Dr. Billy J. Stratton never imagined that he would be a published author. Even the thought of being a writer would have made him scoff as a young man in Kentucky. Today, he has a PhD, teaches at the University of Denver and has multiple publications under his belt.
Being an author is no easy feat, whether it be for a scholarly work or for a piece of fiction. It takes hard work, dedication and an immense amount of time. The best writers must read a lot and write a lot. They need to commit to researching topics and producing creative content practically on cue. Many do this without recognition or reward, as well, as the world of publication is competitive and unpredictable. These days, a writer often cannot earn a living, with low royalty rates for academic pieces and first-time publishers and no clear guide of what will or will not sell to the presses.
Stratton overcame all of these challenges when he published his first book, “Buried in Shades of Night: Contested Voices, Indian Captivity, and the Legacy of King Philip’s War,” in 2013. The book was the product of a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation and countless hours of research and editing. His work at Miami University of Ohio, where he studied English literature, philosophy, anthropology and sociology, and the University of Arizona, where he researched American Indian studies, resulted in what Stratton calls one of his proudest achievements.
Publishing a book is grueling, and Stratton explained step by step how he brought “Buried in Shades of Night” to life. After years of writing, research and revision, Stratton looked for a press that would be a good fit to print his book. He sent in the necessary samples, descriptions, proposals and manuscripts to different companies, hoping that someone would see promise in his work. One press did after only a few months, but the project was cancelled after the financial crises around 2009.
After restarting the entire process, Stratton found the right press to fully publish his book. The company gave him orders, suggestions and comments for him to follow. After revision, more editing and more revision, his book began the production process, which involves more work with a copy editor. Finally, after about three years of collaborating with the press, “Buried in Shades of Night” was sent to the printer.
The total process of writing and publication took about nine years. Stratton spoke passionately about his work as an author, and he seemed like a man doing what he was meant to do. Thus, when asked if authorship had always been a dream of his, it was shocking to hear his answer.
“Actually, I never thought I’d be a writer.”
It was then that he recounted the story of his college professor discovering his talent as a writer. Stratton had actually entered community college to become an accountant. He had no interest in writing or English, but he still had to take classes in those subjects for the common curriculum. It was not until an English professor pulled him aside one day after class and told Stratton that he had unique talent that he even considered writing in his future.
“I thought I was trouble, that I’d done something wrong, because I wasn’t very confident as a writer and I didn’t like English courses. The irony, right? Now I’m an English professor,” he joked.
Stratton obviously went on to become successful in college and successful in his fields, writing often in both academia and in fiction.
Aside from “Buried in Shades of Night,” Stratton has a second book soon to be released, published chapters in at least three other books and about 15 pieces in articles and journals. He enjoys reading and writing about a multitude of subjects, including American Indians, war, the effects of war, the Southern Gothic, the environment, environmental philosophy and more.
Though Stratton has published more scholarly works, he has a clear affinity for fiction as a genre. The project he is most excited about currently is a short story titled “Mending the Centaur”; it is a work of fiction recently published in the Cream City Review literary journal. “Mending the Centaur” is a favorite of Stratton’s, but it was actually rejected from publication about 40 times over the last five years.
“Fiction, it comes from more of the inner self, whether you call it the fountain of inspiration or your memory or your soul, whatever. You’re pouring that out onto the page, and then to have that rejected can hurt much more than for a scholarly work,” he said on the subject.
When Cream City Review finally accepted his story, Stratton was elated, saying that the rejections only made publication mean more in the end.
“It’s part of a larger work of fiction that I would hope to get published someday, so the fact that one story from that piece got published tells me that it is maybe not just some crazy dream, that it could happen at some point,” he said.
Stratton also had plenty of tips to offer aspiring authors. The educator side of him showed through as he advised for young writers to read extensively, write often, be patient and, most importantly, never give up. Do not expect instant gratification and do not be hurt by rejections. They happen to the best writers in the world.
“If it’s your love, if it’s your passion, if it’s what you really want to do, you can keep doing it,” he said.