One of the most empowering lessons in that book and in the Capital City Murders series overall is that although you get your “dream job” it will still be work. Nick, the main character, gets what would be a freelance photographer’s dream. You get a year-long lucrative assignment that includes national exposure and ongoing passive income? Amazing! But he has to work everywhere he goes. He tires of travel and longs for home. He develops and loses relationships. Even a dream job comes with downsides, and that is true no matter whether you are an artist, a writer, or an executive of your own company.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Troy Lambert. Troy is a freelance writer, author, and editor living in Boise, Idaho. He’s been writing full-time for the last decade and is the author of over two-dozen books, both his own and those he has ghostwritten for others. When not behind the keyboard typing, he can be found in the great outdoors with his wife and his fabulous German Shepherd, McClane. His fiction work can be found on fictionupdates.troylambertwrites.com.
Thank you so much for joining us Troy! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Ever since I was a young child, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first book, George and the Giant Castle (as yet unpublished) when I was six years old. When in my teens, I told everyone I wanted to be a writer, but was encouraged by those around me to pursue a “real career.” Unfortunately, I listened to them.
After over two decades consisting of a collection of hairnets, nametags, and various careers, I decided to really focus and make this writing thing work. Now I don’t do anything else.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
That’s a tough question. One occurred recently. Out of all of those people who discouraged my writing career, I had an English teacher in my sophomore year who really encouraged me named Ruth Allen. I hadn’t seen her in over thirty years, and then my small school in Idaho Falls was having an all class reunion. I was able to reconnect with her, publicly thank her, and tell her I would be dedicating my next novel, Teaching Moments, to her.
My wife and I went on vacation after the reunion, to Yellowstone National Park. We ran into that teacher and her daughter near Old Faithful and were able to talk and reconnect with them even more. It was the oddest of coincidences, and fantastic at the same time.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
Unlike the last question, this one is easy for me to answer. Overcoming the worry about the opinion of others and how it impacted my life was my biggest challenge by far. I come from a very strict religious background, and my first novel, Redemption, talks about that indirectly. The author’s note at the beginning is titled, “Mom, Please Don’t Read This Book.” I remember being very anxious about what others might think of that note.
The day after I released the book, I got a call from my brother. “You have to remove that from your book,” he told me. I told him no for a variety of reasons, but his statement devastated me for a while. By the third book in that trilogy (my first series), the title on the author’s note was, “Mom, Please Read this Book.”
The lesson I learned is the same one I learned from Anne Lamott and her book Bird by Bird. If people are offended by your book, if they somehow see themselves portrayed poorly inside, that is their issue not yours. They should have behaved better when they interacted with you, whatever role they played in your life. I never write a book with the intent to offend anyone, but I also discount the opinion of others (at least to an extent. You still need an audience) when I am sitting down to write.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One mistake, that while funny now that I have learned more about the business of writing, was a result of my first book selling well. So I assumed that the second one would as well. All the marketing prep and plan that I put into the first book I neglected for the second. After all, everyone was surely waiting with bated breath for the second in my series, right? They have loved the first one so much…
Well, the launch was, we’ll just say flat. Disappointing. Miserable would be a better word. The problem was that I thought, mistakenly, that suddenly I was a big deal with one successful book.
The lesson is a simple one, and one we should all know. The book that is not marketed never sells. In order for people to know your work is out there, you or someone they know has to tell them about it, or they have to see it in an ad. Essentially, they have to discover it. It was a hard lesson, learned early, but looking back now it’s kind of funny, and I feel pretty foolish about it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One of the most exciting projects I am working on at the moment is the Capital City Murders series. Another author, Stuart Gustafson, and I are writing a series of 50 novellas. They follow a photographer, Nick O’Flannigan, tasked to travel around the country taking photos of every state capitol building for a book to be put together by Travel USA magazine. In every city, he encounters a murder of some sort.
We’re now several novellas into a fifty-novella series, and we are releasing one a month for the next four years. Every five books, we release a compilation with those five in a print bundle. We’ve just released the first of those, The Wicked West with pretty reasonable success.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
In the Capital City Murders series book six, Hanging in Helena, I share a story about The Hanging Tree in Helena, Montana. It’s at least based on a blend of history and facts in the area. There was in fact a hanging tree, and it was used by the local lawmen and others until the mid-1870’s when it was cut down by a bishop.
