The Write Stuff – Monday, February 13 – Interview With Travis Heermann

In addition to being the second author I’ve featured this year with award-winning screenwriting credentials appended to his curriculum vitae, this week’s guest is also the second collaborative writer I’ve featured throughout. You will soon see that this multifaceted man is diversely proficient.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, Rogues of the Black Fury, and co-author of Death Wind, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Alembical, the Fiction River anthology series, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Battletech, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online.

He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.

In 2016, he returned to the U.S. after living in New Zealand for a year with his family, toting more Middle Earth souvenirs and photos than is reasonable.

His latest release, Death Wind is a horror western. It came out from WordFire in August and debuted at Dragon Con. To give you a sense of it:

Between the clouds lurks an evil older than man…

In 1891, in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee massacre, awful nightmares and bizarre killing sprees shake the uneasy peace between the frontier town of White Pine and the Lakota on the nearby reservation.

Pioneer doctor Charles Zimmerman finds himself at the forefront of the investigation and uncovers a crawling horror the likes of which he could not imagine.

With the help of an orphaned farm girl, a smart-mouth stage robber, a beaten-down Lakota warrior, a beautiful medicine woman, and Charles’ estranged father – the aging town marshal – Charles must save not only the down of White Pine but also the starving Lakota from an ancient, ravenous evil.

I’m a fan of mixed-genre work. Will you tell us more about it?

Death Wind is a Lovecraftian horror western, co-written with jim pinto. It just came out in September from WordFire Press. It’s a story about hunger, greed, and oppression, and the people who feed on those dark impulses.

What was the inspiration behind it?

We wanted to write something neither of us had ever seen before, and we both liked the idea of doing a horror western, as fans of both genres. Obviously Lovecraft was an inspiration but also tons of great western films like Unforgiven, Tombstone, True Grit, and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, plus the HBO series Deadwood, which contains some of the most phenomenal writing we’ve seen.

I myself grew up on the Great Plains, maybe a couple hours’ drive from the imaginary locale where we set the story, so there are doubtless experiences and impressions from my life that found their way in there.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was that a novel and a feature film are not the same length. When I finished outlining the novel from the screenplay, I had only about half the length I needed. This turned out to be a great boon, however, because I had the opportunity to fill in the characterizations and backstory of the Lakota characters. The result is a much richer story.

What other novels have you written?

I’m also the author the Ronin Trilogy, a historical fantasy series set in 13th century Japan, Rogues of the Black Fury, a military action fantasy novel in the vein of the Black Company, and The Wild Boys, a young-adult supernatural thriller. I’ve also got a growing body of short fiction out there.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

Death Wind is the novelization of a screenplay that jim and I wrote first. In 2012, the screenplay won Grand Prize in the screenplay contest at the CINEQUEST Film Festival in San Jose, CA, as well as 2nd place at H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Con—L.A. the previous October.

So we knew the story had some legs. From there, adapting the story to novel format was a no-brainer. The screenplay hasn’t been produced, but maybe if the novel is a success….

Since jim is primarily a game designer, we’re also kicking around the idea of turning it into a GM-less roleplaying game.

What else are you working on?

Right now I’m working on a feature-length, contemporary drama screenplay and some short stories that are in various stages.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I fall somewhere on the spectrum between pantser and outliner. With Death Wind, we had no idea where the story was going to go when we started. It was a really organic process, working in tandem on the story at the same time. A lot of time, we would take turns writing scenes, brainstorming the next few scenes as we went.

The ratio between outlining and pantsing has been different with every novel I’ve written, but the way the process most often looks is that I have the beginning, the idea, the characters, and I often have a rough idea of the ending (but not always). Writing scenes sparks ideas for more scenes down the road, so I rough those out, a few sentences maybe, and then write toward them.

Why do you write?

Because it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, deep down, even though I’ve taken sidetracks on other careers.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’m much more conscious (and maybe self-conscious) than I was when I was just starting out. Back in my 20s, I just wrote, and I didn’t worry about whether it was any good, whether it was too much like X or Y. I just did it, and I told what I thought was a fun story.

Nowadays, I’m much more conscious of the fact that I am an artist, producing something that I want to have value for my readers. I still want my readers to enjoy it, but I also want it to have a little heft. Not in the George R.R. Martin/Robert Jordan-doorstop-book kind of way, but in that I have something to say. The world is more screwed up now than it’s been in decades, and I might have something to say about that. If I don’t make them feel something, if I don’t nudge them just a little, I haven’t done my job.

