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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