Welcome back to another Monday Morning Author Interview! Today we’ve been joined by Troy Young, author of the series The Gunslinger’s Emancipation and Encounters With the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as other books. Let’s see what he wants to talk about today!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It wasn’t something I’d always dreamed of, but I’d always been creative and had stories in my head. I just didn’t feel the need to get them out. Then I was teaching I’m a part-time business professor), and I was telling my students about their second career. What would they want to do if money was no longer an object? Maybe a post-retirement gig. One student asked me what I would do, and on the spot, I said I’d like to be an author. It still took me years after that to finally do something about that.
I was visiting Florida, where my parents have a winter home, and I went for a walk in the hot Florida sun. An hour later, with no hat or sunscreen, dehydrated and delirious, a story had formed in my mind. When I came back to Toronto and told my staff this story (I’m a CEO of a non-profit association), one of them said, “when are you going to stop telling us these stories and actually write something?” So I wrote it to spite her. That was my first novel.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I don’t work to a set schedule. Real-life too often gets in the way. Pre-pandemic, I had many things I needed to work around. Apart from the two jobs I mentioned, I have a 10-year-old daughter, and she had hockey three nights a week, dance classes, math classes, Brownies, guitar lessons, etc. Literally something every night of the week. If I had a slow day at work, I might steal an hour to write something. Often, I would write after my daughter went to bed. I’d be starting at 10 pm and work past midnight. But I am not one of those writers who feel they must write every day. If you force yourself to do it when you feel the pressure, I think it can hurt your work. You want to write because you want to, not because you think you must. I can think of no easier way to burn yourself out and ruin your creativity.
During the pandemic, I’ve had much more time to write. I published 6 books in 2020 (one just weeks before the pandemic started). Two were works I had finished in 2019 and didn’t get around to finishing, but two were novels I wrote beginning in the summer. I write a collection of Lovecraftian horror short stories (my best-selling collection), and I can drop one or two of them into my schedule from time to time. Two of the books I released were collections of those stories.
If I’m writing a chapter book, I tend to wait until I have the main thrust of it worked out in my head and sit and write until I finish it. It might be 1,300 words or 6,000 words, it doesn’t matter; once I start, I work until I complete it.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not sure I have one, apart from what I already mentioned. I haven’t had discussions with other authors to learn if what I do differs from them or not. I might be nothing but a bunch of quirks!
What does your family think of your writing?
Generally supportive. My wife and my parents will read over my work before publishing it and finding obvious errors. It’s not the same as getting an editor, but it helps. I still get the odd request to interrupt my writing to do things, which would not happen if I was, say, working a shift somewhere. The work of writing is often not given the same level of respect as other work, but I am sure other authors would say the same thing.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I do, and it is usually positive. I’ve had some great feedback from people and modified future works based on a reader’s suggestion. I even relocated a story I was going to set in one town to a reader’s hometown to recognize the kind words they gave me.
Sometimes I end up with a completely new idea for something I had never considered. Like, in the first story in my series, readers said they picked up a hint of a potential romance between two characters. Romance was the last thing on my mind when I wrote it! But that stuck with me, and in a later story they were both in, I worked in a sexual encounter between the two. Not exactly a romance, but it’s a horror story. But originally, I wasn’t even sure I would use these characters again. Still, the idea of a romance between the two made me consider more stories with them. Because of that, one of the two has morphed into the principal character of the entire series.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was really young, I thought I would be a soldier. Anyone that knows me now would laugh at that suggestion. I’m too strong-headed to follow orders and like my creature comforts too much. I’ve been blessed that in the twenty-five years I’ve been working, for only two of those did I have a direct boss. They came five years into it, and they were the worst two years of my career. So, I would not have survived as a soldier.
Once I made it into high school, I caught the theatre bug and wanted to be an actor. I even went to university to study theatre but changed majors after one year. I realized to be an actor, I’d have to be hanging out with other actors all the time. All the world’s a stage, and many took that to heart. I couldn’t imagine being part of that group; no disrespect to actors, but it is a competitive field, and I think everyone around you is also competition. I also didn’t want to be 40 and living with a roommate waiting for my big break. I wanted to get a job and make real money. So I went and earned a degree in modern French history instead (ha!).
What is the first book that made you cry?
I don’t think a book has ever made me cry. Books can make you think, they can unnerve you, but I find the medium doesn’t elicit the same emotional response in me that a movie or television show can. It’s not like I’m cold and unfeeling because many movies and TV shows have made me cry. An episode of Valerie. The Megan Follows episode of Law and Order. The movie Armageddon (but not the parts most people cry at). The video game Last of Us made me bawl out loud the first time I played it. But I can’t think of a book that has done that. I guess because the words are constructing the action in my head. I feel I am partially in control of it as opposed to being an observer.
Although I had an emotional response to one story I wrote. One character sacrificed themselves and forced the other character to kill her. I didn’t cry, but my eyes got moist while crafting the scene, probably because I was emotionally invested in them both.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
You hear the phrase write to market all the time. So far, I have written things I would want to read. Unfortunately, they don’t always sell. It is a fine balance between being an artist and being a businessperson. Yes, I love to create vivid stories that I am invested in, but I also want to be a financial success and make this my only career. I can write things I love and sell two copies of it or write things that readers are clamouring for.
I’ll give you an example. I wrote a fantasy novel, The Stone of Death. I had grown tired of the big epic stories where everyone either has a destiny or is someone important. I mean, I love Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones (although I struggle with Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; It has taken me ten months to get 200 pages into it. He literally spent four pages describing crossing a river!). My novel is about four people, completely average folk who get pulled into a quest and then find themselves on the run from a cult of assassins and another group who both are seeking this artifact that has the power to end all life in the world. They can’t stop, or they will be hunted down and killed. Their only hope (and the fate of the world) involves them beating these two groups to the artifact. If they are successful, they have no idea what to do about it. It’s tongue in cheek and doesn’t take itself too seriously; the one thing I find about most fantasy is it is very serious. There is little joy. Everyone is so sombre that it involves either prophecies, Chosen Ones, kings and queens, and the like. I mean, I do love stories like that, but do they all have to be that way?
So, I wanted to write something that was a bit of a departure. I’ve had some positive feedback from it, and the only review of it on Amazon gave it four stars. I know it doesn’t suck. But I enrolled it in Kindle Unlimited, and I will watch the page reads. Readers will get 30 to 50 pages in and abandon it. The characters are real. The dialogue is witty, filled with action and intrigue. Still, I think what it suffers from is that it doesn’t meet the reader’s expectations of a fantasy novel. I intended this as the first in a four-book series, but I am debating whether I finish it. I enjoyed writing it. Some of my beta readers really connected with it, but they were not normally readers of fantasy. So, I think you need to deliver to readers what they expect. Maybe once you are established, you can try to be more original and write something that goes against the norm. But when you are getting started (this was the second book I published and the fourth I’d actually completed), I think you need to write to expectations.
My other books are things I have written that I would want to read, and the sales and the feedback are much better, but then again, they are also more to what the market expects. My average Goodreads rating is 4.25/5, with 146 ratings and 33 reviews, so people who read my work tend to like it. My books on Amazon have all rated 4 stars or higher, with mainly positive reviews. And the one book I got in front of a publisher made it to a VP at one of the top four major publishing houses who declared that I “can really write!” and compared the work to Catcher in the Rye, so I know I have talent. But I have that one book that just can’t capture people’s attention, and the only thing I can think of it doesn’t match expectations.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am not friends with many authors apart from “Facebook friend”. One of my daughter’s best friends, her mother, is a best-selling author. Still, she writes very heavy literary fiction, so I and my horror/fantasy/sci-fi ramblings don’t get treated to the same level. I should probably join some author’s groups (real ones, not just virtual ones), but this pandemic has made it harder to do that. Eventually, I will. I’d love to be a pen-pal with an established author in my genres (Stephen King, if you’re reading this, drop me a line!)