While this attitude makes me take my work more seriously, it can also be paralyzing, so the trick is to balance fun with thinking about what the story is really about.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

The discipline to produce new words consistently, daily. Life is full of a million distractions, any of which is easier to face than the blank page. Life stuff, errands, jobs, family, all that stuff can force writing into the cracks of time, when it should be opposite.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I write full time, but that’s a mix of fiction and freelancing for a variety of clients. I also teach science fiction literature part-time at the University of Nebraska Omaha. This would be difficult, as I live in Colorado, but thank the web gods for virtual commuting.

What motivates or inspires you (not necessarily as regards your writing)?

What motivates me is the drive to have a real writing career. Writers who don’t write don’t have careers. I didn’t embark on this incredibly difficult—but rewarding—path just to stop half way.

My inspirations come from people, from history, and from nature, probably in that order. Humans are this wildly unpredictable species that can do incredible things, acts of poignant kindness, fly to the moon itself. And we can also shoot somebody because their skin is the wrong color.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

You have to be a glutton for punishment to even consider jumping into the publishing industry. My personality is this strange mix of cynicism and optimism. The cynic in me is rewarded all too often by being right about something—especially over the last year of election season—which often depresses the hell out of me. But ultimately something in me will click and I’ll be able to get past it and move on, hoping that something good might happen. Maybe this time, my work won’t be rejected. Maybe human beings aren’t always awful. Maybe I’ll find a freelance client whose first instinct isn’t to try screwing me over. It’s the optimism that this time I’ll be wrong that keeps me going.

Do you have any pet projects?

I don’t screw around with projects. If I’m working on something, I’m working on something.

Let’s try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… pretty cool guy.

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee.

I’m beginning to notice most authors say that. The one thing I would change about my life: I would have gotten out of destructive relationship much, much sooner.

My biggest peeve is: willful ignorance, the kind where you show someone the truth, over and over again, and they stick their fingers in their ears. La la la la la can’t hear you!

 That’s something I’m also hearing more. For those visitors who have stuck it out this far—I mean how could you not? This is one fascinating man!—here is an excerpt from Death Wind, followed by Travis’s social and book buy links:

Marshal Hank Zimmerman adjusted the brim of his old felt cavalry hat, so faded that it almost looked Confederate gray, and squinted into the midday sun, scratching the grizzled stubble along his jaw. His horse stamped and fussed about being reined up so harshly. A few rocky buttes and stands of brush and cottonwood were the only irregularities in the endless sea of grass.

Except for the lone, distant figure silhouetted on a hilltop, a figure moving unsteadily.

Hank turned his horse toward the figure.

Beyond it, in the distance, the brooding outline of a larger, tree-crested butte loomed, Sentinel Hill.

What was somebody doing so far from town or homestead, on foot, and this close to the reservation? Relations were tense with the Sioux after what had happened in December. The Army gave them a good beating, but the homesteaders and even some of the folks back in White Pine were still nervous about another uprising. All that wild dancing they were doing last year, days of it at a time, gave white folks the shudders.

The wind whipped over the grass and tugged at his hat, forcing him to jam it tighter on his head. His eyes were still sharp, even at his age, and he kept them on the figure. A lone man, no hat, a white man, carrying something in one hand.

Then the figure collapsed out of sight.

Hank spurred his horse to a canter, keeping track of the small impression in the grass where the man’s body lay. Reaching the spot, his reined up and dismounted, cursing his stiff old bones as his boots hit the sod. A slow, steady ,metallic, rhythmic clicking reached him from where the man had fallen.

He approached, hand on his Colt. On the wind, he smelled blood, and his shorthairs spiked like a porcupine. The man lay on his face. Hank rolled him over, and drew back.

A horrid groan escaped the man’s blood spattered face, like a man already reaching for the hereafter. He clutched an empty revolver, thumb and finger cocking and squeezing the trigger in rhythmic succession. His abdomen was a crusty wet mass of caked blood. Clots of brain and skull clung to his face and stubble.

The man’s eyelids fluttered, and Hank recognized his face.

“Oliver McCoy! That you, boy?”

Another groan, barely intelligible. “Marshal?”

