Greetings from Sarah Sundin from California, where we’re rejoicing in the smidgen of rain we’ve received. Today I have the honor of interviewing multi-published novelist Donn Taylor, who has put his careers in the military and in academia to use in his stories!
Donn, tell us about your book, Murder in Disguise.
Official verdict: Suicide. But why would that vigorous department chairman kill himself? When visiting professor Preston Barclay asks questions, he receives threats. The more things don’t add up, the more the threats increase, leading Press and his colleague Mara Thorn increasingly into danger.
Why did you write this book?
The main focus of the novel is the murder mystery. But as a long-time member of the National Association of Scholars, I have closely followed universities’ all-too-common violations of students’ constitutional rights, especially violations involving censorship of religious activities. Without burdening the main plot, I wanted to dramatize some of the more common types of violations that I have studied.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Most directly, I want readers to enjoy the quirky characters and the mystery plot. But I also want to familiarize them with universities’ common denial of students’ basic rights (based on actual cases), and to indicate that there are law firms that defend students’ rights pro bono. Some of the plot also deals with organized crime and human trafficking.
How has God used the message of your book in your own life?
My professor/protagonist’s specialty is Renaissance history of ideas, but he also teaches History of Christianity. His vision of that parallels mine: Ever since Abraham, God has been calling His people out of the popular culture of their day. He continues to call us out of today’s popular culture. I find it comforting and inspiring to see our current struggles in terms of that divine historical process.
What’s your favorite scene in this book?
The book should provide a number of laughs. I confess that my favorite scene is my stuffy professor’s awkward encounter with a bar girl as he tries to present himself as a possible customer. “Her nametag said she was Brandy, but she looked more like ipecac.”
What themes do you return to again and again in your writing?
Beyond God’s calling His people in all ages out of their popular cultures, I keep coming back to two more. One is the incompleteness of human achievement, e.g., heroic deeds, without a Christian context. The other is the mystery of God’s intervention in human affairs. There is no doubt that He controls the tides of history, but to what degree does he control the individual waves of everyday affairs?
Why do you write in this genre?
My two careers were in the U.S. Army (infantry and aviation) and in college teaching. My suspense novels make use of my military experience, while the Preston Barclay mysteries build on the often-quirky world of the college campus. To be honest, my original intention was to write a hard-hitting secular suspense novel of spies and airplanes in the Caribbean. But in the writing I found that I couldn’t build a fictional world without a Christian dimension. So I just accepted that fact and have been writing that way ever since.
What is one thing about writing that you wish non-writers knew?
That the process of learning to write for publication is as long and intricate as learning to excel in activities like piano playing or basketball. There are no short cuts: Hours in the practice room or on the practice field are required.
What do you read for pleasure? What are you reading right now?
I read at least one classic poem a week. In fiction, I read suspense novels. At present I’m re-reading a long-time favorite, Gavin Lyall’s The Wrong Side of the Sky.
Tell us about your favorite library memory.
During a summer of research in the Humanities Research Center of The University of Texas, I tried to read Malcolm Lowry’s handwritten drafts of his 1947 novel Under the Volcano. My objective was to interpret some of the novel’s more obscure passages. Reading Lowry’s handwriting was hard enough, but he had a habit that made it even worse. When his wife had typed up what he had written, he would turn the page sideways and write on top of what he had written before. That often made it simply unreadable. In the end, I gave it up. I did write my paper on Lowry’s novel, but it was a far different paper from the one I originally intended.
What are your hobbies or activities or passions outside of writing?
My outside activities now are pretty well limited to my Facebook page. I post something every day—some funny (I love puns), some philosophical, some scriptural. I enjoy the interaction with my followers there. In past years I was more active. I played competitive basketball into my fifties until some shoulder tendons quit on me. Then I ran 10Ks for a few years until the wheels came off. I’ve been pretty tame ever since, serving as a deacon in a small church and participating in various prayer ministries.
Tell us about your next project.
Murder in Disguise is book 3 of the Preston Barclay mysteries. All three are set in academic communities. Book 4 in the series, tentatively titled Murder at Rest, will test whether Press and Mara can continue sleuthing effectively in a non-academic setting.
Sounds interesting! Thank you for sharing with us, Donn!
To learn more about Donn and his books, please visit Donn’s website.
Writing for Him,