I Read/I Wrote: Art Taylor

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Mystery Short Fiction

I READ: The Specialty of the House and Other Stories by Stanley Ellin

The Specialty of the House and Other Stories gathers all the short fiction that Stanley Ellin published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1948 and 1978—approximately one per year. At that measured pace, he established himself as the almost-undisputed master of mystery short fiction. Both his prose and his plotting stand out for their careful but seemingly effortless precision. “The Moment of Decision” (my favorite suspense story, period) has a fairly leisurely opening, but paragraph by paragraph, almost imperceptibly, the tension mounts between the two main characters: the owner of an estate who prides himself on his clear and absolute judgment and his new neighbor (and sudden rival), a former magician who argues that some questions remain unanswerable. A challenge turns into a bet, the stakes prove to have a life-or-death urgency, and the ending… Well, Ellin praised one of his own influences, Guy De Maupassant, for endings that were “unpredictable… but inevitable as doom,” and I’d argue that student surpasses mentor tale after tale. Other stand-out stories: “The House Party”—eerie, atmospheric, and with a Twilight Zone twist—and “The Day of the Bullet,” one of Ellin’s many stories that were adapted for TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

I WROTE: On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories

While I’m not hardly in Ellin’s class—not hardly!—I also produce about a story a year for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and one of those stories, “Rearview Mirror,” turned out to be an early step toward my first novel: On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. The title characters are Del, a small-time crook trying to go straight, and his girlfriend Louise, who narrates their journey from the American Southwest up the California coast, then cross-country en route back to her home state of North Carolina. Six adventures make up the novel—including a wine heist in Napa Valley, a wedding chapel hold-up in Las Vegas, and a kidnapping (of sorts) in North Dakota—and the larger story overarching all these is about where Del and Louise are going in a bigger sense, their relationship, their future. The novel’s structure of six linked stories also allowed me to play with various subgenres of mystery: among them a lighter caper story, for example, and a noir tale, and finally a traditional detective story—crooks turned amateur sleuths, some resolution there too. I was honored that the book—unconventional in several ways—earned the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

For more information, please visit arttaylorwriter.com.

13 thoughts on “I Read/I Wrote: Art Taylor”

  1. Quite a resume, Mr. Taylor! It is a bold statement to say “The Moment of Decision” is your favorite suspense story period. Surely I can squeeze that in between Theory and Film class. As for On the Road, that will have to wait, but what a great idea for stories—Road Trip! I had to laugh at the Wedding Chapel hold-up, as I grew up in Nevada. Why short fiction? Did you plan On the Road to be six stories, or did you write one and think, hmmm, I think there is a sequel to that? Did you, or do you travel to all the places you write about? Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I wish you continued success! I hope someday you will see me in print.
    Kind Regards,
    Stephanie O’Brien

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, Stephanie — Thanks for the comment here! And yeah, always tough to name a favorite favorite, when there are so many great stories out there. (I made a list of 10 that have “stuck” if you want to take a look at that—along with disclaimers about why favorites are hard to name: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/2016/05/23/10-stories-that-have-stuck/ )

      When I wrote the first Del & Louise story, “Rearview Mirror,” I hadn’t planned any further adventures for the characters, but I kept thinking about them, wondering what would’ve happened next, and then started tinkering with another story, and then once I was in that one…. well, other possibilities presented themselves and that longer narrative arc. What was surprising is that I discovered elements of the later stories by reading the first one—motifs that ended up helping to bring the stories full circle in ways I never would’ve expected or planned.

      Rambling. Sorry.

      Thanks for reading here, and best of luck with your own writing! When you have a story you feel good about sending out, have Cynthia forward it my way. Will be glad to offer a look.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there! What a great post, thank you for sharing. I love the idea of having a mystery novel set in stories, it seems to me that it would add even more suspense and really drive home the puzzle-solving element for the reader. I will surely put your recommendations and your own work on my quickly growing list (all thanks to Dr. Kuhn for hosting so many interesting writers!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Art, thanks so much for your thoughtful and fascinating post! I have not read many of Stanley Ellin’s stories–thank you for recommending him! Definitely adding to my TBR list. I have, however, read (and loved) On the Road with Del & Louise …it’s so wonderful.

    Great comments, Stephanie and Kayla, and I’m happy that you’re adding to your reading lists, too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Art, your story sounds really cool! I like the concept of separate stories compositing a whole. Can the stories stand alone or do you prefer they are read together in the specific order you put them?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Art!

    I love that you reframed your list of recommendations in the link you shared with Stephanie as “not “Best of” but as a personal and occasionally eclectic list of crime stories that have stuck with me—and that might well have some lasting impact on you too.” I’m especially excited to check out your fourth selection. I have to admit I too tend to get excited about the overtly dark reads. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi, Claudia and Bailey —
    Thanks for the comments here!

    Bailey: The Joyce Carol Oates story is challenging but fascinating. Stick with it when you read it! (I like overly dark stuff too, have to admit. And speaking of, I assume you’ve read one of JCO’s best-known stories, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”—it’s another favorite and even more immediately suspenseful!)

    And Claudia: I had the best intentions to have each story be a standalone, and each does have its own narrative arc, so it’s a complete story. But I recognized too quickly with the later story how difficult it was to keep it all self-contained— so there are some references that might be lost if you just plopped down in the fifth of the six stories. After a while, the stories began to accumulate those kinds of connections. Still, as I said, each has a complete narrative arc, so plot-wise, they can stand on their own. Hope that helps, and hope you enjoy!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Art,
    I love your unique and flavorful ideas in “On the Road”. particularly the wedding chapel hold up in Las Vegas. Do these ideas just come to you or are they based on real life headlines you’ve seen perhaps? How did it feel to get a novel published for the first time? Congratulations, and may you continue your success in the future.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Whitney —
      Thanks for the comment here—and the good questions!

      First: Ideas come from a variety of places. “Rearview Mirror,” the first story in the book, drew on a trip to New Mexico that my wife and I took the year before I wrote the story—setting really inspired so much of everything about that piece. In contrast, a later story, “The Chill,” drew on some aspects of new parenthood—my wife and I had just had a little boy—but was set in North Dakota, a place that neither of us had ever been to. (In a twist, however, some research on the area revealed some stories that resonated in fascinating ways with the new parenthood story I was trying to tell; without that research—without that setting—I don’t think the story would’ve been what it became.)

      Second: It was a real thrill to have a first book published—of course! And I was so appreciative of the attention it got from the crime writing community. Now just need to finish the second one I’m working on….. (Short stories take so much time!)

      Liked by 1 person

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