Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About My Writing

It's been a long while since I spent much time talking about writing on this blog. Then again this year has been tough on me as far as the writing goes. Finding time has been hard but I'm going to try and get back in the groove. With that in mind I'm going to try and blog a bit more about the craft and my take on it, from the creation process all the way to the publishing business.

You will have to take this posts for what they are worth. After all, I've yet to find a home for any of my novels, so if I really had any earth shattering how-to advice I'd be using it myself. But I have been around the writing block enough times that I feel like I've gained some worthy knowledge.

A week or so back I posted that this blog was now 2 years old. That spawned a bit of confusion that I had only been writing two years. That is not the case, so for today I thought I'd give you my writing history.

After a lifelong love of books, and fiction in particular, I began actively writing with publication in mind in the fall of 2001.

My first novel I titled Small Town, Big Lies. I finished it in about nine months. Looking back I should have followed the general guidelines of the Romance genre and made it a contemporary but I didn't really know what I was doing. I watered it down with too many POV (Point of View) characters and tried to do too much with the story. Because of the multiple POVs and subplots I marketed it as Women's Fiction. Of course it was also littered with telling rather than showing, passive writing, and other assorted beginner mistakes. Not knowing any better I sent out lots of queries and was lucky enough to have four or five agents request the full manuscripts. One editor that I met at a conference even requested the full and for a time, I though I was going to get lucky with my first novel. But the marketing team at her publisher overruled her and said the novel had nothing to separate it from books already on the shelf.

After that I wrote a few short storied before diving into my next novel. UnLuckLess was a title no one ever liked but me. Nevertheless I continued to call it UnLuckLess in the nearly hundred queries I mailed out. (Very few agents took e-queries then) The novel was about a man who believed himself to be the unluckiest guy on earth, when actually his bad luck aways turned out to be good luck in the end. Confused yet? So was everybody else, but I'll try to make you understand. You have a flat on the way to the airport and miss your plane that is bad luck. If said plane then crashes and everyone on board dies your bad luck just became good luck. The novel was more subtle than that. It too had a strong romance element, but the female protagonist was married and the plot was dark and heavy and it would never work as a romance novel despite the to protagonists eventually riding into the sunset together. This novel drew little interest from agents and the few that did request more all said it was too dark, too heavy and too gritty for the commercial market. And the writing not strong enough for it to be literary. No one ever came right out and said that but the implication was there. I did receive one handwritten rejection from an agent that read ... "Your excess verbiage and meandering storytelling does not appeal to me now or never." Harsh yes, but accurate as well. Though he is no longer an agent and I am still writing so that takes the sting out a bit.

After that I wrote a few more short stories, published a few, and then started a new novel called Murky Water. But as the feed back came in for UnLuckLess I stopped writing it. If it was too dark then Murky Water was an absolute black hole. Murky Water started with a death, ended with a death and dealt with death throughout. I still believe in the plot and characters but who knows if I'll ever finish it.

Sticking with an aqua fascination I next began writing A River Without Water. A River had a female protagonist in her late twenties who'd spent her entire adult life running from an abortion she had at seventeen. She blamed her father for forcing her to give up her child. I poured a lot of research in by reading psychology books about the after affects of abortion and I even interviewed three different women who'd had abortions at a young age. My character ended up traveling cross country with a man whose wife dies in childbirth after going against medical advice to have an abortion. Neither character knew about the others past, but each learned that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of a difficult choice. This novel gained some interest but many agents brought up the difficulty of a male author writing such a story. The novel did have a subtle pro-life slant, but my intent was always to look at the emotional aftermath of an abortion not the legality or morality of the procedure. I still think it is a worthy novel and one that can be enjoyed by any fan of Women's Fiction regardless of their political or religious leanings.

Again I wrote and published few more short stories. I started this blog. and then commenced writing a novel called If Only He Knew. It was a story about a married women that believed sex was ruining her life. Her nymphomaniac mother was about to get kicked out of the Baptist ran retirement village, her 15 year old son was dying for his first taste of love, and her rancher husband was out having sex with some floozy twenty years his junior. My character was even sick of hearing about her husband's bull semen business. So she hatched one doozie of a scheme to teach them all a lesson.

