Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Meaning of Life (why not?)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  So here we all are, and here we are every day, and there’s something that draws us together, right? It’s—what? You never know what’ll be here at the end of that click, right?  It’s always an adventure.  And the destination? It’s different every day.

It’s like that for an author, too, as each new book comes out.  Art Taylor’s new one,  On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, (due out September 15 from Henery Press) is a wonderful experiment in destinations.  And even a metaphor for life. Truly! 

We’ll let Art explain it all.

Blog Hops, Road Trips, and Bigger Travels
                                  by Art Taylor

I’d hesitate to call attention to this post being part of a longer series of appearances, but the idea of a blog tour and going “on the road” seemed somehow connected—and somewhere at the core of the thoughts swirling around in my head right now. I’ve participated in a couple of blog tours already this year and as author friends well know, this kind of thing seems core to marketing plans in today’s social media-driven climate.

But how are you supposed to go about it? What is it we authors should be delivering our readers at each stop of the way?

Having once curated a small blog myself way back when (now defunct), I’ve seen pitches from publicists and authors alike offering a ready-made column to be reprinted ad infinitum (and ad nauseam) by anyone who wants it—which strikes me as inevitably a mistake. While custom-built content for each stop is more challenging and time-consuming, it’s also more interesting for readers, of course—which should ultimately be the sole concern for the writer, even if it means having to brainstorm fresh topics each turn of the tour. It’s an opportunity; and opportunities shouldn’t be wasted.

I recognize that at this point some of you may be thinking, “And yet, Art, you seem to be wasting this this very opportunity right now….”

Please, bear with me—because I want to use that word opportunities above as a hinge of sorts, connecting the dos and don’ts of a blog hop and the dos and don’ts of a road trip and, ultimately, explaining what I was trying to do with my own book, a novel in stories that follows small-time crooks Del and Louise from the American Southwest, up the California coast, then cross-country in a couple of directions en route to Louise’s home state of North Carolina.

A concert tour may allow a rock star to perform a similar set stop after stop, city after city, choreographed almost down to the minute, but a blog tour shouldn’t rehash the same material—any more than a road trip should follow some well-known, well-worn route. The commute to work isn’t a road trip, anymore than the weekly trip to the grocery store is. (No matter how I try to convince my three-year-old otherwise—anything to get him in the car!)
Just as a blog tour might offer opportunities—not just for promotion but for connection and exploration—so too should the start of any road trip be filled with a sense of adventure and possibility and opportunity: the open road, the fresh start, the blank slate—and who knows where we’re going this time?

(Again, I recognize that may of you might still be asking, “Where is Art going?” I do not blame you.)

In addition to navigating that up-the-coast and cross-the-country trek, Del and Louise are trying to navigate a lot more: uncertain routes toward success and stability, with more than a couple of economic bumps in the road, and then the even more treacherous paths toward finding and maintaining romance. (Yikes! Where’s a GPS when you need one?)

The structure of the novel isn’t a continuous narrative but a series of six short stories,
each of which begins in a new place, another stop among the many hops of that bigger road trip. Experience accumulates, of course—each of their “fresh starts” (as they call them) builds on what’s come before—but the stakes keep getting upped each time. Repeating similar conflicts and complaints and conquests adventure to adventure wouldn’t be interesting, of course—no more than trotting out that ready-made blog column website after website.

For all of us (trying to connect now the characters in the book with us authors on our own tours), the question that persists shouldn’t just be “Where am I today, this week, next week?” but “What am I struggling with this time or looking for this time?” Maybe the answer to that is simply adventure, maybe it’s bigger perspectives on the world or the self, maybe it’s connection —whether character to character or author to reader, depending on where I’ve ended up with these metaphors (even I’m not sure at this point).

What I’m trying to say is this: As writers, it’s our responsibility to give readers a good ride—whether in a piece of fiction we’ve written or in a simple online posting. It doesn’t have to be a white-knuckled thrill ride each time. Pacing your way through a cross-country journey, a few scenic stops along the way, can be transformative. Even a contemplative jaunt on a leisurely Sunday has its pleasures (and maybe a surprise or two in store, too, we’d hope). Maybe the best rides are not knowing when the Sunday drive or cross-country trip might take that white-knuckled turn.

What I’m saying is this: Ultimately, it’s best to vary our experiences each leg of the journey. Following the same old routes and routines…well, in the end, that won’t get you anywhere, will it? 
HANK: Oh, Art, you are amazing, And Reds readers—for more af Art, come back Sunday! For your reading delight, Jungle Reds is, hosting this year’s Anthony finalists for Best Short Story! With info and links to every one!

And talking about destinations—did you go anywhere fun this summer?   Did you plan in advance—or, as Art says…was there a surprise or two along the way? (We saw Alan Alda at a restaurant in the Berkshires! That counts, right?)


