Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Niles Reddick


Q. Your stories seem to simultaneously involve everyday activities while also looking beyond them because of some conflict. What prompts your method of storytelling?
A. You’re right that many of them are everyday activities, which supports my philosophy that anything can be a good story. One day, a housekeeper at the university where I work said, “Honey if you wake up and you’re above ground, then it’s a good day.” I loved that and titled a story “Above Ground” to honor her.
Many of my stories are based on family, and I think most folks can relate to them. But some of these stories are strange: grunting for worms; getting a brand on one’s behind in order to be admitted into a fraternity; killing a rat; having one’s car get destroyed by a car wash, and so forth. 
These types of stories are usually sparked by something off-kilter that I’ve observed. For example, one day I pulled up to a traffic light and saw a woman in a mini-van balancing a plate of fried chicken on her breasts—and that image made its way into a story. Life is amazing, really. And you can find gold nuggets just about anywhere, if you’re open to it.
Q. Like you, straight-out horror stories rarely appeal to me. But your crime caper “Penalties” involving a deranged serial killer falls into the fringes of my “target zone.” What motivated you to venture into this particular briar patch? And now that you’ve penned this type of tangled tale, do you see yourself writing any future stories similar to “Penalties?”
A. “Penalties” was actually a dream I had about twenty years ago. I carried that idea for a long time and thought about it periodically before I finally wrote and revised it several times. I don’t know that it’s perfect yet, but I think it’s about as realistic as any other crazy psychopathic killer type story.
I also wrote a story titled “Oedipus” which is a modern day spin on that age-old story, where a female college professor has a relationship with her male student who turns out to be her son and kills herself. With adoption and artificial insemination and all, I think it’s actually possible. I had that idea about twenty five years ago when I was teaching the play in an introduction to literature class, but never wrote that until a couple of years ago. I’m not sure what prompted me to write either of these. So I’ll reserve the right to do something like “Penalties” or “Oedipus” again—but I’m not planning on it.
Q. In terms of lifestyles, you serve as Vice Provost at the University of Memphis Lambuth. You have a family that includes two children. You participate in a number of civic endeavors. And you write flash more prolifically than many of us. So how often do you sleep—once—twice a year tops?
And when do you typically make time to write?
A. That certainly makes me sound busy. Let me correct one thing. I have two teens and that’s a hell of a lot different than children! Between their schedules for soccer, tennis, football, and other events—and me and my wife’s schedule with work, teaching, and community service—we are a busy family. It’s not easy, and there are days I’d like to hide. I sleep about 6-7 hours a night. I get up at 4 a.m. without an alarm clock (and I was like this even when I was young, so imagine how annoyed my poor parents and siblings were), and then I drink coffee and work on writing-related things. I’m usually in my office by 6 a.m., so I have two good hours of writing, revising and sending out submissions before everyone gets to the office.
I try to write about one story a week, but that doesn’t always happen.
My newest book, READING THE COFFEE GROUNDS AND OTHER STORIES contains 45 stories, many of which are flash fiction pieces—but I already have enough for another collection.
I believe flash fiction fits my lifestyle right now, because I can conjure a piece in my head from start to finish, and get a good draft out in a few hours.
I rarely enter contests, and I’m usually juggling about 100 submissions. I do all this on paper, not in any sort of Excel file. And what’s really bad is I screw up constantly. I can’t read my handwriting anymore and sometimes I even use a magnifying glass. The other day I must have been rushed or not paying attention and instead of writing the journal name down under one of the stories, I wrote the name of the story. So who the hell knows where that story went.
Q. While most readers are likely more familiar with your flash endeavors, you also wrote the Pulitzer Prize nominated-novel DRIFTING TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE. How long did you take to complete that book? And how would you describe this experience in comparison to writing flash fiction?
A. Writing flash fiction is very different than my novella or my novel. My first book, ROAD KILL ART AND OTHER ODDITIES was a collection of twenty one stories—and named after the lead story—which is based on my dear eccentric aunt, who collected road kill and made art from the remains.
My second book was a novella titled, LEAD ME HOME. The book was a national finalist for a Foreword award, which was a huge honor—and encouraged me further.
