As I write this, my kids are mourning the end of summer and preparing for their first day of school tomorrow. So before I head off to wipe a few tears and pack a few lunches, here is this week’s featured author in my Debut Author Q&A series: AG Fredericks.
Name of book: The Troy Standard
Book genre: Literary fiction
Date published: May 5, 2012
What is your book about? This is always the most difficult question for me, because the book touches on so many themes and topics, and I just want to get into all of them. The proverbial “nutshell” is never adequate enough for an author, and it’s always tempting to give away too much. But I’ll give it a stab.
The book follows the life of Troy Mulligan as he works hard at achieving a perfectly honest and noble life after an awakening of sorts. In his search for fulfillment, he slowly realizes that he has been at the mercy of the world around him, and he desperately wants to be in control of his own life. As part of this search, he donates his time and money toward charitable projects. Over time, he develops a belief that the base form of finance, the U.S. dollar itself, is unstable and could potentially lead to dangerous circumstances that people just haven’t realized because their heads are just too far in the sand.
A billionaire philanthropist/rogue investor approaches Troy with a plan – to establish a new global currency using a solid base of precious metals. Troy is intrigued and feels that this project may very well be his calling in life. But there are a lot of powerful and ruthless people standing in their way who do not want to relinquish their control over the status quo. Hilarity ensues. (Not really, I just love saying that.)
Why did you want to write this book? I am deeply disturbed when I look at our country’s political and economic situation and the way we arrived at where we are – from both sides, left and right. In particular, I am fascinated about the history of money and its current state in world affairs. The “history of money” seems like it would be a very important topic for everyone to understand. Yet not many people do.
When you think about it, isn’t it something we should all know about in great detail? Doesn’t it seem like basic knowledge that we should all care greatly about? Yet nobody cares. I remember being told by adults that economics was boring and only for people who found such things interesting. We all care about our careers, our paychecks, and how they fulfill our wants and needs. Yet hardly anyone cares about the mechanism we use to value all of that.
My intention behind writing this book was to bring the topic of money to everyday, normal people. I took the topic and then threw it in the middle of what I hope is a wild ride of a fictional story. My hope is that maybe some people would begin to think twice about the blind faith they have behind the U.S. dollar. Perhaps they would see its link to our current economic and political situation, and we could begin to do something about it.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? There are many obstacles – time being one of them, and also when to stop the editing process. I must have read the book from cover to cover over a half dozen times. Someone told me that novels are never completed; rather, they are abandoned in disgust. That was certainly the way I felt, and there are still minor things in the book that I would like to change.
None of that compares, however, to the emotional toll of writing a book. Another famous quote is by Hemingway who said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well, I bled. And there are some chapters in this book that were extremely difficult to write from an emotional standpoint. But I got through them, even if I needed some assistance from a few bottles of wine.
Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book (visit certain locales, etc.)?I have been researching the history of money for years and always had great references around when I needed them. In terms of the story’s action, I did my best to relate the book to places and situations in which I was familiar. If I can relate the story to things that have really happened in my life, then it makes it easier for me to describe the scene, develop dialogue or judge the character’s actions. My choice was to make the story relatable to what I knew rather than searching out new settings.
What motivates you to write? I want people to take a look at their lives and the world around them. I want them to become more aware of what is really going on. Too many people are on cruise control – too concerned with the small picture to pay attention to the big one. They don’t want to have to think about the big picture. They think they cannot affect the big picture.
My hope is that people will read The Troy Standard and realize that the things around them are not as certain and easy as they seem. I want them to contemplate their own lives and whether or not they can afford to be more selfless, caring, honorable, or responsible.
I fear the day this country is forced to face the decisions they are passing on now – whether we will be forced to either default on our financial obligations, or print money to cover them. Neither path will bring pleasant results, and the more time we waste arguing over so-and-so’s tax returns, and a candidate’s sealed college transcripts, and the 95 fundraisers a politician must attend weekly, the less time we will actually spend fixing the problems that are so evident if we just open our eyes.
Did you experience writer’s block? With this book, I didn’t experience any writer’s block at all. In fact, I had to cut out a lot of things that I wanted to put in there because it either took the story on too much of a tangent, or didn’t relate to the story as much as I liked.
A lot of the scenes in the book are directly related to things that happened to me in real life, with some deletions, some indulgence, and some exaggeration. In many cases, I just repeated the stories the way I might tell them at a cocktail party.
How long did it take you to write this book? Surprisingly, it took way less time than I thought. I started in late December 2011 and had a first draft finished by the end of March. But the idea was all mapped out in my head, and I just needed to sit down and put pen to paper. It was exhausting. It took another month and a half to edit it and was on the Amazon shelves on May 5, 2012.