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Start earlier. I was 47 when I started writing. I was 48 when I published my first thing. I had no idea how easily Amazon had made it to self-publish. I think I missed out on the heyday when it was easier to earn money from them (when you’d get paid for the entire book if someone made it partway into it). I would have started my path as an author much sooner if I had known.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The best money I ever spent was getting the pro versions of ProWritingAid and Grammarly. Now, I know they do not replace a proper editor. You shouldn’t just accept everything they suggest because they can rip the soul out of your work by making it generic reading (like above, I wrote the words “modified” and “relocate” and PWA wanted me to use “change” and “moved” instead. What is wrong with the ones I used? (PWA recommended changing them in this sentence too). They are far from perfect, but they are still great tools to use. I have both up and running in real-time as I write and often make changes as I go along. I find they have helped me anticipate issues with my writing. With practice, I’ve been able to improve it because of their suggestions. And the PWA thesaurus tool is awesome. I’ll run it on a passage, and it will help me see what words I might have overused a bit so I can mix it up. It will also provide me with that awesome word that escaped me and ultimately help me craft a more powerful sentence. I love them both; well worth the money for me.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I’m not sure it is under-appreciated because it has solid reviews on Goodreads. Still, when I compare the sheer volume of reviews to the author’s other works, they are lagging. The series I am discussing is Raymond E. Feist’s (along with Janny Wurts) Empire series. It’s got between 26,000 and 33,000 reviews (compared to over 60,000 for his Riftwar Saga, which the Empire series is part of). I think it is brilliant, but then again, it is more of a departure from traditional fantasy, while his Riftwar Saga is much more what you would expect fantasy to be. I love his Empire series, and I’ve read it many times, much more than the Riftwar. I wonder if it is Janny Wurts’ influence.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I am working on the 16th story in my Lovecraftian Horror series, The Other. They are a series of linked short stories that follow investigators from a secret Canadian government organization tasked with investigating paranormal activity. I guess it is like a combination of X-Files and Delta Green, but I’ve never watched an episode of X-Files or read anything Delta Green related. This series is my best seller. It’s niche (Lovecraftian horror set in Canada) and has developed a solid following. I publish each story individually. Once I have enough of them to publish in paperback, I take the individual stories down and republish them as one book. Books one and two are now out (each book contains six previously published stories and a bonus previously unpublished tale), and the stories are meant to be read in order. The first three stories of the third and final book are out in individual release.
After I finish this story, I will start on the third novel in my space western series, The Gunslinger’s Emancipation. The first two novels (The Seeker of Solace and The Denial of Deliverance) were published in September and December 2020. They tell the story of Orlan Bazhaev, a career criminal who is given a choice; die on the gallows or hunt down the remnants of the gang he ran with. It’s inspired by the TV show The Mandalorian and the video game Red Dead Redemption. The second book continues Orlan’s redemption tale and draws more on The Magnificent Seven/The Seven Samurai with some Mad Max thrown in for fun. I have two more books in this series to write.
After I finish that novel, I probably will finish off the last book of The Other, and then I have a YA detective series I want to start. Always be writing!
What do you have coming soon?
Well, The Denial of Deliverance did just release a month ago, and my next story in The Other, The Curse of the Windsor Witch, should be out in the next few weeks. I also just released another short story, The Misplaced Masterpiece of Richard Upton Pickman. It seems like I have something new every month being released, so keep checking my author page on Amazon.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I just want to thank you for this opportunity, and I hope your readers check out my works. I’d really love some feedback on why The Stone of Death seems to have missed the mark with fantasy readers. Help me puzzle that one out!
Thank you for spending time with me!
There you go, readers – go check out Troy’s work and give him that feedback on The Stone of Death!
Troy can be found on Facebook (twice – this one and also The Other Lovecraft), Twitter as @FloridaNovel, and Instagram as @troyyoung1971, and his website is www.floridamanthenovel.com, or you can go buy his books right now with the buttons below!