Payton Joseph Cavallo parlayed a fascination with fantasy and mystery, a love of storytelling, and self-discipline into the first of what he hopes are many books.
Cavallo, a 23-year-old Elizabeth City resident and student, wedged into the fantasy literature corner with the recent publication of “A New Life,” Book One of what he envisions as The Proudhill Line series.
“I enjoy writing,” he said. “We’ll see where it goes.”
Cavallo is polite and unassuming, 5-foot-8 with short brown hair, rectangular wire-rim glasses and a couple days’ worth of stubble. He juggles part-time work at the local Salvation Army with school and writing.
He’s a rising senior at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, majoring in theology after he bailed on a business and accounting track.
“I was terrible at accounting,” he said with a chuckle. “I understand the concept of it spend less than you earn. But the credit and debit thing got me.”
Theology and the accompanying coursework papers required supplement and encourage his fiction writing. He said that one of his high school teachers assigned students to write a short story per week, which sparked his interest.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said, “so I kind of thought that would be my calling later.”
Cavallo took to fantasy/action authors such as J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. He enjoys video games such as Destiny and Persona, which mix conflict with strong storytelling and personal elements. He wrote a few short stories in that genre and said he decided to take a crack at writing a book.
The initial result is "A New Life," which is set in the fictional area of Athsbane, modeled after an early-20th century Irish farming village. It tells the story of Aethel Proudhill, a single mother who makes wards and barriers that shield people from everything from mice to monsters. An unscrupulous landlady forces her to vacate her home and start anew, and the book details Proudhill’s encounters with various characters and forces, good and evil. He leans toward happy endings, but characters sometimes perish. He wants protagonists to prevail through real hardship, rather than cheap plot twists or devices.
Cavallo self-published the book through Amazon, aware that in a crowded field a novice author was unlikely to hook on with an established, traditional publishing house. Research suggested that if he wants to gain traction and readers, he should write a series based on one set of characters or place, so that’s his aim. He thinks The Proudhill Line will be five to seven volumes, and he is partway through writing book two.
Cavallo’s goal is to write 1,000 words per day. When college is in session, he tapers off to approximately 2,000 words per week due to academic requirements. School and work are during the day, so he writes later in the evenings, after 10 p.m. He often writes quickly, then goes back and edits. His mother, Peggy, and boss at the Salvation Army, Fae Cardenas, both avid readers, also edit his work, flagging inconsistencies and plot holes. It took him three months to write the first book, which is 200 pages. It will take a bit longer for the second, because it will likely be another 50-75 pages.
Writing scratches Cavallo’s creative itch, but there’s a financial component. He’d like to make a few extra bucks in order to help his mother. He also hopes to make enough money so that he can continue to work part-time jobs and have the time to write. But he’s realistic, as well. He knows that few writers earn enough from their work to make a living.
“I hope it does take off,” he said. “You never know. Harry Potter came out of nowhere.”