From Business Owner to Fiction Writer: An Interview with Vaughn Roycroft

Have you ever dreamed of a different life for yourself? Vaughn Roycroft did when work overtook his life and left him wondering, Where did the time go? Today, Vaughn joins us to tell us about his passion for writing and the busy life he abandoned in order to chase his dream.

Erika Liodice: Welcome, Vaughn. Tell us, when did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you start out? 

Vaughn Roycroft: I’ve long credited my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Raymond, with sparking my love of reading by assigning The Hobbit to my reading group in his class. I was already into books, but Tolkien’s world brought reading to life in a new way. Mr. Raymond went on to buy a few of us boxed sets of The Lord of the Rings, and finishing the trilogy left me wanting more. This was the first moment I recall thinking, Maybe I should do this.   

In the beginning I was a notebook scribbler. I filled notebooks with stories and sketches, but almost never showed them to anyone. Sadly, the notebooks are lost. I don’t think there’s a single scrap left to document my early attempts at story. Then again, maybe it’s not so sad. They’re probably better in memory than in reality. I always read, though, and my love of history and epic stories grew. As time went on, writing became more of a distant future aspiration, sort of like extended travel abroad or retirement. 

EL: You’ve made some dramatic lifestyle changes to focus on your writing career. Tell us about that.

VR: My wife and I embarked on a joint career in building materials wholesale when we were in our mid-twenties. We were fortunate to become part-owners and managers in a wonderful company in Chicagoland, and oversaw a great team during an extended period of extraordinary growth there. But a strange phenomenon occurred during this hectic period of our lives. We were experiencing success we’d only dreamed of at the onset. But the price we were paying became more apparent. We’d spent our entire thirties working through most of our waking hours. And spent is an apt word here. We’d expended so much of ourselves to achieve success. At some point you raise your head, look around and say, “What happened? Where did the time go?”  

Toward the end of our time in Chicago, we were planning on building a house near the business. About a week before breaking ground, we rented a cottage near the Lake Michigan shore, a bit over an hour’s drive from the city. We’d worked most weekends for many years, and taking the time away felt incredibly revitalizing. During a walk on the beach, my wife blurted, “Let’s build the house here instead of there.” 

Crazy as it now seems, we not only bought property eighty miles from our business, we decided to build the house ourselves. It was a life-changing project, in so many ways. I’ve written about how building the house relates to my writing journey. Once the house was done, we made a point of escaping to it every weekend. It offered us a new kind of freedom and confidence as well as a connection to the land and community. 

Within a few years of completing the house, we encountered a series of tragic events. First, we lost our beloved lab, Maggie. I don’t know if it will sound hollow to those who aren’t dog lovers, but this was a seminal moment. I recently read another writer, Megan Mulry, explaining a similar circumstance. She wrote, “[At some point] I changed. Something physical I think… but I started thinking ‘life’s too short’ in a way that was no longer a bumper sticker. A voice in my head was shouting to get a move on…” Our lab Maggie’s joy in being at the lake house reminded us of what would be important in the end. A short time later, when my wife’s mother became fatally ill, it was the final straw. We sold our stake in the company and moved to our beloved cottage. 

There is always fear in facing change. Part of me thought we were crazy to leave such lucrative and secure positions. Of course there is uncertainty, but we were certain of a few things. We knew there were other, perhaps more rewarding goals we wanted to pursue. We were also sure we wanted to tackle them together in a place we both cherished. Add in the certainty that there is a finite (and unknown) number of days left to pursue them, and certainty outweighs fear.  

EL: You are a true “dream chaser”. So what’s your life like now?  

VR: I started post-business life as a carpenter who wrote in his spare time. Over the years, as the writing became more rewarding (and the carpentry more demanding on an aging body), the two reversed. I now spend the most days focused on writing-related work. My wife has found her way to a rewarding career in real estate as well, but we never forget what brought us here. We end each work day—rain or shine, warm or freezing cold—with a long walk on the beach with our (current) lab, Belle, and we have dinner together every evening (far less business travel separately). 

EL: What writing projects are you working on? 

VR: Shortly after moving in ‘03, I started outlining a fantasy story based on an alternate history of the culture clash between the Roman Empire and the Germanic Tribes. The story quickly sprawled and eventually became a trilogy. Being a novice, I decided to try to write the entire story before seeking publication. I finished a draft of the trilogy in ’09, and I’m still pursuing its publication. I had no idea what I was in for, revising such a large and complex work.   

Between rewrites and submitting, I decided I needed to continue to compose to keep my writing muscles toned. I was interested in the way the backstory of the trilogy had unfolded, and decided to write a few short stories that preceded it. The short stories turned into a longish novel which still needs fine tuning. I’m also working on an outline for my next project. Plenty in the hopper while I continue to plug away on shaping up and selling the trilogy.  