DRIFTING TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE is dedicated to Mary Turner, and evolved from a short story I wrote that was first published in Louisiana. Mary Turner was an African American woman from Southern Georgia, not ten miles from where I grew up. In the early 1900s, a local mob had killed at least eighteen people—including Mary's husband. Eight months pregnant at the time, Mary stated publicly she would testify against the mob, whose members were all white. So the mob captured Mary. Strung her upside down by her ankles. Burned the clothes from her body. Cut her belly open … and when her unborn child fell to the ground, a member of the mob reportedly stomped it. The mob then riddled Mary with gunfire. It was the worst thing I ever heard, and I felt compelled to write something about her—even though years had passed. So I created a character who tells her story, and I wove it into the overall narrative.
I then wrote another story involving the gruesome murders of some Hispanic migrant workers. And by the time I started writing a third, I realized I had a novel going. It only took 10 months to finish, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve written.
Each chapter is dedicated to another victim or victims, and in some ways, I think it’s a political statement. I didn’t want to end the book. I actually cried at the end when I wrote it … and I can’t tell you when I’ve cried since.
I was honored and humbled to have been nominated for a Pulitzer, and winning might have helped me gain more readers. I’m a first generation college student and come from a poor background. But I’ve had a good career in higher education, and I’m not relying on book sales or I would have given up long ago. Fortunately, I can live well without relying on my writing—but that’s not true of others who suffer tremendously for their art.  Given the demands of my job and life, I don’t think I’ll write another novel until I retire though, if I live long enough.
Q. Despite being Georgia-born, you presently reside in Jackson, TN—the second largest city behind Memphis in the western part of your state. And you recently mentioned a desire to someday live in a place like North Carolina, where you’ve gone fly fishing in the past. What appeals to you about living in this particular environment? And why do you suspect that making a significant lifestyle change like this would make you a better writer?
A. Having more time might make me a better writer, but I don’t know if a specific “place” would make a difference. I love the mountains, I love rivers and streams that are clear, and I enjoy fly fishing: though I’m certainly no expert. So as I move toward retirement, I often think about where I would like to write the last things of my life. Somewhere like East Tennessee, North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, Southwest Virginia—or North Georgia might be best. I have a lot of relatives and friends in Georgia, so that might be more ideal. Plus, I’d like to continue to teach part time at a college or university and be involved in the community.
I think the key to longevity is doing things that keep us going. But more importantly I believe in helping, especially people who are homeless or hungry. It breaks my heart to see people in such bad shape. I may never make it to those other places, because I want to be close to my kids. We’ve had a wonderful time in Jackson, and it has everything a city can offer and then some. I often say I could do something every night right here and never get bored.
Q. Now we’re going to get serious here: Who makes the best sweet tea in the Jackson-Memphis neck of the woods? And who makes the best BBQ?
A. You’re going to get me in trouble here. I don’t drink sweet tea, believe it or not. I try to keep my AIC down, so I gave up sugar, and the best BBQ depends. If it’s Memphis or Jackson, there are different types and they’re all good. I’ve gained weight since I’ve lived here and eating all that BBQ is definitely part of the reason. I can’t refuse good BBQ, but for those who want to visit, you should make the trip. It’s worth it.
Anyone with an interest can read Niles's story "Road-Kill Art for free: http://nilesreddick.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Road-Kill-Art.pdf
Meanwhile, readers can find Mr. Reddick’s latest flash collection READING THE COFFE GROUNDS AND OTHER STORIES at the Links below:
https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"&HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"qid=1533570804HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"&HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"sr=8-4HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"&HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"keywords=niles+reddickHYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"&HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"dpID=51GPbNTiW9LHYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"&HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"&HYPERLINK "https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Coffee-Grounds-Other-Stores/dp/1938436504/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1533570804&sr=8-4&keywords=niles+reddick&dpID=51GPbNTiW9L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch"dpSrc=srch
Twitter: @niles_reddick
http://nilesreddick.com/
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bad Ass Book Reviews: Reading The Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick


Looking for a brew to pick you up? Then READING THE COFFEE GROUNDS AND OTHER STORIES just may be your cup of tea. I mean coffee.

To make a satisfying coffee beverage whole beans must first be selected, ground and carefully blended—and Georgia-born author Niles Reddick has masterfully done this for us. 

Most of the forty-five-brews in Reddick’s collection are flash and micro-flash stories akin to single-serving k-cups. But rather than gulp them down, I suggest sipping them slowly in order to savor their flavor.

A Vice-Provost at University of Memphis Lambuth in Tennessee, Reddick writes with what are commonly-called “southern sensibilities.” Family life, for example, features prominently in these works. Yet the tales I sampled in this collection are all conflict-driven. A woman flees a gas station without paying. A young man is found hanging in his jail cell. A man curiously scouring his local Sex Offender List staggeringly discovers his Uncle Albert’s name nestled among the perverts. Struggles associated with aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s also provide sources of conflict.

Even Reddick’s nineteen page mystery “Penalties” (which involves a psychopathic killer) unfolds at a stately pace reminiscent of some traditional English Cozies.

Meanwhile, stories such as “The Concert” readily remind us how easily we can slip into a “daily grind”—to move through our lives in a daze … to thoughtlessly chug our coffee and burn through our days without conscious thought. Like necromancers trying to gain illumination by scrutinizing tea leaves, Reddick isn’t content to simply enjoy a good cup of Joe and move on with his daily routines. He examines the grinds; he patiently strives to give even the mundane meaning—

And he graciously invites us to join him in these endeavors.

Anyone inclined to share a cupa with Niles can buy Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories at Amazon or Barnes & Nobles at the following links:

You can buy READING THE COFFEE GROUNDS AND OTHER STORIES at Amazon.

You can also visit Niles on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/niles.reddick.9

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Bailiff by Jenean McBrearty


The Bailiff

If only Robert Johns hadn’t gone to court the day Marta testified. He’d been home with strep throat for a week, and hadn’t been at the Tyre County Courthouse when the trial of Seymore Saldaga began. Coleman Stephens, lawyer and close friend of Bob’s came by and told him all about it, of course, the voir dire, the swearing in, the opening statements all the circus acts that began with the bailiff’s convocation, “All rise. This court is now in session. Judge George Harlan presiding.”
 
Did you take anyone in custody? Bob wrote on a McDonald’s napkin Colman had stuffed into his Happy Meal box.
 
“Nope, everybody was good. They all knew the show was gonna be good once it started.”

And? Bob wrote.

“The D.A. said even old crimes committed by old people still have to be prosecuted. You gotta admit this one’s a doosey.”

You’d think after forty-five years a woman would forgive and forget, Bob wrote. 

No one in Tyre knew the third-grade teacher had been raped when she was twenty, much less that it was an unlucky bastard like Seymore. By the tine Bob and Coleman’s kids were in school, Marta Foxwell, was a middle-aged old-school taskmistress the kids called Miss meanie-pants. Now she was just Marta, a retired widow working part time at the Walmart as a greeter, non-descript and unfriendly, but able to tell every customer exactly where what they wanted was in the store. Eyes like a hawk. Good enough to recognize the stranger in overalls when he asked where he could find the motor oil.

“Nothing’s more dangerous than a woman with a grudge and a cell phone. She took pictures of him at the check-out counter, followed him out to his pick-up, and got pictures of his license plate and his three grandkids: Tennessee 079 JLM. Told the Sheriff he was just passing through taking his grandkids home to Indiana,” Coleman said. 

Day two of the trial was taken up with presentation of forensic evidence. “You’d think after forty-five years, there wouldn’t be any DNA left on those red Victoria’s Secret panties, either, but those lab folks in Lexington said Seymore’s cheek swab told the tale.”

 Red panties. The thought of them made dozing off difficult even though Bob swallowed enough codeine cough syrup to put away a hippo. He turned on his night stand lamp and stared at the pictures of the victim and her assailant, then and now photos separated by almost half a century, the newspaper had printed in anticipation of Marta’s testimony. Why hadn’t Seymore copped a plea?

“And lose all those tourist dollars? Not a chance. The small business people are making a killing and the D.A. is up for reelection,” Coleman said. 

Who? Bob wrote.

“Me. And I’m going to whip his ass.”

With two boxes of Smith Brothers cough drops in his pants pockets, Bob made it to 7:30 roll call. He’d cover the back door once the room reached spectator capacity, and rely on the police to keep people twenty feet away from the courthouse entrance. Sheriff Conway slipped him a suspicious glance, but pronounced him fit for duty because, “I need warm bodies to protect Salgada. Word has it, only menfolk are coming today. Pat ‘em down good.”

                        ***

There was something about knowing that the wrinkle-lined faced woman in the witness box had once been young and fragile that made Bob want to invent a time machine. A hundred and fifty pairs of eyes watched her ascend the stairs, and he could see it too. She still stood straight, still held her head high, and though she needed a cane to steady her, her hips still moved in that fluid way women walk, side to side, letting you know they can straddle a man with their emptiness. And in her other hand, she carried a fan. The courtroom did get warm by ten o’clock. And she used it, too. Waving it hypnotically back and forth, slow. Flirty-like.

