By Art Taylor
Back in the second grade, just before Christmas break (as I recall), I explained to the teacher that I'd be finishing my first novel over the holidays. It was the story of two mice, as I remember—a city one and a country one—and I'm sure it wasn't at all like any of the books that I'd already read about city mice and country mice. I told her that she should look for it in bookstores sometime in the spring.
She was very kind to say she'd keep her eye out for it.
This week's question—"Do you have a novel in a drawer, a first novel (or a later one) that never saw the light of day?"—sent me rummaging through some old files on my computer, and while I no longer have anything left from that second-grade manuscript, I did find a lot of work languishing here and there on my hard drive. None of those more recent projects were about mice, but looking back over the manuscripts, I do see a trend: largely rural mysteries, vaguely coming-of-age in their approach, and each with some mildly experimental structure. It's perhaps merciful to all of us that none of these has seen the light of day, but I'm glad to share a little glimpse of them here.
Just after college (way back when), I completed a mystery novel called "Crosswords" that had a police detective matching wits with an aspiring writer who seemed to be the leading suspect in the murder of his girlfriend; the story included both journal entries from the dead woman and excerpts from the writer's novel-in-progress—all of which held clues to the truth.
Then there was "Lost in the Holy City" about a man whose son disappears—turns down a pathway in Charleston, SC, and literally vanishes—at the precise moment that the man's wife dies of a mysterious illness in a hospital around the corner. The novel switches back and forth between the husband and wife's courtship and the grief-stricken man's search for his lost child.
Then there was "First Loves, Second Thoughts," which shuttled between two interrelated tales: three boys and their new neighbor, a young girl, investigating a "crime" (a series of bones from a large animal that appear one at a time in various yards) and ultimately uncovering a scandal in their neighborhood, and then one of those boys years later, in college, mounting surveillance against his girlfriend, whom he suspects of cheating on him (and discovering some things about himself this time around).
And then there's the latest manuscript, about a former journalist investigating the murder of a junior at the local college—and uncovering her surprising double life. That one went by the riveting and original working title of "The Dead Girl."
....just in case you need a checklist of novels that you won't find at your local bookstore.