Before we dive in, I am excited to share with you my first (EVER) radio interview. My friend Andy “Bull” Barch and his co-host Matt Douglass do a tremendous job of driving the interview along. It is all about Three Days in Ashford and they ask several great questions, along with digging into my processes around writing, publishing and marketing. Give it a listen, I was nervous as hell but am thrilled with the result. It’s about 17 minutes long and worth a listen. You can check it out by clicking on the link below.
I wanted to take a bit of time and examine the history of Ty Tracey the author a bit. There was a long literary road that led to Three Days in Ashford. And there were a lot of lessons that I had to learn along the way. It truly is the culmination of a lifetime of writing and learning lessons around that craft, as you will see if you read on. If you would like to pickup a copy of Three Days in Ashford, you can follow the link below. If you’ve purchased it or read it, I would love to hear your thoughts in an Amazon review. I have gotten some great feedback already (Thank You!) and the more the better.
This is about as close as I will likely ever get to documenting the path I took to learning how to write. I wish there were more people I could credit for it—usually there’s some random English teacher in there someplace, but, not for me. It has pretty much just been a hobby of mine forever. I am a weird person who loves horror and the paranormal. I am also a weird person who, when he puts his mind to it, will spend a ridiculous amount of time teaching myself random skills. And I am always trying to refine those skills and perfect them. Even though perfection is very likely an impossibility in a creative skill like writing, that’s no reason not to try.
As an author, my passion is in the actual writing. On its face, I am perfectly satisfied knowing that there is now something, out in the world, that I crafted, that will be available for consumption and critique by humanity long after I am dead. That to me is an awesome enough reason to have written something of substance.
I am lucky in that I legitimately love writing. I love it so much that I would do it even if publishing wasn’t an option. And I have. I wrote an entire novel before Three Days in Ashford that I spent the time (about 3 years) and money to edit professionally, and it was never published. That work of fiction is called Iron Midnight. Parts of it were good, really good. There are a couple of parts in that book that scared me as I wrote them—some of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever written. One of my favorite moments was when I received Iron Midnight back from my editor, I was reading through her editing remarks and she mentioned that she had “no idea how I am going to sleep after reading this.” That specific part was about a ghostly woman who crawls, on all fours, out of the tree-line and into the backyard. She then approaches the family home. She then proceeds to climb up the outside of the house and through the bedroom window directly towards the horrified onlookers.
At the end of the day, even with those horrifying scenes, Iron Midnight fell flat on its own premise. I stand by the old … well, it sounded cool at the time… adage. But the more I read it and tried to refine it, I eventually realized that I was putting lipstick on a pig. There was simply no way I was going to be able to get the reader to ‘buy into’ the “why” of that storyline. Why? Because, while it might work someday if I try it again, I had no idea what I was doing in the early writing process. I attempted to write a rough draft and then the manuscript. I completely skipped the outlining phase and it showed on every page. I just dove right into the writing process. I had put in so little initially that I was spending months (and years) trying to squeeze more than it deserved out at the end. If I go back to that story, and I would love to, it’ll be a complete rewrite. The very basic, high-level idea that Iron Midnight was based upon is awesome. The story I wrapped around it was, in a word, bad.
Through the process with Iron Midnight I learned that you have got to, however demanding, go through the full process of outlining and drafting your work before you move on to a manuscript. There are no shortcuts. Well, there are, and you can take them, but prepare yourself for disappointment at the end and coming away with a product that you’re not going to be proud of or want to publish.
I can’t remember when I didn’t love writing. I always did well on creative writing assignments in school. I wrote a short essay for a state contest once in middle school which I scored in the 95% percentile on. I laugh as I think about this because even it was likely not something the people grading it were expecting in their wildest dreams. It was about a kid who was trapped by life in a small town that’s chalked full of assholes. Everyone tells him: “There’ll never be anything special about you.” Basically, you’ll never amount to anything. Meanwhile, he’s always had a proclivity for archeology, and he digs holes all over his parent’s yard, searching for dinosaur bones. One day he digs up a trunk and finds an old, fragile book inside called: “Unlocking Unimaginable Abilities.” He reads it and essentially sells himself over to its teachings, completely immersing himself in it, interpreting it as everything he’d been looking for his entire life. Then, one day, there is a fair in his town and that entire cast of assholes from earlier in the story (of course) are in attendance. Our hero appears atop one of the taller buildings, commanding the attention of everyone. Everyone assumes he is going to jump and jump he does. As he descends towards the ground, everyone is aghast and appalled thinking they’ve just witnessed something horrible. But when they look back up, our hero is levitating above them, fifty feet above their heads. He flies off and is never heard from again. I think, looking back, it was basically just a promise. A promise to everyone who ever ripped him down and told him that he’d never amount to shit… I promise that I will surpass you, I will rise above your inability to see beyond your own comfort zones, in such dramatic, fantastic ways that it is going to make all your judgmental, ignorant heads spin.
It is a theme that I love to fold into my writing to this day. I also learned a lesson in bravery writing that piece. I questioned whether I should hand something like that in when everyone else around me was probably handing in what amounted to a synopsis of whatever episode of Smurfs they watched most recently. Would I get in trouble or approached about the seriousness of the subject matter? But I made a choice and pressed the ‘fuck it’ button and did it anyway. And I am glad I did. Bravery in writing grabs readers attention by having them read through something that skates the edges around things they’ve read before—something they never expected to be reading when they picked it up yet entertaining all the while. Writing provides an outlet for fears, or shortcomings, or aspirations that you need to conquer, overcome and work towards.
Before that even, in grade school, I wrote a book of short stories, by hand that I put in a green binder and for some reason, gave away to my friend, Tim. One of the stories was called: “The Journey to the Top of Boulevard Mountain.” And it was basically about a bunch of idiots who for some reason needed to get to the top of a mountain using nothing but fishing equipment. Hey, you write what you know, right? And I knew very little at that time. But even then, there were lessons to be taken out of it. I learned early on, writing stories into that binder, that fringe characters must command their own destiny and not just be subservient to the main character(s) or else, everything sounds inauthentic. This is a mistake that a lot of seasoned authors make. They essentially turn their main character into the center of the universe and everyone else exists solely to push his/her story along. The Journey to the Top of Boulevard Mountain was basically this at its all time shittiest. Our band of characters met dozens of fringe characters as they climbed the mountain with all their fishing equipment. And every single one of them was just, kind of, standing around, doing nothing but waiting for our main group of protagonists to show up. They had no other reason for being there or doing anything other than interaction with our main characters. Lesson learned.
My point here is, everything we accomplish is the result of some mystical, mathematical summation of our lives and experiences that gives us the ability to achieve whatever it is we set out to do. Three Days in Ashford is no different. Without all these lessons learned, and all these failures there would have been no chance I could have brought it over the finish line. Failure only exists for those who refuse to learn from it. There is no better teacher than feeling the sting of failure. I refuse to spend years on something like Iron Midnight again. But if I hadn’t gone through that experience and learned from it, I would have never understood the level of dedication it takes to push something like Three Days in Ashford out to market. I would have never been able to develop characters and fringe characters without learning those lessons from The Journey to the Top of Boulevard Mountain. I would have never been brave enough to explore some of the subject matter in Ashford without harkening back to that choice I made in middle-school to hand in something that I knew might rub people the wrong way. Most importantly, I would have never developed the love for this craft. So, there’s a lot more where that came from.