“I was on my way to Miss Beauman’s for my piano lesson.”

Bob searched his mind-files. Did he know a Miss Beauman even existed?

“Salgada crossed the line, and stopped alongside the road and asked me for directions. ‘Which way to the highway?’ he said. Before I could answer, he grabbed my hair and pulled me inside the truck. I fought but the steering wheel was in the way, pinning me under it. He forced himself inside me, and when he was through, he pulled my legs, and I slid out of the truck, bumping my head on the chassis on the way down. When I woke up, I was on the shoulder, my panties around my ankles, and my sheet music spread across the road.”

“Are you sure this is the man?”

“Ecce homo,” she said, and raised her hand and pointed her finger at Seymore.
                       
***

Her testimony took ten minutes, but the memory of it lasted through the night for Bob. The fan, those red panties, like a matador’s cape, laying on the prosecutor’s table, the effects of codeine he was overcome with an irresistible urge. At least, that’s what his lawyer argued at his trial for Marta Foxwell’s rape and murder. “He didn’t see a sixty-five-year-old retired school teacher. He saw a twenty-year-old piece of luscious fruit who tempted him with her testimony.”

Newly elected Coleman Stephens approach it differently. “Robert Johns left his sickbed to hear a salacious story, not a victim’s testimony. He was the hundred and fifty first man who’d come to revel in the sadism of a detestable fantasy, not an officer of the court.”

“Tell you the truth, Coleman, I didn’t believe you’d to win. Even Judge Harlan says you’re not D.A. material. Not forceful enough.”

“A man’s better off using more foresight than force, Bob. Seymore deserved his right to confront his accuser, but Marta deserved her dignity. Ask the women voters.” Coleman Stephens was the only man in Tyre who wasn’t in court that day. 

-End-

Bio Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over a hundred and eighty print and on-line journals. She won the Eastern Kentucky English Department Award for Graduate Creative Non-fiction in 2011, and a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir short story: Red’s Not Your Color. Her novels and collections can be found on Amazon and Lulu.com.
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Monday, July 30, 2018

Pride by Barbara Taylor



Pride

My sister Pride is slow. Mama and Daddy acted as if she was no different than anybody else. Folks in Pine Level went along, but they know the truth, of course. No one in their right mind stands by a stop sign and waves at all the cars, yet the mayor named her the town's "Official Greeter." Mama, sick as she was, got dressed up, Daddy wore a suit, and a photographer from the Raleigh newspaper came and took a picture of Pride in the mayor's office holding a big cardboard key over her head.

Soon after that, Mama was in a hospital bed in the living room, and the new Methodist preacher came over to visit. While I served lemonade, Pride perched on the Naugahyde ottoman wearing that faraway smile, winding her hair around a finger and proclaiming “I love Tiger Woods,” in her chirpy bird voice. Daddy chuckled like she was the cleverest thing. He died in his sleep six months after Mama.

It’s not that I resented moving back home to take care of Pride, but I won’t deny she’s been a hindrance to my living a normal life. Finding a husband, for one thing. Nobody ever says it directly, but I know they think her condition is hereditary. The only man willing to take a chance on me was Harold Hatchett.  

Hatchetts have lived on the same tobacco farm in Johnston County for generations. I married Harold, my one chance at happiness, at thirty-four. The heredity factor wasn't a concern for long, because he got himself run over by a tractor--pure carelessness--and all he wanted to do was eat after that. We’d been married twelve long years when high cholesterol got him. What was I supposed to do then? Go on living in the Hatchett’s falling-down farmhouse with Harold’s Aunt Coral and Uncle Milo’s doublewide out back? Besides, somebody had to look after Pride. If it wasn’t for me, she’d have ended up in one of those group homes in Raleigh.

I got rid of the hospital bed and started organizing the place. Pride was prone to shuffling things around where I couldn’t find them and dragging the golf clubs out of the hall closet. They remind her of Daddy. She carried a putter to his funeral and people actually cried at the sight. At 7:00 in the evening, she turned on Jeopardy! at top volume the way she and Daddy liked it. Their favorite was the golf channel, though. She got lonely watching golf alone, so she placed the clubs beside Daddy’s empty recliner and sat on the floor with her arms around the bag. Sometimes she yelled, “Let’s make it a true daily double, Alex!” in spite of the fact she was watching Tiger lining up a shot. When Pride got emotional and discombobulated like that, I was tempted to call the mental health hot-line and talk their ears off.

