#SPFBO Author Interview with T.H. Paul
It’s the last of the 2017 #SPFBO Author Interviews. This week’s interview is with T.H. Paul.
T.H. (Trevor Howard) Paul is a private secondary school literature teacher at Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine. T.H. has lived most of his life in Maine, though he did attend Wheaton College in Massachusetts and spent time living in Germany and the People’s Republic of China. T.H. started working on the Legacy Chronicle when he was a freshman in high school, tasked with writing a serial story by his freshman English teacher, Ross Markonish. That story blossomed into a lengthier book, a deepening mythology, and even spawned his own variation on popular tabletop role-playing games, which was dubbed Ascension by one of his good friends and players in Tianjin, PRC. T.H. lives on the campus of Hebron Academy with his wife, Molly, and their dog, Zoe. When not writing he enjoys playing ice hockey, board and video games, drinking tea, and hoarding Legos he swears are for that aforementioned tabletop RPG he runs sometimes. This is his first novel and series; built from over fifteen years of tinkering, rewriting, frustration, and hope.
What drew you to self-publishing?
I have told this story at a number of conventions and appearances in schools, but I tried traditional publishing for quite a while as a naive college student/graduate. I brought my, what I now consider garbage quality, draft of The Sword to a number of agent pitches and got rejected repeatedly. Some of those were totally justifiable like I mentioned I am not sure the quality was anywhere near good enough for publication, but others made less sense. I had one agent listen to my pitch and suggest I change all the characters to vampires because that was the hot product at the time. You can guess what book series was causing a stir then.
I also ran into a significant problem of really only having one passion project I wanted to write about. Most agents and publishers are interested in someone with flexibility of content, to a certain degree at least. I often think of fellow Maine writer Stephen King, who is both prolific and seems filled to bursting with executable ideas. That's the dream for agents or publishers. In my case, having only one story I wanted to tell, I hit a lot of walls when the question "what else have you got" came up.
So I put the entire dream aside for a long time. I worked as a teacher (which I still do) in public schools before moving abroad for two years to Tianjin in the People's Republic of China. I started running D&D-style games set in the book world for co-workers and friends. Soon I got engaged and moved home to marry my now-wife, who knew all about my writing passions. After a year of living together, she was the one who convinced me to write the book because I'd always regret it if I didn't.
I had looked at self-publishing before, but it was exclusively vanity publishing at the time I did so I steered clear. However, a college classmate had published his work through Amazon, and he was a professional writer, both in technical work and creative fields. We chatted, he told me to go for it, things worked out pretty well.
The most important part I have found is in getting the assistance of others. There are always people willing to read your work and contribute feedback, and you have to use them. Without the network of contributors to pick at my drafts and design the format and artwork, I'd never have something like what The Legacy Chronicle is now.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I am of the opinion that, with the exception of certain positions in sports, big egos help no one. You need an attitude to be a hockey player, but it certainly doesn't seem a necessity to be a writer. Believing in your ideas, characters, and story is different from having a big ego. I read my work to my wife, and it usually results in me hating what I have on the page and interrupting the flow of the story to make copious notes about changes I need to execute on. I'm constantly starting my work, whether it is the actual first writing or the revising process, by questioning if it is really any good at all.
I also have a personal problem with the aesthetic presentation, or more accurately romanticization, of creative people. We, being people who consume creative material, want the authors and artists to be quirky and extreme. There are always people reposting on social media about the methods of Writer X or Artist Y and how they don't sleep more than a few hours a day, force themselves to sit and generate content for a set period every day, and generally meet some kind of borderline mystical level of creative expression. In my experience, that's cool if it works for you, but it mostly seems like self-serving legend-building.
I play a lot of games, teach English classes, and like collecting Legos. I sometimes don't write for weeks at a time or put in fifteen minutes of effort in one day. But when I'm exercising or driving or running a tabletop campaign, I'm still creating. It's just not as sexy of self-flagellant as some creatives' lauded processes are.
What does literary success look like to you?
I had a wonderful professor at Wheaton College (MA) that told me when I informed him I was finally going to publish that story I was yammering on about while I was his student, that I just needed to hit the 600 copies sold mark. As he explained, that was the statistically significant number required for the text to become one person's favorite book. That was probably the most encouraging and calming thing I heard from anyone I talked to about finally publishing The Sword. I, like a lot of indie writers, got into the gig because we love stories and, at some point in our lives, a writer or their work made a major difference in who we are.
The idea that somewhere in the world, someone might read my writing and be inspired or fall in love with fantasy as a genre is what I consider literary success. It's why I love going to comic conventions to sell books because I get to talk to aspiring writers or young people who love genre fiction and it reminds me why those stories are so important. That's success right there.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
The first book, The Sword, was a long process. I wrote a short story in my freshman year of high school that became the book later, so that was a 15-year process from genesis to actual release. The second book, The Shield, is still in the revision process, but it looks like that won't take more than 1.5 to 2 years to publish. It gets a lot easier to write the second one, especially now that I've done it from start to finish once and know what works for me and what doesn't. I don't know if the process will get longer or shorter as the series goes on, especially because my books are pretty hefty (The Sword was 500 pages, and The Shield is looking to be around 650-700), but the actual system of making a book is definitely a lot more natural than it was when I started.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I would include writing characters of different cultures and racial backgrounds as well. In this case, I'm referring to the non-fantasy concept of race, meaning ethnicity. I run into this same challenge as a teacher as well. How do I, a white male, express the feelings and perspectives of a female character? A black character? An Asian character? And then you throw in the complexities of cultures and worldviews, assuming you want to branch out from Western European standard high fantasy, and there's a whole other layer of challenge there.
Usually, I ask someone who would know what they think of a characterization. I'll have my wife reflect on a female character's behavior. I try to draw on my experience living abroad for writing about other cultures. When in doubt, you go and do the research by reading or contacting people and asking them, admittedly sometimes awkward, questions.
The most important thing I have learned is never to limit a character to being represented solely by their gender, race, or culture. Make them fully realized, diverse in identity, and complex. You know, like real people.
To learn more about Trevor and his upcoming projects, check out these links: