I want to introduce you to a dear friend of mine, Troy Smith, who writes some of the best western fiction you’ll ever lay eyes on. I’ve had the privilege of editing some of Troy’s work, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Not only is Troy a fantastic writer, he’s also a wonderful person, and I’m excited to introduce him to y’all here today at Petticoats and Pistols. He’ll be giving away a copy of CALEB’S PRICE at the end of the day, so be sure and leave a comment along with your contact information!
Now here’s a bit about Troy Smith:
Troy D. Smith was born in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee in 1968. He has waxed floors, moved furniture, been a lay preacher, and taught high school and college. He writes in a variety of genres, achieving his earliest successes with westerns. His first published short story appeared in 1995 in Louis L’Amour Western Magazine, and he won the Spur Award in 2001 for the novel Bound for the Promise-Land (being a finalist on two other occasions.) He is currently teaching American history at Tennessee Tech, and serving as president of Western Fictioneers -the first national writing organization devoted exclusively to fiction about the Old West.
Caleb’s Price is a very serious story –about the longing that echoes in all of us –that is told in a humorous and sometimes bittersweet way. My goal when I started it was to take all the standard themes, even stereotypes, of the western story and give them a surprising twist. The plot is reminiscent of Shane, Pale Rider, and dozens of B Westerns: an orphaned boy named Joey, raised by his aunt and uncle, is befriended by a mysterious stranger while the whole area is caught up in a range war. Romance seems to develop between the stranger, Caleb, and Joey’s sad and lonely, neglected Aunt Sally. But there are major twists. The “evil cattle baron” is not quite what he seems to be, and Joey (as well as the reader) begins to wonder if Caleb really is there to save them, or if he is there to destroy them. Pretty heavy plot. Yet while I was writing it, the characters took on a life of their own –even the villains (and sometimes it’s hard to tell who they really are) –and the story was imbued with a simultaneous mixture of comedy and tragedy. The only way I could explain it is: imagine if Shane had been written by Thomas Berger, the guy who wrote Little Big Man. It’s at the top of my list of favorites among the things I’ve written.
Totally by accident! I have always told stories, even as a kid, but it never occurred to me to be a professional writer. When I was in my early 20s I had a job buffing floors at K-mart and Wal-mart stores- in those days the stores were closed from 9pm till 9am, and I was locked in there alone for 12 hours to do a 4 or 5 hour job. I filled the empty hours by reading everything I could get my hands on (including a whole lot of westerns.) While I was buffing, my mind wandered to the stories I was reading- how would I do them differently? So for my own entertainment I started writing those stories down. I was on my 3rd or 4th novel before it dawned on me that I could try to get them published. I started taking the writing seriously, reading every how-to book I could find, and developed my craft.
What was your first sale as an author?
A western short story called “Mourning Glory.” It was in the Nov. 1995 issue of Louis L’Amour Western Magazine. I remember looking at that first paycheck -328 bucks –and thinking that, no matter what happened for the rest of my life, nothing could change the fact that I was a professional, published author. The magazine took several more of my stories –but unfortunately it folded not long after that.
From about 1998 to 2003, there were a number of people I met through Western Writers of America and online Western forums who helped me enormously. Robert J. Randisi included me in several anthologies he edited in that time, and was very encouraging. The list is very long, and I’m bound to slip up and leave someone out… but it included Jim Crutchfield, Dale Walker, Peter Brandvold, John Nesbitt, and more. Some of them introduced me to agents or editors, or read my manuscripts. Jory Sherman and Frank Roderus were especially helpful and encouraging when I was at the bottom of the barrel, devastated both emotionally and financially by a bad divorce. One veteran writer, whom I won’t embarrass by naming, sent me a computer and printer when he learned I no longer had such things, and the only repayment he would ever accept was a promise to do the same for another struggling writer someday (I did just that eventually, when I no longer needed that equipment.) I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people I named above don’t even remember helping me, it was such second nature to them –but I remember, and I always will.
My favorite character I have ever created was Lonnie Blake, a supporting character in Bound for the Promise-Land. I wanted my hero, an escaped slave-turned-Union soldier named Alfred Mann, to have two army comrades who could play the roles of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to his everyman. Blake was the MLK character- tormented by his human frailties, yet saintly in his love. I grew quite attached to him –he was the sort of man I’d like to be.
What do you think makes a good story?
Conflict. You can’t have a story without conflict –not much of a story, anyhow. And the best stories have both inner and outer conflict; something is challenging the character in the outside, physical world, and that is mirrored by some inner challenge that the hero must overcome in order to defeat the physical obstacle. I also believe that the hero must be changed inside somehow, if only a little, at the end of the story or else you (and the reader) have just been passing time.
Where do you research for your books?
I used to do a lot of research in actual libraries, but nowadays it is possible to find even the most obscure items and documents online. Five years ago I spent an entire summer going from archive to archive in Oklahoma and Arkansas; everything I looked at then can now be accessed digitally. Of course, it’s still good to get a feel for the landscape, and you can’t do that in your computer chair looking at j-pegs. A lot of the western stuff I’ve written lately, and most of what I have planned, has been set in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), Arkansas, and Kansas –the area I researched intensely for my history dissertation, so I’m already pretty familiar with it.
