Don Wicks — finding his inner writer

Published 11:48 pm Saturday, January 12, 2008

“We all have stories to tell, and we ought to be able to tell them,” said Don Wicks during our interview at PJ’s.

Don Wicks is a retired aerospace engineer who moved to Picayune in December of 1985. When Wicks made the decision to move to Picayune, finding a nice quiet corner of the world in which to hone his writing skills was not at the top of his agenda. “I guess I wanted to live in the country [and] have some acreage. One of my thoughts was to grow some corn, and distill my own Whiskey.” That never came to be, and in fact, Wicks put down the bottle and picked a pen instead. He now has a collection of approximately 13 novels, about 30 novel starts, and 50 short stories, including his Abby series of 13 shorts about his first great grandchild.

Wicks didn’t always know he had a writer in him, but he always felt an “artistic bent”. It just seemed like a dark and vulnerable place for him so didn’t pursue it. A story he likes to tell in correlation to his anxiety comes from his childhood. He was in third grade when a nun asked his class to write a story and turn it in. Wicks went home and wrote a story about about a nun serial killer that was snatching and killing his classmates. “I never got the paper back,” Wicks laughed, “so I took it as a hint that maybe I ought not pursue [writing].”

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Both as a child and as an adult Wicks always enjoyed reading. As he got older he started to dabble in poetry, and in 1980 he decided to take a creative writing course, a children’s literature course, and a speech course. During that time he wrote three children’s stories and one man as child story.

In 2003, “All of a sudden, I got inspired, I guess,” said Wicks. He decided to write a novel. His first novel was approximately 42,000 words, and a novel double that size came next. At that time he was having too much fun writing to be bothered by trying to get anything published., but that’s when Wicks decided he ought to learn how to write.

He joined a writing group that was held locally, and picked up a creative writing course at the same time. “I learned it’s not so easy, the craft, and requires a college education in literature.”

In 2005 the Picayune Writers’ Group was formed by Wicks and a couple of other local writers, and a set of bylaws was put into place. This happened a couple of months prior to Katrina.

Post Katrina, Wicks and the group was able to pick up where they left off and organized their first writing contest. They got some judges together, and even published an anthology with all the material that was entered. “We didn’t have enough to publish just the winners, so we published everybody,” said Wicks.

In 2007, the contest had more entries and Wicks took on the job of publishing the anthology himself. The group got a booth at the fall street fair to sell the anthology and to publicize their new creative writing course. According to Wicks, the group got about 15 names of people interested in the new course, and they called back every single one of those people.

The creative writing course became a place for novices to have a voice, share stories, and get encouragement. Wicks is especially proud of the course and despite the problems with getting space to meet, says the class is a lot of fun for both students and teachers alike. He teaches some of the classes himself.

While doing his research for his first anthology, Wicks came across a literary figure that would begin to capture his attention. Wicks loves to write about strong women figures, and who could more aptly fit that role than Eliza Jane Poitevent Holbrook-Nicholson. “[I just] fell in love with this lady,” said Wicks.

Wicks has supplied the paper with a story or two about Eliza and he continues to research her for a biography. He uses several sources for his material including the Delta State University and the Times Picayune. “It’s a treasure hunt looking for stuff she may have written. I’ll go for months without finding anything and all of a sudden I will find something. I have been inspired by her story and look forward to learning more about that,” says Wicks

Wicks has several goals in 2008 involving his Eliza research. He is very excited and very much looking forward to republishing “A Dead Life; or, The Nobleman’s Heir”, which was originally published by Eliza Jane Nicholson: The poet Pearl Rivers, in The Daily Picayune in 1880. He also looks forward to starting and completing a biography of her life, poetry and prose, and hopes to have that work completed and published by 2009.

Other goals for the future include revamping the historical society and going back to edit and publish some of his own earlier work. Wicks shared with me that he just purchased a paper cutter and two printing presses. He also moved his home office to an outdoor building on his property.

Wicks, like others in our community, would like to see Pearl River County develop an arts council, but so far no one has dared to take up the baton. Wicks feels the undertaking would get a lot of support. He also feels a strong need for a cultural center and a museum.

Wicks has hopes of eventually getting a grant for a one page spread in the paper where he could publish some poetry and short stories.

For now Wicks continues to write and do research with Eliza Jane taking most of his focus. He encourages other writers in our community to find their voices. He says, “[I am] often asked the question — I like to [write] but am I any good?” His answer, “Probably not, but you can learn.” He describes himself as “a fixer, introspective, and someone who tries to make sense of people and the world.” I would describe him as a writer who is giving back to his community by encouraging the gift in others.