“Writing about Difference”
by Niles Reddick
In a recent article on writing about the concept of difference for the anthology Southern Writers on Writing, I point out that of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of things all around us on a daily basis, it’s that which is uniquely different that registers on our radars the most, and that difference is what I tend to focus on when I am developing a character, describing a place, telling a story, or writing dialogue. It’s analogous to Coleridge’s fusion between the factual and the fantastic. The difference is the fantastic and the detail of the story is the factual.
One of the first stories I published was about one of my aunts who collected road kill and made art. It became crystal clear for me that I had a different sort of relative than most, an aunt who not only hacked off deer legs to use for legs of a table, but skinned dead rattlesnakes to make belts, used the snake bones to make jewelry, and removed a raccoon skin from a fresh kill along the interstate to make a toilet seat cover, just to name a few. One of her strange beliefs was about peroxide. The chemical make-up of peroxide has an extra atom of oxygen compared to the make-up of water, and she believed we needed the extra oxygen because of all the pollution in the world. So, my aunt put it in her tea, which caused it to fizz. At family reunions, all of the relatives who drank the tea were getting extra oxygen, except me. I feared for my life and felt guilty for not sharing my insider knowledge with them, though none of them ever got sick or died.
In the example of my aunt, it her difference in character and behavior, but with other stories, it’s the story itself. I recently wrote a small flash fiction piece titled “Wet Nurse” that was based on my paternal grandmother who I learned had been a wet nurse in a small rural community in the South. Cousins confirmed she had not only served as a wet nurse, she had also healed herself and others by using afterbirth. She had healed her own ulcerated leg by wrapping it in afterbirth when none of the prescribed pharmaceuticals worked. They said she kept afterbirth in a jar in the refrigerator right next to the jug of milk when she needed it for herself or anyone else.
A humorous account of my maternal grandmother was when she and her sister smoked marijuana for the first time in their mid-eighties while at the beach. They’d heard it would help their eyes and tried it. My grandmother said to her sister, “I don’t feel a thing.” She got up from her rocking chair on the porch of the beach house and fell flat on her face and began laughing. Then, her sister, said, “Honey, are you okay?” Then, she began laughing, too. I never asked where they bought marijuana and couldn’t believe they had drug connections.
My writing does not always reveal family anecdotes. I have adapted fictitious variations of historical stories that highlight difference. In my last novel Drifting Too Far from the Shore I used the ancient literary device known as nesting (story within story) to call attention to some rather brutal tragedies. In one, a lynch mob in Southern Georgia murdered Mary Turner, a pregnant African American female, and her unborn fetus in the beginning of the twentieth century. The lynch mob took her to a nearby river, where she was hung upside down in a tree. Her belly was split open and her living fetus dropped to the ground, where they stomped it, poured gas on it, and burned it. Mary Turner also had her clothes burned off while hanging in the tree and being riddled with bullets.
Another example from that novel was about Hispanic migrant workers who were murdered just a few years ago. Women were raped and men were beaten to death by drug-crazed thugs who knew that the migrant workers kept all their wages in cash and with them. The laws in place would not allow the migrant workers to have bank accounts.
I am appreciative to have my own misfit island of family, friends, and experiences that allow me the opportunity to capture the concept of difference in writing. Whether it’s my dad giving away used Pizza Hut pans as wedding gifts, the lady at the cleaners giving me someone else’s clothes and insisting they’re mine, or seeing someone read a book while driving eighty miles per hour in eight lanes of traffic in Atlanta, I will always capture that which is different in prose.
About the Author
Niles Reddick’s collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities was a finalist for an Eppie award; his novel Lead Me Home was a national finalist for a ForeWord Award and a finalist in the Georgia Author of the Year award in the fiction category; and his novel Drifting too far from the Shore was a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize and a Pen Faulkner award.
His work has appeared in several anthologies: Southern Voices in Every Direction (Iris Press), Unusual Circumstances (Pocol Press), Getting Old (KY Story Press), Happy Holidays (Kind of Hurricane Press), Dis-or-der (Red Dashboard), Flash! A Collection (The Fictional Café), and in Short Story America.
Author of over hundred and fifty short stories published in literary magazines and journals all over the world, Niles and his family make their home in Jackson, Tennessee, where he serves as the Vice Provost for the University of Memphis, Lambuth. His website is http://nilesreddick.com/
Early Praise for Reading the Coffee Grounds
“The forty five stories in this collection are set in the Southern U.S. The terrain they cover, however, is universal. Reddick, with an acute eye for detail, depicts childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, old age and death with compassion and wry humor. Family tensions at a grandmother’s funeral, a swimming pool closing rather than admitting non-whites, and the effect of a company merger on employees are just a few of the stories in this accomplished collection that will resonate long after reading them.”
-Sandra Arnold; Christchurch, New Zealand; author of A Distraction of Opposites, Tomorrow’s Empire, and Sing No Sad Songs.
“To read Niles Reddick’s work is to travel across literary lines. At times, we laugh; other times, we cry, smile, and bite our nails in anticipation. This is clearly the prose of a fearless master, and we should treasure such a voice.”
-Mathieu Cailler, Hollywood, CA; author of May I Have This Dance?, Loss Angeles, Clotheslines, and others. His website is: http://mathieucailler.com/
“In his collection Niles Reddicks’ brilliance involves unmasking the oddities of the every-day world with a caring eye for detail, and a truckload of love. These stories are funny, sad, and powerfully wise.”
-Meg Pokrass; London, United Kingdom; author of The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down, Cellulose Pajamas, My Very End of the Universe, and others. Her website is: http://megpokrass.com/
“Niles Reddick’s stories are grounded in empathy with everyday people trying to get on in life. There is poignancy here – and humour, a sense of the absurd, and some darkness. A thoroughly enjoyable and impressive collection.”
-Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler; Chester, England; Directors, International Flash Fiction Association: http://www.chester.ac.uk/flash.fiction
Forthcoming events: Niles Reddick will appear at the KGB Bar and Literary Club in New York City; Novel bookstore in Memphis TN; Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN; the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN; Short Story America festival in Beaufort, SC; Pulpwood Queen’s book club in Nacogdoches, TX.
For booking information, contact The Robinson Agency at: 800-782-2995 or Contact@TheRobinsonAgency.com