Interview with an Author: Art Taylor

Art Taylor

Art Taylor

I first met Art Taylor at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, at the luncheon for members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, but I’ve been a fan of his for some time. It would seem I’m not the only one! Art Taylor has won two Agatha Awards, the Anthony Award, the Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction. Stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, in the Chesapeake Crime anthologies This Job Is Murder and Homicidal Holidays, and in other journals and anthologies. His novel in stories On the Road With Del and Louise was published in September 2015 by Henery Press. He teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and contributes frequently to the Washington Post and Mystery Scene.

Judy: Tell us a bit about your novel, On the Road with Del & Louise.

Art: While I’ve has some success in the short fiction department, I’ve struggled in the past to write a traditional novel; basically I have trouble modulating the pacing and properly interweaving plots and subplots—navigating that longer narrative arc. So my first book, On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, tries to build on my greater facility with short form fiction—the book comprises six individual stories—but to use those stories as building blocks toward a larger narrative arc.

Del is a small-time criminal and Louise is his lover (and the narrator), and the individual stories take them from Taos, New Mexico (an art gallery robbery) to Victorville, California (real-estate shenanigans) to Napa Valley (plans for a wine heist) to Las Vegas (a wedding chapel hold-up) to Williston, North Dakota (a kidnapping—sort-of) and finally back to Louise’s home town in North Carolina—to meet Mama, which might be the most dangerous adventure of all. So six stories, as I said, but in the process, these stories contribute toward a longer, overarching tale of two people trying to figure out what they mean to one another, and to build a life together—find direction, find a home, find themselves.

With Art Taylor at Bouchercon 2015. Art won the Best Short Story Anthony Award for “The Odds are Against Us.”

Judy: You’ve won a number of awards for your short crime fiction, and you’re very prolific. What’s the key to making a short story work?

Art: I’ve been very fortunate with the recognition my short fiction has received—and I’m glad that it looks like I’m prolific! I feel as if I write very slowly, and while other writers are publishing many short stories a year, I’m lucky if I have one or two on any given year. Part of my slowness is that I’m always tinkering and tightening (trying to tighten) my stories—and trying to figure them out, what the story is, what needs to be there, what doesn’t. Compression is the key word for me—compressing time, compressing description, compressing the plot to its central elements—but even knowing the key, I struggle to actually do it.

Judy: How difficult is it to sell short stories? Do you have any advice for others trying to break into that market?

Art: I think there are two ways of looking at the question. First, if your goal is to sell (with some emphasis on money) a short story to one of the two best-known, most-established markets these days—Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock—there are challenges, solely because of the number of submissions they get and the amount of space they have in their issues.

However, a second point should be more encouraging: the market seems to be broadening with other print publications, anthologies (specifically the Sisters in Crime anthologies), and online venues for short fiction. Not all of these are paid, but they are read—and read widely—and readers are what we want, ultimately: folks who might be impressed by our writing and follow us to the next project.
As for advice, some of my suggestions are probably tried and true (but hopefully not trite): read the publications and familiarize yourself with them; hone your craft first and foremost; be patient—both with that craft and with the market.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Art: I think I’ve thought about being a writer for nearly as long as I’ve been reading—the two things so hand in hand in my mind that it’s hard to separate the two. I loved books and stories, and the idea of writing one myself seemed the highest calling. But definitely there have been folks along the way who’ve encouraged me as a writer, pushed me higher—maybe first and foremost Betsy Travis, who was my junior high school English teacher for three years and who introduced us to a foundation in the classics (on the one hand) and who always pushed us to be better, better, better in whatever we were writing. I’d coasted along, I think, through other English classes, and one of my first big assignments for her earned me a C—the worst grade I’d ever gotten, the whole page marked up with places where I could’ve expressed myself with greater clarity and precision. That marked for me a turning point, I think, in the idea that writing isn’t simply filling the page with words but really involves careful craftsmanship. I still have that assignment, red marks and all, on my bookshelf, these several decades later. EQMMCommissionCover-copy-400x586

Judy: Can you describe your writing process for us?