EL: Do you ever miss your old life or have any regrets? 

VR: Although we still collaborate on each other’s careers, I sometimes miss working side by side with my wife.  In our business, I ran the operations and she ran the sales and marketing. I miss the daily brainstorming as problems arose. I still frequently refer to her as the other half of my brain. But I have absolutely no regrets. 

EL: What’s been the biggest surprise of your writing journey so far? Your proudest accomplishment? 

VR: The biggest surprise was the way the first draft of the trilogy came tumbling out. I often wondered, “Where is this stuff coming from?” My proudest accomplishment might sound simple, but it has to be persevering. I’m proud not just of finishing a draft, but of realizing that the story needed work and staying with it. It’s come a long way since. I’ve often said that my muse has bestowed a great gift, and that it’s incumbent on me to make it worthy of her generosity. There were more than a few days when I didn’t think I could continue, but at this point I feel I owe it to the characters and the story to see it through to its rightful conclusion. 

EL: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten? Twenty? 

VR: I finished the first draft a few weeks prior to my forty-eighth birthday, and I remember thinking that I’d be a published author by my fiftieth. It wasn’t to be, so I’ll hold off on making any predictions in that regard here. One thing I’ve learned about myself (that I’ve only recently begun to declare publicly) is that I’m a writer. In five, ten, and even twenty years, I believe I will still be writing. As time goes on, I’d like to mix in more extensive travel and time spent with my wife. 

EL: If you could give one piece of advice to a writer who’s thinking of making the leap into a full-time writing career, what would it be? 

VR: I read that Jerry Lewis once decided to teach a class at USC for comedians. The theater department was flooded with applicants for the class. He wanted to keep the class small and intimate, so he decided to parse the candidates with a questionnaire. There was only one question: “Why do you want to be a comedian?” The only answer he would accept was some version of: “Because I have to.” 

Writing can be difficult; sometimes lonely and occasionally painful. Pouring yourself out for all to see, and facing the inevitable rejection of that outpouring, can be excruciating. I would tell them that their answer to Jerry’s question—Why do you want to be a writer?—should be: Because I have to. If that’s the case, none of the difficult stuff will matter. And I promise you will be rewarded for answering your true calling.  

Thanks, Vaughn!

To learn more about Vaughn Roycroft and his writing journey, visit his blog at www.vaughnroycroftblog.com.

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24 Responses to “From Business Owner to Fiction Writer: An Interview with Vaughn Roycroft”

  1. liz
    January 2, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Lovely, lovely interview, Erika and Vaughn. I think it was so brave of you and your wife to make that leap, and I think it is amazing that you were able to do it together. What a tribute not only to your desire to write, but to your relationship.

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      Sometimes, in hindsight, I am amazed at the leap we took, and would consider it brave. The fact that we’ve always had each other really helps. We’ve made some material sacrifices, but we both feel so rewarded and blessed for having made them. Thanks, Liz!

  2. Nicole L Bates
    January 2, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    This is a fantastic interview. I love reading about your journey Vaughn. Even though I’ve read pieces of the story before, this pulls it all together in a moving way. I’m impressed by your perseverance and would agree that, above all, never giving up on your dream is the greatest accomplishment. That’s a very wise piece of advice at then end. I’m so glad to have met you and be able to count you as a friend, Vaughn. Thanks to both of you for sharing your experiences.

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 10:00 am #

      I know that you know a bit about leaps of faith and perseverance, Nicole. I admire you. Even with all you’ve accomplished professionally and as a mom (and farmer, and, and, and…) you stick to your writing dreams, too. Happy New Year, my friend!

  3. Julia Munroe Martin
    January 2, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    What a great interview! It was great to learn a little more about your journey, Vaughn… so interesting the paths we each take to reach where we are. I love the way you and your wife have worked together — it’s one of my greatest joys, the times my husband and I have spent side by side (even because of unemployment). And I can also relate to your love of Maggie. We have a lab whose almost 11 and she is my dog-soul-mate. And finally, I can really relate to a first draft “tumbling out”… very much my experience with my writing, too, and such a surprise, I agree. Great interview, Erika — nice to find your blog!

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      I had a feeling you and your spouse had a similarly supportive relationship when I read your interview with him, Julia. I love the phrase ‘dog-soul-mate.’ Enjoy your walks in your lovely neck of the woods this year with her! I wish you all the best in the year to come! :-)

  4. Tonia Harris
    January 2, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    What an inspiring read. Thank you Erika and Vaughn. I understand the quote about physically changing and feeling that life is short. After the loss of my grandmother, I think about this every day. It makes the important things-family, friends, and dreams-more urgent. Vaughn, I admire your tenacity and clarity. Erika, good to find your blog. Happy New Year to both of you.

