Roy Huff on Surviving Family Mental Illness to Earning Five Degrees
Roy Huff is an Author, Researcher, and Promoter of creativity and individuality. He is a survivor of a family torn by mental illness. His story is below in our exclusive interview.
Wow! I am honored to interview an author for the first time on this blog! I was blown away by Roy Huff’s bio when we connected on Twitter and felt compelled to share his powerful story. So, let’s get started!
The first thing that caught my eye about your story on your blog was that you survived mental illness and severe poverty. What was life like growing up for you, Roy?
Poverty caused much hardship in my life. When I was three or four until around age six, I lived in a dilapidated trailer park in Radcliffe, Kentucky.
Our trailer had a large hole in the bathroom floor, which made it especially cold during winter. I remember bundling up in layers of blankets to stay warm.
It was messy and unsafe. At one point, the trailer caught fire due to an electrical issue, but we quickly moved back in anyway.
At six, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. My mother worked briefly at a grocery store then a daycare center, but she was soon laid off and was unable to support us, so we went on welfare until I graduated.
She earned a little over two-hundred dollars a month from AFDC and about the same amount in food stamps, which had to support a family four or five: My mother, myself, and two or three of my four sisters.
My father was absent in Charlotte. Food was usually scarce in the last week or two of the month, but in sixth grade we found food banks and summer lunch programs that helped tide us over.
I was fortunate to have people and charities which supported us. I was a recipient of the Toys for Tots program at age six or seven.
I had few clothes until I was about ten, little or no socks and only one or two pairs of pants. Kids used to pick on me for the Salvation Army and Dollar Store shoes and brown corduroy high water pants I did have. Fortunately, when we moved to a larger church in fifth grade, our pastor gave me a new wardrobe. Still, it was hard.
We relied on public transportation, but that was primarily in high school, when we had money for a bus pass. Prior to that time, we had to walk if we couldn’t find a ride. I have memories of walking for long stretches, sometimes miles, carrying groceries and having to wait desperately to use the restroom.
I lived on the wrong side of town in the wrong neighborhoods, where drug dealers and drug addicts were the norm, but I had a vision of what I wanted in the future, which propelled me forward and kept me out of serious trouble.
There was a Boy’s Club across where I lived. I went there a lot during summer, but the gunshots and violence were ever present.
I remember when I was around thirteen on Christmas, someone pointed a gun in face on the way to a convenient store. The burglar wanted the Walkman I received as a Christmas gift.
While I was poor and still struggled with finances as an adult, my dream gave me a different mindset. When I was twelve, someone from church gave me a bicycle, and I would ride ten miles or more a day, during weekends and summers to go to the other side of town and see what it was like where the rich people lived.
I also had a door-to-door sales job that gave me the opportunity to visit immaculate neighborhoods by the lake of other suburbs of Charlotte. Those experiences inspired me to learn everything I could about financial markets.
When I was in ninth grade, I used my school’s computer during computer class to write a computer algorithm in basic programming language based on the concepts in the book Automatic Investment Management.
I used to go to the library to analyze stock prices for the algorithm for hindcasting, and I remember being disappointment when the numbers didn’t provide the yield I had hoped.
After that, I turned to studying General Relativity and the possibilities of time travel, but I kept an interest in the markets.
As an adult, I still had difficulties, but I’ve always remained optimistic.
Was their any creativity in the family growing up, and what did you want to become when you “grew up?”
My father briefly attended some art classes. He drew a few sketches, which I remember looking at as a kid. When I was three, I accidentally knocked over an easel and paints. I swear I remember it, but my mother is convinced it’s a phantom memory from one of her pictures.
My oldest sister and I loved to sing. I sang in the school chorus, and my mother sang a few times in the church choir, so there is some genetic predisposition for interest in the arts.
Writing, however, was not something I desired to do, but I received a lot of schooling, which required writing, and my work was usually decent and earned high marks.
I’ve also been a voracious reader of primarily non-fiction. That includes science, economics, and politics, so I was knowledgeable in many areas. That breadth of knowledge combined with experience writing in graduate school set a solid foundation.
That experience and knowledge gave me greater confidence, but it’s what I learned since then from other sources, such as Jon Morrow’s Guest Blogging course, Smartblogger, and books such as On Writing by Stephen King, which has sharpened my editing hand in multiple writing genres.
