Tales of the West, Vol. 1
by Troy D. Smith
Romancing The West welcomes award-winning author Troy D. Smith, a native of Tennessee and professor of history at Tennessee Tech University. He's published in both periodicals and novels, well-regarded in the industry, talented author, and just generally a good guy to know, so we're delighted he's visiting here all this week.
Troy, thanks for joining us! Please tell us about your latest release, Cherokee Winter.
TDS: Cherokee Winter is a collection of previously published short stories set on the frontier, to be followed soon by a second volume called Red Trail. The story I’ve chosen to highlight with an excerpt here, “The Stealing Moon,” is about a family that has been torn apart by tragedy: one of their sons was killed by Comanches, and the father blames the surviving son for abandoning his brother. Long-suppressed emotions boil to the surface when the Comanches raid the area again…
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See details at the end of this article!
RTW: Why do you enjoy writing about the Old West?
TDS: I like writing about people’s emotions, and stripping everything down to the most elemental part. A frontier setting is ideal for that. Your characters are most likely not able to be in a comfortable setting where they can suppress things –they are probably fighting for their lives, whether it be in a dramatic outward fashion like facing Indians (or cavalry), outlaws or lawmen, or just the fact that daily life on the frontier can be a struggle for survival –against the elements, or sometimes against loneliness.
“The Stealing Moon” is an ideal example of what I’m talking about. Here you have a father, mother, and son (and, in a way, the ghost of a dead son), all of whom really want to keep their feelings at bay. But the frontier will not let them. They are forced to face their fears, regrets, shame –and their love –whether they want to or not. My motto has always been that I don’t want to write about things that happen to people, I want to write about the people that things happen to.
RTW: You have written several novels –why do you also continue to write short stories?
TDS: Actually, I think the short story may be my first and greatest love. My first published work was a western short story, “Mourning Glory,” that appeared in Louis L’Amour Western Magazine in 1995 (it is reprinted in this book’s upcoming companion volume, Red Trail.)
|Troy D. Smith, author|
Again, this gets at the heart of what I like to do. A short story gets right to the point –it delivers a powerful, concentrated punch. Less really can be more –and it is a unique skill. All those layers I like to strip away –in a short story you just rip them right off, and your characters’ innermost selves can be exposed in a deeply affecting way.
RTW: How important is historical accuracy to you?
TDS: Oh, it’s very important. Especially in my day job, as a professional historian (naturally). But it’s important in fiction, too –anachronisms can jerk me right out of a story in a heartbeat. That being said, I am not slavishly devoted to accuracy when I write fiction –sometimes the needs of the story, and of the larger truth you are trying to share, outweigh the facts. But it is a delicate balance to strike, and should be approached respectfully, or you will lose the readers.
RTW: How do you go about your research?
TDS: Many of the topics I write about in my novelist’s hat are also topics I deal with as a history professor, and my research is ongoing. For example, a couple of years ago I spent an entire summer traveling to archives in Oklahoma and Arkansas; the year before that I did the same thing in Tennessee. Here in our cozy 21st century, an increasingly large amount of historical documents are digitized and available online, and I spend several hours a week scouring them.
The article which will be featured here later this week, The Flight of Opothleyahola, is about an event that is featured prominently in my dissertation, which will hopefully see print soon.
RTW: You have included an excerpt from the story “The Stealing Moon,” in which we meet the Rafer family and the mood is set.
Excerpt from Cherokee Winter, "The Stealing Moon"
by Troy D. Smith
by Troy D. Smith
Jim Rafer looked over the rim of his tin cup when he heard the door open--he saw his son’s form through the coffee-steam which curled around his own face. About time the boy showed up. Molly set the milk pitcher in the center of the table and smiled gently at Will, but he did not look at her. He seated himself at the opposite end from his father. A long empty space was left between the two Rafer men--both men in Molly’s eyes--and a vacant chair which had not been pulled out from the table in months, not even to be dusted.
Jim set about quietly devouring the biscuits and bacon his wife placed before him. He did not bother to pray, not anymore, a fact which still left Molly feeling uneasy. Will began to eat as well--still no words had been passed--and he said no graces to God either. Molly released a gentle sigh before nodding her own head in quiet supplication. Her sighs went unnoticed by her family. She took some comfort in the thought that the Lord heard them. She alone still believed.
Molly could not bring herself to criticize her son for his lapse in faith, and in the common courtesies one rendered to the Maker for His small gifts, for he was following the example set by his father. Molly knew, though, that their reasons were different--knowing those reasons made her feelings even more gentle toward each of them, as much as they would allow her or anyone else to be gentle.
Jim Rafer had turned his back on God--at least for awhile, and not forever, Molly hoped--because he felt betrayed. Betrayed by the Lord, and by the life and world around him. Will believed himself a betrayer, and undeserving of grace.
Molly continued to believe, and to pray, and to hope with an anguished intensity. Only her eldest boy Bob knew true peace. She still hated to risk disturbing his peace, at least in her own mind and memory, by dusting his chair.
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RTW: Thanks so much, Troy! Where can we buy Cherokee Winter?
TDS: You can find it on Amazon [RTW note: be sure to "like" and click on the tags for Troy's book when you visit!], and Smashwords.
RTW: What is next for you?
TDS: I am editing a series of Western novels –the first one will be out in September –that are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and everyone involved is quite excited about it. All I can tell you right now is that the books are being produced by Western Fictioneers, the only professional organization dedicated exclusively to traditional western fiction (and whose members, in a moment of mass judgmental lapse, recently elected me the group’s president for 2012.) The series is called Wolf Creek, and will involve dozens of your favorite western authors. More info will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
RTW: Anything else you’d like to add?
TDS: Just that I am extraordinarily grateful to all those wonderful readers who support my nasty writing habit. And to show that gratitude, everyone commenting today is eligible to win a free digital copy of Cherokee Winter. The winner will be chosen at random at the end of the week (Saturday, April 14 at 9pm Pacific Time) and announced at this site. Be sure to include your email address or I can't contact you if your name is drawn.
It's been wonderful having you with us, Troy. Thanks again!
Thursday's article by Troy:
The Flight of Opothleyahola