Donn, your mystery “Rhapsody in Red” and your poetry book “Dust and Diamond” are both doing well in the marketplace, and we’re working on marketing
the sequel and trying to get a reprint deal for your earlier work, “The Lazarus File.” What are people liking about “Rhapsody”? What are they saying?
Almost every comment has been positive. Readers like the characters–the widower professor plagued by musical hallucinations, the feisty female professor of comparative religion, the sometimes-surprising secondary characters like MRS. Blossom Harlow. People have commented favorably on the novel’s light satire of political correctness and the small-college scene, and they like the ironic encounters between the professor and the school administration. Quite a few have commented on the mystery’s climax and the wrap-up chapter. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by people I don’t know e-mailing to ask when the sequel comes out.
What’s next in the pipeline from you?
I’ve just completed a historical novel set in 1948, when America was trying to restore normalcy after WW II but worrying about early stages of the Cold War. That’s the setting, but the story turns on how a small town too proud of its own virtues deals with its first murder. I’m working on a sequel to that one, with a third book possibly taking those characters through America’s entrance to the Korean War. I’m also doing the early work for a second sequel to “Rhapsody.”
You do programs at writing conferences, what are you presenting on and how do program people find out more?
I teach workshops on poetry writing. They cover the elements that make poetry different from prose, how to get started writing poetry, how to make your poetry different from most of what’s being written, and some of the unique special effects poetry can achieve. I also do one-on-one poetry critiques at conferences. Descriptions of my classes are can be found in the Faculty and Workshops link at http://www.blueridgeconference.com/. My Web site, http://www.donntaylor.com/, contains examples of my poetry as well as sample chapters of “Lazarus” and “Rhapsody.” Interested parties can contact me via e-mail, email@example.com.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got? The worst?
Best: That’s an easy one: LEARN THE CRAFT. The hard part is figuring out what parts of it I don’t yet know. From my college teaching days I had no problem with the mechanics of writing. But in changing from academic and technical writing into fiction writing, I had to learn the theory of structuring scenes and entire novels. Then I had to practice until I could make the theory work. And as Cec Murphy says, we must never stop learning. There’s another barrier of ignorance I’m trying to break through now, but I’d better not name it.
Worst: That’s easy, too: the idea that “It’s all subjective.” Not so, and the statement is all the more false because it’s partly true. There are some subjective elements, such as an editor’s judgment of whether a particular subject will sell to the readers. But to enlarge the subjective factors into the whole picture is to create an excuse for failure–an excuse not to get better. Craftsmanship is not subjective, and sloppy writing won’t be rejected on an editor’s subjective judgment because the poor craftsmanship will stop it before the content gets evaluated.
Anything you’d like to take advantage of this opportunity to say?
I like novels that temper suspense and pathos with humor. That technique worked well for Shakespeare, and I’m surprised more of us don’t imitate him in practicing it. And C.S. Lewis was all too correct in saying that the hardest thing to portray in any art is simple goodness. Nevertheless, we need to put in the necessary effort and the ingenuity. If we don’t, our writing ends up overbalanced in the other direction. I only hope I can actually practice what I preach.
Thank you, Donn, great answers. I encourage readers to sign up for a rss feed to automatically get this blog as it alternates between introductions and advice from my clients, answers to writing and agent questions people ask, new book releases. and a variety of other topics.