One of these days I'll finish this novel but I got sidetracked while writing it. You see I one of the short stories I wrote in the interim was a 13,000 word piece titled Plundered Booty. Several friends read it and said it was the best thing I'd ever written. All of them with Deborah Elliott-Upton at the helm urged me to flesh out the characters, add a subplot or two and turn it into a novel. Most of you know I did that very thing and the novel version of Plundered Booty is now one of the top 500 quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. Next week the announce the Top 100. If you haven't read the excerpt or left a review over at Amazon you still can at this link.

Currently, I am working on a creative non-fiction project. A memoir based on my days working at a Feedstore here in Amarillo for what has to be one of the world's most hilarious and immoral bosses. Despite those adjectives he was also one of the funniest and most likable people I've ever met. To this day I consider him a friend and a mentor because there truly is a lot to be learned from a bad example.

If you wish to read one of my published short stories there is a link to my favorite at the upper right hand side of of my blog. or you can wait a few weeks for my story Y Not to appear on David Cranmer's fabulous e-zine, Beat To a Pulp.

Writing and trying to sell fiction is not an easy chore. It will leave you beat to a pulp. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Writing has more ups and downs than a bordello's bed springs, but the ups truly are glorious. And right now I'm feeling pretty good. I have a short story coming out, my latest novel is in the top 500 of a contest that accepted 10,000 entries, and just this afternoon I had a request from an agent who read a partial and has now wants to read the full manuscript.

So all in all I've been in the fight for nearly 8 years. I've completed four novels, dozens of short stories, started a blog, met lots of great people, and had a ton of fun.

Sure, I have a few incomplete novels buried on my hard drive, along with some short stories that will never see the light. And yeah I have a nice collection of rejections, but no one can say I that I haven't continued to come out swinging. I do believe that there is still a good bit of fight in my bones. Per the title of this blog, ONE DAY my name will grace the cover of a novel.


Angel said...

I'd read A River Without Water....sounds like a good read.

Monnik said...

Beth beat me to it. I was just going to say that too. Sounds like an interesting story.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I believe you'll make it. Keep up the positive thinking and finish your recent novel since others have said its the best. Good luck to you. I haven't started submitting yet, but am really looking forward to it. LOL Yeah, right.

Lynnette Labelle

Lyzzydee said...

You are passionate and determined and I am sure you will make it!!!

Unknown said...

You've got everything going for you! It can only get better from here. I know you have the determination

Janet said...

You make me feel like a neophyte. I'm so happy for you for that request for the full. Too totally cool, and not that surprising. Can I ask who, or are you keeping your card close to your chest?

Kristen Painter said...

Those who persevere are the ones who make it in this biz.

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

ONE DAY my name will grace the cover of a novel.
I sure hope that name isn't Erwin Travis...still love ya though. I have always believed in your writing ability. PLUNDERED BOOTY just made it especially clear to everyone. Love saying, "Told ya so."

Lexi said...

Great post, Travis! And great attitude! You'll get there.

Leigih said...

Travis, my friend, you're the most popular unpublished writer I know with a fan base most published authors would envy. Somehow I suspect the plot of UnLuckless might relate. I recall a zen story:

One day a peasant farmer found his fence broken and his field trampled.

His neighbors said, "What bad luck!"

He said, "Perhaps."

The next day the farmer found the culprit, a beautiful stallion. He captured the horse repaired the fence.

His neighbors said, "What good luck!"

He said, "Perhaps."

The horse broke out and escaped.

The neighbors said, "What bad luck!"

He said, "Perhaps."

But the stallion returned with his fold of mares.

The neighbors said, "What good luck!"

The farmer said, "Perhaps."

The peasant farmer's son tried to ride the horse was thrown, breaking a leg.

His neighbors said, "What bad luck!"

He said, "Perhaps."

The next day the king's desperate soldiers marched through the village to conscript more young men for the unceasing wars. Because of the broken leg, they were forced to leave the son behind.

Leigh said...

Actually, I stopped by for entirely different reasons:

First, to thank you for your help this week.

Second, to mention a rumor that you might appear in Sunday's Criminal Brief!

Merry Monteleone said...

Congratulations on the full request, Travis!!! And of course you'll make it - we've all known that for a very long time.

Spy Scribbler said...

