Romelia: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Troy Young: 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.
Romelia: how long does it take you to write a book?
Troy Young: It varies. The first novel I wrote I have since decided to break into three novels. It originally was 155,000 words, and I started it in March 2018 and finished it in August 2018. I had a fantasy novel I started in February 2019 and finally published in September 2020. And I’ve written a complete novel in twelve days. My first novel project was the only thing I was working on. The second one I mentioned took so long because I started working on a short story series (which ultimately became my best-selling work). It really depends on how the project grabs me on how quickly it gets finished.
Romelia: where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Troy Young: Usually on walks. The first thing I ever published was a four page short story, the idea of which came while walking my dog. My first short story which launched the series came while walking my dog. And the very first idea I ever had, the first project I started working on and the thing that got me started writing came while on a walk in Florida. Walking seems to clear my head and start the creative juices.
But, I have also been inspired by TV shows (The Mandalorian), video games (Red Dead Redemption), other authors (H. P. Lovecraft) and series (The Hardy Boys). Basically, anything can be a source of inspiration if you allow yourself to be open to it.
Romelia: what literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Troy Young: I haven’t been on any yet, but I’ve been to Edinburgh twice now. I intend to stop by the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh on my next visit.
Romelia: what is the first book that made you cry?
Troy Young: 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.
Romelia: what is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Troy Young: Vanity publishers positioning themselves as a real publisher. I remember speaking to one once and realized they were selling me nothing. Enough editing to get through a third of my book. A half hour of cover design. Setting up social media accounts and a website. But no marketing, no help to connect me with readers. What a scam. I literally set up my website and social media sites in about an hour. They wanted to charge $5,000 for this. They are taking advantage of naïve writers by selling them a dream.
Romelia: does writing energize or exhaust you?
Troy Young: Both. Energizes me through the creative process, but if I am on a roll, I avoid any kind of exercise (or even movement) and stay up way too late. So the next day, I am exhausted.
It is a mentally stimulating process, but physically exhausted, especially while juggling another career (two of them actually) and being a husband and father.
Romelia: what are common traps for aspiring writers?
Troy Young: Not realizing how much time will get eaten up by editing. Setting unrealistic expectations on how easy it will be. Getting overwhelmed by the non-creative elements that go along with becoming a success.
Romelia: does a big ego help or hurt writers?
Troy Young: Both. I think having a big ego helps drive you, and keeps you going when things get tough. Everyone who has ever been a success has some sort of ego.
However, if your ego is too big, you won’t take criticism well. It can get in the way of empathy, which is very important to writers. And if you are not successful at achieving your writing goals, a big ego can hurt. Just because it’s big, doesn’t mean it can’t also be fragile. Like in all things, you need a balance. Big, but not too big.
Romelia: what is your writing Kryptonite?
Troy Young: Video games. I often play them when I should be writing.
Romelia: have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Troy Young: Reader’s block? Oh yeah. The internet has been terrible for my reading. I end up reading articles online instead of novels. I rarely curl up anymore with a good book. Instead, I’m on one device or another scrolling through news feeds. Its still reading, but it’s not the same.
Romelia: did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Troy Young: I’ve written under a pseudonym. I’m not going to tell you what it is or why I did it (partially because I wasn’t that successful under it and partially because I don’t want these readers to read it or associate it with me).
Romelia: do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Troy Young: 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 clamoring 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.
Romelia: do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Troy Young: No. Being creative in any form requires you to have an emotional bent. You need to connect with your work if you expect others to connect with it.
Romelia: what other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Troy Young: 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!)
Romelia: do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Troy Young: Since I write in multiple genres, stand on its own. I don’t want to fall into a rut where I am always writing the same thing. I’m still exploring to find my niche too, so forcing connections to a book that hasn’t connected with readers would be detrimental.
By having work that stands on its own, I know that I can adjust to the needs of a genre. To be successful in multiple genres would be amazing.
Romelia: if you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Troy Young: 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.
Romelia: how did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Troy Young: Not my writing process, but what I tried to do with my writing. I knew nothing about self-publishing. I hadn’t even considered it. For me, it was traditional publishing or bust. But then I learned a bit about self-publishing, and I tested it with my first story. Now, while I would love to have a publisher and an agent to be a partner with something invested in me and helping me succeed, I’m not sure how I would handle the constant rejection and loss of control over when it would be published. So, taking the initiative and self-publishing changed the process for me. If I hadn’t I might have given up. No one wants to have a backlog of work no one wants to publish (I self-published six books in 2020).
Romelia: what was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Troy Young: 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.
Romelia: what authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Troy Young: I remember purchasing “The Hunt for Red October” to read on a flight to Paris on a class trip. I read the first few pages and set it aside. It didn’t grab me. Then a few months later I was looking for a book to read. I gave it a second try and then went and bought everything Tom Clancy had written up to that point.
I watched the Harry Potter movies before I ever read Harry Potter. I watched the first three movies and found them silly and couldn’t understand what the fuss was. Then a friend of mine canceled a meet up because Amazon was delivering “The Half Blood Prince” to him. I thought I should give Harry Potter a try. Read the first book, and I was hooked. Lined up to buy “The Deathly Hallows” at midnight. I went back and watched all the movies again, and now I love them. I even own a set of Gryffindor robes and a Mad-Eye Moody wand now.
Romelia: what did you do with your first advance?
Troy Young: Advance? Ha!
Romelia: what was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Troy Young: Probably the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dissidents against totalitarian power, and yet they could not be silenced.
Romelia: what are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
Troy Young: I don’t subscribe to any.
Romelia: from where you get inspired with your first book?
Troy Young: 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.
Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.
Troy Young: I’m a pretty lucky guy. Great wife, great daughter, full-time job I love. Good salary, awesome home. I’d love to be a successful writer, but if I’m not, well I still have it pretty good.