Art Taylor is an award winning author who exclusively writes short stories. You can see all of the stories Art has written in our book listing.
Art has won various prestigious awards such as an Anthony Award, Agatha Award and Macavity award. He also works at George Mason University as an English Professor.
In April 2017, Art was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview.
Q: You’ve won multiple awards such as An Anthony Award, Agatha Award and Macavity Award. While all the awards are prestigious – which one meant the most to you?
I’ve been beyond-belief fortunate in the attention that my work has received—and I’m continually astounded not just by the kind reception from readers and fellow writers but also by the company I’ve been alongside on awards listings. I’d be hard-pressed to say that one award has meant more than another since each represents so uniquely for me a series of relationships, between a community of readers (whether Malice Domestic or a specific Bouchercon, each new year different from the last) and me as a writer and then this thing I’ve created—which it always amazes me that anyone has read in the first place. Each honor has been a surprise and a source of amazement.
That said, two moments do stand out: first, my wife’s whoop of joy and then burst of tears when I won my first Agatha Award for “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” (my tablemates all turned toward her first to make sure she was ok and only later congratulated me!), and second, the opportunity to give a shout-out to all the contributors to Murder Under the Oaks when the anthology won the Anthony Award at the New Orleans Bouchercon. I was the editor for that anthology, so it was really my accepting the award on behalf of those other writers—but it’s always always a purer joy to celebrate someone else’s writing than to celebrate your own.
Q: What is the general process for you in coming up with a story? From the idea/concept of it to planning out the story, and how it should end.
I wish I had a better process—then I might be more productive!
Stories have come from a variety of places—inspired by trips my wife and I have taken, coming to me in dreams, sparked by some “what if?” musing about small everyday things—and then I just try to find my way through an idea, usually sketching out things very fitfully, sometimes the start of a story first, sometimes some middle scene, sometimes an overall arc and then filling in bits and pieces as I figure it all out myself. I wish I could say that character dictated plot or that the plot and its twists predominated or whatever, but really it’s a slow, slow journey for me of discovering how all various pieces might work together and then figuring out the best structure for it all, since the architecture of a story is something I’m interested in: how all the pieces do fit together to make a whole. Fitful, that word I used earlier, is probably the key word here—and I wish the word were something else!
Q: Who are your favourite authors – those authors whose books you pre-order as soon as they’re announced, or who you have been inspired by.
Like most writers I know, I’m always buying books—far more than I have time to read, sadly, but it’s good to be optimistic, right? Favorite authors would probably include Ian McEwan (I’m always stunned by his work), Tana French (in contrast to my own short stories, I love dense, complex novels), and Stanley Ellin, a short story writer I always come back to as one of the best ever, the model to which I’d aspire. But in terms of pre-ordering… well, that would range even wider, and I’m regularly reaching out to my local bookstore to mark me down for one book or another, lately including Cynthia Kuhn’s The Art of Vanishing and a couple of titles from Akashic’s Noir series and the next two volumes of the Complete Margaret Millar and then Hard Case Crime’s debut of Donald Westlake’s Forever and a Death (his try at a Bond novel) and I just saw a couple other titles by Martin Edwards that I want to get, including the forthcoming anthology Foreign Bodies and…. well, the list could go on.
Q: Out of all of your works – for people who have never read them, what one would you recommend they read the most?
I generally think (hope!)that each new story is somehow stronger then the last, and the story that’s up for an Agatha and a Thriller Award right now—“Parallel Play” from the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning—is one I’m particularly proud of; I felt like I managed something well in terms of trying to give the characters some greater depth and in terms of managing the pacing and the tension and then the small twist at the end, more an emotional shift than a plot twist. (You can find a link to that story here.
But I don’t know that writers are always the most objective judges of their own work, and there is indeed one story that has gotten more attention from readers than anything else I’ve ever written: “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” originally published in PANK and now at Great Jones Street as well (full story linked in both places). People still stop me or email me or whatever to talk about it, and I’ve learned it’s been taught in creative writing workshops as well—a nice surprise indeed! So I’m going to trust that readers know best and recommend that one.
Q: Your works have mainly all been short stories. Have you considered writing longer novels at all or are you going to stay focused on writing the short stories?