Tell me about the self-publishing process. Was it easier or more difficult than you thought it would be? Way easier. For me, the thought of hiring an agent and then trying to sell my book posed way more challenges than benefits. It’s not for fear of rejection, rather the fear of the time it takes to get the book from my laptop to the presses. These days, you never know when the next financial meltdown will occur, and I didn’t want this book becoming obsolete because something I wrote didn’t come to pass.
But the process itself was simple and, really, if you are out there lamenting over penning your novel (we all have one in us), there is no longer any excuse not to get it done.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about writing a book? It has to be the publishing process. After telling friends that I had written a novel, a great many of them were shocked that I could accomplish something of this nature. “How did you do it?” has to be the most popular question by far. After explaining the self-publishing process and how easy it is nowadays, I think it’s shocking to people when they learn they no longer have any excuse not to sit down and put pen to paper. With very little investment, that novel in your head can be ready for sale as soon as you put the words on paper. No longer do you need to hustle your manuscript to publishers. No longer do you have to buy a thousand copies of your book and sell them out of the trunk of your car. It’s simple.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? There are some scenes in The Troy Standard that I feel are very powerful. Often times, I would write them and then move forward into other parts of the book. Then when I came across those scenes during the editing process, they always made me feel good about what I was doing. There were times when I reread what I had written, then sat back and said, “Wow…that was good.” I am not normally the kind of person to pat myself on the back. I am typically very critical of myself. So when I came across these parts of the story, it really made me feel like what I was doing was worthwhile.
What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I started a Facebook page and a Twitter account and try to use them both daily. I initially sent out emails to a number of blogs that I follow, and hoped they would mention my book. Some were more receptive than others.
Unfortunately, I have way too much shame to impose myself and my work on others. I would much rather them find my work on their own and then have word-of-mouth take over. I wrote this book knowing that it would start off slowly and then either take off on its own or not. I am proud of myself for the accomplishment of publishing a novel, and if it’s not successful, then so be it. I tried.
How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? After completing The Troy Standard, I blasted out emails to a number of good friends and family members. What amazed me was the reception I got among people I knew. Some of my closest friends were disinterested and barely mentioned the book again after I told them about it. Yet some people were very excited for me and bought the book immediately. Some were people I hadn’t heard from in years. It was amazing to get such support from sources you didn’t expect and was one of the truly unforeseen benefits to writing The Troy Standard. Other than that, my wife is glad that I am not behind the keyboard every moment I am home. But it hasn’t affected me in any other real way – I’m still the same person when I wake up in the morning.
Do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? I go through different phases. My most nagging habit is to check the Amazon page for reviews. While there, I typically take a look at my Amazon rank, which can change wildly with a very small number of sales. If it’s unexpectedly higher than where it was last time I checked, then I will go check the sales. Other than that, I try not to look. I didn’t write this book for the money, rather for the self-satisfaction and for getting out the message. If I was looking to make a living as an author, I would be charging more for it and begging more people to buy it. And if I needed the money to pay bills, I probably would be sitting on my stats page clicking refresh every five minutes.
Do you plan on writing another book? I do, but its completion is less of a time-constrained priority for me this time around. I used up a lot of those personal experiences I discussed earlier. That means that I’m relying more on identifying characters in the book to people I know in real life, and then trying to figure out what they would say, or how they would act. This time around the writer’s block is a little more evident.
Plus, the thought of writing a trilogy came to mind, so I am trying to write a story which is powerful enough to stand on its own, yet open-ended enough to continue if I so choose. It adds a certain level of challenge.
Either way, I enjoy writing and feel as though it’s a productive use of my time. I have started a few blogs in the past, with varying degrees of success. Over time, I’ve abandoned all of them. Book-writing never seemed an option because of the hassle of publishing. But now that I’ve grown out of my blogging phase and can write on my own time and at my own pace, with an achievable and foreseeable goal down the road, book-writing seems like a more natural outlet for me. The blogs go away after time, but books stay forever.
My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer?Just listening to that statement, the way she uses “a moment of opportunity” sounds a lot like “luck” to me. It’s almost as if she’s saying there’s no such thing as luck, except when there’s luck. Having a good product is certainly a great key to success. After that, you can promote your heart out and maybe it catches and maybe it doesn’t. It’s really just a matter of how hard you want to go at the promotion business, and whether or not the book hits the right chord or the right niche and catches fire.
I follow a lot of authors on Twitter who post links about their books multiple times a day, and I do get a little sick of them at times. I don’t want to be that guy. Instead, I’m going to be me and if people like me that’s great, and if they don’t like me, that’s fine too. I do some self-promotion, but I try hard not to overdo it.
As for success, I think that all depends on your unit of measure. If your sole interest is to sell copy, then I can see how it might become very frustrating. But if you write about what interests you and your goal isn’t to sell, but to start a dialogue or get people thinking, then success can be easier to achieve and more fulfilling as you achieve it.