Every week I scheduled a beauty parlor appointment. This was my time. Pride had to stay home because she couldn’t be bothering the other customers while I got a perm or a wash-and-set. I paid for this brief respite in the long run. She’d get into mischief while I was gone and spill Cranapple drink all over the linoleum or deliver leftovers to the shut-in next door. Mrs. Bundy got Meals on Wheels; the last thing she needed was the half-eaten chicken legs Pride deposited on her coffee table, yet she claimed she loved my sister to death.  

Lula, my beautician, begged me to cover up my prematurely gray hair, join the Adult Singles Class at the Methodist Church, and volunteer at the Ava Gardner Museum. “You might meet someone new,” she said, lifting a penciled eyebrow. I explained about my crushing responsibilities and why it had been a challenge to get married the first time. “You have a life, too, you know,” she said. Lula can be so wise. “Weight Watchers meets at the church every Wednesday at noon.”  

It's true; I let myself go when Harold was still in the picture. He drank his tea sweet, and there were the pork rinds, biscuits, and sausage gravy. Aunt Coral was forever baking banana bread and three-layer red velvet cakes. All that unhealthy food killed Harold and ruined my figure. Then Pride’s eating habits became the problem. Everything had to be fried or covered with chocolate sauce, and she wouldn’t touch a green vegetable.

As hard as it was to put myself first, I did everything Lula suggested. People started commenting how nice I looked when I brought Pride to church with me each week. Pickings were slim in terms of available employed men in Pine Level, but on the basis of a couple of things Lula said, I decided to get my new life in gear and strike up an acquaintance with parishioner Grover Cowgill.  

“Grover may not look like much,” Lula whispered after services at coffee hour. To be honest, he put me in mind of one of those gnome yard statues. “But he’s a bachelor, so there aren’t any ex-wives or stepchildren to wrestle with. And I think he’s taken a shine to you. I see him staring over at your pew.” Lula also confided he’d sold some family land for a big shopping center on Highway 70. She convinced me to invite him over for Sunday lunch, ignoring how difficult Pride could be. “Take a risk,” she said with a wink. Sure enough, he agreed to a spur of the moment get-together and followed us home in his green Plymouth Duster.

Grover sat silently at the head of the kitchen table and Pride scurried off somewhere. He breathed through his mouth and cracked his knuckles while I got out the Fiesta Ware. I’d settled on a man’s meal of country fried steak from the freezer and heated this in the microwave. Pride reappeared with the golf clubs in their orange plaid bag.   

“I love Tiger Woods,” Pride said, plopping down at her place and sticking her napkin in her collar the way Daddy used to do. I thought I would die of embarrassment, but Grover didn't miss a beat.

“Tiger’s playing this afternoon. But I warn ya, I’ve been known to take a nap in front of the TV.” When he smiled, his tiny eyes were nearly covered by his fat, ruddy cheeks.

Despite my efforts to converse at lunch, Grover turned all his attention to food. I was used to this, given my experience with Harold. It was encouraging to note that the new man in my life enjoyed my cooking. After finishing our fruit cups topped with Cool Whip, Grover, Pride and the golf clubs moved into the den while I put the dirty dishes in the sink to soak. The television blared. Then I heard a sound like a hog being slaughtered and went to investigate.  

It was Grover, snoring loudly in Daddy’s recliner. That was a first. Pride hadn’t allowed anyone to sit there since Daddy died. She was on the floor, hugging the golf bag and cheering Tiger Woods. Grover came to with an alarming snort and suggested escorting Pride and me to the cafeteria after church the following Sunday. Before I could accept, Pride yelled, “This is Jeopardy!”  
    
I walked Grover out to the Duster. I felt I owed him an explanation about Pride’s situation, since we were now officially dating. 
    
“I’m thinking of investigating some homes in Raleigh,” I said. Pride was banging on the kitchen window and waving. 
    
“But you have a home right here,” he said, pointing to the house. I was touched he was concerned I might be relocating.
    
“Homes. For people like Pride.” I raised my voice because I noticed the hearing aid when one side of his hair blew up like a trap door. I was accustomed to men with handicaps and adjusted accordingly.  

“Where are the durn keys?” he mumbled, groping around in his pockets. I sensed it was too early in our courtship to talk about future living arrangements. As he drove away with a blast from the defective-sounding muffler, I tried not to dwell on Grover Cowgill’s shortness of stature. I chose to concentrate on his forbearance and open mind. He didn’t seem to hold Pride against me, and that was a refreshing change.
  