“It is. You gutshot?”

A faint wheeze came back. “Yeah.”

Hank peeled his eyes and swept them around the area, pulling his six-gun. “What happened?”

Oliver’s broken, raspy voice forced Hank to lean in. “Camped. Ferrell. Crazy. Crazy. Killed ever’body.” His free hand snatched Hank’s coat. “Saw god!”

Hank clutched Oliver’s hand and tried to pry it free. Even gutshot, the kid was stronger than he looked. “What the hell?”

The whites of Oliver’s eyes blazed. “God! Saw the face of a black god!” Then Oliver’s eyes rolled back, and his head lolled.

Hank grasped the empty pistol and found Oliver’s fingers glued thick around it with dried blood. “Christ!” Prying it away, he thrust the pistol into his pocket, blood and all, then looked down at Oliver with a swell of pity. He knew what a gut wound was. He knew what bleeding out looked like. He knew all too well that getting Oliver help was nearly impossible.

His thumb tickled the hammer of his Colt. One shot, through the head, would end Oliver’s misery, like shooting an injured horse or a man too far gone from Confederate shrapnel. One quick shot. His hand shook a little, seeing creased blood funneling over Oliver’s lips, down his neck. Hank remembered all too well what young wounded faces looked like. Thirty-five years and he still remembered.

Common sense fought with common decency. They were miles from anything. White Pine was half a day’s ride. Oliver would never make it.

“Dammit to hell.”

But Hank was going to try today.

He eased the pistol back into his holster. “Pain in the ass.” In one swift motion, Hank slung Oliver over his shoulders. He approached his horse, knowing this boy should have been dead hours ago. “I’m gonna get your stupid ass to a doctor, son.” As he reached for the reins, the horse shied away. “Christ, Daisy, settle down! He ain’t gonna hurt you.” He reached for the reins again, but the mare shied back again. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

As his hand reached again for the bridle, the animal bolted for the nearest horizon.

He could do nothing but watch the horse’s rump grow smaller with distance. Who was the horse’s ass now?

“Son of a bitch.”

The McCoy boy was already getting heavy.

In a heartbeat, Hank took stock of his situation. Nothing to see in any direction except the grim gray butte of Sentinel Hill and those thunderheads in the distance. No way he could get back to White Pine now, not carrying a gutshot man. The White River Agency was the closest habitation. His jaw tightened at the thought of going among so many redskins, but he wasn’t going to change his mind now about saving Oliver’s life. It was a few miles to the reservation, but whatever was keeping Oliver alive might just kill him in the next hour. If was going to go, he had better get to it.

“Well, Oliver, how do you feel about walking?”


Follow Travis here:

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Twitter: @TravisHeermann




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The Write Stuff – Monday, January 30 – Interview With Aaron Michael Ritchey

I love it when an author merges multiple, entirely disparate genres into one, since the resulting book has the potential to take the reader down heretofore untraveled paths. This week’s featured interviewee, Aaron Michael Ritchey, did just that when he decided to combine several, apparently unrelated themes.

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of five young adult novels and numerous pieces of short fiction. In 2012, his first novel, The Never Prayer, was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. In 2015, his second novel, Long Live the Suicide King, won the Building the Dream award for best YA novel. His epic sci-fi western series, The Juniper Wars, is available now through WordFire Press. The second book, Killdeer Winds, was on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for September of 2016. Aaron lives in Colorado with his wife and two stormy daughters.

This is how he describes Killdeer Winds:

By 2058, both the Sino-American War and the Sterility Epidemic have decimated the male population. Electricity does not function in five western states. Collectively, they are known as the Juniper. It is the most dangerous place on Earth.

Cavatica Weller and her sisters have one chance to save their family ranch—a desperate cattle drive across a violent wasteland.  Having escaped from Denver, the Weller family now has to face the Juniper’s worst outlaw, the Psycho Princess.

Meanwhile, an inhuman army still dogs their every step. The mystery deepens—who is the lost boy Micaiah? Why would the richest man on Earth spend billions to find him? And will Micaiah’s secrets tear the Weller sisters apart?

Tell us about your most recent release.