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      And the realization can be so liberating, Tonia. It frees you to do what’s really going to matter in the end. Losses like yours can be difficult, but I’m glad it brought you to ongoing awareness and growth, my friend. Thanks and Happy New Year, Tonia!

  5. Dee DeTarsio
    January 2, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Hi Vaughn—This is the most inspiring piece I’ve read all year!

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 10:43 am #

      Hi Dee–Funniest comment I’ve read all year! (Honest, I’m still laughing.)

  6. D. D. Falvo
    January 2, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    Even though I already knew much of your story, reading through just now made me misty-eyed for so many reasons ~ the special relationship that you and your lovely Ainsela (Mo) share, the faith that grounds both of you to what really matters in life, and the perseverance for following an inner voice that so many peeps don’t even hear.

    I think every really great writer possesses a few qualities that aid them beyond a natural ability for story-telling. Compassion. Listening. Observing without judgement. Curiosity. A passion for truth. All of these shine through your story, engaging the reader in a way that speaks to them personally.

    It’s a new year. Time to refresh and catch some dreams. Go get ‘em. :)

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 11:20 am #

      Now you’ve gone and gotten me all misty reading your comment, D. Funny you should see some of Ainsela in Mo (yes, it’s there), but there’s more to it. She actually has two favorite sets of earrings, an Ainsela pair and a Haelya pair. She can embrace the Ainsela inside or the Haelya, as the mood or needs of the day dictate. ;-)

      Speaking of observing without judgement, I always love your observations–your unique spin on things. I am already such a huge fan of your writing. I going to be the president of your fan club. :-D Thanks for your kindness and insight, my friend!

  7. Peg
    January 2, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    I know most of the story. The outline, really. It is so amazing to get the inside, the heart of it. It also inspires me on my own journey. When the lighting strikes, things just flow, it seems effortless, and then the road forks. “Follow this path and know your muscles will ache, your eyes will burn, your heart will feel as though it may burst and you will live! or forget about it, go back to the easy life and close your eyes”. Thank you for not taking it easy and letting your heart break open. This will be quite a year!

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      I’m so proud of you for following the path of your heart, Peg. I know how hard it must be, in a new world and on a new (sometimes frightening, I’m sure) road to your dreams. Know that I believe in you. I wish you Godspeed and many blessings on your journey. Thanks for commenting. :)

  8. Rhiann Wynn-Nolet
    January 2, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Your path and mine have much in common (besides an 80s music soundtrack). It’s always inspiring and encouraging to hear about someone making deliberate choices to live a creative dream. My only regret in doing the same thing is that I didn’t find a way to make it happen sooner. But maybe I wouldn’t have been ready… When you hit the querying trenches (if you’re planning the agent route to publication) I’ll be cheering for you. Or if you’re self-publishing or small press publishing I’ll be cheering for you too :)

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      I sometimes think that I should’ve made it happen sooner as well. And sometimes I feel a bit of regret over the blur that was my thirties. But I rest assured everything happens for a reason. Without our hard work then, I’m not sure I could’ve have pursued this my own way–on my own terms, you know? I am seeking an agent, planning the traditional route… for now (that may change). So thanks, Rhiann, I’m cheering for you, too! I know my 80′s music buddy will recall the wise words of Timbuk3: “The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades.”

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  9. Lisa Ahn
    January 2, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    What a lovely interview! I agree with DD Falvo — your writing always reflects such honesty, curiosity, and compassion. And I love that your proudest accomplishment is persevering. My first draft tumbled out too, and then needed lots of revision . . . and lots more revision . . . and then some more revision. I’ve wondered sometimes if it might be better used as cat litter. But those characters . . . I’m not ready to give up on them yet. And I’ve seen what the cats DO to that box. It’s not pretty.

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 3, 2013 at 9:02 am #

      Thanks, Lisa. You made me laugh. I consider praise on my writing from someone so who writes so beautifully to be high praise indeed. I’m glad to hear it’s the characters that keep you motivated. Me too. Happy New Year!

  10. Jan O'Hara
    January 2, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    I knew the general story of your industry-to-writing transition, V, and how close you and Mo have been through it, but not the precise “why.” It strikes me how smart you were to change before hitting a health crisis of your own; sad that you had to lose your pooch and your MIL, but at least they endowed you with a sort of Cliff Notes understanding.

    *waves hello to Erika* Love the look of your site, chica.

    • Vaughn Roycroft
      January 3, 2013 at 9:07 am #

      Well Boss, I was struck when this post went up that a lot of my whining in your ear the prior day could’ve been avoided if I’d just reread my own words. ;)

      Good point on gaining the Cliff Notes version of not waiting too long to live. I am blessed, in no small part because of friends like you, Jan. Thanks for your patience and wisdom, then and always.

  11. Vaughn Roycroft
    January 3, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    Thanks so much, Erika, for having me! Happy New Year, and best wishes to you for the year ahead! :)

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