Writer's Notes

Suspension of Disbelief: Niles Reddick

Reading the Coffee Grounds COVER“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.


Niles Reddick head shot

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


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:

“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:

“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:
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


Writer's Notes

October: Suspension of Disbelief

By Thonie Hevron

Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Washington Allston circa 1843


Willing suspension of disbelief is a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

Every fiction writer must wrestle with this at some time. The worlds we create are products of our imagination with a little fact thrown in.

The main facet of suspension of disbelief: Could this happen, really?

Something that I see in my genre (police procedural/thriller/mystery) so often is multiple officer involved shootings (OIS’s) several times a shift or day or week. Officers never seem to go on Administrative Leave ever. Administrative Leave is a temporary leave from a job or assignment, with pay and benefits intact. Officers are routinely placed on administrative leave after a shooting incident while an investigation is conducted (sometimes by an outside agency for impartiality), without implying fault on the part of the officer.

My husband, the retired firefighter, cries foul when a vehicle is involved in a crash and subsequent explosion (this doesn’t include when the plot specifies an incendiary device was aboard). What typically happens is this: cars don’t explode on impact. If they catch fire, it often due to fuel leaking to an ignition source (such as an overheated catalytic converter).

Cops and fire fighters are readers and know when something just ain’t right. But when you include a feasible ignition source in that Impala that collides with a tree—then you have the “well, it could happen” moment.

ThonieHevron-ByForceorFear.jpgAnother part of suspension of disbelief involves the premise of my first novel. By Force or Fear’s protagonist is a female detective being stalked by a cunning judge. Her superiors don’t believe her when she reports him. In this day of #MeToo, I seriously doubt any responsible administrator would discount the report. But it could happen, right? That’s suspension of disbelief.

The key to making the preposterous believable is to sow seeds of reasonability into the story (foreshadowing) ahead of time or during the event. For instance, an observer of the car crash might see the fallen tiki torch next to the tree or the officer may be the last officer (think a department-wide epidemic with no mutual aid officers available within the day—hey, it’s a stretch but it could happen, right?). Sometimes a scientific explanation after the event can work but that can be dicey. Balance this with authenticity.

The trick to all of this is to make your devices (and plot twists) believable. Do your research, online and on the ground. Talk to police officers, fire fighters, professors, whoever you need to get the scoop. After talking to these folks, you may find that the truth is less believable than fiction!

October 12th will feature D.R. Ransdell’s take on this topic. On October 19th, an interview with Rita Lakin who dishes on the hard-to-believe-it-but-they’re-true stories with her Getting Older is Murder series. Niles Reddick winds up the month on October 26th with writing about differences.

You’ll be glad you checked them all out! Don’t forget to read Hal Collier (Ramblings), Ed Meckle (The Call Box), Mikey (Roll Call) and others on Just the Facts, Ma’am to find out how much stranger truth can be than fiction!


3 book covers
All three of my thriller novels are for sale on I’ll also be signing and selling books at the Rohnert Park 2018 Holiday Craft Faire November 23 and 24. 


Writer's Notes


By Thonie Hevron

I’ve formally passed the one-third point in this novel. After several false starts, do-overs and life events, I’ve finally gotten back on the roll that becomes my stories. In the fall of 2014, I’d gotten rolling, cranking out pages that satisfied me and my critique group.

Then, I found Mike Brown. A Sonoma County Sheriff’s Lieutenant, (now retired) Mike spent several years as a Violent Crimes Investigations (VCI) Sergeant. One of my lead characters in WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT is a newly promoted VCI sergeant. When Mike said, “Yes, I’ll help,” to my plea for technical assistance, I was thrilled. His level of expertise and how he articulated it got me really excited.

Until he read my outline. Thank God I asked him to look at it.

His comments could be summed up with a “that couldn’t happen.”

Sheesh. Back to the drawing board.

At some point in fiction, the author has to feasibly “suspend disbelief” in the reader’s mind. Think about it—you’re reading along in a really good book and a character does something you KNOW is inconsistent or not part of the real world. But, the words are strung together in such a way that you think, it could happen.

It could happen. The suspension of disbelief.

This is very different from procedural inconsistencies. A wrong move could compromise an investigation and or prosecution. An investigator is paid for his/her knowledge to ensure a thorough and proper investigation (leading to a successful prosecution, hopefully). There are enough law enforcement and judicial officers in the reading public that an author who doesn’t pay attention to details can irretrievably lose credibility. Those who know what is feasible and what is not see errors. An author, no matter how good a wordsmith, cannot stretch “not right”. As a reader, when I encounter this, the book is tossed, literally and figuratively because the author’s trustworthiness has been destroyed.

Thus, I tossed most of what I’d written and started over. I must admit, following Mike’s suggestions have made this story much better.


What this post is really about, though, is to admit that I won’t make my self-assigned deadline. May 8 this the last day to enter the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) Writing Contest. I’ve placed in two previous contests 2012, 2014) with PSWA and wanted my third Nick and Meredith Mystery to join the other two. Not gonna happen. With only five days left, I have just under half the story written.

While I’m dismayed about this, I won’t lose any sleep. I’ll just reassign a deadline, work to achieve it and find another contest.


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