Final weekend of November! Most of the SPFBO finalists have been announced now, and massive congrats to everybody! Today I bring you an interview with Troy Hill.
Check out my ongoing interviews for SPFBO5 down below:
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
-My name is Troy, and I’m a retired journalist. Also a retired adjunct professor of journalism from Indiana.
As for what I write? Medieval Urban Fantasy. Some folks seem to believe that Urban Fantasy is relegated to contemporary times.
Instead, I dove back into history, but wrote with the tropes that have become standard fare in UF: Snarky Female Protagonist, First Person POV, Discovery and fight against, then acceptance of a role they don’t want to have.
The stories are set in the Dark Ages of Britain. No steel towers of glass and chrome. No guns.
Most UF has shifter claws (check! got those!), swords (those ramp up in book 2, but check and double check!), and spells (how about a druidic priestess disciple of Britain’s ancient Celtic Goddess?).
The thriving metropolis is different though. Hillforts with communal dining in this period in Dark Ages Wales. Don’t worry. In Book 4, you get a taste of Penda of Mercia’s seat of power. Urban just means different things in different times.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
Since most of what I write is set in an historical time period, I look for real events around which I can build story events.
Unfortunately, my books are in the Dark Ages. They’re called “dark” because we have little historical records from the time, and the bits we do have are often heavily biased. We know some of what happened, but not often the why behind it. Or dates and locations might be a bit sketchy.
Tell us about your current project.
As I mentioned above, it’s a Medieval Urban Fantasy set in the mid seventh century Britain (primarily Wales).
The ancient Celtic goddess of Britain faces a challenge from an unseen enemy. A challenge that could drain the goddess and Britain of life. To fight this death, and protect the lives of the people of Britain, the goddess looks outside the mortal realm. She choses to fight death with undeath.
Will Maria, a six-hundred-year-old vampire heed her call?
Book five in the series released (releases as of this writing) on June 27. Book six is currently in draft form, and should be the final book in the series. Though, the outline is rather long. I may have to split it into two final volumes.
Is this your first entry into SPFBO? If not, how many times have you entered?
First Entry. This was my first novel, and not the strongest of the series. But, one of the requirements is that the submission be the first in series. While I don’t expect to finish in the top ten, I do hope the judges see the potential in the story for the development that grows throughout the series.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Maria, a six-centuries old undead Child of the Night (what we’d call a vampire) is fleeing from the Guild known as The Witch Hunters, who have the backing of the Roman church. Imagine them as an early predecessor to the Spanish Inquisition. This guild is out to track down and destroy all things supernatural.
The only frontier left where the guild might not be is the land of Britannia, where Anglos and Saxons have reestablished Pagan faiths, and the Celtic church, abandoned by Rome when the empire collapsed a century or more before, may not have heard of the Witch Hunters. All Maria wants is a safe place to live her undead life.
But the Witch Hunters are there, too. If not for the aid of Lady Gwen, the Druidic Priestess and disciple of the Celtic Goddess of Britannia, Maria would have died the true death at the hands of the Witch Hunters. Maria has been called by the Goddess, called to be the new champion of Britain, like Arthur, Bran and Mabon before her.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Apply seat of pants to seat of chair. Place fingers on keyboard and just write. The rough draft is supposed to suck. Fix it later. Just write. Get up the next day and repeat. Keep going until you have a full story. Then stick it in a drawer and ignore it for a month.
Read about storycraft – Save the Cat, Story Grid, On Writing. Lots of good tomes. Read them. Then apply them when you finally open that drawer and peek at your story again.
Don’t worry, your first draft is just you telling the story to yourself. It’s supposed to be terrible. Polish it. Change it. Rewrite it. Let it sit for two more months. Reread the books on how to write. Go back and revise it yet again.
Then find a developmental editor and check your ego. Seriously, lock the ego away. 99.99999% of writers need a lot of help with their first story or four. Listen to the editor. Make the changes they suggest. Polish the story again.
Only then should you let a stranger read it. Note, your family and friends are not included anywhere above. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. You need the unvarnished truth from people who read in that genre. Friends and family are not what you need to give feedback.
If all else fails, go to grad school. I did. Writing critiques there can be brutal. I learned much from my fellow students. More than even from my professors. We critiqued both the bad (some of mine was very bad), along with the occasional gem. We used the critiques to grow.
Remember that ego you locked in a box at the bottom of ocean? Leave it there. What matters is if even one reader connects with what you’ve written. Feed those comments into your ego lock box. All the other comments should be fed into the “How to improve” box of ideas on your writing desk.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
One of my primary sources for the historical aspects for this series was listening to Jamie on The British History Podcast. Jamie, the host, is a gifted storyteller, and pulls his listeners into his narrative through his techniques for painting a picture with his spoken prose. I was amazed at how often I’d write in details he had dropped into his shows (drunken monks, anyone?)
What inspires you to write?
My desire to not have a real job!
In addition to that, my first professor when I returned to grad school, told me that I had been hiding my writing ability behind a camera. My self-identity as a PHOTO-journalist had interfered with my ability to envision myself as a crafter of words. Fortunately, his encouragement came at the beginning of my quest for the degree. I was able to apply my newfound self-identity toward increasing my growth as a wordsmith.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Overcoming the desire to do anything else. Writing this interview, for example, is my excuse not to dive into a scene where I have to develop out and introduce two new characters. I’ve been fighting this scene for a week. I need to write it, so I can move on and get into the story. Procrastination is the enemy of every good book waiting to be written.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
After breakfast, I try to begin writing. If that carries me through a few thousand words, great! If I can only squeeze out a few hundred words, at least I have something to build on as I try to return to the prose after the rest of my morning.
