Friday, March 20, 2015

Spare Change

By Art Taylor

Here's another of those weeks where the conversation among my fellow panelists has been so good, I'm not sure what to add here at the tail end of it all. This week's question—"In a series, do you prefer a protagonist who changes over time or one who stays the same?"—has prompted talk about the comforts and pleasures of iconic figures like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple and, on the other hand, about the realism of having characters grow and develop the same as all of us do: milestone moments, relationship shifts, the perspectives that come with age, etc.

To my mine, both can be rewarding—and I wouldn't necessarily praise one choice as intrinsically better than another. It's just a question of the kinds of story that each author wants to tell and, of course, the kinds that each reader wants to read. There's pleasure in consistency—the newness in the fresh particulars of whatever case a detective is facing—and there's also fun in change: the newness coming from changes in a character embarking on a new relationship or ending a relationship, recovering from traumatic experiences from previous stories, making life changes as part of an overarching storyline that transcends several books.

Earlier this week, I talked about the concept of the "novel in stories" as part of a blog post for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and the ideas I explored there are resonant here. There's a difference between a collection of stories each featuring a character and a novel in stories connected by a single character. A collection implies that the stories aren't interwoven as part of a larger pattern or larger story (we don't think of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as a novel in the same way we think of Hound of the Baskervilles, even thought the former is longer in page count). A novel in stories implies that the stories add up to something bigger or more—a character perhaps changing as part of a longer storyline, ending up in a different place, as a different person.

Again, I'm not sure what else to contribute to a conversation that's already seemed comprehensive! (One of these days I'm just going to ask Meredith to swap places with me....)

In other news, I'm very pleased to have a story in the new issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine—the May issue, which should be on shelves now. "Commission" is the second of my stories focused on the characters Del and Louise, small time crooks trying to make a fresh start on the right side of the law—easier said than done, of course. These characters first appeared in the EQMM story "Rearview Mirror," and both these stories will join four more in my debut book later this fall: On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, to be published in September by Henery Press.

Also in this month's issue of EQMM: Some great news for me and another of our Criminal Minds panelists. My story "The Odds Are Against Us" (currently a finalist for the Agatha Award) earned the number 6 spot in the magazine's annual Readers Awards poll, and Paul D. Marks' story "Howling at the Moon" took the number 7 spot! Both stories appeared in EQMM's November 2014 issue, and I was glad to share space with Paul there, glad again to share space with him here. (And thanks too, Paul, for the picture above!)


Paul D. Marks said...

Great piece on novels in stories, Art. And thanks for the shout out. Great to be sharing space with you, too.

Art Taylor said...

It's a good group, Paul, no doubt about it. And thanks again for the picture! I stole it from Facebook (but at least I credited you). :-)

Susan C Shea said...

CM is so lucky to have a couple of sterling short story writers among the crew and I hope we'll devote some questions to the special craft of short stories, about which I am a novice.

Meredith Cole said...

I feel your pain, Art! I had the Friday slot on the blog for a year or so, and always felt like I was writing "what he/she said" for my posts...

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Susan and Meredith! And yes, some special short story-friendly questions would be great. :-)