I love short stories, of course—both as a reader and as a writer. The short story is a challenging form—the craftsmanship and focus and efficiency needed to fit a whole world into a short space—and there’s a particular excitement in seeing how different writers pull off that balancing act. I don’t ever feel like I pull it off as well as I’d like, but I do think the form is a good fit for me as a writer because when I’m working on a story, I’m able to keep the whole thing better in my mind at one time—working on it in my head whether I’m at the desk or not—and I haven’t been able to do that with the longer, more traditionally structured narratives I’ve tried, where I’ve struggled to keep track of all the moving parts. (Those are the failed books, the ones tucked under the bed or away in lonely files on my computer.) That’s part of the reason that my first novel had the architecture that it did—On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, with each of those six tales contributing to the larger narrative arc, the novel-length story. What was interesting: The first section of that book was under 10,000 words, but the final section was pushing nearly twice that length—so maybe I’m leaning toward longer stories, toward a single novel-length story? I’ve got another something like that in the works now. We’ll see where it goes.
Q: A lot of books have been made into movies and television shows. Would you like any of your stories to be made into movies or TV, and if so which one?
A recent reader review of On the Road with Del & Louise mentioned that it would work well on the screen, and I’ve actually had a couple of filmmakers express interest in my work, which has been nice—both in terms of short films and feature films (though nothing produced yet, of course; I think that’s the case with most people, even those who’ve received options). I think it would be great to see how a screenwriter or director might adapt my work, and unlike some writers, I’d be as interested to see how they might take my characters and stories in fresh directions rather than just demanding absolute fidelity to the text. For example, one director talked with me for a while about reworking my story “The Odds Are Against Us” in an African American community, which would be really interesting. I’ve actually taught a course at George Mason called “Crime Fiction: From Page to Screen,” which looks at radically different film adaptations/reworkings of texts like Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now,” and others. I find all that fascinating.
Q: Do you google yourself to see what people are saying about and your works?
Ha! Such a good question, such an opportunity for revealing answers. I’ve only occasionally checked out reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but I keep a Google Alert out for mentions on blogs and websites—though even that’s spotty at best. As a critic myself, I don’t worry too much about bad reviews; it comes with the territory, and you have to take it in stride. But it’s nice to see where my name might come up in unexpected places—as, for example, in a recent review of fellow short story writer Scott Loring Sanders’ work; a critic used me as a point of reference to provide context for Sanders’ work—as if readers might actually know my own work in the first place! That was a milestone for me, I gotta say, and Sanders is a fine writer, so I appreciate the comparison.
Q: Some authors like to plant little “easter eggs” in their books – winks at other authors, or to readers who have read that authors previous works. (An example would be in Stephen Kings Under the Dome – he references Jack Reacher as if he was a real person). Have you ever did that in any of your works?
Though I think it’s a great idea for writers at that level, I doubt I yet have a body of stories big enough for that to have much resonance. I did put my own son’s name in a list of potential names in On the Road with Del & Louise, as Del and Louise project forward toward the idea of a family. And I unintentionally made a nod toward Chandler’s Long Goodbye in “The Odds Are Against Us,” though I didn’t realize it until I looked at the story later—so that’s more an example of how your influences work on you even in ways you might not realize. But great question—and I think this means I need to up my own game!
Q: What’s your process when it comes to naming characters in your books? How much thought/work goes into that?
I do put a lot of thought into it generally. I have a baby name book that I use, looking at both the meaning of potential names, the connotations associated with them, their popularity (or lack of popularity) over time, and even the potential names of brothers and sisters! (It’s a great book: The Baby Name Wizard.) But while my wife, Tara Laskowski—also a writer—can’t push very far into one of her own stories without having characters’ names nailed down, I’m sometimes still working on names in the middle of a draft or even after the draft is done. Part of it is just feeling through a character, considering options, living with names for a while to see what fits. (I’ve heard of people doing this with cats too, of course—living with your pet for a while, letting their personality announce itself, finding a name that fits. I don’t mean to compare my characters to my pets, but….)
Q: With digital books becoming so big, we’re seeing more and more people each day releasing their own books. As a multiple time award winner what’s the best advice you can give to all these budding new authors?
Two bits of advice: Concentrate on your craft first, and then be patient. I think too many writers become so focused on getting a story accepted and published that they rush through the writing itself; I’ve done this myself at times, and it’s never proven productive. And then if writers don’t get published quickly, they often become demoralized, slow down too much, simply give up; and that’s not productive either in the long run, obviously. Write the best story, no matter how long it takes; get feedback from writing peers or trusted readers; revise, revise, revise. And then trust that if the story is good, it will eventually find a publisher and readers—even if there’s sometimes a bumpy path to get there.
All writers have been there: eagerness for acceptance, persistent self-doubt, and rejection after rejection. The ones who succeed at writing are the ones who work through all that, work harder at it.