Education & Culture Interviews Daniel Taylor

Slant author Daniel Taylor, author of Do We Not Bleed? and Death Comes for the Destructionist, sat down for a chat (conducted via email) with his long-time friend John Wilson. Read an excerpt here, and the full interview over at Education & Culture.

Q: Has writing fiction changed the way you read fiction to any degree?

I don’t think it’s changed how I read fiction, but it has intensified it. In my professor days, I was always interested in pointing out to my students the craft side of lit (think John Ciardi’s classic How Does a Poem Mean? ). I recall, for instance, spending time showing in Elie Wiesel’s Night the result he achieves by announcing the place at which the young narrator’s train has arrived with a single word on its own line: “Auschwitz.” Followed by the next line: “No one had ever heard that name.” We explored how a writer can use things as seemingly trivial as line breaks to great effect.

Well, now I read even more craftily for help in my own writing. How an author opens and closes a chapter. How to transition from one scene to another. How to vary the emotional temperature in the arc of a novel. How to handle dialect. Little things and big things.

It only at this moment occurs to me, for instance, that I may have been influenced in what I am working on now by something I read in the last year. Like many readers, I was knocked flat by Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, beginning with the way he so skillfully builds tension, almost dread, in the description in the opening chapter of the World War II bombers approaching the blind girl’s house in France.

In the novel I’m working on now (tentatively titled Woe to the Scribes and the Pharisees), I want a strong opening that immediately creates tension and a sense of foreboding. I’ve decided to use a flash-forward slice of a climactic scene that will not take place until the end of the novel. Less than a page in opening chapters that are more or less comic.

I am not aware of thinking of Doerr’s novel when I made that decision about my own. In fact, I’m not sure whether I wrote my opening before or after reading his book. But it’s the kind of thing I have my antennae out for when reading fiction while I’m also writing it.


Read theJohn Wilson’s full interview with Daniel Taylor at Education & Culture.