When did it occur to you that your family was not “normal” and that there was mental illness and poverty, and how did you handle this realization?
I realized I lived in poverty when I was in fourth or fifth grade. When I was younger, everyone around me were in similar situations, so I didn’t notice.
Mental illness, especially with my father, was something I learned second hand after my parents separated, but my dysfunctional home was heavily influenced by that illness.
When I was in eighth grade, I learned he was HIV positive, and later that he had bipolar disorder. There are other members in my immediate family, and some I suspect, who currently suffer from a combination of addiction and chemical imbalances. It continues to present a severe challenge in my life both financially and emotionally.
Those struggles encouraged me to focus on ways to improve my life, much of it out of necessity. I’ve turned to mindfulness meditation, self-improvement, and other avenues to create positive habits that undergird my daily life and carry through the rough patches. Today is one of those days, but I digress.
When did you realize your father was gay, and how did that alter your life?
I don’t remember the exact age, but somewhere around eight, I was in an argument with my mother over something I’ve since forgotten.
In a huff (pun intended), I told her I wanted to live with my dad instead of her. She told me I couldn’t, and that it wasn’t a good idea because my dad was gay. I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but I think I had an inkling as I clearly remember a blank expression come over me and a bewilderment in how to respond.
I don’t know that the knowledge altered my life in any way or even my perception directly, but there is substantially more to the story, which I prefer not to share beyond what I’ve already said.
What prompted you to move to Hawaii with only a $100 bucks in your pocket and how did you survive?
I graduated high school. I wanted to attend college at the University of Hawaii after meeting the chief meteorologist for ABC, Ray Boylan when I was ten or twelve.
He said he attended school at the University of Hawaii, so I got the dream in my head to attend, and that’s what I did.
Of course, I had no money. In fact, I was the recipient of an Air Force ROTC scholarship after I graduated Valedictorian and Student Body President.
That scholarship, though was in doubt when I was disqualified based on the physical and an abdominal hernia. I received opinions about an abdominal hernia in two different cities.
I called the AFROTC headquarters in Honolulu and discovered it might be possible to get surgery to remove the hernia then qualify after the surgery, but it was no certainty.
I took a chance, with the scholarship in doubt and came anyway. After my arrival, I wasn’t sure where I was going to stay, but some cadets in the AFROTC paid for my interim housing. I got a fourth opinion from Queens Medical Center, which discovered the abdominal hernia was just a cluster of lymph nodes, so my scholarship was safe.
Ironically, I didn’t want to be in the military, and I planned on taking loans after the second year. I declined the scholarship the second year, but shortly learned after doing so that tuition would double over the next two years.
I paid out-of-state tuition, which led to an increase in expenses above what I was allowed in student loans. I thought I was out of options, and eventually dropped out of school and started working.
Eventually, I returned ten years later to college and earned five degrees in six years while concurrently working three jobs. three of the five degrees were earned while working simultaneously in multiple degree programs.
You went on to earn five degrees! Obviously, higher education meant something to you. What instilled this drive in you to excel and surpass the normal college work load? And, has your IQ ever been measured?
I’ve always loved science and learning. It was my way out of the ghetto, but I also enjoyed it. I have a decent IQ, but it’s not about your natural intelligence or current skills but rather your mindset, as discussed in the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.
You can increase your intelligence, skill, and success by failing and learning from failure. I think my natural skill and talents have sometimes held me back by encouraging hubris and laziness.
It takes consistency and effort above all else to succeed in any endeavor. Don’t let your present level of skill or intelligence keep you from moving forward. Learn from failure. Be courageous.
You discovered Creative Writing when you were 34. Can you tell us how the Everville Series was born, how many books do you have now, and what is the series about?
I was working on a short creative writing paper for an English class while working on my fourth degree. We had to share the paper with classmates, one of whom said she wanted to read an entire book about Everville, the title of my paper. I believed I could write the book, so I did.
There are currently four books in the series with more planned. My fourth book, Everville: The Fall of Brackenbone, brings the main character, Owen Sage, face to face with a race of beings from a parallel world.
He must overcome evil forces within that race as well as a classmate to save the world and joins forces with dragons, giants, and other characters on his quest, all while attending college.