Just as Grover had promised, the following Sunday he arrived to take us to the K&W in the Duster. I couldn’t help but notice some rude individual had written “WASH ME” on the trunk lid with a finger. Come hell or high water, Pride was determined to wear Daddy’s old light blue golf cap and sit in the passenger seat. Grover tactfully didn’t protest and waited for me to open my own creaky door and climb into the back. I smelled motor oil and saw a can dripping onto the floor mat. Because of the odor, Grover rolled down his window, Pride did the same, and my hairdo was ruined by the time we reached the cafeteria. As soon as we got out of the car, Pride tore off across the parking lot. Grover waddled ten steps ahead of me with a side-to-side, bow-legged gait.  

“Here we are at a restaurant together for the first time,” I called, but I don’t think he heard me.

Once inside and in line, Pride and Grover chose fried chicken and I, not wanting to appear greedy when out with a date, selected a tossed salad with low-fat Ranch. When we reached the desserts, they grabbed individual chocolate pies coated with unnatural-looking tan meringue.  
    
“Hershey’s syrup,” my sister demanded in her shrill tone. A white-coated server handed her a plastic bottle, and she turned it upside down and squeezed a river of chocolate sauce over her pie. I neglected to warn against spectacles like this before we left and planned to apologize to Grover later when we were alone.  
    
“You must really love chocolate,” the server said.
    
“I love Tiger Woods,” Pride said. Grover’s eyes disappeared into his cheeks and he paid the cashier with a $100 bill. I got my water and lemon wedges. By then, Grover and Pride had found a table in the dining room. When I spotted them, Grover was talking in an animated way with his mouth full. He was making the effort to chat with Pride, never an easy task.
    
“You’re eating your pie before the main course.” I felt an obligation to point this out to Pride, but Grover was doing it, too. Maybe he thought it made sense under the circumstances. They were sitting side-by-side in a booth, so I had no choice but to slide into a seat opposite. “I, for one, am sticking to a sensible diet,” I said. They became silent as they inhaled the rest of their pie and then their chicken. I contemplated my future with Grover. There were adjustments to be made on both our parts, but, things could be worse. Not once had Harold Hatchett suggested the K&W, before or after our wedding day. 
    
“Time for golf,” Grover said, glancing at the watch on his chubby wrist. I was barely half-way through my salad, but my sister jumped up and ran for the door and Grover chuckled the way Daddy used to do, pretending Pride was normal. I decided he was an optimist, unlike Harold.

Ten minutes after arriving home, Grover was fast asleep in the den. Again, it sounded like hog-killing time on the Hatchett farm. When I described this scenario to Lula at the beauty parlor, she led me by the arm into the empty shampoo room where we wouldn’t be overheard and gave me all the details about sleep apnea and how it could be fatal. 

“You’d better work fast,” she said, as that eyebrow went up. I told her about Grover surprising me with a greasy bag of fried flounder, tartar sauce, and hush puppies from the Dixie Drive-In and making himself at home with a TV tray in front of Jeopardy! “Ohhh, it’s a regular thing. He’s smitten,” she squealed, and I treated myself to a manicure with daring iridescent nail enamel.   

Pride adjusted surprisingly well to Grover’s constant presence in Daddy’s recliner. I didn’t have to remind her to bathe or change clothes and she stopped delivering scraps to poor Mrs. Bundy. One night, during a commercial break, Grover pulled out a box from the jewelry outlet at Value Village and popped the question. To Pride. The first time he spotted her in church, he liked the way she looked in Daddy’s golf cap and tube socks. He outlined how much they had in common, like favorite foods, television shows, and golf, plus both of them could sleep through an earthquake.  

At first I was confused; then shocked. But Lula later pointed out I’d have the house to myself after the newlyweds moved to their brand new one, complete with media room, in Raleigh. My options were wide open without a troublesome sibling to take care of, and I should be grateful that all she wanted were the golf clubs.  

My sister squeezed into Mama’s satin wedding gown and insisted on carrying the putter instead of flowers. The sanctuary at the Methodist church was packed--even Mrs. Bundy came--and I could barely hear the organ for all the sobbing. "The town won't be the same without that sweet little gal," I heard Mr. Crocker say, before blowing his nose with a giant honk. The ceremony went smoothly until Pride announced she loved Tiger Woods. But everyone in Pine Level understood. Pride has always been the slow one. 