Art: It’s funny. Back during the summer, I’d developed what I thought of as a productive routine: dropping my son off at pre-school (he’s three), going to my office on campus, making a cup of tea, logging into a jazz station on Pandora, answering emails, then settling in for several hours of writing; also on the routine: reading a short story at lunch—reading and writing going hand in hand always, the former informing and inspiring the latter. Now that the new semester of teaching has gotten underway, that schedule has imploded a little bit. I still have my tea (need the caffeine!) and I still put on Pandora, but the emails are coming faster and more furiously, and lesson prep, teaching, and grading are dominating much more of the day. I try to keep on top of some writing schedule, but it’s much more fragmented these days!

Judy: What’s the best writing advice you have ever read or been given?

Certainly in light of that imploded schedule I mentioned, I always have to remind myself of Anne Lamott’s great book Bird by Bird. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how much there is to finish on a given writing project, but it’s all bird by bird, word by word, step by step—and as long as you’re making some movement in the right direction, you’ll ultimately get where you’re going.

That’s good advice not just for individual projects but also in a larger sense; aspiring writers should remember that publication, success, etc. all takes time. As I said above: patience with craft of writing, patience with the business of writing—that patience and steadfast determination is the key to success.

Judy: What’s next for you? 

Art: I’m working right now on two projects. First, I’m trying to finish a story that I hope to submit to EQMM; it’s one I’ve been working on for a while—one with a long history: started out as a too-short short story (not enough weight), grew into one of two strands in a failed novel (a strand that suddenly weighed in too heavy, at nearly 190 pages), and is now being trimmed, trimmed, trimmed back into shape (an arduous process). Second, I’m about halfway done drafting a series of interconnected novellas that I hope will be my next book for Henery Press. They’re about an agoraphobic rare book dealer and a spunky young accountant. I’m sure Henery’s marketing team is jazzed up for that combo, right?

Thank you, Art. 

ON THE ROAD front under 2mbFind Art at www.arttaylowriter.com and on Goodreads. Find On the Road with Del & Louise at all the usual suspects. 

 

 

 

 

 

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33 responses to “Interview with an Author: Art Taylor

  1. Too kind, Craig—always. 🙂

  2. Hi, Jacqueline — Couldn’t agree more on the internet issue. It’s a time suck as much as a necessity. I try to keep things in balance, but…. not always easy. (Surfing is easier than writing, obviously! …though nowhere near as fulfilling in the end!)
    Art

  3. Thanks for chiming in, Craig—and good luck with your work on the new book! I’ll be pulling for you on steadier progress soon. 🙂
    Art

  4. Craig Faustus Buck

    My pleasure, Judy. I recently red Del and Louise and loved it.

  5. Judy Penz Sheluk

    thanks for stopping by Craig and keep on slogging.

  6. Craig Faustus Buck

    I’m 85,000 words into the sequel to Go Down Hard and feel like I’m slogging through a tar pit at the rate of one or two hundred words a day. Thanks for reminding me that as long as I’m moving in the right direction, I’m making progress, Art. Like your writing, your words are inspirational.

  7. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Jacqueline!

  8. Art,

    I found your interview very interesting. The involvement with social media definitely detracts and distracts writers. Internet is both a benefit and a tribulation to authors.I agree that it’s more important to produce quality writing even if that means we write less in regard to quantity.

  9. Thanks, Debra! I have to agree here. I know some writers can produce quantity without sacrificing quality, but many of us can’t—and I’m one of them. I used to be envious of writers publishing more than I was—great writers among them—but I’ve come to terms with my process and product and couldn’t be happier really. So good to hear from you!

  10. Thanks for the kind word, JR! And hope your own writing is going well. (And thanks to you and Jan both for all your fine work at the Short Mystery Fiction Society—such a dedicated organization, and I’m proud to be a part of it!)

  11. Thanks, Jan! Word by word, bird by bird, bit by bit. One step in front of the other, one step at a time—indeed!

  12. Thanks for chiming in here, Victoria—and again for all the kind words and support of my book! It’s interesting your comments on that middle ground. I read some dark noir stories (just finished a fine novella that was pretty grim in that regard: Angel Colon’s The Fury of Blacky Jaguar), but I also appreciate stories at the lighter end of the spectrum. However, you may be right that there are bunches of works at each end but maybe increasingly polarized that way (I’m mixing metaphors here, I think). Like our political landscape currently, maybe there might seem no middle ground—but I do think it’s there, just maybe not with as clear-cut an identity. I was on a panel with Lyndee Walker and Sherry Harris recently, and we talked about cozy versus traditional—the spectrum is indeed a spectrum, not an either/or but a shading from one end to the other.

