Guest Post

Guest Chick: Art Taylor

We are so thrilled to host the incomparable Art Taylor today, winner of many awards – including the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Short Story – writer of fantastic mysteries, be-er of great human beings. Share with us, oh, awesome Art!

This week, the annual Malice Domestic convention takes place in Bethesda, Maryland, uniting writers and readers in their shared love of the traditional mystery. Both my wife, Tara Laskowski, and I are finalists for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story, along with three additional writers: Leslie Budewitz, Susanna Calkins, and Barb Goffman. (You can read all our stories for free, linked from the Agatha Awards page at Malice’s website.)

This marks the first time in Malice history that a husband and wife are competing against one another in the same category (and some have speculated perhaps a first for any mystery award), and many people have asked how Tara and I are navigating the inevitable tension and animosity. I wrote a column for the Washington Independent Review of Books goofing around on the competitiveness between us, but in fact, neither of us has a stronger supporter than the other, and we both count the other finalists as fine friends as well. We’re all sharing a couple of tables at the Agatha Awards Banquet, cheering one another on right to the finish.

The other question we’ve gotten lately is about our son, Dashiell: Has Dash, growing up in the shadow of two writers, shown any interest in writing himself? Maybe even writing crime fiction?

The answer to both is: Yes.

Dash is seven now, and for many years already, he’s been producing his own books. The first was Creatures of the Sea, which he wrote and illustrated in the backseat on a long drive to visit Tara’s parents. More recently, he’s written The Chase, which he submitted last week to a contest sponsored by our local PBS affiliate, and Cold Bottom Bart and the Ship of Fire, which has just been published as part of the “Fridge Flash” series at SmokeLong Quarterly (co-edited by Tara, full disclosure, but don’t blame nepotism; as I think you’ll agree, it’s really fun).

Watching Dash work through his storytelling and illustrating is fascinating, really—seeing where his ideas come from, how he makes them his own, and where he works kind of naturally through the same processes that I teach in composition classes at Mason: drafting, revising, editing, perfecting.

Art pic

Dash first wrote The Chase over several weeks as homework for his own first-grade class: a series of entries in his writing journal, the first few ending with the words “To Be Continued.” (As soon as we started reading chapter books, Dash quickly learned the word “cliffhanger.” When he was in kindergarten, I overheard him explaining to a friend how cliffhangers worked, and how irritating they were, because then you had to wait to find out what happened next. “Just one more chapter, Daddy. Please!”)

The Chase was inspired by elements from a long-time favorite Lego book, Need for Speed, and the movie It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which we’d recently watched, and maybe a little bit of the old TV show CHiPs (he’s a huge fan, and Team John all the way). The last installment of the story took a slightly dark turn (crime fiction, after all), which he ended up reworking and softening a bit for a happier ending.

Later, transcribing the story from his journal onto nicer paper and adding more elaborate illustrations—all for the contest submission—he suddenly took greater care to correct the misspellings in his original draft. Tara was overseeing much of the process, but when I asked how much she was guiding him on those corrections, she said he was taking the lead in catching and correcting his own mistakes, striving to get his writing just right.

I’m a slow writer, as I’ve said many times, and too often I’m fretful about the progress I’m making on a project (or not making, to be honest) and my own worst critic about how I’ve crafted a character or shaped a scene or structured a plot. Several times on panels and workshops, I’ve credited Dash with having indirectly given me new perspectives on these problems. Watching him learn to walk and celebrating even the smallest steps he took offered me some insights on that question of progress; some days, maybe I’m making only baby steps on my own work-in-progress, but even the smallest steps are bringing me closer to my destination. And as for inevitable missteps or swerves in the wrong direction: Seeing Dash work on a LEGO project—building up, reconsidering, tearing down without hesitation, building again, building better—has emphasized to me that each stage of the creative process should be fun and light, even when you have to throw away a paragraph or a page or more and move in a fresh direction.

And now with his new book projects—drafting, revising, editing, perfecting….

Circling back to the original question: “Has Dash, growing up in the shadow of two writers, shown any interest in writing himself?” It does seem we’ve been an influence on him, hopefully a good one, but in a better plot twist, he’s been an influence and inspiration in the other direction too.

I hope he never loses that sense of creative joy and that determination to see a project through. It’s a good model for us all.

Readers, what gives you Dash’s sense of creative joy and determination?

BIO: Art Taylor is the author most recently of the story “Better Days” in the May/June issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. His previous EQMM story, “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” has been named a finalist this year for both the Edgar Award and the Agatha Award for Best Short Story. His work has won four Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards. Find out more at http://www.arttaylorwriter.com.

