Please welcome Donn Taylor, novelist and poet, to 3 Questions Wednesday. I had the honor of meeting Don at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference a few years back. I love his book of poetry, Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond and his novels. 🙂
Hi, Donn. First question.
What books have fortified you as a writer? How?
Donn: Probably an odd answer here: I was twice retired when I turned to creative writing, and I’d spent more than twenty years working with English literature. So I came loaded with information of one kind or another. I think my most formative book was the late Lawrence Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense, 3rd Edition. Perrine approached fiction and poetry by illustrating the structural elements of both arts—things like character, diction, symbol, irony, etc. A second formative influence was “reader response” criticism, which tried to explain what happens to a reader as he reads words on paper. From that study I particularly remember Stanley Fish’s claim that the meaning of any sentence is everything that happens to the reader as he progresses through it. And of course the broad range of English literature was a formative influence.
But when I turned to writing my first novel, Jack M. Bickham’s Scene and Structure was my guide from the basic concept all the way to completion. I’ve studied a number of texts since then, but none has added more than a codicil or two to Bickham’s. As for models within fiction, my first novel (The Lazarus File) owed much in subject matter and tone to Gavin Lyall’s The Wrong Side of the Sky. (Climactic points in both novels involve the hero’s flying skills getting him through threatening situations.) From sci-fi novelist Robert Heinlein I learned to vary tension by dropping in unexpected bits of humor. And from Shakespeare and Hollywood, I learned to balance the serious hero or heroine with comic characters.
This is not to say that I’ve perfected any of these things, but I’m apparently doing them well enough to get published and read. I still have a lot of room for improvement.
It amazes me how different books help different writers. Now…
What secret talents do you have?
Donn: I’m more conscious of secret defects than I am of secret talents. (The defects will remain secret if I can manage it.) At present, I don’t do much besides writing. In my prior incarnations there may be things my friends don’t know. I started writing songs when I was 14 and composed about half of my senior piano recital. I entered college as a music major, but two years later I turned 18 and discovered literature. College got interrupted by service in the military, and I never went back to studying music. (I know just enough music to be dangerous.) In the Army I began as Infantry, but moved into aviation, was a tactical flight instructor and instrument flight examiner. It’s no secret that afterwards I went back to graduate school and spent a couple of decades as a professor. That’s about the sum of it.
What an interesting life! Should give you lots of writing material 🙂 Last question:
If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Donn: My expertise in the culinary arts is mostly nonexistent. For dinner, I’d be more likely to take you out to the Longhorn Steak House than try to prepare a dinner for you. Beyond eggs and bacon, about the only dish I prepare is an open sandwich the Germans call a klub teller. To prepare it, you pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Then for each serving you put one slice of bread on a cookie sheet and put a slice of deli ham on top. Next, you take two slices of pineapple, cut them in half, and interlock the halves like a jigsaw puzzle on top of the ham. Then you top the pineapple with a slice of Swiss cheese and sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top of that. You leave it in the oven until the cheese melts.
That’s not exactly what one would expect as a dinner guest, but it’s the limit of my talents. In any case, we would follow the meal with coffee and Blue Bell ice cream, which is about as close as we on earth can get to the classical nectar of the gods. But all in all, I think the Longhorn Steak House is a better bet.
Both meals sound great to me. Make my steak medium and my ice cream chocolate. Thanks, Donn, for stopping by!
Donn will send a print copy of Lightning on a Quiet Night to one blessed person who leaves a comment. (U.S. residents only) I’ve read it and it’s really good 🙂
Lightning on a Quiet Night
Following a horrific murder, the town of Beneficent, Mississippi, population 479, tries desperately to hold onto its vain self-image. The young veteran Jack Davis holds that idyllic vision of the town and tries to share it with Lisa Kemper, newly arrived from Indiana. But she is repelled by everything in it. While the sheriff tries to find the killer, Jack and Lisa’s contentious courtship reveals the town’s strange combination of astute perceptions and surprising blind spots. Then they stumble onto shocking discoveries about the true nature of the town. But where will those discoveries lead? To repentance or to denial and continuation in vanity?
Donn Taylor is a novelist and poet of varied career. He led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he earned a PhD in English literature (Renaissance) and for eighteen years taught literature at two liberal arts colleges. His poetry has appeared in leading journals and is collected in his book Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. His fiction includes a light-hearted mystery, Rhapsody in Red, and two suspense novels, Deadly Addictive and The Lazarus File, which has been re-issued as an e-book. His latest is a historical novel,Lightning on a Quiet Night. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ groups and conferences. He lives near Houston, TX, where he continues to write fiction and poetry, as well as essays on writing, ethical issues, and U.S. foreign policy.