-End-

Bio Barbara Taylor is a survivor of both a Southern boarding school and a Southern women’s college. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Scarlet Leaf, Corvus Review, and Mused. She lives and writes in North Carolina.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Mike Creeden

Q. Like Hector Duarte Jr. you earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Creative Writing from Florida International University (FIU). But to enroll at FIU you relocated about 1,500 miles from Massachusetts—and set aside your lucrative career as a Technical Writer to become a poor bastard. What tempted and compelled you to make such a drastic lifestyle change and take a gander at writing fiction?

A.  First, I’m marking this as the first time the word “lucrative” has ever been used to describe a portion of my life, so thanks for that. I’ve loved reading my whole life, and a desire to spin my own words led me to pursue my undergraduate writing major. But as a first-generation college student, I had to study something practical: and technical writing fit the bill. Thirteen years of writing in such thrilling genres as online help, computer manuals, proposals, white papers, and software test plans hadn’t managed to kill my desire to write fiction. So I packed up the car and headed to Miami to study at FIU on what I thought would be a three-year break from the real-world. Sixteen years later, I’m still here. Hopefully my days of living in the real world are over.

Q. If I understand correctly, the first draft of your debut novel, ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE was written while attending FIU. So how do you think your creative writing studies helped your development? Do you think it’s likely you would’ve enjoyed any success writing fiction if you hadn’t enrolled at FIU? Or might you have achieved success—but perhaps your path might have been longer?

A. I think FIU helped enormously. And I doubt I would’ve had much success, if any, without FIU and the people I met there. As for the MFA experience in general, getting into a program is a confidence booster because you have people with some experience telling you “we think you have potential.” For that they gift you three years of focused time to read, write, and hang out with people who like to do the same. You can get all that at most MFA programs, but what makes FIU special in my mind is that their program not only focuses on storytelling and craft, they also embrace popular fiction. 

I remember talking with a friend who was studying at another big name school about what we were doing in FIU workshops and classes. She sighed deeply and said: “Oh wow … you actually talk about craft? Over here we try not to indulge the baser instincts … like thinking about readers and markets.”  

Obviously, I’m paraphrasing—but I think you get my drift. 

While I was at FIU I got to know and study with some great writers who mentored me and steered me toward my first publications: people like John Dufresne, Lynne Barrett, Joe Clifford—who was a classmate—and Les Standiford.

Q. Like many authors, prior to getting your novel published, you’ve also written short stories: and some of these have appeared in a trio of anthologies. Several of these works showcase the antics of two young adults named Kenny and Leanne. Kenny’s been described as a Keith Richards wannabe. And Decklan St. James—the central character in AYLCT—also happens to be a failed guitarist who still thirsts for rock-n-roll fame. 

What influenced you to create characters like Kenny and Decklan?

A. I’ll save the gory details for my memoir. For now let’s just say that with the exception of the Desert Hot Springs bedroom scene in ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE—which takes place when Deck and Stevie are locked in the basement—I’ve experienced everything Kenny and Deck have.

I guess these characters are alter egos of a sort. Deck’s the devil on one of my shoulders, and Kenny’s the angel on the other. Kenny’s a version of me in my early twenties: innocent, but longing to be a badass cool guy. While Deck is the version of me ten years later: no longer innocent—still trying to be cool … but often stuck on being a selfish asshole.

Q. Punk rock drummer turned Crime Writer Steve W. Lauden recently shared that the two of you teamed up with Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts and Eric Beetner to form a band of your own.  But a la REO Speedwagon, you guys quibbled over artistic differences—and decided to split up before your first rehearsal. How did you cope with this tragedy? Did you start shooting black tar heroin?

A. Let me start by saying that as a drummer Steve W. Lauden is definitely playing against type. Drummers can be pains in the ass, complaining constantly while not doing much to get stuff done. But in our Supergroup that never was, Steve was the voice of reason, the leader, and the one person who was really trying to make it happen. If that Punk Noir band ever gets its shit together to the point where we plug in and make some noise, the world will have S.W. Lauden to thank.

When we broke up prematurely, I coped as best I could—drowning all my sorrows in donuts and black coffee—while playing along to YouTube versions of the songs we should have covered.

Q. Your short story “Sunday Morning, Coming Down” appeared in the Anthony award-nominated Johnny Cash tribute anthology, JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE—edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. As an amateur musician, how did it feel to be included in this anthology? And what drew you to this particular Cash song for your title?

A. It was amazing. I’ve loved Johnny Cash since I was a little kid, and that collection includes some of the coolest writers on the crime scene right now. 

