That's a question I get a lot, and my answer is usually something like "um, I'm not sure." Because it kind of depends on how you define books.
Earlier today I decided to update my web page - www.troyduanesmith.com -which, of course, you should do regularly and in my case regularly has become about once a year. For some reason, today I was feeling nostalgic. Maybe it's because I turned 51 earlier this month, and have recently been undergoing all the prerequisite medical pokings and proddings that come with passing the half-century mark.
Anyway, I decided to make a list of my books. Then I wound up writing a paragraph or two about each one of them. And there went two hours when I should have been writing. Except I was writing, I guess- writing about writing. And in more detail than any reasonable human being would desire, but there you have it.
I guess it's sort of a "raising mine ebenezer." A memorial stone to mark how far I have come, with God's help. I'm hoping, of course, to go a lot farther- I have about half-a-dozen books, fiction and nonfiction, planned out in varying stages (a couple I am actually started on). But, well, here's where I am as of today, July 29, 2019.
Five short story collections.
One poetry collection (about half-a-dozen of the poems were published in literary magazines many years ago)
About eighty short stories.
Six academic articles/chapters.
Half-a-dozen papers on history.net, which is academic until you try to count it for tenure.
About thirty article-length historical blogs/essays
Ten articles in popular history magazines/books
Thirty-two encyclopedia entries
One 75k-word dissertation
One 100k-word history book ms. currently under review at an academic press
I have had the great honor of being nominated four times for the Spur Award and five times for the Peacemaker Award, winning each twice.
And here's that annotated list of books...
WITH WINGS LIKE EAGLES
historical fiction. Written: 1988.
This was my first attempt at a novel. I think it was about 60k words. I wrote it when I was 19, mostly at night when I was locked up alone for 12-hour shifts in the Tullahoma (TN) K-Mart. I had been reading a lot about Jehovah's Witnesses during the Holocaust, both in the concentration camps and those who evaded arrest and practiced their religion in secret, always hunted by the Nazis. I thought that sounded like it would make a stirring movie, and while I buffed the K-Mart floors I imagined what the plot and characters might be. I wrote it longhand, and it was never typed- I made two or three copies which I shared with friends. By the time I had started getting serious about writing, a few years later, I realized how amateurish my first attempt had been and never did anything with it. I lost my copy more than 20 years ago. There may be one or two out there somewhere, but I'd be embarrassed for anyone to read them now. On the other hand, I appended to the manuscript a short poetry collection, The Purple Triangle -"written" by one of my characters, a poet who died at Sachsenhausen. I wish I still had a copy of that.
western. Written: 1990. Published: 2010.
50k words. I got the idea for this when I re-watched Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. I was (and remain) the world's biggest Gunsmoke fan. I was frustrated when the reunion movie, which did feature Miss Kitty and Newly O'Brian along with Matt Dillon, did not have other characters whose actors were still living at that time, namely Chester, Festus, and Quint (Dennis Weaver, Ken Curtis, and Burt Reynolds). I started wondering what kind of story I would tell if I could have Marshal Dillon come out of retirement and round up ALL his old deputies for one last posse ride. The character I came up with, Luke Temple, actually resembled James Arness's other western TV character, Zeb McCahan -very rough around the edges. I had the character show up from time to time as a guest in other books and short stories. Like the other westerns I wrote in the 1990s, this was about the length of an average Louis L'Amour novel -which was actually significantly shorter than what publishers were looking for at the time. It would be 20 years before this book and the next one would see print, from Western Trail Blazer.
western. Written: 1990. Published: 2010.
Like Riding to Sundown, this book was mostly written at the Cookeville (TN) Wal-mart. I would plot it out while I was buffing, work on the writing on my breaks, and then spend two or three hours writing when I got home the next morning. I got the idea for this one after re-reading L'Amour's Shadow Riders, which is about a set of brothers who were on different sides in the Civil War but came together as a family when it was over to defend their ranch from the bad guys. I found myself wondering: what if they didn't come seamlessly together after the war, all their discord behind them? What if there was still bitterness and anger, and what if it drove them even further apart?
One thing I regret about this one is the fact that, at that time, I was still blinded by the Lost Cause Ideology that was par for the course in Southern schools (I was only 22 when I wrote this, and still had a lot to learn). Parts of it make me squirm now.
western. Written: 1993. Published: 2001.
