|Troy Duane Smith, Western Author|
Please welcome award-winning western writer, Troy D. Smith, to the blog today. Troy says, "I don't write about things that happen to people- I write about people that things happen to." His short story “Bigfoot Wallace” was nominated for the 1997 Spur Award. In 2001 his novel BOUND FOR THE PROMISED LAND won the Spur Award for best original paperback and was a finalist in the first novel category. BLACKWELL’S RUN was a Peacemaker Award finalist. “Sin of Eli” was a 2011 Peacemaker Award finalist. Now let’s see what Troy has to say.
CC:Troy, please tell readers about yourself. Where you grew up, were you from a large family, etc.
TDS: I was born in 1968 and raised in Sparta, TN. My family, on both sides, has been in the Upper Cumberland area of Appalachian Tennessee for over two hundred years. The Upper Cumberland has been home to Lester Flatt, Sgt. Alvin York, infamous Civil War guerrilla Champ Ferguson, and Louis L’Amour’s fictional Sackett clan, to name only a few.
My parents divorced when I was very young; they each got remarried, and I have “half-siblings” (although I don’t like that term, they’re not “half-people”) that are several years younger than me. So in essence I was an only child for half my youth, and a big brother the rest of the time.
Although my family has a long history in this region, it is a history of hard times and poverty. I was the first male in the history of my family, on either side, to graduate high school. After graduation I devoted several years to ministerial and mission work, spending two years working with Haitian immigrants in South Florida and New York City (I speak French and some Haitian Creole.) I didn’t actually start college till I was 32 and had a 9-year-old daughter; last summer I defended my dissertation, and am wrapping up my first year as a college professor.
CC: My mother’s family are from Sparta and Spencer, so I’ll bet we have common kin. CHEROKEE WINTER has several stories of military men who have difficulty fitting back into civilian life. Were you in the armed services?
TDS: I was not; I went straight into religious work. Many of my family members were, though, including my dad and all three of his brothers.
I deeply appreciate the sacrifices of those who do serve, and although I can never completely understand their experience I try to come as close as I can. I often point out to young people that volunteering to serve in the military does not just mean risking your life and limb; you risk losing parts of your soul, and of enduring, witnessing, and even participating in things –for the greater good of your country –that may haunt you for the rest of your life even if you come back physically whole. And we as a society need to appreciate that.
CC: We most certainly do! When did you become interested in history?
TDS: I spent my first several years living with my mom and her sister (and my older cousin.) It was like I had two moms, almost, and when they both got remarried we still lived next door to each other. Anyhow, my Aunt Essie married a man who had recently moved to our little Southern town; a Czech Jew named Edgar, who had spent his own childhood as the son of a city official in Prague. Edgar and two of his brothers made a dramatic escape from the Nazis in 1938 and came to America (many of their relatives died in the Holocaust.) Edgar became a successful businessman, and was a huge influence on me as a child. He spoke five languages, read the classics, collected artifacts from Israel, and loved history. I spent countless hours in his library reading his history books. He always said I would grow up to be a professor. He died when I was nine; he inspired me to dream bigger things for myself than most people in my position would think possible. His collection of World War II history books, which I loved so much as a boy, are on a shelf in my office at the university.
CC: I’ve loved history as long as I can remember. Professors must publish in their field to survive, but when did you begin writing fiction?
TDS: Well, I’m new to the professoring business, but I’ve been writing for awhile. I was always writing stories, or drawing my own comics, as a kid, but never dreamed of being a writer (I did dream of being a comic book artist though!)
When I was about 20 I had a job buffing floors at a K-Mart… they would lock me in for 12 hours at night, but it only took half that time to do the job. One night I ran out of things to read, and started making up my own stories, mostly just to entertain myself. By the time I had written two novels it occurred to me I could do this for real. I threw myself into a training regimen; got a subscription to Writer’s Digest, and rounded up every book about writing I could find, and studied them intently. And I wrote, constantly. I sold my first short story to Louis L’Amour Western Magazine in 1995, when I was 27, and kept making sales from there. In ’97 I sold my first history article, to Wild West, and had quite a few of those published over the next few years as well.
CC: To me it seems CHEROKEE WINTER is a collection of powerful short stories with a common theme of personal redemption. What did you intend as the theme of these stories?
TDS: I didn’t actually plan it out… all these stories were previously published, most of them in the late 90s and early 2000’s, so each one was originally taken as a work solely in and of itself. But in retrospect, looking at them all in one volume, it does seem that there are common themes that seem to bind my work together. I suppose they are really things I have been trying to work out within myself all my life. Redemption is definitely one of them; another is grappling with who you really are.
CC: As a professor, what do you stress most to your students?
TDS: I stress that, no matter what their major, American History is going to be one of the most important classes they take in college. It is not an endless litany of names and dates; it is not an endless list of bad and embarrassing things that have happened in our country; nor is it, or should it be, an attempt to whitewash the bad things which did happen. It is a story; the story of human beings forming a country based on noble ideals, and their imperfect attempts to act on those ideals over time, and of how positive changes were gradually made as a result of regular citizens getting involved and working for those improvements –which is an ongoing process. No matter where you fit on the political spectrum (I tell them), at some point something in this country is going to make you mad and you’re going to want to change it. The very first step is understanding it, how things work and how they got that way. And that is important no matter what job you wind up doing, because your first job is citizen.
I also like to say I don’t teach history, I preach it.
CC: Good for you. I had an exceptional history professor at Texas Tech who did the same thing. My husband also took his class, and we both hold him in very high esteem. What do you hope readers take away from your writing?
TDS: I love to tell a good story, so I definitely don’t want to bore people –nor do I want to beat them over the head with a message. But I do want my words to make them think, and make them feel.
CC: Do you have advice for novice writers?
TDS: Write. Writing is a craft, and you have to learn it; no one comes to it with their voice fully formed. So practice, practice, practice, and also read, read, read. And don’t give up –be persistent.
CC: Good advice. So many people are easily discouraged. Give us some insight into why you chose Paladin as your Facebook ID.
TDS: There are several layers of meaning to that one!
I first adopted Paladin as a nickname back in ’97 or so, when I started chatting on the old Yahoo Books & Literature site. A paladin, according to the dictionary, is: “any knightly or heroic champion; any determined advocate or defender of a noble cause.” A more accurate definition, in medieval lore, is “a knight with no master- literally a ‘free lance’ who is seeking a noble cause to lend his sword to.”
And I like that. All my life I have been lending my sword (or my pen, really) to causes I thought were noble, and will continue to do so. And I am also a freelance, in a different (more modern) way.
In one episode –and this has stuck with me since I was a kid –someone asked him why he used a chess knight as his symbol. Because, he explained, of all the pieces on the board –only the knight could move over any obstacle, and only the knight could change directions in mid-move.
I have one tattoo. On my right arm. A white chess knight.
CC: I remember the “Have Gun, Will Travel” series, which I loved. Tell readers where they can find CHEROKEE WINTER as well as your blog and other links.
TDS: Amazon (kindle)- http://amzn.to/I5vEpg
CC: Thanks, Troy, for sharing with us today.
TDS: And thank you, very much, for the opportunity!
Readers, please return on Monday for a review of Troy's CHEROKEE WINTER, a collection of short stories that will stay with you long after you've finished reading the book.
Thanks for stopping by!