  1. I definitely think seeing Alan Alda in a restaurant in the Berkshires should count.

    No road trips, no summer excursions for us this year, but with our youngest daughter and grandchildren arriving tomorrow from Virginia to spend several days with us before the new school year begins, the end of our summer promises to be one filled with delightful adventures!

  2. I'm really looking forward to reading your book, Art, as you are a master of the short story. You tied the post together admirably. And so agree about providing fresh content every time.

    I didn't get away much this summer, but one fun unexpected thing was wandering down to my sister-in-law's swimming hole in a cold New Hampshire river the one weekend we did get out of town. Somehow we'd never gone there in all the years we've been visiting. Sitting on huge warm rocks chatting with our legs dangling in deliciously cold water brought me back to my summers camping in the Sierras.

  3. I like your question: What am I struggling with or looking for this time?

    That's a good one for about everything!

    Edith and Joan, those sound like perfect end of summer adventures! We had kind of a weird summer here, so no travels. But we are going to Scotland in the fall, so looking forward to that! (but so sorry to miss Bouchercon in Raleigh...)

  4. Scotland! How exciting, Lucy! (And I'm sure it will be inspirational!

    Joan and Edith, we have to take adventures where we can--exactly!

    And why am I filled with the urge to go get some notebook paper and a new binder??

    And Art, tell us more about the book! Why are the sections not simply chapters? I;d love to hear about that structure. Have you read If On A Winters NIght A Traveller by Italo Calvino? You might be interested..

  5. Looking forward to reading your book. I'm curious how the stories are linked. I spent the month of June in New Orleans nursing my daughter. I took a walk every day, absorbing the sights and sounds of the Uptown area, took lots of photos of architectural details, and browsed in the food stores. I spent time in Audubon Park, not only plotting a mystery, but watching the locals, imagining being a resident. And the dogs! Every other dog in New Orleans has pit bull ancestry.

  6. Art, I love how each of the six stories takes place in a new location because as the Jungle Reds have been discussing, taking readers to a new place can actually bring them to a new place in their lives. I'm looking forward to the trip with Del and Louise.

    I spent another magical week in a tiny cottage in Truro I go to each year before I return to teaching where I try to ingest and store the serenity I find in the screened porch. But my biggest trip was to the past 32 years as I excavated layers of my life while "downsizing." I got as much in writing material from that little exercise as I threw out in stuff!

  7. I love the IDEA of a road trip but after an hour in the car I'm ready for an adventure... so of course I think the structure of this book sounds brilliant!

    We did take a road trip this summer. From Boston to Montreal and back. A highlight was a diner in Vermont with the best corned beef hash I've had anywhere. (Here's a link to the photo of its fantastic 20s interior that I posted on Facebook--

    The best part of a road trip ( and a crime novel, btw ) are the unexpecteds.

  8. Another excellent essay from Art Taylor. At this point, that is one thing that is NOT a surprise.

    Having read On the Road, I can tell you all that you are in for a treat. A very cleverly constructed "novel" which feels both familiar and innovative at the same time. Fancy that.

    As for blog tours - and yes, everyone here knows I run a book review blog - I just don't allow them on BOLO Books. Still today, they are too often rehashed material at multiple stops and it's just not in the best interest of either the author or the blog. The way Art is handling it will be much more successful. Hopefully, the trend will continue to move in that direction.

    And about rock concerts. There's a reason I will go to see Tori Amos multiple times on the same tour. Every single night she performs a new setlist inspired by the town, events, weather, etc where she is performing. So no two shows are ever the same. Just like a blog tour should be.


  9. How fun to see you here this morning Art, as Hank said - you are amazing.

    Your book sounds wonderful and I know I'm going to love it.

    Road trips - I love them too!

    We have several coming up - a trip to Topsail Island (with an over-night stop with friends on the way - which you will hear more about), a trip to Atlanta, Bouchercon for me but not Donald and Harley, I'm afraid, and the Pat Conroy 70th Birthday Celebration in Beaufort, SC.

  10. Hank, I think that counts, for sure!

    Hiya, Art! This is your Malice "good luck charm". Glad to see you on the JRW site. So excited to get to know Del and Louise, and travel with them. Best of luck on the book. (And now you know you'll have it, right?)

    It has to be a challenge, to come up with new and different posts for each stop on a blog tour, but gee, writers should, theoretically at least, be able to write and be creative. I suspect lots of blog readers have more than one that they follow (like me), and it can't be in the writer's best interest for a potential reader to think, "Oh, yeah, that's the same guest post I read twice this week already. Ho, hum."

    Personally, I prefer to see at least some humor, in particular if the book itself warrants that treatment. Art: mission accomplished.

