By Amy Brachmann
Glenn Taylor is not letting anything go to his head. In the year since the publication of his first novel, “The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart,” he’s had a good bit of success, including awards and new publishing contracts, but still, the suburban writer works to maintain a balance between his work as a novelist, teaching English and fiction writing at Harper College and his wife and sons, ages 6 and 3.
The author, who earned an MFA from Southwest Texas State University, had always seen himself as a short-story writer and had never tried anything resembling a novel before beginning “Trenchmouth.”
“A line popped in my head, and that’s often how a story starts,” he says of the process. “But this one just grew and grew and I didn’t know where it was going. It was way too big to ever be a short story, that was for sure, and I enjoyed that. I liked the room to move around.”
“The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart” takes place in Taylor’s native West Virginia and tells the life story of a man with a terrible mouth affliction. Sprinkled with colorful characters both real and fictional, Taylor says the story came less from ideas and more from a blend of the personal experience, sense of place and history that he absorbed as a child.
“The book becomes like a ballad, not just of one man but of the whole state and its rocky, rough, violent yet beautiful history,” he says. “I knew as a kid that it was not your average place. It does sometimes seem a little bit like stepping back in time.”
As for the title character? “Don’t ask me, I don’t know where he came from, but he evolved and eventually became in my mind like a real person.”
Taylor says he likes to let the characters and the story develop on their own. “I don’t want to be too aware of my style. I just try to be true. I hear a storyteller’s voice when I sit down to write, and it just comes out.”
Published by West Virginia University Press, the book was chosen as a 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and a Fall 2008 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. It was also reissued by Harper Collins in June and rights have been sold for publication in England, France, Italy and Germany.
Taylor frequently expresses how fortunate he feels for not only the recognition his book has garnered, but also for just getting it published. WVU Press infrequently publishes fiction, he says, and “I was lucky enough to be that one book last year.” The staff then worked to promote the book, entering it into the Barnes & Noble contest. The selection of “Trenchmouth” put in on display in every Barnes & Noble in the country, along with eleven other books by first-time authors.
But Taylor says the big break came with the National Book Critics Circle Award nomination. “I was really out of my league there. I was a long shot, which I was very happy to be. I was humbled and proud, and shocked, frankly,” he says. “The award nomination really changed things and got attention for the book.”
Five finalists for the award were announced in January and traveled to New York in March for readings and the announcement of the winner. Taylor had the opportunity to read from his novel in front of a crowd of more than 300 and, in a night of twenty-seven readings, was dead last. “I was a little worried, ‘Could I hold the audience’s attention?'” he says. “I got really nervous, but I got a pretty good reaction afterward. I think I closed out the night fairly well.”
Since the experience and success of his first novel, Taylor says he perhaps thinks of himself as better suited for this sized work. “I would have trouble now trying to keep it to that length. I think I found a more comfortable place in the novel. It just kind of happened, and it felt good, so I think I’ll stick with it.”
He now estimates he’s about three-quarters through his second novel, “The Marrowbone Marble Company.” This “big, tall tale from West Virginia” has been purchased by Harper Collins and follows a man’s life from high-school graduation and work in a glass factory to World War II and starting his own company making playing marbles. The book, which he conceived of in 2006 and has been working on somewhat sporadically for more than a year, is expected to come out summer or fall of 2010.
He’s on a deadline, but, “You could write and write a book forever and it would never be done, so at some point you just have to stop. But a book is never really finished.”