I find that two times of day are best for me to attempt wordsmithing: Mornings and evenings. Too much of the day is spent with other distractions. And those times are when my mind is closest to the subconscious energy where most of the stories reside.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
When Maria, taken prisoner by the Witch Hunters, breaks her bonds and is drawn into the fight with her captors. There, I dive deep into her thoughts as her blood-lust, what she calls her “demon” takes her. There is a ton of action.
A couple of real tear-jerk, half-a-box of tissues moments occur, and a deep dive into Maria’s motivation.
I need a tissue for my eyes just thinking about what Maria sacrifices in that scene.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Rough drafts are just that, rough. Fortunately, I found a great writing coach in my first editor. She worked with me on development edits, character development, etc. I spent so much time re-writing under her guidance, that I eventually sent the book back in for a full line-edit.
Editing is an expensive but necessary step in the writing process. Fortunately, through grad school and all of the writing critiques I endured and participated in, I’ve learned to forego the ego side. I understand that I need to grow and improve. My rough drafts, even after my revisions, still need a lot of help. That’s why I have my editor.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
Even when I plot, I go so far off script through the course of writing, that I am loathe to use any single term. A gardner or discovery writer, perhaps, but with some structure. Especially in the latest book I am writing. That one is the culmination of the series. Five novels, and five novellas lead into this book. I’ve got sooooo many threads I need to tie up, that I have to have an outline to work on.
Fortunately, Scrivener’s note-cards for each chapter document work well. I can plot out an act in the book, then break it down chapter by chapter. I’ll end up rewriting the note cards as I go, when characters veer off script.
Napping helps this process. When a character doesn’t want to cooperate with the story arc, a nap or two let’s my subconscious mind sort out the details.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
No, seriously. I may have a rough idea of what a character is doing, but not why. A nap, or even waking after a night’s sleep lets my mind come up with those little motivations, or past history bits that I had not pieced together.
I’m adding a young woman and her grandfather to the mix in book six of the series. I know more about her than her grandfather right now. She’s much more central to the future books, so my subconscious mind has been filling in details about her past. Her grandfather probably won’t see the later books. So I don’t need to know as much about him.
However, his past is tied in with hers. The more her character develops in this book, the more I’ll need to understand him as well. Right now, though, he’s got the proverbial red-shirt on. That character who will move the plot forward, and help the more central characters develop
What are your future project(s)?
Since this saga is about to wrap, I’ve got ideas for two other series. One set in slightly futuristic Los Angeles. Still Urban Fantasy, but more mainstream.
Then there is the historical UF continuation of the Cup of Blood series. I sense a Viking invasion in the next wave of stores. But that’s 150-ish years beyond where Maria’s story in this saga winds up. We’ll have to see who makes it into the next series of Medieval UF stories.
What is your favorite book ever written? Who are your favorite authors?
Barry Hughart’s A Bridge of Birds.
It’s a “Novel of Ancient China that never was.” Just like my own work, Mr. Hughart finds inspiration in history, to tell a story with strong fantasy elements. I can only dream about developing characters as richly developed as his Master Li and Number-Ten Ox.
There are two other books in the series, and each is a wonderful tale well worth reading.
My list of favorites is too long to dive into. But in the UF spectrum, I started with Laurell K. Hamilton in her early years. I stop reading after Book 8 in the Anita Blake series. Obsidian Butterfly is probably her best work in the genre.
Early influences include Robert A. Heinlein, David Eddings, R. A. Salvatore, and all of the classics of fantasy. Glen Cook is another great influence.
If you want a non-fiction, long-form journalism favorite, anything by John McPhee. He makes rocks and geology interesting characters. Seriously.
What makes a good villain?
Mystery. In both Mr. Hughart’s books, and my own, the villains are not obvious. Sure, Maria faces off against the Witch Hunters guild. But, who is the enemy of the Goddess? Why is Maria the best choice to face off against the ultimate baddy?
In Bridge of Birds there are villains that become heroes and quests that seem silly, but lead to discovering the ultimate villain. And only because Master Li needed to discover why and how a plague learned to count. (That last part makes sense when you read A Bridge of Birds).
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Play miniature wargames. Mostly historical ones, like Bolt Action (a WWII in 28mm) or Cruel Seas (Naval PT boats from WWII). In addition, I like fantasy miniatures. I’ve enjoyed role-play, and even edited an old D&D Forgotten Realms supplement back when TSR was still around.
Now, I’m lead editor for NoDiceNoGlory.com, a wargaming blog. We’ve got a lot of writers with passion about a wide range of games.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Work as a editor/social media coordinator for one of the game companies who’s products I spend a lot of money on.
You can travel to any planet or moon in the Solar System. Where would you go, why and what would you do there?
I am not done visiting Earth. For now, I just want to visit Wales. Maybe move to Wales. Definitely want a cabin in Wales. My stories are set in Wales, and potentially a new series in Los Angeles. I currently reside in Los Angeles. I’ll take the beauty and elbow room of rural Wales.
Pick any three characters from a fiction novel. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Merry and Pippin from LOTR. We’d go hit all the BBQ places from Kansas City, to Texas, then to Georgia, and points in between.
If I’m road tripping for BBQ, I want some companions who understand about 2nd Lunch, Elevensies, Third Dinner, etc.
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07H9NT8Z9 also in Kindle Unlimited