Welcome back to a new blog series from the Virginia Center for the Book, in which we highlight the work of one Virginia writer each week. This week’s spotlight is on Art Taylor, author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. He is the winner of this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story and currently a finalist for both the Anthony Award and the Thriller Award for Best Short Story as well for his short story Parallel Play.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer nearly as long as I’ve been able to read. Even in elementary school, I was writing poems and little stories, and in the third grade, just before Christmas, I even told my teacher I was working on a book and it would be published sometime in the spring. It took a lot longer to make those book plans come true, needless to say, but my elementary school did participate in county-wide writing contests, and a poem of mine earned a ribbon in one of those, marking my first publication. I still have both the journal and the ribbon now.
Describe your work in three sentences or less.
I primarily write crime fiction, often leaning toward what’s been termed domestic suspense, exploring the darkness you might find in everyday events, experienced by ordinary people. Most of my fiction focuses on relationships, on what’s expected or required in relationships and where people fall short of those expectations or requirements, and then on moral questions raising out of all that. I like to play with various storytelling styles and structures; for example, while I write mostly short fiction, my debut novel, On the Road with Del & Louise, was structured out of six short stories, each with a different form or tone: the zany caper story, the dark domestic drama, the traditional detective story, etc.
How does living in Virginia influence your writing?
Place has been very important to my writing—in two ways. I’m a native North Carolinian, but I’ve spent many years in Virginia, including boarding school for my high school years, and I find that most of my stories are inspired by experiences or settings from one of those two states, sometimes very specific settings. For example, a story from last year, “Parallel Play,” was influenced tremendously by a curvy stretch of road connecting Burke, VA, and the small town of Clifton (and I’ve been thrilled by the unexpected twists that story has itself enjoyed recently, including winning the Agatha Award for Best Short Story and being named a finalist for both the Anthony and the Thriller Awards in the same category). Beyond influence or inspiration, however, Virginia boasts such a strong community of writers, readers, bookstores, festivals, and more—a vibrant and supportive community celebrating the literary arts in so many ways. As a writer, it’s a great place to work these days, a great place to call home.
What’s your favorite part of your most recent book?
I mentioned above the architecture of On the Road with Del & Louise, and I think that was my favorite aspect of that book, experimenting with form a little, though Louise’s voice was a joy too—she’s the narrator throughout, and I’m still not sure where her voice came from. My most recent publication, however, was the story “A Necessary Ingredient” in the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. This one was about an avid reader of detective fiction who becomes a detective himself—but would really rather just sit in his office immersed in his books. It was fun there to play with the conventions of hard-boiled detective stories—to pay homage even as I was twisting them a little.
What are you working on next?
I’m on summer break now from my teaching at George Mason University, and I’ve been finishing up the drafts of several stories that needed attention—clearing the decks to work most of the summer on another book-length project, this one also inspired explicitly by some formative experiences in Virginia, though I’m hesitant to say anymore on that yet!
To learn more about Art Taylor, visit his website at www.arttaylorwriter.com.
Through this series, we hope to showcase the depth and breadth of our state-wide literary community while also encouraging readers in the Commonwealth and elsewhere to challenge themselves to read more books by Virginia writers. If you have an author you’d like to suggest for this series, please email [email protected] with details. Our focus is on writers with books that have been published in the past two years (self-published is welcome as long as the writer’s most recent book is held in at least one public library in the state).