The Travis M Riddle Interview
Today’s guest in Interview Corner of the Speculative Faction is Travis M Riddle.
Travis is a citizen of Austin, Texas and author of four novels. He studied English and Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University, his work has been published in the award-winning literary journal the Sorin Oak Review. Travis was also kind enough to send me a copy of his latest novel, Spit and Song for me to review. You can read it here.
Q; Hi Travis, thanks for joining me here on the comfy chairs and I’m grateful for the pizza. As I munch away on it, tell me something about this Texan fantasy writer, will you?
A: I’m not sure what there is to know! I’m a writer from Texas with four books out, the latest of which is called Spit and Song. I write character-driven stories and try to imbue as much weirdness into them as I can. I don’t want anything I write to be like anything you’ve read before.
Q: In my review of Spit and Song I described you as ‘a breaker of moulds, an inventively revolutionary writer’. I noticed that Justine Bergman, of Fantasy Book Critic (who opinion I rate very highly) said of another of your books, ‘We need more of this. Fantasy isn’t just magic, battles et al. It’s about the newness of things. About the strange things you’ll never get to see, to feel. To taste and to read.’ I have to agree with her.
Where has this revolutionary zeal come from? What provokes this original approach?
A: Such generous words from you both! Really it just comes from me being a lot more interested in the stakes of smaller, more personal stories. Facing a world-ending threat is just…boring to me at this point. Which sounds insane, but it’s true haha. I think there’s a lot more opportunity for interesting storytelling and character work when the scope is smaller.
Q: I was amused you chose to dedicate Spit and Song to yourself because ‘this book was damn hard to write’. As a writer I can understand why. But tell me what you found so difficult about it. For instance, having two alien protagonists in a ‘buddy story’ doesn’t make it easy for you!
A: It definitely didn’t, and one of the things I wanted to make sure I did was really make them feel nonhuman in their day-to-day needs and beliefs, because otherwise why not just have them be humans? That’s why Kali’s eating habits are touched on numerous times, it’s why Puk’s eyestalks factor into something later in the book, etc.
Really the biggest reason it was hard to write though was the exact thing Puk struggles with in the book and was my thematic motivation for writing it, which is creative burnout. That struggle that I’m sure most artists of any medium feel from time to time where they wonder if the time and effort they’re putting into their work is worthwhile. If no one else cares about what I’m doing then at a certain point, is it worth doing at all? It’s something I’ve struggled with for the past couple years. I enjoy telling stories for the sake of it, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that it’s really appealing thinking about just playing games or watching movies instead if I’m the only person getting anything out of the books. So that’s what drove Puk’s main conflict in the story. And then of course ironically that lack of motivation hit me a lot during the writing process and it took a while to complete the book, but I’m thrilled with how the final product turned out.
Q: When your characters are as alien as Kali and Puk, it can’t be easy to find inspiration from those around you. Tell us where your characters came from.
A: Well as I mentioned briefly in the previous answer, their motivations are two sides of the same coin and are what I’ve been struggling with; all of my books are about whatever problem I’m going through at the time, haha. With this, it was Puk representing the side of me that wants to take the easy way out and cast aside my creative endeavours and just enjoy myself, not worrying about anything. Then Kali represents the other side, the side that is still determined to do whatever it takes to succeed. Then there’s also that part of her who compares her own lack of success to her sister’s despite them striving for totally different things, which is another thing that has weighed on me a bit.
That’s what made them easy to write for despite how unlike us they are; their motivations are very real, very relatable things that I feel a lot of people (especially my author brethren) can relate to.
Q: My good friend Steven McKinnon, he of Symphony of the Wind fame, described Spit and Song as being set in a Jim Henson-esque wonderland. It’s an interesting comparison. Is he accurate?