Sunday Morning, Coming Down is one of my favorite songs of all time. And probably the best evocation of that hung-over, depressed, “I do-not-want-to-participate-in-normal-life” feeling that’s ever been put to vinyl. It’s like a short story—the protagonist waking up, popping a cold one, throwing on his cleanest dirty shirt, then stumbling out into Sunday morning—where he walks a few blocks … sees a loner kid, then a kid with his father—and eventually he listens to Sunday school worshipers singing. I feel like I spent my early childhood driving around with my father … songs like that playing on the AM radio: dead of winter in Massachusetts, heat blasting in the car, windows shut, my old man lighting one Pall Mall off another, neither of us talking much … just listening to the radio and soaking in the sadness.  

For what it’s worth, I think the definitive version of Sunday Morning is the done by songwriter, Kris Kristofferson on the Austin Sessions record that came out in ’99 when Kris was already in his sixties. 

As an added bonus, we get backup vocals by Steve Earle.

Q. This story once again features Kenny and Leanne. But after reading this tale, I had to ask myself if these two characters are evolving or plotting devolution. As the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher it seems like Leanne’s transformed herself into a Christian Vixen—who’s trying to redefine the boundaries between heaven and hell. And while Kenny’s tales have traditionally been spun as first-person narratives, you decided to pen this revenge story from a third person perspective. 

What impetus led you to craft this story and its plot in this particular fashion? 

A. If I ever sit down to write the collection I envision for these two, then one focus will be how different the inside and the outside of the same person can be. And how twisted—but not necessarily evil—the inner lives of spiritual people can be. 

When Kenny visits a Pentecostal church for the first time, he’s this rocker kid who seems cool on the outside. But on the inside he’s inexperienced and immature. He’s a follower. First he idolizes Leann’s father, Jack Moody: the reformed badass turned preacher, who pastors the church. But then Kenny falls for Moody’s daughter, Leanne. She and Kenny, I guess you could say, are drawn to their opposites. Kenny sees Leanne’s savvy—and Leanne digs Kenny’s innocence. “Sunday Morning, Coming Down” is where the sparks between these two start to catch fire.  

Q. These days, besides sweating in Miami, you’re devoting much of your writing time to penning more novels. And rather than continue with Decklan, you’re creating new characters while taking your themes in a different direction. Without talking plot, what kinds of characters are you building at the moment? 

A. I’m playing around with two different stories. One’s set in South Beach and features a female bodybuilder who does fetish sessions and stumbles into detective work. The other characters include a bunch of gaming nerds, some washed-up celebs—and possibly a Buddhist monk. The second is set back in Massachusetts. This one involves three childhood friends: a woman and the two men who used to crush on her—as well as a drug-addled bad mom, and a satanic cult.  

My stories often feature some kind of cult because most days I walk around thinking everyone out there has life’s answers … and they’re keeping them from me. I also think that when the world is really fucked-up—like it is now, people go for easy answers in comprehensive story form—which is what cults offer. 

Q. You and your wife Adrienne discover you’ve been assigned to play host to a quartet of Crime writers who are in Miami for the weekend. Where would you take them to dinner on Friday and Saturday nights? 

A. None of these places are protypical of Miami, but they are some of our faves: 

The Yardbird is a five minute walk from where we live in South Beach. Southern cooking. And they do the best fried chicken and waffles this side of Roscoe’s in California. 

Mandolin in the Design District does Mediterranean. Lots of Greek dishes. Excellent vibe—outdoor dining and great service. It’s where we take our classy (read: Adrienne’s) friends for a night out.

And since I’m heading home to Fall River, Massachusetts in a few days—and dreaming about the great Portuguese food that can be had almost everywhere there?  I would definitely take them to Sagres. Lots of fresh baked rolls. Spicy Shrimp Mozambique for the appetizer. And a Portuguese steak for the entrée—which means a fried egg on the steak. And we’ll do fries and rice on the side. Because you can never get enough carbs. And who needs vegetables when you’re on vacation?

Anyone who wants to sink their teeth into some great fiction—including Mike’s story, “Sunday Morning, Coming Down”—can buy the kickass Gutter Books Johnny Cash tribute anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Just-Watch-Gutter-Books-Anthologies-ebook/dp/B075KKGT7H/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Rock music junkies can check out Steve W. Lauden’s 2016 interview with Mike on Steve’s Bad Citizen Corporation blog: https://badcitizencorporation.com/2016/08/01/interrogation-mike-creeden/

And you can visit Mike on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007571499908

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