StoryTeller 7: Troy D. Smith, Inspired by Comic Book Legend

TROY D. SMITH likes to write about characters who face their most primal emotions.

Although his work crosses a variety of genres, he credits the Western as the source of most his success.

Troy earned a PhD in history at the University of Illinois, and currently teaches American history at Tennessee Tech.

He has written a number of award winning short stories and novels. These include the Spur Award in 2001 from Western Writers of America for Best Original Paperback, Bound for the Promise-Land –-a story which also was a Spur Award Finalist for the Best First Novel.

The Sin of Eli captured won the 2011 Peacemaker Award for Best Short Story from Western Fictioneers, an organization that promotes fiction about the Old West.

It’s important to tell good stories, Troy once told an interviewer.

“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.”

StoryTeller’s 7

1. Describe your lastest project, and the inspiration for the story.The Blackwell Gang

TDS:  “Blackwell’s Gang” –ebook western short. Duke Blackwell, California outlaw, is trying to go straight, but his efforts are complicated by a string of stage robberies by someone impersonating him.” I wanted to continue the misadventures of Duke Blackwell and his cohorts from “Blackwell the Highwayman” –because I had so much fun with the characters.

2. Who or what has been the single biggest influence in terms of your literary career, and why?

TDS: Definitely comic book legend Stan Lee – his stories were the first to pull me in as a kid. In particular, his focus on characterization, something most people working in that medium before him paid little of any attention to. I learned from his stories that the most important thing wasn’t what was happening, but who it was happening to.

3. You write in various genres, especially Westerns and historical. What do you consider the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing novels set in the past?

TDS: The biggest challenge is divorcing yourself from the present –or as historians put it, avoiding presentism. You have to be able to see the world through your characters’ eyes, not your own, and avoid doing and saying things that give you away as a future person –it jerks people right out of the story.

4. You have a PhD in history. What importance does history play in the lives of the average citizen? How important is it for us to understand the events that shaped our country, and our world for that matter?

 TDS: I offer a bold statement to my students at the beginning of every semester. I say: “No matter what your major is, when you look back on your college experience you will realize that your American history classes were among the most important ones you took.

Because every single one of you, at some point in your life –if it hasn’t happened already –are going to be deeply pissed off about something that is going on in this country. And you are going to want to change it –and you can. But the very first step to being in a position to do that is understanding how things are, and how they became that way. And that will start happening in this class, today.”

5.  You’re on a midnight train to Georgia, sitting in the club car with three of your favorite authors (living or dead). Who are they, and what one – and different – question would you ask each of them?

TDS: I’m going to go stream of consciousness here and list the first three I think of, assuming my subconscious if going to toss up people important to me.

— Mark Twain is there. I ask him why, since he was so fair-minded in so many ways, he had such a negative view of Indians.

Louis L’Amour is there. I tell him I’ve heard stories of how he brought coffee and donuts to the workers who stocked his books, to get them to place his stuff more prominently than other folks,’ and ask him how he’d use that same approach in today’s digital publishing world.

–Then I see Larry McMurtry. I point out that I’ve noticed how often his stories involve a naïve young man being seduced by an older woman, and ask if there is something from his own life that inspires that theme.

6.  What has been the most satisfying moment in your writing life—so far—and what impact has it made on your career?

TDS: Absolutely, the day I received word that my novel Bound for the Promise-Land had won a Spur Award. It validated the belief I had in the book –it was  a project near and dear to my heart. And being a Spur winner opened a lot of doors for me, then and since.

7.  Give us three “good to know” facts you want readers to know about you.

TDS: Fact #1– despite my occasional profanity (I place much value on old, strong, Anglo-Saxon words over Norman ones) I am a deeply spiritual person, and have been involved in much religious work over my lifetime.

Fact #2– I am a major league geek. I can go on for hours about the history of the U.S., or many other places and time periods. But I know just as much about the histories of the Hyborian Age of Conan, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the United Federation of Planets, the Old Galactic Republic, or the Marvel and DC universes. And football, let’s not forget that.

Fact #3– As a Southerner tried-and-true, I am not burdened by the Germanic work ethic that haunts people like my wife –who feel they must be producing something every moment of every day to be worthy of their next breath of air. I can sit on the front porch smoking a pipe and staring at the horizon for hours and not feel one whit of guilt about it –the very concept is foreign to me –and feel honestly that in so doing I have actually accomplished something very worthwhile.


  • Get to know Troy and his writing by visiting his website.
  • Click here to learn more about Troy’s novels and short stories.
  • Tennessee Wordsmith Blog


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4 comments to StoryTeller 7: Troy D. Smith, Inspired by Comic Book Legend

  • Cheryl Pierson

    Troy, my mother was that way about feeling like you had to be doing something all the time. In my younger years, I will admit that that rubbed off on me (my early adult life) but as I’ve gotten older, like you, I can sit and watch a sunrise or sunset and enjoy being outside not doing one thing and chalk it up to a worthwhile experience that might not come again.

    I’ve often said I wished I lived close enough to take your classes–those students of yours are very very lucky.


  • Good interview, Tom and Troy!

    My neighbors would think I was a little weird if I sat on the front porch and smoked a pipe. 🙂 I do think down time is important for collecting thoughts so they can gel into something productive. Best of luck with your Blackwells, Troy. I’m hoping to get back to the next story soon!

  • LOL – I was always called “nose in a book” when I was a kid, and still have that trait whether reading or writing. Love your writing, Troy — and I hear ya about the Spur. Memorable!! I still get a thrill thinking of it. I’d love to sit on the porch yakking about Middle Earth and Tolkien with you. Dang. I’ll have to get to TN or meet you at a conference one day.

  • i would have never thought of a comic character as literary insperation, but admittedly, I never heard of Stan Lee. I was more of a Brenda Star and Dick Tracey kind of gal.
    I git a bit of a laugh from your questions for your favorite author questions, especially the one for Larry McMurtry.
    I related to your Fact #3. My sister has to keep busy every minute of the day and half the night or she feels guilty for wasting her time. Not me. I like my southern ways of hanging out on the deck staring at the clouds and sipping lemonade. In the winter I can sit by the fire and read without a worry about the dust bunnies under the beds. LOL

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