January 21, 2010
Moving On Up by Niles Reddick
When I was in high school at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia, I worked on the yearbook staff and I worked for the newspaper staff. Well, I call it work, but it was more like doing whatever I had to do to get by with a passing grade. I continued to do that a bit when I was in college at Valdosta State, too, but I didn’t like writing for the newspaper and interviewing people about things I didn’t consider interesting. I loved taking writing classes, though, and had all sorts of ideas about what I could write, but somehow or another, it just didn’t work for me. I wrote silly love poems that rhymed, I wrote spiritual poems, and I wrote little one page stories. At some point, I wrote my first novel—a coming of age story. I grew up in Hahira, Georgia, and wrote about riding bikes, going to the pool, mowing grass for old ladies in town. I can barely stand to read that now.
Later I wrote another novel, with absolutely no plot whatsoever and narrated through the point of view of cars (a Faulkner imitation I came up with while drinking), and I had the notion that it would actually get published. This was before Cars and now I wish I would have revised it. I remember saints Lee Smith and Janice Daugharty both reading it and marking it all up for me. What I remember most was their positive comments—great line, wonderful image, beautiful character, or my personal favorite—“I wish I would have thought of that.” It was their comments that inspired me to read and write even more. When I began teaching, I continued to write, but it just wasn’t real—stories I could imagine in my mind, but somehow had never really experienced.
One day, I was talking to a former student and now long-time friend who had taken a computer job at the college where I was teaching in my 20s, and David said to me: “Man, those stories you told in class were great. That’s what you ought to write about.” I was floored. I wondered if people really wanted to hear and read about these crazy stories I told in class to make a point (or so I said; mostly, I think I was unprepared for class), and I feared writing about myself, my family. Fear of hurting their feelings and fear of being sued. My first story about my aunt who collects road kill and makes art was a success and was published in a literary journal. Another one about my grandmother running an 18 wheeler off the road and dating a new boyfriend in her 80s after the passing of my grandfather got published in another journal and I felt I had arrived. I felt finally like I was comfortable with my writing, that it was real. More were written and more were published and finally the first book came out. It was rather anti-climatic, however. There was a bit of excitement, some good reviews, and I did some talks and signings, but the arrival, the moving on up, changed. It’s as though each time there was success, the bar was raised just a notch or two higher, and I had to try again.
When I started my new novel, Lead me Home, which comes out in February, I felt that excitement of writing it all over again. It has some great stuff—the great aunt who gets hit by a log truck, the aunt who is married for the fourth or fifth time to a potato chip man, a cousin who has a near death experience and gets saved in detox, a woman who shoots her husband in his privates and then in the head, the preacher who has an affair with the woman (who killed her husband) and causes the church to split, and much more. Now that it is about to come out, I’m feeling that sense of arrival, of having moved up, dissipate and I’m wondering what to do next. I struggle with what, if anything, I will write next—maybe a historical/fantasy piece, maybe a film, maybe more stories, maybe a children’s book with my son and daughter (who are excited to see their names on the dedication page).
Each piece of writing is somehow different, better, more advanced, I suppose, but we write because we have to, and whether we move on up like the Jeffersons or not is not the point. The point is that through that creative process, we somehow changed and brought something into reality for others to enjoy. And if nothing else ever happens, the twinkling in my children’s eyes at seeing their own name in print will be a moment I will never forget.