Over the summer, I wrote a non-fiction self-help book, and am currently seeking a publisher. I’ve since written as a Lifehack contributor to create a platform for the book.
I’m currently writing a time-travel science-fiction book. I hope to have the first draft ready for my agent by early February. Book five in the Everville series will come next. I’ll have a draft ready this coming summer.
Was writing Fantasy an escape of some kind from your reality?
The short answer is yes. Writing in any genre allows you to rip apart societal constructs and build your own, or none.
Much of the fantasy was in my head, especially time travel. I’ve always been a dreamer, and I’ve also always tried to make those dreams a reality by learning what actions I needed to take to get there. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not.
You have an eclectic range of tastes, from the Arts to Extreme Sports, what would your ideal lifestyle look like if money wasn’t a factor?
I want to travel more, including travel in space. I want to climb mountains, do more skydiving, a sport I haven’t done since I was eighteen.
I want to invent, and hire a team of inventors to make advances in cryonics, interstellar travel, inter-dimensional and/or time travel. I want to make sci-fi a reality and enjoy doing it, Elon Musk and Richard Branson style on steroids. I’ll take up painting. I did a bit of it in college.
I love your blog! How old is it, how many posts are on it, and what is the daily traffic like to it?
I opened my blog November 2012, the same day I decided to finish my first book. It was the same day I read John Locke’s, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! Locke’s book is more of a guerilla marketing book for writers, and I’ve changed my approach since then, but it gave me the courage to complete what I had put off doing after my initial decision to write.
My blog has received over 700,000 hits since inception. Traffic fluctuates based on blog posts and promotions. I’m planning on migrating the blog to a different domain to better represent my author presence.
I want to have separate lists, and a page that has one fiction tab and one non-fiction tab. I expect to complete that migration in the next few months. I’ll have my existing owensage.com domain forward to the new site once it’s ready.
Has a blog helped your book sales, and if so, can you share a little advice to new authors who want their books seen more?
I’ve had mixed success with my own blog. Marketing has helped, but better results have come from guest blogging on places like Lifehack.
My recommendation is to build an email list and use an email marketing tool such as Aweber to manage that list. That will be the single most effective thing you can do in any niche.
I’ve also benefited from author interviews and blog hops during promotions, media interviews, and giveaways using Rafflecopter, like the one I’m running now.
New authors should also edit well. Start with self-editing, first draft minus ten percent equals second draft, as Stephen King would say. Then hire two different editors, a proofreader, and have beta readers after the proofing is done.
Goodreads is great for finding beta readers. Use outsourcing sites such as Upwork.com and fiverr.com for marketing. Don’t skimp on the cover. Spend at least a few hundred dollars to get it done professionally if you’re going to self-publish.
Above all else, write as much as possible. Keep learning. Read Smartblogger. Learn writing technique, especially on concise writing.
Get frequent advice from other successful writers, and copy what they do.
Listen to podcasts on writing at least a few times a week, but I recommend make it a habit during your commute. Don’t quit. Never quit.
Be consistent. Keep learning, and say positive things to yourself daily. You believe what you hear.
What is your favorite book right now and why?
At this moment, Minihabits by Stephen Guise. I know it’s non-fiction, but it’s great for writers as it focuses on the how of creating habits. Writing is one of the habits I’ve wanted to do daily instead of sporadically in marathon sprints. I’m 34 days in on that one now, so wish me luck.
What are your goals for 2023?
I have running goals, which I discuss on my blog that lead up to July of 2023 that include the following: Create a business product, drop down to seven percent body fat, write 1,000 book pages, complete two books (one through traditional publishing), write 52 blog posts and 52 guest blog posts. Complete 52 non-fiction audiobooks, 52 fiction books, 365 podcasts, meet 52 people, go to 52 different places, try 52 different web apps, receive correspondence from 52 business people and 52 authors.
I’ve recently added three separate daily routines after reading Minihabits by Stephen Guise and the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. I’ve already made substantial progress on most of them.
What is your favorite quote and why?
That is not fair! Sorry, but there are too many! I love motivational quotes. I’ve given some before, but it would just be picking one out of a hat. You can visit my twitter feed if you want to read some of them @evervillefans
Thank you so much for this interview, Roy!