Today we're introducing one of the Lamplight Universe authors: Taylor Thomas Smythe.
Taylor is the author of six novels... and counting. His next novel is the seventh and final installment in his charming middle-grade fantasy series known as Kingdom of Florida, to be released before the end of 2021.
We sat down with Taylor to hear how he got his start writing stories, what obstacles he's faced, and what we can expect from the author in the months and days to come.
LU: It's great to sit down with you. Could you start by telling our readers how you got your start as a writer?
TTS: Of course! I've actually been writing stories in some shape or form for as long as I can remember. I've been fascinated by the fact that every story we consume was created by someone--a normal human--which meant that I had the potential to do the same. I recently discovered a little book I made when I was in elementary school--it was a piece of cardboard folded for the cover, and then I had typed up and printed out pages, cut them up, and taped them inside. The story was of course super basic at that age, but it's funny to think that I have always been doing this. Now I have the ability to refine and make books that are actually good and professional.
As far as writing novels, though, that's a relatively recent thing. Prior to The Golden Alligator (Kingdom of Florida, Book 1), I had done a lot of creative writing in a variety of mediums: songs, short stories, poetry, short films scripts, comedy sketches, and even an original musical. So I had all of the experience one needs to write a novel, having honed the ability to tell stories that transcended format. I just hadn't ever done anything that long. But a fortuitous internet outage a few years ago meant that instead of lazily settling in to watch some episode of a streaming show one night after dinner, I ended up taking my computer to a coffee shop to see if I could start writing my first novel.
It took a little bit of work since I had never done that before, but eventually I got into a rhythm. I loved the process of discovering the story, while also working within the bounds of a rough outline I had developed over the preceding months. I let it percolate, so when I sat down to write, I had already done a lot of the work of knowing the overarching conflict, who the characters were, and what journey they were going to be thrust into.
About a month later, I had finished the first draft of the then-untitled story that would become The Golden Alligator. I knew it wasn't perfect, but I was very proud of it. I shared it with a couple friends to look at, but then actually put it aside for a few months and started right into the next book. And the next. I had almost finished the third book by the time I was ready to release the first. I spent some time away from it so that when I came back to edit, it was like I was reading it fresh--for the first time. I hired talented artist Alice (Ali) Waller to illustrate it in a style reminiscent of my favorite classic fantasy books from childhood. Soon after, I released the first book. It was awesome to have such a great reception from my community. And then this summer, nearly two years after its release, The Golden Alligator placed as winner and finalist in two national book awards.
LU: That's incredible. What challenges did you face throughout the process of writing and publishing, and even getting to that point?
TTS: The first challenge was simply making the time. I say "making" intentionally, because I truly believe it's a matter of prioritizing and capturing time that you already have, and using it well. I got into a good rhythm of writing daily--either in the evenings or mornings, depending on what the season of life allowed. But a little writing each day quickly adds up to a full-length novel!
Another challenge was figuring out all of the ins and outs of publishing. I decided to go the route of doing everything independently, as I had been seeing and reading about all of these authors who were able to make it big just by self-publishing or doing the indie publishing thing. I felt confident enough in my writing, and it wasn't a matter of pride that I didn't shop it around. It was actually primarily just about time and energy. I knew I wanted to get the story out into the world quickly (on my own time), and my full-time job at the time was just a little too taxing for me to add onto that the process of searching for an agent, wading through rejections, etc. I did later reach out to a couple agents, who just weren't really looking for a story like mine, but I appreciated getting that experience.
There's such a huge learning curve to indie publishing. I actually love learning about those sorts of things, though, so it was really fun. I spent so many hours watching YouTube videos about self-publishing, learning about ads, how to use various online publishing platforms, investigating the specs for formatting my files, and building a web and email presence. I'm still learning and trying new things!
LU: It's great to hear that you've taken a posture of learning even with so many books already under your belt. Speaking of that, what can readers expect from you in the near future?
TTS: Well, I've got SO many forthcoming stories that I can't wait to share. I wish I could just put them all out there at once, but there's really so much work that goes into marketing each and needing to build the hype for each that it's just not feasible.
Just this week, I announced that the final installment in my Kingdom of Florida series will be releasing before 2021 is over. I will reveal the title and more info in the coming weeks. Shortly after that book comes out, I'll release Kingdom of Florida, Volume II, which is a special hardcover edition that includes books 5 through 7 in the series, so folks can have the option of gifting that for the holiday season.
And then in 2022, I'll be releasing the debut novel in a brand new series that is super fun but super different from Kingdom of Florida. I've been sitting on the idea for years (since before Kingdom) and started writing it over a year ago. That will be the first book to officially be released under the Lamplight Universe moniker, as well. It's gonna be rad!
LU: Well thank you, Taylor Thomas Smythe, for sharing about your journey as an author and creator. We can't wait to see what you come up with next!