By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
“The mind is weird.” Mary Troy, professor of English, said. “The mind is exciting. You have five or six stories going on in your head at any given time.”
Focusing on one of those stories and polishing the story through numerous drafts till publication is what Troy enjoys at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Troy recently finished her fifth book since 1998: “Swimming on Hwy N.” The story follows Madeline Dames- the primary character of Troy’s novel. “I remember just sitting in my office writing about this woman who had a child when she was very young, 16… she did it on purpose to get out of her home life,” Troy said.
Troy knew instinctively that this was a character worth investigating and fleshing out the details. “I didn’t know what she was going to do, but I knew her past. My husband and I love to go out and fish and hike in all these weird places in Missouri. We always go on these side roads. We were driving and I looked down the hill and saw a little place, and there was what looked like an old woman just sort of sprawled in this child’s swimming pool. It was a very hot day. I thought, ‘That’s something Madeline would do,’” explained the author. That attention to detail is what helps bring Troy’s characters to life.
Troy chose to begin the story after the death of Madeline’s third husband. She chose Missouri for the scenic beauty and the feel of small Midwestern towns. Troy explained that the Ozarks has one of the last remaining hardwood forests in the world and Missouri’s conservation department has done an amazing job keeping that land from being developed. The preserved land keeps the small towns small- perfect for Troy’s character. “There is something about that beauty, that smallness that always appeals to me. But there is still something that calls to us in our imagined world. I wanted to set something there and see and also not see if that could be true,” Troy said.
Troy works numerous jobs on top of being an accomplished author. She tries to write about 20 hours a week. “If I can come close to 20 hours a week, it makes me happy. I seldom get to 20… I can always manage, if it is my writing day, I can get three to four hours in.”
Besides being a writer, Troy teaches creative writing students and students in the Master of Fine Arts program at UMSL. Teaching creative writing, she knows the kind of work and effort students are putting into their drafts. Troy does not believe in writer’s block and believes that helpful writing exercises can get the subconscious and conscious parts of the brain to work in unison to create the desired work. Troy said, “You never know what [the writing is] going to be about until you write it. When I see that work, that effort, and the desire that people have to do good work, it sort of refuels me and reaffirms this idea I have that writing really matters.”
Troy also understands that undergraduate writers have simply had less life experience to be able to bring to their stories compared to the MFA students. She talked about how the more one writes, the more they have practiced and the more of their ongoing experiences and observations they are able to bring to the work. Most of all, she encourages young writers to keep practicing and honing their writing skills. She commented on her experience with past published works and writing. Troy said, “The first draft was easy. It was way, way too easy. This was my second novel and I knew they weren’t supposed to be that easy…It made me very nervous.”
On top of those positions, she is also the editor of the journal of contemporary literature “Natural Bridge.” The journal is published twice yearly and features poetry, essays, and prose. As editor, Troy is in charge of getting bids from printers, figuring out a budget, hiring a printer, working with an advisory board, and overseeing the publication. Works for each issue are selected by an MFA faculty member and an MFA class.
A book launch for “Swimming on Hwy N” is set for November 14 at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood. Troy will be on hand to discuss her book and sign copies at the launch.