Marital Malice

  • By Art Taylor
  • March 4, 2019

What happens when husband-and-wife writers are up for the same award?

Marital Malice

This year started out particularly well in terms of my writing — and not only because of having a few of my stories accepted for magazines and anthologies. But as it turns out, every silver lining has its clouds.

One cold morning in late January, crossing the parking lot at George Mason University, I was checking email on my phone and saw that my one of my stories, “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” had been named a finalist for this year’s Edgar Awards by Mystery Writers of America.

I stared at the screen in disbelief and then immediately called my wife, Tara Laskowski, to share the news — and share that still-strange mix of excitement and doubt and celebration and…wow! Honestly, it’s such a dream that I’ve been pinching myself ever since.

(There’s a bruise now, sadly.)

Then, the next Sunday evening, I got a call from Malice Domestic saying that the same story had been named a finalist for this year’s Agatha Award. As soon as I got off the phone and shared this news with Tara, the celebrations began again. Double the wow! Double the excitement! And double the pinching. (Two bruises now.)

Then, about 10 minutes later, Tara’s mobile rang, and it was Malice Domestic calling again. Her story “The Case of Vanishing Professor” had been named an Agatha finalist, as well.

Suddenly, the room went chilly.

(It turned out our son, Dashiell, had simply piled too many stuffies near the heating vent, but the drama of the moment was well-timed.)

Literary history has had its fair share of feuds and rivalries — fine fodder for listicles/essays like this one at LitHub: “25 Legendary Literary Feuds, Ranked,” with the subhead, “Ding Ding Ding: Let the Fight Begin.”

Mario Vargas Llosa punched Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the nose. Norman Mailer head-butted Gore Vidal. Theodore Dreiser slapped Sinclair Lewis. Leo Tolstoy challenged Ivan Turgenev to a duel. Marcel Proust and Jean Lorraine actually did duel, pistols and all. (There’s also Richard Ford spitting on Colson Whitehead, but that’s a different kind of physicality.)

Then you have Hemingway feuding with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hemingway feuding with William Faulkner, and Hemingway feuding with Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway feuding with Wallace Stevens. (Some common denominator here, it seems, if only we could figure out what.)

Some rivalries are less physical melees than wars of words, thought maybe with no less bitterness. David Foster Wallace called Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho a “mean shallow stupid novel.” Mary McCarthy said that every word Lillian Hellman wrote was “a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” And Margaret Drabble said that one of A.S. Byatt’s books was “mean-spirited” — and those two are sisters!

But what about in the mystery community, where kindness is the norm? And what about marriages, two people who've chosen to form a bond? Shouldn’t everything go more smoothly in those cases? I mean, look at Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar — they’re good role models for a writing couple, right?

Oh. Wait.

In the wake of the Agatha announcement, a lot of people have speculated about how troubling it might be to have a husband and wife competing for the same award. The word “Awwwwwkward” has been used in a number of Facebook posts and tweets, extra W’s and all.

So, is trouble brewing? With even more trouble ahead? And what’s life like in the Taylor-Laskowski household these days, anyway?

Well, here are a few glimpses:

  • The “I’ll cook, you clean” approach has morphed from cheerful division of labor into dividing-line power struggle. Dinner is now make-your-own microwave meals, and we don’t even eat at the same time, leaving Dash to choose which parent to join at the table. (I recently caught Tara dangling a Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese in front of him and whispering in his ear, “Who’s the better writer, Daddy or me?” When I pointed out that he couldn’t vote for the award, she sneered, “Says you.”)
  • Until recently, one of our favorite evening routines was for me to read short stories aloud to Tara, but lately when I’ve offered, she’s told me, “Sorry, headache” — not pointing to her own head, but casually waving her hand in my general direction.
  • In a weak moment of retaliation, I “borrowed” all of Tara’s favorite pens from her desk and drained them of their ink, writing long essays on topics like “The Single Life Is Better” and “One Writer Too Many” and then filling several pages with elaborate scribbles. (Not sure if she’s noticed yet; don’t tell her I told you.)

This past week, Tara has slept in the guest bedroom several nights. Sure, she says it’s because of the awful cold and cough she can’t seem to get rid of, says it’s because she doesn’t want to keep me up all night, too, but I know better. Animosity disguised as generosity, that’s what it is.

Well played.

Speaking of generosity laced with animosity, and maybe laced with more: Given the shape of the Agatha Award — a teapot — once-pleasant morning and afternoon rituals have now become especially treacherous.

“I’m going to make some tea,” Tara says (lately between sniffles). “Would you like some?”

Honestly, has there ever been a more dangerous question to try to navigate?

A “no” would tip her off to my suspicions. But a “yes” is simply gullible, foolish even. How closely can I keep an eye on those tea bags and the water, and don’t get me started on what else might be in that sugar!

Malice domestic, indeed.


Seriously, though — as Tara wrote in an earlier column here at the Independent, there’s nothing better than being a writer married to a writer. We’re both thrilled to find ourselves together on the awards listing and happy for our fellow finalists, as well — great friends, great authors, and great stories each.

You can read each of those stories via the links below, and since Malice Domestic takes place right here in our own back yard — May 3-5 in Bethesda, Maryland — I hope many readers will come out and join the fun at the conference.

This year’s finalists for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story:

You can also listen to my story here as part of Ellery Queen’s monthly podcast series.

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. His fiction has won four Agatha Awards, the Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three Derringer Awards in the mystery field. He teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

Like what we do? Click here to support the nonprofit Independent!
comments powered by Disqus