Friday 12 August 2011

Dancing With Myself: TROY D SMITH interviews TROY D SMITH

Who the hell is Troy D. Smith?

I am a writer and historian from Sparta, Tennessee. I recently earned my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, and am currently teaching U.S. History at Tennessee Tech University. My first published fiction was a short story in Louis L’Amour Western Magazine in 1995.

What is your latest crime fiction?

Cross Road Blues, from Perfect Crime Books. It is set in the African American blues joints of Nashville in 1957, and follows the misadventures of a harmonica player who falls in with bad company. He finds himself involved with stolen drugs and is framed for murder; pursued by both police and criminals, he has to find the real killer without being caught himself. It is a noir story in more than one sense of the word (as it has an all-black cast of characters, and noir is French for black. I slay myself sometimes.) The hero, Roy Carpenter, discovers along the way that he has a knack for solving mysteries; I intend to make this the first of a series.

What do you have coming up?

I have several digital shorts due out soon from Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery. Included among them are a couple of entries in a new mystery series and a stand-alone crime story. The series centers on Conor Mac Cormac, a 5th century Irish chieftain with a propensity for solving mysteries. The murders Mac Cormac encounters are always more than they seem –the Irishman is often entangled in the political intrigues of the late Roman Empire. The first two entries are “The King’s Avenger” and “The Infidels.” I have plotted a third story that will take Mac Cormac to Rome. The stand-alone short is a suspense story, “All Great Neptune’s Ocean,” and is about a reporter whose family is targeted when he investigates a mob figure, and the terrible revenge he plans for the gangster. The title is from MacBeth: after assassinating the king, Macbeth asks “Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”

I have just finished the first in yet another series of mystery short stories that will hopefully be available as ebooks in a few months –this one tackles the sub-genre known as “redneck noir,” and is called Dead Rednecks! The first installment, “Dead Rednecks Are My Specialty,” introduces our heroes, Horace and Howard Qualls: the former, more often known as Hoss, is a streetwise (and backwoods-wise) ex-con trying to go straight, while the latter is his younger, far less competent brother, who opens a detective agency in Knoxville. 

What else do you write?

I write in a variety of genres: horror, mystery, science fiction, fantasy… but my greatest success so far has been with westerns. I won the Spur Award in 2001, and was a finalist on two other occasions, and my work has appeared in several anthologies. I also write nonfiction, particularly history. The next big history project I have in the works is a book about law enforcement in Indian Territory.

Who has influenced your writing?

I’ve had several influences, including just about every author I have ever read in one way or another. There have been some that I purposefully tried to emulate along the way to finding my own voice: Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Larry McMurtry, and others. When I first began writing I was greatly impressed by two authors in particular: Ed Gorman and James Reasoner, both of whom are masters at creating and sustaining mood. I’d say the biggest influence on me, however, because his stories got to me at such a young age, was Stan Lee.  

So far as crime fiction, the first big influence on me was the master, Dashiell Hammett. When I was ten the TV miniseries The Dain Curse, starring James Coburn, sent me scrambling to the library to find more of this Hammett guy, and that summer I read all his novels. 

How is writing crime fiction different from other genres?

It would be overly simplistic to say that “there is a crime in it” or “there is a mystery to solve.” There certainly is truth, though, in the old adage that a mystery story contains a puzzle. You have to make sure all the parts fit. You don’t want it to be too obvious, nor on the other extreme too esoteric. Ideally, at the moment your reader discovers “who done it,” they should say “Of course! That makes perfect sense –I should’ve seen it!”

Some folks believe that the rational approach to puzzle-solving automatically eliminates the need for characterization. That’s not true. Especially in series crime fiction, the reader likes getting to know their protagonist –it is the little quirks and personal histories that make them stand out and keeps the reader coming back to enjoy their company again and again.

What do you think about digital publishing?

I think it is an exciting frontier. Everything has changed in the last couple of years, and ultimately those changes are going to benefit the reader and the writer (although they will hurt most everyone in between those two points.) The frontier analogy is especially apt: like all frontier situations, it is the entrepreneur who jumps into the unknown and stakes his claim early that will make his mark. “Civilization” is always just around the corner from a frontier –in this case, the hyper-organized economic forces which will come in, as the smoke is clearing, and divide the new territory up among a few corporate giants. It happened with land booms, oil booms, and various sorts of technological booms, and it will happen with digital publishing –sooner rather than later. Until then, it is sort of a wild, fun, free-for-all… like the old mountain man rendez-vous. I think any writer is smart to take advantage of that now. I recommend anyone who isn’t doing so to follow the blogs of Kristine Kathryn Rusch (“The Business Rusch,” at ) and Dean Wesley Smith ( ).

How and why did you become a writer?

I have always loved telling stories. It’s part of being a Southerner! When I was a kid, playing with toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians, etc., I had to have a compelling story to motivate the action. Like all geeky kids, I wrote and drew my own comics throughout childhood.

The beginnings of my serious efforts to write fiction, though, came at –of all places –K-mart.

See, I used to be what we in the profession call a “floor guy” –I waxed, buffed, and stripped floors (not in that order, mind you.) When I was in my early 20s I worked (as a subcontractor) at the K-mart in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I’d get locked in from 9pm till 9am –it only took half that time to do the job, and the rest of my time was my own. But there wasn’t a lot to do. I ran out of books to read, and started making up my own stories –plotting them out while I was buffing, and writing them down when I was finished with the night’s job. I was on my third novel manuscript before it ever occurred to me I might try to get something published. My writing procedures, by the way, got me some strange stares in later years when I was working at stores that were open 24 hours… I would be buffing along, making up dialogue and speaking it aloud to myself, lost in the story. Fight scenes especially got customers’ attention. Now that I think back on it, it reminds me of the scenes in the film The Whole Wide World where Vincent D’Onofrio, as Robert E. Howard, shouted his “Conan the Barbarian” dialogue aloud while typing (by the way, in my opinion that movie is one of the best representations on film of what it is like to be a writer.)

Who is your favorite fictional detective?

Now that’s a tough one. There are a lot of contenders, many of them classics: Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot. The top spot, though, has to go to Philip Marlowe. He was the perfect blend of wisecracking tough guy and introspective intellectual.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

My best advice for aspiring writers is: don’t become expiring writers. Don’t give up. Be tenacious. Keep writing, improving your craft, and submitting things. Talent without tenacity is unlikely to get you anywhere.


  1. Great interview and very inspiring!

  2. Hi Troy,
    Great interview. Thanks for the bump to Publishing by Rebecca J Vickery. We can't wait to get those stories out there to the readers. And we are always waiting to see what you come up with next. Wonderful storytelling is your forte, my friend.

  3. A fabulous interview with one of the finest writers in the buisness.

  4. Still rooting for you, Troy, albeit now from afar. Best wishes from back in the corn fields of East Central Illinois.

  5. Troy Smith's short stories, as well as his novels, are always a good read and never disappoint.

    Kitchen Benchtops