A: Man I love Steve! I need book 3 of the Raincatcher’s Ballad asap. It is an interesting comparison; the world of Ustlia is full of wild creatures and races, so I can definitely see why something like The Dark Crystal would spring to mind. I’m not too keen on writing about elves or orcs or dragons or anything like that. I’d rather create completely new monsters and races to give a fresh feeling to the world, something you hopefully haven’t seen before.
Q: I can imagine that traditionally-minded agents and publishers might struggle to pigeon-hole you. Is that why you self-publish? Have you attempted the traditional route?
A: I attempted it very briefly before I published my first book but was quickly allured by the freedom self-publishing offers. As I’ve gone on I’ve continued to make myself absolutely unmarketable—no real “series,” totally different subgenres than what are popular, wildly different genres/tones from one book to the next—so yeah, self-publishing is great in the sense that I can just write the types of stories I’m inspired to write, whether it’s a strange buddy comedy in the desert or a contemporary horror fantasy that’s a reflection on grief and friendship. I’m open to pursuing the traditional route for sure, but who knows if that’ll ever happen.
Q: Plotter or Pantser?
A: Kind of in the middle? But mostly plotter. I basically write out rough outlines of books so that I know the major beats and character arcs and have a path to follow, but I definitely allow room for improvisation if I’m struck by something during the actual writing process. I think the original outline for Spit and Song was like 15 or 16 chapters, while the final version was 22.
Q: You tread a very individual path in the fantasy genre, who are the writers who have inspired you to go that way?
A: I love the way D.P. Woolliscroft has been plotting out his Wildfire Cycle series. That’s kind of inspiring me to try starting my first series, which I’m trying to plan out now but who knows when that’ll see the light of day. I also really admire the character work Stephen King does, which I attempt to imbue my books with; not to say I’m as good a storyteller as him, but starting with Balam and continuing through the two books after I’ve really strived to give a lot of depth to the characters and their backstories and give you moments to just sit with them and get to know them better so that you truly care about what happens to them when the action finally ramps up later.
Q: You are a young man, with a writing career that could stretch over the horizon. What is your destination? What are you aiming to achieve in, say, the next ten years?
A: I guess my destination is to just continue telling stories that matter to me and hoping they matter to other people too in spite of how weird they might be hahah. Though I will say that if in the next ten years I ended up with a publishing or movie deal…that wouldn’t be the worst thing! Get at me Netflix, come on HBO Max. Let’s make a Narrows miniseries. I’m ready.
Q: Writers need to be business people as well as creative artists. You’ve got merchandise connected to your novels, you’re active on social media to actively promote your work. Lots of writers don’t always realise what else is involved when it comes to publishing. What advice have you got for anyone starting off in our world?
A: Really look into research that’s been done (or talk to a more successful friend if you have one) about the best ways to utilize social media. There are definitely different times of day where you’ll get the most engagement; I’ve seen other authors post their big promotional push for their new release at like 7am and I just think like…most people are not awake or online yet, this tweet is gonna be buried by the time they see it, you should have waited until sometime between 11 or 1 or something. And limiting the amount you tweet also will push engagement of the tweets you do send out. I try not to tweet more than maybe twice a day, if even that. This all sounds kind of douchey and pretentious and maybe overly-analytical but it works!
Q: For anyone who hasn’t read the blurb for Spit and Song but has now had their appetite whetted, how would you describe it in 30 words or less?
A: It’s a wild romp through the desert with two loveable but flawed nonhuman protagonists and tons of bizarre creatures and locales, examining self-worth and creative struggle. (Is that less than thirty? I don’t wanna count.)
It’s been great chatting with you Travis. I’ve finished the pizza now so you’re free to go! But for anyone who wants to learn more about you and your amazing books, where can they find you on the internet of things?
Follow Travis on Twitter via https://twitter.com/traviswanteat
Find out more on his website: http://www.travismriddle.com/
You can buy his books on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2RqcDGm
Here he is on Goodreads: https://bit.ly/2wxhtdC
Thanks again Travis and keep up the wonderful writing!