  11. Hi, all --
    Catching up now that I've dropped Dash off at school (talk about adventure each day!).

    Thanks so much to Hank and everyone here for hosting me--and to all the folks who've chimed in here on the comments already and with such enthusiasm and interest too!

    I'm glad folks enjoyed the post. I did have a destination in mind, but then started wandering and...

    Quick replies:

    Hank's question on stories instead of chapters: To a great degree, this is selfish, because I just write/think about stories in a smaller arc like that, so each one of these is essentially self-contained, even as each story contributes to the larger story of Del and Louise--individual, self-contained adventures as steps on a longer journey. (And I haven't read the Calvino, but it's been recommended to me before! I need to...)

    Kristopher: Good on Tori Amos! I knew I was making a generalization of sorts with that--referring mainly to those big extravaganza concerts where everything is light shows and whatever timed like clockwork. But yes, know other musicians who vary it up each show--to their great credit!

    And Kaye and Karen, you're both my good luck charms! Look forward to seeing you at Malice, Kaye--and Karen, hope you'll be there too! I need all I can get, always!

    Thanks again, everyone, for all the good words. Checking in more soon!

  12. Art, I've enjoyed the couple of your short stories that I've seen so far and will definitely pick up a copy of Del and Louise, especially since she shares my home state. We're just wrapping up a trip from NC to Maine and back, with stops along the way to see various family including our brand new grandson. Hoping to see you in Raleigh next month.

  13. Thanks, Jim! My home state too--grew up in Richlands, NC, and the final scene of the book takes place in a backyard that looks suspiciously like my parents' place in Atlantic Beach....

    Hope the trip to Maine and back was fun--and congrats on the new grandson too!!!

    Thanks too for the kind words on my stories. Let's do meet up in Raleigh!

  14. What did I do this summer? I don't even remember. That's probably a bad sign, right?

    I agree about the blog tours. I've done a couple for my middle-grade books and too often they want three articles, and one of those three inevitably winds up getting replayed across more than half the stops. Blah. Tell me something interesting. More work, yes but I'm more likely to remember you.

  15. Thanks so much, Mary! And I know what you mean about summer. It was a blur, so much of it, and definitely went by too fast. (First week of the new semester teaching here at George Mason, so fresh blurs of time ahead too!)

  16. Mary, the summer ant by too quickly, that's why. COuld you believe it? Whoosh.

    And yes,Art, I so agree. Yours is a wonderful way to think about structure, and it works so beautifully. Hard to describe, but that's how life really it--a series of our stories. Linked, but each had beginning middle and end, if we can unearth it. ANd--analyzing too much now (who, me?) --how thought-provoking to try to pinpoint the moment a "story" begins. Because it's all connected.

  17. KAren, you're good luck to everyone!

    And KAye, yes, indeed, you have a big Jungle Red surprise in the works. oxo

    Jim, congratulations on the brand new grandson! Hurray!

  18. Art, I can't wait to read this! I love linked story collections - they're very popular in lit fic, but you seldom see them in crime fiction. Offhand, I can only think of Lawrence Block's HIT MAN series and John Mortimer's RUMPOLE books.

    To compare and contrast, in literary fiction, the stories are usually just that, stories, linked by the characters. But in each of the crime fiction collections, the stories are integral to the structure: a series of hit jobs, of cases, and now, in a road trip. Clever, and cool.

    Jim, congrats on the new grandbaby!

  19. Art,

    As someone who'd rather wander byways than highways and sometimes meanders to a point rather than coming straight to it, I love the idea of travel stories. Can't wait to read Del and Louise's adventures!

  20. I can't remember how many times I've had my eye on an author, and he or she has shown up on this blog. Of course, there are many to whom I've been introduced here that are complete surprises, too. Anyway, Art, it is great to see you here today, as I mean to read your short story nomination before Bouchercon. Also, I've had that little birdie named Kristopher chirping your praises, so you are very much in the forefront of my reading thoughts. Just reading your post here on Jungle Reds, Art, lets me know that I am in for some witty, entertaining material in your stories and your book.

    I have done a couple of blog tours on my reading blog, The Reading Room, but I haven't felt any real satisfaction from them. I think that the blog tours serve a purpose of placing the new publication on lots of blogs, but I don't think they're particularly interesting or, as you've pointed out, forthcoming with anything new. As a reader, I want to see some of an author's personality shine forth, and I'm not sure too many blog tours accomplish that. I prefer to do an interview with an author or a feature on an author or series.

