Author Interview: Troy Young

Tell us something about your book.

The book I want to discuss (I published six last year) is The (Extra)ordinary Life of Jimmie Mayfield. (is it extraordinary or extra ordinary? That’s for the reader to decide). It’s a humorous coming of age tale about an unemployed man who is approaching his 30th birthday.  He feels his life is, as he says, “on pause”.  Living in a rundown trailer in a rundown trailer park in Englewood, Florida with his mother who can no longer work on account of her glaucoma, Jimmie feels he is destined for greatness.  He just lacks the means, the skills and the ambition to achieve it.

It’s laugh-out-loud funny but also makes you think. It is currently in the running for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour.  Watching Jimmie and his friends as he navigates a path to achieve his destiny (it’s the first book in a five-book series (only one published) but boy, is his destiny grand) it will be an amusing journey for our young Jimmie.

I got it into a VP at one of the big five publishers (unfinished, unedited, and needing a lot of work).  She read it and declared, “This kid can write!” (I was 47 at the time).  She also compared it to A Catcher in the Rye (yet still declined to publish it). I know, like Jimmie, the book is destined for greatness.

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Anyone who likes to laugh. I’ve had a variety of people read it (include a book club of elderly ladies in Florida where the book is set; they liked it).  It defies categorization.  The book A Confederacy of Dunces is my literary inspiration for this; if you like that book, you’ll like this one.  If witty dialogue is your thing, you’ll like this book.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

I really had a hard time putting this one down. From the first pages, I was drawn into Jimmie’s world, full of relatable friends, self doubt and familiar awkwardness. I became so engrossed in his character that at times I had a pit in my stomach waiting for the hammer drop, because guys like Jimmie don’t catch a break.

Troy Young has created a fantastic protagonist and surrounded him with well-developed characters, whose odd connections had me pondering many times how things were going to go sideways. I love this aspect of Troy’s writing style, because it kept me wanting to dive deeper down the rabbit hole.

I am normally a nighttime reader – getting through two or three pages before drifting off. Thank goodness I started reading on a Friday, because I was up half the night and polished it off the next day. I highly recommend it.

What inspired you to write it?

I was visiting Florida, where my parents have a winter home, and I went for a walk in the hot Florida sun.  An hour later, with no hat or sunscreen, dehydrated and delirious, a story had formed in my mind.  When I came back to Toronto and told my staff this story (I’m a CEO of a non-profit association), one of them said, “when are you going to stop telling us these stories and actually write something?”  So, I wrote it to spite her. 

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

Dare to dream.  When the time is right, things will fall into place.  We can try to plan our lives all we want, but it rarely goes as we intended.  You never know what will be the difference, but as long as you are ready to jump on opportunities, you will go places.  It takes Jimmie a while to realize his success, but with hard work (and in his case, a lot of luck) you’ll get there.

Share an excerpt from your book.

The mall was more vibrant then than today. He arrived right after school to start his shift on a Wednesday. The mall wasn’t busy on Wednesdays, so he’d be working alone at Pretzel Joe’s.

“It’s been slow today,” said Mary, the daytime assistant manager, as he arrived. “I prepared a fresh batch of dough for you, so you should be good for the evening. Need anything else?” Mary was maternal; she reminded him of his late grandmother.

“No, I should be fine, thanks.”

 “Have fun tonight.” Mary pulled on her cardigan. She flipped up the counter and exited the store. “I have to go to JC Penny’s and get a dress for my granddaughter. I’ll swing by before I leave.” She meandered into the sparse crowd of the mall.

Jimmie walked into the back and pulled a hairnet over his mullet. He loved his job. The pay wasn’t bad, he got to eat all the pretzels he wanted, and he watched Caroline. Caroline Ward attended high school with him; she worked at the kiosk in front of the pretzel shop. He’d never have had the guts to speak to her at school, but working here put them on equal footing. The first time she ordered a pretzel, it took everything he had to keep his cool. He’d been working here for nine months, and he had asked for his shifts to coincide with hers at the kiosk. 

Interacting with her had given him newfound confidence. He could relax around her. He still didn’t talk to her at school, but here at the mall, they had something special for those few hours, three days a week.

She hadn’t arrived, so he pretended to be busy. Once the after-school crowd showed up, the current pretzel supply would not suffice. Jimmie wanted to wait for Caroline before he made more. He was a magician with the pretzels.

He liked to put on a show as he rolled out and cut the dough. The way he spun the long, thin pretzel dough into the various shapes delighted the customers. They often watched him work. He’d be the centre of attention, at least for five minutes as he made them.

 “Hi,” said Caroline as she arrived and gave him a wave. She wore a yellow baby doll top over a pair of jean shorts and gladiator sandals. It contrasted with her tanned skin, her bleached blond hair and her bright blue eyes. His heart leapt into his throat, and his knees grew weak. “Hey Caroline,” he returned, trying to sound cool, his voice cracking.

“Can I get a soda?”

“Sure!” Pulling off a waxed cup and filling it up from the fountain, he passed her the drink, not charging her as always.

“Thanks,” she said, looking at him right in the eyes, cocking her head and wrapped her lips around the straw. Jimmie was oblivious to the fact she knew what she was doing to him.

Jimmie cracked his knuckles and got to work. He finished his twirls and placed the pre-baked pretzels in the oven. In eight short minutes, he’d have some fresh pretzel goodness to serve.

He looked up and saw Joe, the owner, coming towards the store, followed by two guys pushing a large dolly. “Hey, Joe,” he said, confused. Joe rarely went to the store.

“Oh, hi, Johnny,” he said as he pulled up the counter and held it open for the two guys to enter.

“It’s Jimmie.”

“Huh? Whatever.” Joe turned his back on him and talked to the two guys. “I want everything that isn’t nailed down. Start in the back; I’ll start here.”

The guys moved into the back. Sounds of the refrigerator being opened and large tubs of dough being lifted and thrown onto the dolly could be heard.

“What’s going on, Joe?”

“We’re closed, kid,” said Joe as he opened up the register and started to remove the cash. He stuffed it into a cloth bag, slammed the drawer shut and unplugged it.

“Closed? What do you mean closed?”

“I mean, we’re done. I’m getting what we can before the bank gets their hands on it,” said Joe, not looking at him. Joe headed over towards the drinks fridge and began to load the contents onto a plastic flat.

“Just like that? Closed?”

“Yep. Shit happens sometimes,” said Joe, emptying the fridge.

“What does that mean for me?” 

“I don’t give a fuck.”

“What about my job?”

“You no longer have one.”

A guy in the back yelled: “Hey, those pretzels smell awesome. Can we have them?”

“When they’re ready. Knock yourself out,” Joe yelled back. He glanced at Jimmie and yelled back to his guys, “Leave one for the kid; he looks like he’ll cry.”

Guffaws erupted. “Sure thing.”

“Look, Johnny…”

“Jimmie…”

“Whatever. Fuck. Listen, we don’t have all day. We’re getting this shit out of here, and then we’re coming back for the oven. It’s on wheels, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. When those pretzels are baked, wrap ‘em up for the guys and unplug the oven. We need to load it on the truck.”

He nodded his head, dumbfounded. “Sure.”

“Lookit, kid. It’s too bad you’re caught up in this. But I’m not the bad guy here. The bank is the bad guy. You can take it up with them.” Joe looked at him, sighed, took two diet Snapple Lemonades off the flat and gave them to him. Joe then reached into his wallet, took out a twenty-dollar bill, pressing it into Jimmie’s hand. “Here’s your severance. You guys done back there?” he growled.

The two guys manoeuvred the cart from the back. “When you’re done unloading, come back and help me with the oven and remember to unhook the canisters from the fountain machine.”

The oven dinged. The pretzels were ready.

“Quick kid, wrap those up and give them to the boys. And unplug the oven.”

Jimmie moved like an automaton. He pulled the pretzels out and slid them into their sleeves. “Thanks, kid,” they said, stuffing them into their pockets.

Caroline snapped pictures of the scene playing out in front of her. Someone later posted the photos around the school.

Joe and his guys grabbed what they could and headed out. Jimmie unplugged the oven, turned off the Pretzel Joe’s sign and stood there, not knowing what else to do.

Joe and his guys came back and grabbed the fountain canisters, the cash register and wheeled the oven away. “See you around, kid.”

He stood there in disbelief as a smiling Mary returned, the JC Penny bag clutched in her hand. She stopped, and her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Jimmie… what… oh…”

Her hand went to her mouth, and she began to shake with tears. He awkwardly hugged the old woman while Caroline snapped another picture.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes and no. You have to think it can happen, or you won’t try.  But do you really think so? I self-published this book, so I made it happen. I think if I actually had an agent willing to take it on, and a publisher who wanted to make it a reality, it would be surreal. But it is in print and people are reading and reviewing it, so that’s kind of cool.

Some days you think it’s complete garbage and other days you are fantasizing about discussing it on a late-night talk show. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and beliefs.

How many times were you rejected?

