I can think while I’m typing is, Oh my God, this is awful. This is the worst stuff I’ve ever written. And I can’t make it stop.”

“Yep,” she said. “Sounds about right.”

I took another sip of whiskey. “So what do I do? I’ve got a book to write, but all I can come up with is garbage.”

My friend was quiet for a moment. Fireflies blinked their evening hello-hello-goodbye above the giant hostas by her porch. Finally, she sighed. “You can’t know if it’s any good while you’re writing it.”

She got up and poured herself another drink. “If you stop mid-process and try to determine how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it is, you lose your momentum. You lose your flow. Stopping to look at the details before they’re on the page blocks the process.”

“Right,” I said.

“There is no way you can know. There just isn’t. The knowing comes later. You have to get it all out there first, and then let it sit. Only then can you make value judgments.” She smiled. “To get to that point, maybe you’re just going to have to write a bunch of absolutely horrible first drafts.”

“Yeah. Maybe so.”

My friend sat back in her chair. “Remember last summer, when I went to New York? I spent three days there poring over Arthur Miller’s personal papers—Death of a Salesman, in particular. Today, we know it as a classic. It’s perfect. But looking at all those drafts, especially the earliest ones, helped me understand how much steady, persistent work he put into the play.”

I nodded. “How so?”

“Those first drafts aren’t very good. They’re immature, even didactic. I couldn’t see much of Miller at all in there. There were characters that didn’t make any sense, didn’t seem to have a purpose in the play. But I kept reading, draft after draft after draft. I saw all the lines and characters he cut out, or revised, or added. It gets stronger with each version, all the way to the one we know as the official Death of a Salesman. The one we cover in English 1102.”

She drank deeply from her glass, then spoke again. “Reading through all those drafts made me understand that it’s not just a great play. It’s a great play that began as a not-very-good play, and that got better and better in stages, over time. Miller took his bad drafts and kept on reshaping and revising them. Same with my book. Some of those poems I wrote while I was still in grad school. If you look at what I wrote in 1994, it sucks. But the version I put in the collection? With 20 years of distance, and at least 18 months of reshaping and revising? It’s great.”

I laughed, and finished the last of my bourbon. “Well, damn. If a bunch of horrible drafts are good enough for you and Arthur Miller, then they’re good enough for me.”

Sure enough, my friend reminded me of this great truth of writing: It never happens perfectly the first time we get it down. Often, it doesn’t happen the second, third, fourth, or maybe even 17th time. The strange magic here lies in our having faith in the process. We keep going, even when we think we’re just producing trash. When we keep showing up to meet our ideas and ourselves on the page, version after version, our writing becomes strong and clean and new—almost without our realizing it.

And that is all I have to say today—after 24 drafts.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Another Quiet Moment in Nashville


Waffle House #511
Nashville, Tennessee – 17 September 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


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