Friday, February 10, 2023

Art Taylor on writing with range

Guest Post by Art Taylor

I debated fiercely about the subtitle of my new book: The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions, due out February 14 from Crippen & Landru, a publisher specializing in collections of short mystery fiction. 

In an informal and very limited poll (my wife Tara, our son Dash, and Jeffrey Marks at Crippen & Landru) “and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions” was the unanimous winner among several options, and I hope readers ultimately find it more catchy than cumbersome. But my mind keeps circling back to the subtitle I’d originally been considering: “Stories Light and Dark”—a tag which would’ve served two purposes, not only description but also (frankly) disclaimer.

In an interview several years back, Ed Aymar mentioned the range of my stories (a nice compliment, I’d thought!) but then he asked if I ever worried about branding, which . . . which honestly I hadn’t considered before in terms of my own work . . . and maybe I should’ve? I’m an avid reader in the mystery genre—everything from traditional mysteries to domestic suspense to hard-boiled and beyond—and I’d enjoyed writing across a similar spectrum, even crossing some genres within a single story, a bit of speculative fiction in the mix, for example. 

But are other readers equally broad in their tastes, or are they more focused in what they like and don’t like? With a collection, does that phrase “something for all readers” (you’ll find that idea in my book’s description) also carry the suggestion “oh, well, you can’t make everyone happy all the time”?  

The title story, “The Adventure of the Castle Thief,” is a traditional clue-driven mystery: a college study abroad in Ireland, students suffering a series of small thefts, and a professor and his star student setting out to solve the case discreetly and return order to their once-happy little group. This one’s at the lighter end of the spectrum. 

And at the other end . . . “The White Rose of Memphis” focuses on a hotel which has made a tourist spectacle out of the legendary assault and murder of a woman on her wedding weekend; the story follows a modern-day couple paying to recreate that experience, which hardly goes well. Do Some Damage’s own Steve Weddle originally published this one in Needle: A Magazine of Noir—with emphasis on that subtitle, noir at the core. 

Truth in advertising, the book jacket for my new collection explains that range, and I’ve ordered the stories within mostly with an eye toward increased darkness as readers push ahead—and increased dipping of my toes into speculative fiction as well. 

Ease into these waters—that’s the message. Not “Abandon All Hope Ye Who . . .”—at least I hope not!   

Coming back to titles and subtitles, I’m grateful to be here at Do Some Damage, and I want to focus on the site’s own subtitle/tagline: Crime Fiction Is For All of Us. In fact, it’s that combination that’s prompted some of these reflections. What kinds of “damage done” are readers here willing to accept in the fiction they read? How widely do you read generally in either direction? And for the writers, how much attention do you give to positioning yourself along that spectrum from light to dark—with an eye toward whatever reader you imagine? 

(These are real questions, I should stress—and I hope folks reading this might answer below!)

Order yours:




Art Taylor is the author of  two collections—The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions and The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense—and On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has won three additional Agatha Awards as well as the Edgar, Anthony, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

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