The Juniper Wars Series! It’s a young adult, steampunk, biopunk, science fiction/western family drama epic about three sisters on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive. Why pick a genre when you can do all of them? It’s been described as Little House on the Prairie meets Mad Max: Fury Road. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

I was on my bike, cycling home, and listening to the song “Dead Run” by 16 Horsepower, which is a band that manages to combine goth and country music. And I realized I so wanted to do a western along the lines of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series. As the story formed, I realized I wanted to add some family drama. The show, Supernatural, does a great job of showing the interesting conflicts of a dysfunctional family. I put it all into a blender, hit puree, and out came The Juniper Wars. Bam.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

It’s a six-book series, my friend. That’s six flippin’ books. That’s a whole lotta focus for years on end. And I had to keep it fresh. Funny, I’ve been working on the fifth and sixth book in the series, and I keep finding myself wanting to end the main character’s emotional arc. Problem is, you start ending character arcs, you end the book. If everyone is getting along, you lose that fire of conflict. Compare the last few seasons of Supernatural to the first few. The show has far less of an edge (however, season 10 did give us the high school musical episode). And so I have to keep the Weller sisters all kinds of messed up to keep it interesting. The best part of a series, though, is that I get to show how completely traumatized my characters are after facing down death time and time again. It has this weary, jaded, cynical, bruised and broken feel to it. It’s about how I feel as a novelist after nearly twenty-five years of writing books.

I honestly believe that we do not begin to fully develop as writers until we have at least a couple of decades under our belt. That’s a lot of hours and a lot of inward exploration, so I have to ask why do you write?

I write because I like stories more than I like real life. Put another way, I understand real life more because I write stories. How wonderful that I can create a world where there is poetic justice, dramatic irony, and happy endings. I can control death, illness, depravity, and love. Life is life because that whole fate business is out of our control.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I used to care what everyone thought. I’d ponder every little bit of criticism for months on end. And I’d chase edits. Now, I’m caring less and less. If you don’t like it, read something else. I imagine at some point I’ll swing the other way. I write every day. Some of it is bound to good no matter what the haters think.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Writers, especially novel writers, need to be contrary creatures. The most challenging thing about long works of fiction is that you have to keep self-doubt at bay for months, if not years. I’ve been working on The Juniper Wars Series now for seven years, and for most of that time, I had no idea if anything worked or not. Then I had people who read it, and wanted me to change a bunch of stuff I didn’t want to change. And I had to stick to my guns, sometimes literally. In the end, I snarled at the universe, saying, “This is how I’m writing it. This is the book I’m writing. If you don’t like it, I don’t care. I am doing THIS and I’M DOING IT THIS WAY!” Contrary. I had to become contrary to write books. And mildly/dangerously anti-social.

Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

Don’t pick up my book if you don’t want to feel. I mean that. This is a warning. A lot of science fiction/fantasy writers are far more Rush than Meatloaf, which fine, but I’m like Meatloaf. I’m like Bat Out of Hell epic, and yeah, I like over-the-top emotions. My characters cry and scream and gnash their teeth in the darkness, and those are during the good times. No, really, I write from my guts. I had a critique group who criticized me saying there was too much crying in my novel. I went home, wondering if they were right. I have a wife and two stormy daughters. After about a week, I added more crying.

Good for you! Frankly, I find all-action books that don’t touch my soul are akin to drinking a can of near beer or a cup of decaf. I don’t see the point. Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have daughters. My daughters have big, huge, amazing souls. If my life were an X-MEN comic, my daughters would be the powerful mutants that need to be kept in a coma so they wouldn’t destroy the universe. I suggested to my wife that we keep our daughters sedated and she said we’d tried that. My daughters laughed at Benadryl, and Codeine had no effect on them. But do you know what? I’m glad I have powerful big-spirited daughters. This world needs more women warriors.

What motivates or inspires you?

I really like doing difficult things. I know, that sounds kind of dramatic and badass, and while I am very dramatic, I am not at all badass. The writing game is this impossible thing, and I like that it’s so hard. It’s the hard that makes it good. I truly believe I am destined to fail, that I will die nameless, and not one person in a million will have read anything I have written. And strangely enough, that motivates me. It’s the Alamo, baby. It’s Helm’s Deep. It’s Game of Thrones, standing on the parapets of Castle Black and looking out over the Wall at the hordes of hell. It’s a losers game. And do you know what? I’m going to do it. I’m going to write books until I die. And if I fail? Oh, well. “Night gathers and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.”

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

I call three different people and tell them what is bothering me. I tell the same story three different times. It really works. Then I go write books.