Ohmigosh, I SO relate to UnLuckless! There is something about that title. I can see why you stuck with it. I read Leigh's zen story, and that is SO my life, LOL! I always have bad luck, but I have such GREAT luck getting out of it. And I really stumble over good luck all the time.

I'm always lucky, up or down. I don't get much peace, though. :-(

I loved this post, Travis. What a cool ride you've had so far!

Cloudia said...

Hats off to you, Travis! You are one hard worker snd a great example.

"Writing and trying to sell fiction is not an easy chore. It will leave you beat to a pulp"

So THAT's why they call it 'Pulp Fiction.' LOL

Mary Witzl said...

I like the sound of 'If Only He Knew', actually. And that bad luck turning to good luck idea -- I got that right away.

My own rejection list is thinning out a little, but I can't imagine it's too far off yours. And I've been at this writing business almost ten years... Lots of people warned me, too, but I never listened. Good thing for that, too.

Neil Richard said...

Great story. And one I think aspiring writers need to read about. You don't become a successful author overnight, it takes a lot of hard work.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Some of this I knew, some I didn't but this is all a very interesting blog post.

Only writers understand that writing is hard work and takes a lot of time.

Looking forward to you story on "Beat."


Beth said...

Such perseverance, dedication and love for the craft of writing.
Have you tried e-publishing for some of your "old" novels?

Unknown said...

I, too, would read a River Without Water.

It's amazing to me how much you love to write, and if it were me, because I'm so freaking sensitive, I don't think I would keep at it like you do.

But on the one novel, can't you use a woman's name? What do they call that? Seems to me like it would sell really well, regardless of it being a male or female writer. But that's just me.

Crystal Phares said...

This is why I love to count you among my friends, Travis. You are awesome, and I have no doubts that someday your name will grace the cover of a novel.

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

Department stores MAY be cold, but unless we're talking about MRS. King Kong, no one's nipples are that big!!

Hallie :)

Annie said...

This writing business is hard work. I never knew that. I'd have started sooner...

Keep writing Travis. You've got talent!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for sharing it. I wish I had tried a novel when I first began to write around 1998. But I tried poetry, then short stories and I am finding it hard to move on now.

Unknown said...

My son's name is Brice Murayama. You have GOT to find out!

Melissa Amateis said...

And when that novel comes out, I will be in line to buy it! ;-)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Can't wait to hold a copy in my hands.

Congrats on the novel competition success AND the full request! Woohoo!!

Anonymous said...

Travis, I enjoy your take on things. I love that you are kinda dark and murky on some edges. I love the depth and dimension we get here on your blog. Your plot lines sound great! I would really enjoy reading UnLuckLess, Murky Water and A River Without Water. And, I am waiting for the day to see Plundered Booty on the shelf!

PurpleClover said...

I am brand-spanking new to the blogging world and I think people take that to mean I haven't written a long time. The truth is I've been writing for high school but its been mostly poetry and short children's stories (i.e. picture books).

The great thing about the wonderful world of actually helps one to grow and learn how to improve their writing!

I hope you are a finalist with Plundered Booty!

PurpleClover said...

I meant to say I've been writing "since" high school. Not for it. Although I did publish articles in the yearbook and newspaper

Jo Walpole said...

I've just discovered your blog and am still finding my way around but I like what I see so far. Good luck in your pursuit of that contract. Jo

Anonymous said...

More power to you, Travis. I'm rooting for you, especially after the year you've had.

Thanks for popping into my blog lately and leaving comments. I appreciate it.

Annie Wicking said...

Happy Easter and Good luck with your writing.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Travis, a lot of people are rooting for your success. Perseverance really is the key, whether we like it or not. I sure hope Plundered Booty makes it to the next round in the contest.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Travis, I really enjoyed reading about your writing adventures. Good luck with Plundered Booty! Is the request also for PB?

Charles Gramlich said...

I should go back and look at all I've written over the last 5 or 6 years. I've actually got it recorded in a file. I keep a list of completed stories, poems, articles, etc, and then star those that sell. It's definitely a worthwhile exercise to look at what you've managed to get down on paper.

Bubblewench said...

Only 8 years? You sure?

Barbara Martin said...

Surely your writing began when you were a wee tad of a lad, only you've just forgotten it. Mine started in early childhood with pretend stories to pass the time while enduring a childhood illness.