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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