That’s a very unique and interesting approach. I must try it some time.

Now, before I give our visitors a taste of Killdeer Winds, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a … a whole lotta work.

The one thing I cannot do without is: stories.

The one thing I would change about my life: is my angsty inner life.

My biggest peeve is: my angsty inner life.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: Not much, but I will say, holding my published books in my very own hand, my name on the cover, my own ISBN, that rocks so very, very hard.

Yup! That definitely rocks. I’d like to thank you, Aaron, for gracing my website with your no-holds-barred replies. We’ll close with an excerpt from Killdeer Winds, followed by links where readers can purchase a copy and follow you online:


Chapter One

Certainly the Juniper is a dangerous place, but not because of outlaws, rustlers or stray bullets. No, the real dangers are the wind, solitude, and a drifting mind. When in doubt, I stay in my house and count my money. I never get lonely that way.

—Robert “Dob” Howerter

Colorado Courier Interview

August 3, 2057


The Cuius Regios were coming. I didn’t know it then, but the Regios were on their way and we didn’t have the guns to stop them.

The pain from my gunshot wounds barked like a dog on a distant neighbor’s porch. I sat on the floor of the strange room, my back against the bed. I couldn’t move. The Christmas issue of Modern Society magazine lay on my lap. The perfume of a cologne sample wafted from the glossy pages. Micaiah, cleaned and groomed, smiled at me on the cover.

But his real name wasn’t Micaiah. It was Micah Hoyt, son of the richest man on Earth. His father, Tiberius “Tibbs” Hoyt, was CEO and general jackerdan-in-charge of the American Reproduction Knowledge Initiative, otherwise known as the ARK. Tibbs Hoyt had hired an army to find his son, and we had the bullet wounds to prove it.

The foot soldiers were known as the Cuius Regios, and their commanders were the Vixx sisters, who could heal almost any wound, which sounded suspiciously like genetic engineering, however unlikely. I’d kept an eye on the popular science websites and hadn’t seen anything close to creating actual people with enhanced biology.

The idea scared me, scared me deep. How could we fight such a soulless army?

But why would Daddy Hoyt send in troops to retrieve a son who didn’t want to be found? Then again, if you give a rich man a cause, he can turn a family feud into a world war.

Before I’d gone unconscious, Micaiah had wanted to run away to protect us. Was he gone? That opened a floodgate of questions. Was Pilate still alive? Had Wren run away for good ’cause of what I’d done to her? And did my oldest sister Sharlotte still have us bound for Wendover, Nevada with our herd of nearly three thousand cattle?

First things first, I slid the magazine underneath the mattress, not sure what I would do with the information, but it felt dangerous in me. As did the pain from my gunshot wounds, barking like a dog on a distant neighbor’s porch.

I stood, moved to the window, and used my right arm to pull open the yellow curtains. My left arm throbbed as I held it to my belly. From the second story of the house, I saw our tents below—our chuckwagon dominated the front yard. Mama and I had fixed up the Chevy Workhouse II with an attachable ASI steam engine, and then found a long trailer for it to pull. We called the whole thing our chuckwagon. Next to it sat the old Ford Excelsior that had saved our lives. Cattle and horses meandered around outbuildings, barns, and hay sheds. I recognized a few of our horses—Elvis, Taylor Quick, and Bob D. Two of our best cows, Charles Goodnight and Betty Butter, stood in the strange yard, chewing cud. To my right rose a ridge of pine trees and craggy rock.

I searched the skies for the Moby Dick, the zeppelin that we’d hired to re-supply us and scout. There was no sign of it, but then Sketchy, Tech, and Peeperz might still be trying to find us after the blizzard.

Green grass pushed up from wet soil, which meant I’d been unconscious long enough for the snow to melt. Might’ve been a day. Might’ve been a week. Someone must’ve dribbled water into my mouth and then cleaned me up afterwards. Dang, but I hoped it was family that had done the work to keep me alive.

Out of the corner of my eye, something flashed in the distance—sunlight off a cast-off hunk of metal, or some bit of chrome, or a mirror, something, southeast of the house. The blinking stopped. Something didn’t feel right about it, but I had other things to worry about.

Like where I was and who owned the house.

Book online sales links:

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Amazon

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Barnes & Noble

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Kobo

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Smashwords

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