This week’s Crime Cafe guest post is from crime writer Art Taylor. Art writes crime fiction in what I consider one of the most challenging formats—the short story.
Now he’s done something most interesting with his short stories. Art’s combined a number of them into a novel. A unique approach, to say the least!
That cover on the left? That’s the novel of Art Taylor’s short stories. And if you check his website, you’ll notice that the book has won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Isn’t that something?
As part of Art’s appearance here, he’s giving away a copy of said novel to a lucky winner.
To enter the giveaway, just email Art at art[at]arttaylorwriter[dot]com.You have until Nov. 14 to enter.
And with that said, let’s hear from the author, Art Taylor! 🙂
By Art Taylor
A lot of my fellow short story writers are fortunate to publish frequently in one magazine or online journal or another; I think, for example, of Michael Bracken, with whom I spent a nice bit of time at Bouchercon this year and whose swift storytelling and sharp prose are matched by a prodigious output—high quality and quantity both—with more than 1200 stories published to date, and counting.
Meanwhile, I feel fortunate to get a story or two published each year—that’s how slowly I seem to write, puzzling through each plot twist or turn of phase at a snail’s pace of my own (though hopefully the finished stories themselves prove brisk and breathtaking in contrast to this laborious process). In between those publications, I often feel like I’ve disappeared—into the desk, into the computer, into whatever I’m reading alongside what I’m writing. To some degree, I find myself going dark from time to time. (And my career too? out of sight, out of mind?) When this happens, I often wonder myself what I’m up to, which direction I’m going in, what’s next.
A few weeks ago, my wife, Tara Laskowski, put another spin on that phrase going dark. She’d read a couple of story manuscripts I’d been working on over the summer and early fall, and she commented about how my fiction had taken a dark turn, wondered aloud where that darkness was coming from, what had prompted the dramatic shift in tone and content. Another friend and fellow writer, Laura Ellen Scott, heard me read one of these story drafts at a Noir at the Bar event in DC, and as I left the stage, she whispered, “You’re sure trying to scrape that word cozy off yourself, aren’t you?”
None of it was what I’d call intentional. I was just following where an idea and a character took me, figuring out these stories myself along the way. Stepping back, though, I recognize that there’s some truth there—and, another truth be told, the novel project I’m working on has also headed into some dark and hidden places.
At the same time, however, another short story manuscript that’s been brewing is definitely a traditional mystery and promises to be as light as a soufflé, if I can just get all the ingredients mixed right.
There are two ways of looking at this mix—one emphasizing variety and vitality, the other indirection, lack of focus. The first comes from Brendan DuBois, another fine and prolific short story writer and novelist too, who has written about being able to try things in a short story that he might not in a novel—to experiment, to play. The other perspective maybe hits me harder: In an interview, E.A. Aymar commented about the wide range of my short stories and asked if I ever worried about the struggle in branding myself, always a concern in these days when the marketing of your work is as important as any craftsmanship.
I feel emboldened by the former idea. I recognize, from the latter perspective, the pitfalls inherent in it.
But maybe there’s a middle ground? My novel in stories On the Road with Del & Louise was explicitly an exercise in mixing it up; its six stories ranged from traditional detective fiction to caper tale to domestic suspense, etc.—all held together by the characters at the center of it all. My wife has said that even with some greater diversity of character and plot and tone, my stories still share a voice and still beat with some shared heart at the core of them. Whether that’s the reason or not, I’ve been fortunate that my regular readers (count them in the dozens rather than the hundreds!) have seemed willing to follow my work in those different directions, found some small something to value in them.
Will that continue as I move from On the Road’s darkest bits—the story “The Chill,” for example—into the new manuscript’s far colder, even bleaker scenes? a new manuscript without the lighter moments that helped keep On the Road a little more fun-loving?
I guess I’ll have to go there myself to find out—slowly slowly, as I said—and here’s hoping that others will ultimately come along for that ride too.
Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.
Thanks for hosting me here. Looking forward to our chat too!
My pleasure, Art! 🙂 Talk to you later!
This is an interesting quandary, one that I think about for myself. I’m published as a historical fiction author and my current WIP is a contemporary mystery. I feel like I’m starting from scratch, even if I’m not–what I mean is that this book isn’t under contract and I’ll be looking for a new publisher.
But here’s what makes me think it’ll all be okay from a branding stand point. For various reasons, I never gained much of an audience as a historical mystery writer. My writer friends know me as a historical writer, but the larger world doesn’t. And while I suspect your audience is bigger than mine, you hint in this post that it might not be big enough to worry about how you’ve branded yourself thus far.
Ultimately, I think we both have a little freedom to explore at this point. At least I hope we do! Otherwise, I’m sunk. 🙂
Just keep plugging away! Don’t quit before you’ve started. 🙂
Interesting thoughts, Art, and I can relate. I can usually count my annual output of stories on one hand. Guys like John Floyd, Michael Bracken, and a few others can match that on a coffee break. And, like you, the tone and nature of my stories is all the map. The cover of my short story collection puts it this way: “16 Tales of Mystery From Hardboiled to Humorous.” When a story idea comes along, it has a voice, tone and nature attached. I just start typing and let it take where it wants to go.