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:

Web Site: http://www.travisheermann.com

Blog: http://www.travisheermann.com/blog/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/travis.heermann

Twitter: @TravisHeermann

Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/TravisHeermann

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/418704.Travis_Heermann

 

You may purchase his books here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Apple

Baen Library

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