Friday, March 25, 2016

On the Road: Challenges At Every Turn

By Art Taylor

This week's question: "What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological and logistical) in bringing your latest book to life?"

And answers for each!

Research: Several of the settings for On the Road with Del & Louise were places I had personal knowledge about: New Mexico, Napa Valley, and Las Vegas—all through vacations—and North Carolina, which is both Louise's home state and my own. But I'd never been to either Victorville, California, or to Williston, North Dakota (only to the other Dakota), so I did a lot of reading and research about each place—research which not only served to provide backdrop but also influenced significant aspects of the plots themselves; in fact, what I learned about North Dakota was one of the reasons I set the story "The Chill" there instead of South Dakota. Other research related to that same story was about pregnancy, obstetrics, and more, but I can't go into that here in much detail without potentially spoiling parts of the plot.

Literary: From a craft standpoint, my biggest challenge was trying to stay true to Louise's voice. I've said before that I'm not quite sure where she came from and that I sometimes felt like I was following her myself through the stories—but "channeling" that voice was easier sometimes than others. I often felt like I was analyzing my own writing to see where the narration might step out of character.

Psychological: I'd sometimes wondered if I'd ever be able to write a novel at all. Several attempts had ended up under the bed (or tucked away into some lonely batch of files on my computer), and the prospect of maintaining a book-length narrative always seemed elusive. In my case, my confidence about the short story—in many ways, my chosen form—helped me to begin building toward the larger narrative: a novel in stories, as the book's subtitle explains. While that was useful from a psychological perspective—not psyching myself out—it ended up becoming a second literary challenge: How do I make sure that the individual stories maintain narrative integrity as stories while also keeping the novel's arc strong and propulsive?

Logistical: My publisher Henery Press was very supportive throughout (a) the process of my finishing the book and (b) the editorial process—shepherding this odd and crazy thing out into the wider, wilder world. I tend to write very slow, so having a deadline for the entire project set me writing at a different pace than usual, so that was a challenge. But the process did force me to write that full novel rather than just write toward it—a finished product rather than just another planned one.

And how did it all turn out? I've been very fortunate with the feedback I've received from readers and professional reviewers and more recently with the book being named a finalist for this year's Agatha Award for Best First Novel. But only one way to find our for yourself: Check out the book here—and then let me know!

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In other news, I had a great time last weekend at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and it was so great to see my fellow Criminal Mind Meredith Cole in person for a change rather than just at the other end of our week's blogging! Meredith facilitated a panel on humor with Donna Andrews, Jack Bunker, and me, and I facilitated a panel on thrillers with Matt Iden, Jamie Mason, Chris Pavone, and Eric Rickstade. Much fun all around!

Since my last post here, I've also gotten my panel assignments for Malice Domestic, and I'm very much looking forward to it—only a little over a month away! Here's my full schedule there—and looking forward to seeing many friends along the way!
  • Panel (as moderator): “Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees,” with Barb Goffman, Edith Maxwell, Terrie Farley Moran, Harriette Sackler, and B.K. Stevens • Friday, April 29, 1 p.m.
  • Opening Ceremonies • Friday, April 29, 5 p.m.
  • Panel (as panelist): “New Kids On the Block: Our Agatha Best First Novel Nominees,” with Margaret Maron (moderator), Tessa Arlen, Cindy Brown, Ellen Byron, and Julianne Holmes • Saturday, April 30, 10 a.m.
  • Agatha Awards Banquet • Saturday, April 30, 7 p.m.
  • New Author Breakfast • Sunday, May 1, 7 a.m.


Paul D. Marks said...

Art, you've never been to Victorville? It's paradise in the desert. It Came from Outer Space was filmed there. You'll have to check it out in person when you get out to CA.

And congratulations again on your Agatha nom!


Meg said...

CONGRATS on the nomination, well deserved. Loved Del & Louise, was amazed you kept in her POV throughout and she's charming. I have to say I had the reverse trying to write short - but as my writing partner in crime always told me, "a writer is able to write. Anything he/she sets their mind to do." Amen to that. Can't wait for your next book!

Art Taylor said...

Hey, Paul — yes, I'll have to go visit! I've read enough about it and "seen" a lot of it through Google Maps and more, but.... A first-person visit would be great. :-)

And thanks for the kind words, Meg! I've heard folks say the same about having trouble writing short--maybe each of us drawn more naturally toward different lengths, different style of storytelling? Congrats on all your success too!

Susan C Shea said...

Hope to do more than wave when I see you at Malice!

Art Taylor said...

Agreed, Susan! We're too often just passing one another instead of stopping to chat. See you in Bethesda!