A crime novel I am very proud of, and which I hope grows into a series –Cross Road Blues –was published last year by Perfect Crime Books. My whole Western backlist is in the middle of being re-issued in both paper and e-book format by Western Trail Blazer, with new stuff upcoming as well. So far they’ve done four of my western novels, with four more in the chute, as well as several short stories- I hope to be with WTB for a long time to come. Rebecca J. Vickery is a treasure for our genre, and hopping on her WTB bandwagon when it was first rolling out was one of the smarter things I have done.
Read a lot. Read to gain factual information, to stir your muse, to examine how other people construct plots and characters. If you want to write good prose, in addition to telling good stories, also practice writing and reading poetry- notice meter and rhythm, and imagery.
And stick with it. Be persistent. Most “overnight successes” had been trying for years –and no one had heard of the ones who quit just before their big break came along.
Do you have a Website or Blog?
I sure do. My official website is www.troyduanesmith.com –there’s info there about my books, and some biographical material. I also blog at http://tnwordsmith.blogspot.com –sometimes about writing, or about westerns, pop culture, history or politics (as a historian, I don’t separate history and politics into different compartments, it’s all part of the same beast!)
Glad you asked! Here it is.
EXCERPT FROM CALEB’S PRICE:
“You homesteaders are a stubborn breed,” Caleb said.
“We’re not stubborn,” said Burt. “Our dreams are. Some dreams die hard, and others don’t die at all –so long as they have a bit of rich soil to sink into. Surely you can understand that, Caleb. Even you can’t be as hard as you sound. We all have dreams.”
“I manage to sleep pretty sound, myself. If I have any dreams I don’t remember ’em.”
“You’re an unfortunate man, then. A man who never dreams is a sad thing.”
“How about women?” Caleb asked.
“What do you mean?”
“How about women? Do they have dreams?”
Burt laughed. “Not bein’ one myself, it’s hard to say.”
“Have you ever asked one?”
“Asked one what?”
“About her dreams.”
“No, Caleb, I haven’t. What are you gettin’ at?”
“Nothin’ in particular. I was just wonderin’. You bein’ so big on dreams, I just wondered if you ever noticed anybody else’s.”
Burt frowned. “At least I notice my own.”
“What about your wife, Burt? Does she have any dreams?”
“What do you think?”
“I think that if she does, they’re not about land. Or sheep.”
“Perhaps you’d be good enough to tell me what you think my wife dreams about.” Burt’s voice had taken on a rough edge.
“Oh, I don’t know. The sea, maybe.”
Burt laughed again. I think his laugh was beginning to irritate Caleb. It had been irritating me for years.
“So that’s it,” Burt said. “Sally’s been entertainin’ you with those fairy tales of hers. It’s getting’ plain to me that you have no experience with women. If we had stayed in New Bedford she would have dreamed about the West, and complained about never havin’ seen it. That’s just the way women are. They don’t know what they want. They only know that it’s always somethin’ they’ll never have. It’s different with a man, he dreams about somethin’ simple and sets about gettin’ it. Like me. I know exactly what I want.”
“Then your dreams are important enough to risk your family’s lives over.”
“Yes,” Burt said, in a voice that was softer than normal for him. “That’s how great nations are built. I’m only sorry that you don’t understand any of the things I’ve been tellin’ you.”
“I probably understand more than you give me credit for.”
“I was right about you, wasn’t I, Caleb?”
“What do you mean?”
“About what I said earlier. That you’re a wanderer.”
“I’ve never denied it.”
Burt’s face took on a cold expression. “Then I think that it’s only fair I warn you now, Johnson. Don’t try to include my wife in your wanderin’.”
Caleb chuckled. “What on earth brought that on? The last I knew, we were talkin’ about sheep.”
“All that fancy talk about what her dreams are,” Burt said, his tone hot. “They’ll not come true from the likes of you, I’ll warrant.”
Caleb shook his head. “You sure take a lot out of a little polite conversation.”
“Just don’t fawn over my wife, that’s all.”
“I wasn’t fawnin’ over her, I was just tryin’ to make a point. The point being, you’re risking her life over something she doesn’t even want.”
“I’ll be the judge of what my wife wants, not you. Women are like sheep. All they really want is to be directed. Anything else that comes from ’em is just mindless bleating. And besides, it’s none of your bloody business to start with.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Caleb said. “I was just offerin’ some friendly advice, that’s all.”
“Save your advice for the polar bears. The way you talk, I’d almost believe Ike Majors sent you here as a spy.”
Caleb stared at him for a moment, silent, then said, “If Ike Majors had sent me here, somebody would be usin’ this little wagon as a coffin, and you’d be a lot closer to God’s green earth than you ever wanted to be.”
“Aye. Or else you’d be.”
Troy, thank you so much for being our guest today here at Petticoats and Pistols. We hope you’ll come back and join us again sometime! You’ve got a lot of wonderful work out there and some beautiful covers, for sure!