Showing posts with label Travis Richardson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travis Richardson. Show all posts

23 September 2019

Retreat!


by Travis Richardson

First off I want to thank everybody for the kinds words that all of you sent me regarding my recent struggles to write. The kind words of support mean a lot. (And thank you Leigh for the Mac/Chrome advice, I still need to follow up on a few things over there.) I'm still a work in progress, but things are looking better.

Now on to this week's topic. A week ago I woke up on Monday morning in the Sierra Nevada foothills well-rested, but sad. I was about to leave an amazing writer's retreat hosted by Holly and Mick West. I had to go back to work and adult responsibility. Ugh. The weather apparently picked up on the sentiment. Up until then, the days had been hot and cloudless. In the night, there were thousands of stars to gaze up at before the harvest moon obscured the more distant celestial wonders. (Even then the view was better than anything you could see in LA.) But on that Monday morning, a light mist greeted the soon-to-depart-writers on the patio and soon it picked up from there, dumping a torrent of rain as we packed our bags and then our cars. All that was missing was a piano playing a melancholy yet inspirational tune as hugs and farewells were given before the credits roll. But I'm starting at the end. Let's jump to the beginning of this tale.

Back in June SoCal MWA and Sisters in Crime Los Angeles sponsored the every-other-year California Crime Writer's Conference. This conference is geared towards crime writers with law enforcement agents, publicists, publishers, agents and acclaimed writers making presentations. 
Sarah M. Chen, Stephen Beuhler, Holly West and I attended and made plans to go out to out for dinner after the conference was over. (It was also at CCWC two years ago that Holly came up with the idea to put together a Go-Gos themed anthology, Murder-a-Go-Go's.)

Sarah, Stephen, Holly, and Travis at Dinah's Chicken, where plans were hatched. 
Exhausted and enthused at the end of the conference we headed over to Dinah's Chicken where Holly invited us to visit her place up north for a writer's retreat. She and her husband, science writer, Mick West, had lived in Los Angeles for several years before moving up north to a gorgeous home outside of Sacramento. We said yes and unlike a lot of fake promises made in LA, we meant it.

Flash forward to September 12. Sarah and Stephen carpooled and I took my family up the I-5 for roughly 390 miles through the Angeles Mountains down to the central valley's almond orchards, grapes, and smelly cows into original gold mining country with old, middle 19th-century buildings still intact along windy roads. The six-plus hour drive while tiring also energized and readied my mind for the writing ahead.

That night Holly made spaghetti complemented with wine from the region. Tales travel and genial conversation went into the night. In the morning we wrote. I took a spot at a table outside until the heat brought me inside. When my wife and daughter returned from a kid's museum, all of went out for lunch in Placerville followed by ice cream at an old saloon near where a hanging tree of the early settlers had been.   

Having ice cream in an old saloon where a hanging tree used to be. 


That night we had different flavored moon cakes that my wife, Teresa, had brought. We sat outside looking at the stars (and passing satellites) as a full moon rose.

Saturday was all-day writing. I ended up waking up first and watched deer grazing the dining room table. I ended up writing there, unintentionally kicking Sarah out of the place she had been the day before. (Sorry Sarah.) While I'd like to say I wrote the entire time, the truth is I did a lot of research. More than necessary, I'm sure, for a short story. But it was clear, uninterrupted time that was amazing.


Where I researched and wrote. 
That evening we went out after critiquing some of our works. First stop was Fulsom Prison. Little known fact that Johnny Cash forgot to mention, deer are all over the place. Holly and Sarah got to feed them with crackers from a security guard. Also, I almost stole merchandise from the prison museum. After talking to the guard who let us in (to the museum) after hours, I walked out with a book about Folsom I had been holding but hadn't bought. I walked several yards outside before I realized what I did. Fortunately, they were lenient on me since I returned the purloined item without any damage.
Fugitives 

We went to downtown Folsom that night for burgers, beer and a sense of the early evening nightlife. Cute stores with interesting curios, a biker gang (Devil's Disciples) and an outdoor piano were many of the things we encountered around the town.

Cheers

Sarah plays on the olde tyme piano
We wrote again on Sunday morning. I forced myself to only write, not read. Later, when it was time for a critique of my work, the scenes I had worked revealed what I had done. I'd gotten too specific with government officials, departments, agency rivalries, etc. (My plot is what would happen if Gore had been president in 2001.) I needed clear conflict, not multi-level pre-9/11 bureaucracy. It was good to hear. I felt the weakness, but they clarified it.

