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The Questions: Author Glenn Taylor on Second Novels and the Writing Life

Photo by Margaret Hanshaw Taylor

By Glenn Taylor

I teach at a large community college just outside Chicago. My students come from all walks of life. During the first week of every semester, I ask them to write an in-class essay on a meaningful person or event from their past. It was through these essays that I first began to realize how many of my students were fresh off tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. Multiple tours. They’d seen things that had changed them forever. Once, I asked a particularly sharp young vet why he’d decided to go into the military. He answered, “I graduated high school in June of 2001. I enlisted on September 12.” That stuck with me.

It just so happened that I was reading a good bit about World War II. I realized that in December of 1941, scores of young men had done the same thing my student had done. I was thinking hard about writing a second novel, and I had a young man in mind by the name of Loyal Ledford. I knew he was the type to drop everything and enlist. The Marrowbone Marble Company grew from there.

Meanwhile, in shocking fashion, my first novel, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart was published by West Virginia University Press and was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Such an honor was rare for a book from a university press. Suddenly there was interest from publishers in England, France, Italy, and Germany. Here at home, Ecco wanted to buy and re-issue the novel. And, more importantly, they wanted to see what I was working on next. I had fifty pages, and they liked what they saw. I signed a contract that put me on a deadline.

I like deadlines. I put in work.

The Marrowbone Marble Company

The book and the people who populated it went in directions I could not have foreseen, but I trusted my instincts and I’m happy with the results. I’m equally happy with the brilliance of the team at Ecco. Dan Halpern and company got behind the book and put in their own work with what I’d given them.

Only now that the book is out have I fully realized what the most frightening part of this process is. The questions. How will the reading public will respond? Do ads work? Do people even read much anymore, beyond vampire books? Is the sophomore slump real? Is the sales rank on Amazon.com a true indicator?

Here’s what I’ve come to know about such questions. They are, in essence, useless. In the face of what Loyal Ledford and his people went through, such questions are unimportant. In the face of the injustices about which I wrote, injustices that still go on today, such questions are materialistic. In the face of what the young veterans in my classes have seen, such questions are wildly unimportant.

I want people to buy and read my book, but the reasons for this want lie not in sales rank or blog hits. The reasons lie where they always have for the artist. If we do our job right, writers can, in the words of Muhammad Ali, shake up the world.

I hit the road in a few days for my book tour. Attendance may be sparse. I may become frustrated that the people gravitate more toward movies and music than to books. Media coverage may be hit or miss. Review space in the papers will be grossly limited. Oprah will probably not pick up the phone and call me. Yet, I will keep fighting the good fight. I’ll keep telling stories. In the end, it’s the only thing I truly know how to do.

Glenn Taylor was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. His first novel, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Chicago with his wife and three sons.

VISIT: The Web site for The Marrowbone Marble Company.

FAN: Glenn Taylor on Facebook

(Author photo credit: Margaret Hanshaw Taylor)

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8 Comments

  1. Suneetha
    Posted May 18, 2010 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    I cant tell you how glad I am that I read this…it somehow brings peace about the first novel that I am still writing and the subsequent ones I may or may not write…thanks a lot…

  2. Posted May 18, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    “If we do our job right, writers can, in the words of Muhammad Ali, shake up the world.” Thanks for saying this, Glenn. It reminds me once more why I write as well. And if your book tour comes to Huntington, you know I’ll be on the front row. Congratulations.

  3. Posted May 18, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this piece. It was very helpful. My “sophomore” novel releases in a month, and I’m being tormented by those questions. Very affirming to know I’m not alone in thinking/feeling like that. Love the Muhammad Ali quote. Again, many thanks!

  4. Posted May 18, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Yes, we still read. I read between five to ten books a month as do many of my friends. Unfortunately, being on unemployment, I get most of my books from the library. I checked, and yours is on order at one of the branches. My request appears to be the first on the list of library readers here.

    Good luck on the tour.

  5. Posted May 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    PS – website link not working.

  6. Posted May 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I agree, that is why I became a publisher to give writers a chance to be published and readers an opportunity to find books that entertain and challenge them.

  7. J. Wandres
    Posted May 18, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I am not now, or will I ever be a “celebrity” author, and the publisher of my book will probably do the absolute minimum to promote my narrative biography, THE ABLEST NAVIGATOR: Lt. Paul Shulman, USN, Israel’s Volunteer Admiral. This means that I will — and expect to — augment and complement whatever they do with what I will need. Yes, Glenn’s comments about the importance of his ‘questions” are valid. But any writer who believes his publisher will be his/her best promoter is like being the fool who mounts a self-defense in court.

  8. Posted May 18, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Being both a publisher and an author, I have to say first of all, bravo to Glenn and I am sorry for those who have become tarnished by the publishing process. I do think that for us at Sullivan Street Press the most important thing when we now are taking on new books at a greater pace is that we care so much about the marketing that we make it a centerpiece of the contract we sign.

    This may seem like a weird thing for a publisher to say in these days but there is no way we want to desert the author or for the author to desert his or her responsibility to get the word out about their work. Both must work together to make the sales happen.

    As to no one showing up, that happens. As to no one reviewing books. That is one of the crimes of our times. As to people we write about and thus care about intensely, they are the real heroes or heroines in our lives. We must honor them as best we can because they truly have given us so much sustenance as we have been writing about them.

    Thanks for posting this article, it was a great thing to read tonight.

5 Trackbacks

  1. [...] today’s feature story Glenn Taylor writes about the various questions an author is confronted with on publishing a book. [...]

  2. [...] Taylor talks about second novels and the writing life here, [...]

  3. [...] couldn’t find a website for Glenn Taylor, but to read an interesting recent interview, click here. Share and [...]

  4. [...] Taylor on second novels and writing life [...]

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Raven Books, IndependentThinking. IndependentThinking said: RT @ravenbooks: If we do our job right, writers can, in the words of Muhammad Ali, shake up the world- Glenn Taylor http://tiny.cc/gtay … [...]

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