Monday, January 16, 2012
"I Wish I'd Written that" by Niles Reddick
The interesting thing about writing advice is that there is always someone willing to give you some and often it's the same old advice---be persistent, don't give up, write what you know, keep a journal, do more research, get in a class. And so on. It's the superficial stuff of groups and conferences. I hate to admit to cliché, but I have probably said it to audiences and students myself. There is, however, a grain of truth in all of it and following it can be helpful. For me, all of it was helpful at some level, but the most helpful information came in remarks about my second attempt at a novel from a writer who was gracious enough to read my manuscript and offer comments and suggestions: Lee Smith. Yes, Lee Smith, one of the great Southern writers.
I'd first attempted a coming-of-age story, hammered out on a Brother typewriter in a garage apartment in Carrollton, Georgia. It had some good stories and I pulled it last year when I felt dry of ideas and reread it to see if I could get anything. I couldn't. Then, I had attempted a novel, written in Tallahassee, Florida, in Word Perfect, and told through the perspective of cars. Yes, cars!!! Lots of good, old cars---the Bel Air, the Bonneville, the Skylark. I'd thought of them as reflecting the personalities of the family members who drove them. I like to think once in a while that I was ahead of my time with the cars idea given the success of the animated films. The "cars" attempt was better than my first attempt, and I had some good stories, lines, characters, description, and dialogue.
I'd traveled to Raleigh from Tallahassee to interview Lee Smith. Once on the North Carolina State campus, where she was writer-in-residence, I found the English department and sat outside Lee's office on the glossy wooden floors. When I heard the hall door shut, I noticed a woman wearing red shoes, a red rain coat, and sporting a red purse. "Hey," she said. Not only was I honored to have interviewed her, I was honored when the interview was accepted in an anthology. Near the end of the interview, Lee asked me about my writing and said she would be glad to read something of mine. I was honored. Back in Tallahassee, I quickly bound my "Cars" attempt and shipped it off to her.
Within a couple of weeks, I had a package. Amazing! Editors, agents, and publishers take six months to a year or more sometimes to get back to you, and one of best Southern writers had only taken two weeks. Sure, there were writing and notes all over the manuscript---grammatical notations, suggestions, and I had anticipated that. But other comments caught my eye. They stood out to me, like cake at a child's birthday party, and I devoured them one by one and went back and read them again and again. I showed my friends and professors. One comment in particular stood above all the others: "I wish I'd written that." I didn't breathe for a bit. I couldn't believe my eyes. A famous author was envious of something I had written. It was a moment of both validation and motivation.
As the years passed, and I wrote stories for journals and finally a collection of stories and then a novel, and as I received hundreds of rejections from agents, editors, and publishers, I often went back and read Lee's comments or reflected on them to keep me motivated and I am forever appreciative.
Niles Reddick is author of a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, which was a finalist for an Eppie award, and a novel Lead Me Home, which was a finalist for a ForeWord Award and was a finalist for first novel in the Georgia Author of the Year Awards. He is author of numerous short stories in journals and anthologies. He lives in Tifton, Georgia, where he works for Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. His website is www.nilesreddick.com