Art Taylor is the author of the new novel in stories On the Road with Del & Louise. He also has edited the anthology Murder Under the Oaks. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. He teaches at George Mason University and is marketing director for the Fall for the Book Festival, and he's based in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your characters, Louise and Del?
A: The first story, "Rearview Mirror," was actually prompted—literally—by The Washington Post's fiction contest in Spring 2008. Each year (for many years), the Post ran a photo and encouraged writers to submit a story inspired by it; the photo that year was an overhead view of a convertible, a woman in the passenger seat with her feel kicked up out the open window, and a desert landscape in the background.
My wife, Tara Laskowski, is also a writer, and she encouraged both of us to try our hand at the contest. Because we'd just been to the American Southwest for the first time ourselves the previous fall, I drew on some of those locales as much as the photo itself as inspiration—following some of our own journey but laying in crimes and conflicts that fortunately weren't part of our own trip!
I'm not sure where Louise came from, but her voice seemed very vivid to me and ultimately served as the guiding force for the rest of the stories in the book—her attitudes, her fears, her desires, and that voice not just dominating the storytelling but determining the direction for those stories too.
Q: Why did you decide on the "novel in stories" format for the book?
A: I've long wanted to write a book, but I've always stumbled over any attempt to write a traditional novel. While I seem to think naturally in terms of short stories—that shorter narrative arc, keeping the entire story in my head as I compose it, tinker with it—the longer, interweaving arcs of plot and subplots in single book-length narrative have always caused me trouble in terms of pacing.
With these stories, I was able to capitalize on what I think of as my strengths (hopefully my strengths!) in terms of writing shorter, self-contained stories, but I was also able to trick myself into building those blocks into a larger, sustained storyline.
For example, a single tale, "The Queen's Party," may be about a robbery at a Vegas wedding chapel—self-contained in that way—but it's also a step for the title character in that longer journey toward building their relationship, searching for stability, finding their way home (or at least to a sense of home with one another).
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: The first story, "Rearview Mirror," had never originally been intended as the first of anything. Only over time did I even wonder what might have happened to Del and Louise after the end of the story.
I'd indicated, for example, that they were headed for Victorville, California, for a new job for Del in his sister's real estate office, but both the place and the job were chosen pretty randomly—because I'd never thought I'd to actually make good on getting them to Victorville!
As time passed, however, I began to play little "what if" games, to percolate on where life might take them. The imagination wandered a little, and so they continued on their wanderings as well.
Q: The book takes place in a variety of locations around the United States. Can you say more about how you picked the settings?
A: The New Mexico story followed much of our own journey, just as the Napa story, "Provenance," drew on a trip that my wife and I took to the wine country ourselves several years ago.
Victorville was chosen on a lark, as I mentioned, but it became an integral part of the story once I began investigating the city at that time and the real estate crisis that was actually unfolding there—really a representative town for the worst aspects of the real estate bubble and the bubble bursting.
I hadn't known anything about that at the time, but that crisis helped to provide not just backdrop for the plot but key parts of the plot itself.
The same was true of North Dakota; I'd originally planned on South Dakota (drawing on my own trip there, again as with New Mexico and Northern California), but North Dakota offered two important distinctions: the oil boom going on there and the exact nature of their Safe Child laws… and then, as I discovered, the poignance of the Baby Moses case there, all of which plays into the unfolding story.
As for the two other stories: North Carolina is my own native state, same as Louise's, so I wanted to circle her back there. And how could I resist the chance to write a Vegas wedding chapel story?
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now I'm working on a series of interconnected novellas about a different set of characters: an agoraphobic bookseller (used and rare) and a plucky young accountant who cross paths initially over a death that might have been inspired by a book.
Each of the novellas would serve as a homage to a classic crime novel or crime writer, drawing on plot points in ways that are both homage and reinterpretation—at least I hope so! I'm still struggling with them…. but that struggle is part of the process (at least that's what I keep telling myself).
--Interview with Deborah Kalb