I got the idea for this one when I re-watched Pale Rider, and realized it was almost a direct remake of Shane except with the twist that the mysterious stranger who came in to the valley to help the good families defend themselves was apparently a ghost. This started me thinking about other possible twists on the classic trope, including the most obvious: what if the mysterious stranger actually had been sent there by the cattle baron to kill the farmers? How would his interaction with, and growing fondness for, his host family affect and be affected by that dynamic? When I sat down to start writing I envisioned this as a very dark, noirish story... but the narrator, the little boy in the story now telling the story as an old man, totally took over. He was extremely sarcastic in a Mark Twain sort of way. The story wound up being almost more of a comedy, yet with lots of bittersweetness and tragedy. Now when I look at it the book seems sort of like Jack Schaefer's Shane as rewritten by Thomas Berger (Little Big Man). In tone, I mean... not in execution. I wouldn't put me in the same rarefied air as those masters.
I intend to write a couple of follow-ups to this book (25 years after I finished it) -one about Joey Cutter in his late teens, a coming of age story, and another with him as an adult returning home from the Philippine-American War.
ALL THAT WE SEE OR SEEM
science-fiction. Written: 1993-94. Published: 2013. 50k words.
In the early 1990s, my friend David Allen -in our weekly bull sessions -started telling me about virtual reality. This led to the idea: what if we are living in virtual reality and don't know it? We started playing with this notion, which led to this dystopian sci-fi tale. We had two protagonists, and we each wrote alternating chapters from the first person POV of our characters (me as the history teacher who slowly begins to realize he is in the middle of a vast conspiracy, him as the government agent tasked with monitoring the teacher but who becomes increasingly sympathetic toward him). David brought to the table the idea of a bunch of people hooked into the same virtual reality (we called it The System) having a collective unconscious, which might start doing strange things with Jungian archetypes if that system started to fail. I brought to the table the idea of making the whole thing an homage to Philip K. Dick, most of whose work centered on characters discovering that what they perceived as reality was all an illusion. We submitted the final product to every publisher and magazine we could think of, to no avail- then a few years later The Matrix came out, and was virtually identical in many was to our story. This made ours seem like a rip-off, which crushed our hopes of ever getting it out there. Years later I convinced David to let me release it under my own imprint. Different as it is from most of my work, some people have told me it is their favorite.
BOUND FOR THE PROMISE-LAND
historical fiction/western. Written: 1995-1998. Published: 2000. 120k words.
I first got the idea for this book, and first started wanting to write it, when I was 19, right after I had written my first attempt at a novel. I distinctly remember when the idea came to me. I was visiting friends in Johnstown, PA, and attended Sunday services with them. The speaker was talking about Romans 8:21, the passage that mentions "the glorious freedom of the children of God," and how most people look for freedom but don't know what it really is. This got me thinking about Reconstruction (as I'm sure most 19-year-olds do). All those slaves had yearned for freedom- but when it came, due to black codes and prejudice, it was hardly any better than they were used to. Even if they traveled to the North they encountered racist laws and bigoted white people. What is freedom, really?
I wrote a chapter soon afterward of what I hoped would be a very deep, thought-provoking novel. Unfortunately, I still sucked as a writer. At least I had the good sense to recognize it. I set the story aside and only came back to it (starting over from scratch) after six more years of practice at writing. I had a couple of agents who believed very strongly in the book after I finished writing it (a three-year process), but we had no success finding a publisher. I wound up self-publishing it -and won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America. I think I may have been the first, or at least among the first, self-published writers to do so. I was also nominated for the Spur for Best First Novel. This novel remains the one thing I am proudest of in my professional career.
THE TRAIL BROTHERS
western. Written: 1998, 2002. Published: 2003. 50k words.
This one started off as a short story, in 1998, and was published in 1999 in the magazine Western Digest. I immediately started expanding it into a novel, and wrote a few chapters- then set it aside for four years, when I picked it back up and finished it. The short story essentially became the concluding chapter. The plot centered on a group of ex-Confederate Texas cowboys rallying to rescue their black friend and fellow trail-hand who has been falsely accused of murder and almost lynched. In doing so, they are forced to face the fact they had once fought just as hard to keep him in chains. In the novel, the murder doesn't take place until three-quarters of the way through the story; most of the book is about just how these young men had all bonded together so deeply during a grueling, eventful cattle drive. I also added a framing story: decades later, on the eve of WWI, the last surviving white cowboy (now an oil baron) attends a lecture by his old trail brother, now a prominent professor and NAACP activist.