Reportedly, he didn’t object to the usage of the tree. The reason he cut it down was that he thought it was old and might fall down and strike his barn, which was nearby, and damage or destroy it. The exact site of the hanging tree is actually in someone’s back yard in Helena, at least as precisely as we can determine the GPS location from documentation that old.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
One of the most empowering lessons in that book and in the Capital City Murders series overall is that although you get your “dream job” it will still be work. Nick, the main character, gets what would be a freelance photographer’s dream. You get a year-long lucrative assignment that includes national exposure and ongoing passive income? Amazing!
But he has to work everywhere he goes. He tires of travel and longs for home. He develops and loses relationships. Even a dream job comes with downsides, and that is true no matter whether you are an artist, a writer, or an executive of your own company.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. You have to work every single day. While you can get better at your craft through writing seminars, conferences, and even from reading and studying books, there is no substitute for time behind the keyboard. Write something every single day and challenge yourself constantly. I went through a dark period for a few years, and the primary issue was that I was not writing and using my creativity like I needed to be. A toxic relationship ended, and I went back to writing, and it literally transformed my life.
2. Your words are worth money. It’s easy to say that you want to write to make a living. One of the keys to actually doing it is to realize that writing is not a commodity, and both your words and your skills are worth money. Early in my career, I landed some government contracts writing some historical reports, and I was paid well to write them. I quickly learned my skills were actually unusual and in demand, and I could make money writing.
3. Run your writing like any other business. This is the reason I wrote my first non-fiction book, Writing as a Business: Production, Distribution, and Marketing. Even with a business background, it took me a while to realize once my books were finished and edited and had good covers, they were a product I needed to sell, and I was actually a multi-national corporation selling things all over the world. When I started to employ business principles to my writing business, it transformed what I was doing, and it became profitable.
4. Embrace accounting or hire someone. Tracking things like return on investment, profit and loss, and cashflow will set your writing business apart. There are a lot of mediocre writers out there who make a living at it not because they have great books, but they know how to sell books, they treat their writing as a business, and they are good business people. I used to be jealous of those people until I determined that I could write great books and still treat writing like a business and make money at it. When you see yourself making more money as you go along by tracking things, it encourages you to keep going.
5. Create the best book you can every time, and realize no book is ever finished, it is just ready. It sounds like a cliché thing to say, but I have known some amazing writers who will likely never make it their living simply because they can’t let their draft go. Draft quickly, edit well, but have a deadline, and move on to the next project when your book is as good as it can be right now. I encourage these writers to read Heather Dyer’s book, Creativity Over Perfection: The World Needs Your Book. It really helps change your mindset.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Balance and focus. I put these two together for one simple reason: discipline is important but so is focusing on one thing at a time. I used to be a big multi-tasker and workaholic. Now when I work, I work hard and try to focus on one thing at a time using time blocking. When I am off work, I try to really be off, although that is hard for a writer to do, since you are always thinking of writing. This helps you achieve a sort of work/life balance.
Another resource I recommend that can help those who struggle with this is The One Thing by Gary Keller. It helped me to stop glorifying being busy and multi-tasking, and to actually work toward being more productive with my time.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Every writer should read in their own genre. However, I draw inspiration from a lot of older sci-fi and horror, which may seem odd for a mystery writer. Things like Asimov, Ben Bova, Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke were all early influences. Steven King, Dean Koontz, and more recently Michaelbrent Collings all inspire my writing style. The dept of my writing and some themes I attribute to my love of John Irving, and books like A Prayer for Owen Meany and In One Person.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a movement based on kindness and treating others the way you would treat yourself. Kind of a golden rule thing. I think people don’t apply this enough, including me. You sometimes do dumb things, and you may not even like yourself some days, but you love yourself, provide yourself with what you need like food, clothing, shelter, and rest.
We spend too much time beating others up, especially in the anonymous world of social media, without thinking about the person on the other end of our comments, someone who has thoughts, feelings, emotions, and may be experiencing things in their life that we have no idea about. Thoughtful kindness should be something we all practice.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m all over the place. I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even sometimes on Instagram.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!