  13. Hi again, Paula — Nice afternoon/evening in DC, and thanks again for the question! It’s just anecdotal maybe, but I’m intrigued how many of my friends who are writers have tried their hands at novellas with some success—part, maybe, of a widening interest in the form? And I’m glad to see some publishers specializing in these, both in print form and as ebooks—maybe particularly as ebooks, since folks who might balk at a 99-cent short story feel like they’re getting more for their money with a novella (not that everything is about price, of course).

    I personally love the form—merging many of the strengths of a short story (compression, tightness, focus) but also indulging a slightly larger canvas and in the process allowing the interweaving of additional layers, subplots, themes, etc. Just this past weekend, I was talking to a writer-friend who’s working on one and we had a similar discussion, so good to see the topic coming up here too. 🙂

  14. I like that metaphor—seeing the trail. I do think that forward momentum is key, no matter the pace!

  15. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Debra and I agree. Quality over quantity every time.

  16. A great interview. Kudos to Art for the recognition, and for showing us that it’s not only okay but essential to take the time to tinker with a piece of fiction until it is truly ready for publication. I prefer reading one quality work over dozens of carelessly crafted stories.

  17. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Agreed J.R. Patience is indeed a virtue (though not necessarily one of mine). We can learn a lot from Art!

  18. Excellent interview. Art’s output may not be as large as he’d like, but his stories are always worth the read. I think we all need to heed the advice he offers here–patience, patience, patience.

  19. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Jan!

  20. Judy Penz Sheluk

    I do believe folks are looking for the neglected middle ground — at least I hope so, since I believe my book “an amateur sleuth mystery with an edge” falls into that category: it’s amateur sleuth, but there are no cats, crafts or cookie recipes!

    As for Art, he has redefined the novella into a truly novel idea!

  21. What a great interview, Judy and Art. I love reading about how others schedule their writing and about the greatest advice they’ve received. And yes, I learned long ago that word by word is the only way to get ‘er done.

  22. Art, hope you and Dash have a great adventure! Judy, thanks for a terrific interview.

  23. vweisfeld.com

    Lovely interview, Judy. As Art knows, I quite admire “On the Road,” and I like how above he says meeting Louise’s mother was “the most dangerous adventure of all”! I’m wondering what both of you think about the trend in crime fiction & thrillers to what seems like two extremes: ever-more graphic violence on one hand and cozies with recipes and knitting patterns on the other. I found Art’s book, which contains some fights (no bodies on the library floor), to occupy a kind of neglected middle ground. Very refreshing.

  24. Thanks for the great question here, Paula! I’ll need to respond later. My son and I are on a short adventure, waiting for the train into DC for dinner! But more soon, I promise!

  25. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Paula!

  26. Art, congratulations with on your success with On the Road with Del and Louise. I’m so glad to hear that one of your next projects is a series of interconnected novellas. I love the innovative approach Henery Press has taken in marketing novellas featuring several authors’ protagonists. Do you think novellas are receiving greater interest in the current marketplace?

  27. Judy Penz Sheluk

    I’m snailing (vs. sailing) along with you!

  28. Great interview. Yes, one word at a time, and keep moving forward. Lately, I’ve metamorphosed into a snail, but I can look back and see the trail.

  29. Oh, thank you so much, Debra! …both for stopping by and for your kind words on my book. 🙂

  30. Judy Penz Sheluk

    It was so nice to meet in Bouchercon, Art. I’m also interested to see what questions folks might have.

  31. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Debra!

  32. Thanks so much for hosting me here, Judy—and so nice to meet you at Bouchercon. Glad we were able to get a photo together too! Looking forward to any follow-up questions folks might have—and encouraging others to stop by!
    Art

  33. Great interview….and so accurate about one word at a time….thought the way you strung those words together in On The Road is magical.

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