    This summer I checked a big item off of my bucket list. I had been to Hawaii several times, Oahu, but this time I was determined to visit the island of Molokai, the settlement of Kalaupapa, the site of the leper colony. I had read about this place and part of Hawaii's history in the fiction book Molokai by Alan Brennert, an amazing book, and I also had read some non-fiction. It is now a small village-like town, where the only way to the other side of the island is a donkey ride or hike over the mountains, or a plane ride. The original site of the leper colony is on the far north side of Kalaupapa, where we stopped to eat lunch in an area that the description of "paradise" doesn't do justice. The small group of nine people, due to that being the number of people who could fit on the plane, flew from Oahu to Kalaupapa into a teeny tiny airstrip/airport and were loaded onto our island transportation, an old yellow school bus. Accomplishing one of the most desired items on my bucket list and having that experience live up to my dreams of it was one momentous sigh of ecstasy. Did I mention that Molokai has the tallest sea cliffs in the world as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records, measuring 3,600 to 3,900 feet.

    Julia, you mentioned the scarcity of linked-story collections in crime fiction, and as I was thinking of linked collections I had enjoyed, none of them were crime. So, Art, that makes your new book especially inviting. Looking forward to your appearance or reappearance on Sunday here and to seeing you at Bouchercon in Raleigh.

  21. Kathy, thanks so much for the kind words here! I hope the book meets ultimately meets any expectations—and thanks for interest in the story too in advance of B'con. Do check back here this weekend when all the finalists for the Anthony Award will be chatting; it's a fun talk about the secrets to writing short stories! And yes, look forward to seeing you in Raleigh. :-)

    And Hawaii just generally would be a bucket-list item for me (Left Coast Crime maybe?), but this sounds like such a tremendous experience for you at Molokai and Kalaupapa. Wow. Adventure indeed! Thanks for sharing the story!

  22. Julia --
    Thanks much for the comments about novels in stories, linked story collections, etc. As you say, uncommon in crime circles, though not unheard of. I did a short piece on them for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's blog here if you're interested:

    And I'm a big fan of the Rumpole stories too, I gotta say--among my favorites!

  23. Thank you, Art. This is great.

    I like to walk around Odense.I took a wrong turn one morning while visiting a granddaughter. I was looking for an outdoor café where I could get a press of coffee and read. I'd been looking at the unique paving when I looked up found myself in front of an ancient looking cottage. It turned out to be the boyhood home of Hans Christian Andersen. Fascinating. Like out of its own fairy tale.

    I continued down the main business walkway and saw two men trashing a store and taking things. They didn't see me, which was really shocking, and I turned around and returned to my hotel but couldn't figure out how to use the phone. The lobby desk was empty, which is not usual there. Later I learned they were having breakfast (If you want a great breakfast go to Denmark), so I waited around a bit and decided to take another walk and saw the police talking to a couple about a robbery. They were telling him that they hadn't seen anything. My Danish is the worst, but it wasn't hard to figure what they were talking about. I mentioned that I had witnessed it and was able to give them a fair description of what happened. Then they dropped me off at a café so I could get my coffee.

    Friends often ask how I manage to find myself having all these experiences. I don't know except that I am open to them, and I'm not fond of lots of structure and planning. I love to explore casually and make discoveries. There are few ways, maybe only one way to do that. Don't plan too much.

  24. Summer spent on an archaeological dig in my basement and garage (time travel!).

  25. Reine --
    Sounds like you're like me. Whenever I travel somewhere new, my favorite thing to do is just walk out of the hotel (or whatever) and start wandering around, getting my bearings, seeing the world. I've never had an episode like the one you had!

    And have to ask, as I'm sure many readers are wondering: Did your description help them catch the men?

    Thanks for sharing!!

  26. Ellen K, that IS time travel! Exactly.

    WHen I worked at WSB-TV in Atlanta, I did a series of stories called "Main Street."(in 19..80 or so) First thing every Monday morning, I'd close my eyes, and point to the map of Georgia on my office wall.Wherever my finger landed, my photographer and I would go and look for stories. Nothing set up, nothing planned in advance. We did it for a year or so, almost every week. It was life-changing.

  27. Art, thank you. Yes... although I don't know the actual outcome regarding disposition. I was able to tell them their approximate age, dress, hair, tattoos etc. What was most interesting to me was they seemed very interested in the specific places I saw them and the order they went from place to place. Then again they might have been checking my veracity. ;-)

  28. Thanks for the update, Reine! Very interesting. Plenty to ponder about what they wanted, were looking for.

  29. Reine, you are a hero! (though I already knew that ;-)
    Your approach to travel reminds me of my friend Leigh, who discovers so much by just wandering, like the little boat which delivers packages from island to island in the Caribbean, sort of an informal UPS. The man whose boat and business is was saw us looking and let us see it up close. I'm glad we didn't have to be part of any crime reports, just as soon skip that, except in fiction. I tend not to wander much on my own; I can get terribly lost even with good directions and a GPS.
    My adventures these days are more likely to be reading adventures, the latest being Hank's thrilling _What You See_, couldn't put it down. I was happy to have won an ARC and to publish reviews, just wish new ones didn't take so long. ;-)