I lost count.  But then again, I don’t think I tried very hard.  It took me a long time to refine my query process; I changed the name, stopped focusing on selling them the series and just concentrating on the book.  At first it was three books and the first one was 150,000 words, and then I took what I had written and plotted it out as three books of 60,000 words each (with two books still left to write).  Then I wrote other things which I self-published and learned how easy that was so up it went.  I didn’t really focus enough on getting an agent/publisher for it.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

Very much so.  There are multiple stages to this.  The writing is the easiest and the most fun. Editing is a slog.  And then the time to approach the business side, to make connections, to send your stuff out there and wait for people to get back to you.  While you are doing that, you aren’t doing the thing you love, which is writing.  I’d love to get an agent to handle all the tedious stuff for me (and negotiate the standard rich and famous contract of course).

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

I started in March 2018 and finished it in August.  Then the rewrites.  The editing.  I started writing other things and this sat on a shelf.  Then my neighbour who worked in the publishing business read my draft and tore it to shreds.  I learned a lot from him and reworked it, and then he passed away.  Finally, with the intent of getting it before the Leacock Awards committee, I finished it off and published it in November 2020.  If it doesn’t get long listed for the award, I will probably unpublish it and once again look for an agent.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I write when I can.  Not every day.  Some people swear by it.  Some absolutely need to do it.  I find I like to ruminate for a day or two, particularly if I get stuck on something. I get great inspiration on walks.

COVID has thrown everything for a loop, but it has allowed me to write more.  Before, I would write mainly in the evening after running my daughter around to her daily activities.  Now, I can write whenever I want.

I tend to be more of a pantser.  I know where the start is, and know where I need to get to, but I often don’t know the route I’ll take.  Sometimes, my characters surprise me.

Stephen King likened writing to (and I’m probably getting this analogy wrong) being a paleontologist.  Your story is like a fossil, lying complete in the ground.  We don’t create it as much as we unveil the story that already existed.  I like that (even if I screwed up the analogy).

Who was your first literary crush?

Bêlit, from the Conan story The Queen of the Black Coast. Let’s face it, the pulp fiction of the 1930’s from whence Conan springs is not complimentary to women. Most are just set dressing for the larger than life men striding through the pages, a reward for the male character’s being awesome. Bêlit was not this. A pirate queen, she had a ship of men under her command and was as bold and as passionate as Conan. She was perhaps the only female character who was Conan’s equal, and the only one that wasn’t in a love-her-and-leave-her situation with the barbarian.  She was his one true love and leapt off the page.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Not literary, but pop culture. I don’t recall any character from a book enticing me that way at 18, but Peg Bundy.  Tall, curvy, red haired and all she wanted was to sleep with Al.  I never understood why he resisted her so much, yet was just so…Al…in other ways.  

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

In my twenties, I briefly thought maybe?  I was really into Michael Stackpole’s BattleTech novels.  It made me want to write something. But it wasn’t a serious passion.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

The Monster at the End of the Book starring Grover.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

I don’t think a book has ever made me cry.  Books can make you think, they can unnerve you, but I find the medium doesn’t elicit the same emotional response in me that a movie or television show can.  It’s not like I’m cold and unfeeling because many movies and TV shows have made me cry.  An episode of Valerie.  The Megan Follows episode of Law and Order.  The movie Armageddon (but not the parts most people cry at).  The video game Last of Us made me bawl out loud the first time I played it.  But I can’t think of a book that has done that.  I guess because the words are constructing the action in my head. I feel I am partially in control of it as opposed to being an observer. 

Although I had an emotional response to one story I wrote.  One character sacrificed themselves and forced the other character to kill her.  I didn’t cry, but my eyes got moist while crafting the scene, probably because I was emotionally invested in them both.

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

No one wants to be subjected to that (least of all me).

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I’m an adequate cook.  The one thing I can do well (at least on par to a restaurant) is grill a steak.  It is relatively simple, but damn, they come out as tasty as the best steakhouses. I prefer to order in or eat out.

Do you have a pet?

We have a four-year-old rescue dog named Ivy.  She’s a Shih tzu/Lhasa Apso mix and is the sweetest thing.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

Oh boy.  I’m married to the woman I first got together with at my 21st birthday party (we were friends before that).  I messed up my marriage proposal because I was to excited to wait to do it as planned (on the Plains of Abraham in Old Quebec City).

I asked my wife what was the most romantic thing I had ever done.  Best we can come up with was her surprise 40th birthday party.  Surprise, because her birthday is Christmas Day and I waited until June to host it.  I invited all her friends to a luxury event at the CN Tower (I told her we were going for a work thing) and surprised her there (and picked up the tab for everyone). That’s the closest I guess.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

Show up at my surprise 21st birthday party with a 1.5 l bottle of wine and tell me we were going to drink it together?

Do you believe in love?

Whenever I look at my daughter, yes. My wife’s pretty cool, too.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TroyYoungAuthor

Twitter: @FloridaNovel

Website: http://www.floridamanthenovel.com

Instagram: @troyyoung1971

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Troy-Young/e/B07QGKW4WH

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