36 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Art Taylor

  1. How amazing it must be to watch Dash’s writing evolve over the years. Who knows, maybe in ten or twenty years, you, Tara, and Dash will all be nominated for the same award. Good luck at Malice, and congrats on both your and Tara’s nominations!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for the note, Marla—and hope you’re right on the prediction! Dash takes his storytelling very seriously now. Who knows where he might go! Thanks for the congrats too; both Tara and I are so looking forward to the weekend ahead, for so many reasons! (And Dash will be there too!)

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Dash sounds an awful lot like my kids. My daughter, especially, was born reading and writing, producing impressive stories and winning awards in the fantasy/sci fi genres. Now as an adult, she has gravitated more toward the editing side of the business, and has gone freelance. Since she was in junior high, I’ve never considered any of my work “finished” until she has weighed in on it. It sounds like you and Tara both have a partner and sounding board in Dash. And he has to do as you say since you feed him!

    Looking forward to seeing all of you this weekend!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. What a blast of a post. I wish you could both win Saturday. I watched a movie where the two finalists asked the judges, “can’t we share the win?” ALAS, only in the movies.
    Ah Dash! What a treat he is. He will be published and famous before me!
    Can’t wait to see you this weekend. I have Dash’s task ready, and will try to find you as soon as I get there Friday morning.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Funny how we often gravitate towards what a parents do, even when we don’t think we will. The daughter of a law professor and a a potter, I swore I had no interest in either vocation growing up, yet ended up going to law school and then taking myriad visual arts classes at my local community college. And I’ve often said that writing crime fiction is kind of a combination of the two.

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks, Art! And I’m so looking forward to seeing you, and Tara, and Dash this weekend at Malice!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yep, it’s fascinating isn’t it? I hope that our influences will be good ones in the long run—and looking forward to watching where he goes, the adventures he has ahead. 🙂

      And on the nearer horizon: Yes! Look forward to seeing you this weekend!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks so much for visiting us, Art! And Leslie, good point. My father was a short story writer who became a Mad Man. All three of his children are writers. My TV writing partner’s son is a writer. Eliza isn’t, at least career-wise. Thank GOD!

    Liked by 4 people

    • That’s funny, Ellen. I’m going through my dad’s papers and have found a trove of short stories he wrote, mostly in the 1950s. I knew about some of them, but didn’t know there were this many. And it’s fun to see my mom’s handwriting in the margins as she edited some of them. I wish I knew about all this sooner. Maybe I could have helped compile them into a POD so he could see his name on the cover of a book. I suspect it would have, in his words, tickled him.

      Liked by 4 people

      • I remember when my kids were little and would go over to play at friends’ houses. One time one of them came home and said, incredulously, “There weren’t any books in their house!” They simply couldn’t believe anyone could live like that.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Way to go Dash (and his parents). While I had an interest in stories that long ago, I also got lazy in my writing even that far back. I just don’t have the patience to draft a good story.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Art, congrats on the Edgar win — and good luck to all of you at the Agatha’s! I think you and Tara (and Leslie, Susanna, and Barb) are lucky you’re not up against a certain talented and popular fellow named Dash at Malice — or all of you might be listening to an acceptance speech from someone who has to stand on a crate to reach the podium! Hope the whole family has a fab time this weekend. :

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Welcome, Art! Congrats to you on the Edgar win and to you and Tara on the Agatha noms. So fantastic!!

    I loved reading about Dash’s writing and the two-way street of parent-child instruction. I have learned so much from our children. ❤

    When it comes to the written word, our daughter loves to write and our son loves to read. In fact, Dom is among my most valued beta readers! It'll be interesting to see where their passions take them.

    Thanks for visiting, Art, and very much looking forward to seeing you all at Malice!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Looking forward to seeing you this weekend too, Kathy — and good to hear about reading and writing being passed down. One of these days we’ll be passing manuscripts to Dash for his feedback—and vice-versa, I’m sure! Glad you’ve got Dom on your side too. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m on the Acela Express on the way to Malice, trying to get in all my “likes” between Internet lapses. Art, can’t wait to see you and Tara and Dash. He must be very proud to have BOTH parents nominated–good luck all-around! The other day my 7 yo granddaughter showed me her (very thick) writing journal. Her stories have shockingly morbid endings. When I gently remarked on that, she said, “I don’t like my stories to be boring.” I also made the mistake of saying, “Wow. You write more words every day than Nana does.” (heart-heart) She looked straight at me and said, “I’m going to be a civil engineer so I can make money.” Sigh.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Number 1: I’m having trouble believing you have a granddaughter! When I first read through this, I thought you wrote daughter, then backtracked at “Nana”—no way!

      Number 2: I’m sure Dash is proud, but he’s mostly excited about the hotel—and he too plans to be an engineer….. They know where the money is.

      Wish your granddaughter was coming to Malice. They’d have such fun!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: An Unplanned Malice Domestic Blog Hop? – Art Taylor

    • Hey Cynthia — I know what you mean! We were racing around last night and this morning too (quick trip to Target before heading to campus). Look forward to seeing you!!!

      Like

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