Several people have told me this is their favorite of all my novels. I was profoundly honored when James Reasoner, who was one of my literary role models when I first started writing, called it one of the best cattle drive novels he has ever read.
GOOD REBEL SOIL
historical fiction-Civil War. Written: 1998-2001. Published: 2002. 90k words.
How could you grow up in Sparta, Tennessee, and not want to write a novel about Champ Ferguson, the legendary Confederate guerrilla from the area? Ferguson was hanged after the war -accused of over a hundred murders (but they could only prove about half of 'em!) He was practically worshipped as a martyr in the counties that had been pro-Confederacy, and reviled as a terrorist thug in the counties that had been pro-Union. I tried to tell his story in such a way as to portray him as a (deeply, deeply flawed) human being. In fact, I constructed it like a Greek tragedy, with his sidekick Rains Philpot serving as the chorus. ("We're goin' to hell for sure, now, Champ.") The tragic motif (used from Sophocles to Shakespeare): a protagonist who has some admirable qualities (courage, love of family) and is initially likeable, but who has a fatal flaw (in Champ's case, his unrestrained passions) that leads them inexorably to their (ultimately deserved) doom. I wrote this one immediately after Bound for the Promise-Land, and in some ways I consider them to be bookends. Bound was the story of a black Union soldier and his efforts to transcend his own anger, ultimately becoming a story of redemption; Good Rebel Soil is the story of a white Confederate guerrilla, not trying at all to transcend his anger, ultimately becoming a story of damnation. The title, by the way, comes from Ferguson's last words when he was executed in Nashville- he wanted to be buried in Sparta, in "good Rebel soil."
CROSS ROAD BLUES
mystery/crime. Written: 2003-2005. Published: 2011. 80k words.
When I was writing Bound for the Promise-Land, I listened to a lot of blues to help set the tone. I had only a passing familiarity with the genre before that, but over those three years I became a huge fan. Later, when I was in college (I was 32 when I started), I took an African American literature class and my final paper was about the subgenre "blues detectives." I immersed myself in Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, and others. I immediately started thinking about how I would tell such a story. It was ultimately published by Perfect Crime Books and received a lot of very positive recommendations, but never really found an audience. I later wrote a short story, "Stomp Boogie," featuring the book's protagonist Roy Carpenter, and I hope to write more. The newest edition of the novel also includes "Stomp Boogie."
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
THE STEALING MOON
western. Written: 1994-2016. First Published: 2003. 120k words.
This is a collection that includes many of my previously published western stories. In 2012 the text was republished by Western Trail Blazer but was broken into two books (Tales of the West, vols. 1 & 2- Red Trails and Cherokee Winter). When I got the rights back I re-released it as a single volume again under the original title, adding some of my more recent stories. The most recent edition has 34 -most (though not all) of my published westerns. Copyright issues prevent me from including the Lone Ranger stories I have done.
LINES OF BLUE AND GRAY
Historical fiction-Civil War. Published: 2010. 50k words.
This one was sort of an experiment. I wanted to branch out into publishing my own stuff in paperback, so I put together this short collection of Civil War-themed stories. Most of them had already been reprinted in The Stealing Moon, and three or four were excerpts from novels.
THE BLACKWELL CHRONICLES, VOL. 1
western. Written: 1995-1999. Published: 2013. 30k words.
This book reprints the five "Blackwell" short stories I wrote in the mid-nineties, most of which were published at that time in literary magazines. One of the five was partly written in 1996 or so, but not finished until 2010 -that one, "Blackwell's Run," was a finalist for the Peacemaker Award when it came out.
THE BLACKWELL CHRONICLES, VOL. 2
western. Written: 2011. Published: 2013. 30k words.
This one has five more Blackwell stories, all written in the summer of 2011.
RIDER IN SHADOW
Science-fiction, fantasy, horror, suspense. Written: 1994-2014. Published: 2014. 90k words.
These stories range over several genres, but the one thing they have in common is they are kind of dark. In choosing which of my previously published stories to include, I picked the ones that would have fit in as episodes of either The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (or in some cases, all three.)
WEST OF SUNDOWN
western. Written: 1995-2016. Published: 2016. 30k words.
This slim volume reprints five of my favorite western stories, plus one that was brand new, "Eli's Bones." The new one won the Spur Award.
And some pomes!
And that's where I am so far.