When my daughter returned from an outing, we went swimming in the pool. Later Mick barbequed delicious chicken shawarma and friends came over. We talked into the night about what we got out of the retreat and goals for the future.

The last night
Then we went to bed. The bittersweet morning, as explained above, happened. We said our goodbyes with the hope to return next year with a few check-ins now and then.

Final group shot

You know a place is magical when it has the Maltese Falcon

I am fortunate that Stephen and Sarah live here in LA and we get to meet in a writer's group almost every week. Holly provided us with a great location to dig in and take writing seriously again and to enjoy time with good friends. Of course, I came back to work to find myself overwhelmed and having to prepare for a work "retreat" the following day. But I'm more centered and focused now. Thank you, Holly and Mick, for a wonderful time.

Have you ever been on a retreat before? Would you want to go on one or have a staycation instead?














Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at www.tsrichardson.com

26 August 2019

Mojo Lost


by Travis Richardson

There was a time when I was writing 700 words a day before work 5 days a week and then another 1500-2000 each weekend day. I tracked everything on a spreadsheet and pushed myself to hit and exceed goals. Those days weren’t too long ago, somewhere between 2010 to early 2016. I had this weird magical drive where I wrote those 700 words every morning before work. In the peak period, I even did a sun salutation yoga routine before writing. I produced several near finished/unpublished novels and short stories that I never took the time to edit because I had fresher ideas to write that were even better than the older material. 

Then things changed. Not suddenly, but gradually until it seemed that I was barely writing anything at all. The biggest change was having a child. The awesome responsibility of caring for another human cannot be understated enough. My heart and attention focused on her. I altered my schedule to drop her off at daycare then to go to work, taking away some of the morning writing time. I started making up for it by writing during my lunch break. In the early part of my daughter’s life I was mostly able to make the goals, but not with ease. Then parts of my daytime job started to shift. I was pushed out of my office and into a general bullpen area, which deflated my ego and interrupted my workflow. Then my boss retired and his job split into two. My workload doubled for a while and I was skipping lunch breaks for weeks at a time. I wasn’t writing much at all. Somewhere in November 2016, depression started to hover over me. I’d have writing streaks now and again, but nothing with a sustained output like I had had.

Things bottomed out around the beginning of 2018. I worked things out with my wife so that either on a Saturday or Sunday, she takes my daughter out for the day and I get to write. I started a new writing spreadsheet with a modest 200 words a day goals. It worked great for a while. But then stupid things like Chrome not working on my desktop stopped me from tracking word count which meant I pushed myself less (even though I could look on a laptop, the desktop is sort of the writing hub…and I still haven’t fixed the problem.) 

Even with my family out, I’m not always hitting those 2000 words a weekend like I used to. My attention gets too scattered and that zone where my fingers try to keep up with my thoughts and I forget about time and food doesn’t happen as much. At times, I feel like a former high school athlete dwelling on the glory days that will never happen again because of age and bad knees. 

But that is BS. 

Writing is a craft that one can continue to improve on regardless of how old you are. I look at authors like the recently departed Robert S. Levinson who wrote into his 90s, keeping a constant creative output all the way through the end. (RIP Bob.) 

And while having a full-time job and kid is a partial excuse, is not the ultimate excuse. Writers such as Rob Hart, Angel Luis Colon, S.W. Lauden, Eric Beetner, and Matt Phillips have jobs, children, and tremendous output. So what is my problem?

I’m not sure. 

I’m not the same person I was five years ago and I wonder if my desire has lessened. I remember when I started going to MWA and Sisters in Crime meetings and listening to midlist authors complaining about the publishing industry, and I wished that I could be in a position like that to complain someday. I never made it that far, but I feel cynical at times and I hate it. I’m still dreaming the impossible dream, for better or worse. I need to believe in it again on a more intense scale. 
In July, I changed jobs, and now I have a bit of a longer commute (on foot) with an earlier start time. I’m trying to get to work a little early and write for a few minutes before the workday begins. That has worked for a few paragraphs, but not pages. I write on most of my lunch breaks too, but that has also been a limited chunks. And I haven’t opened my spreadsheet in months.  

Perhaps I might need to re-transform myself into the night writer I used to be in the unpublished 90s and early 2000s. The problem is that I’m so tired and stupid by 9-10pmish when my daughter falls asleep that I feel I can’t write anything coherent. 

I might also go back to an early carrot trick when I used to reward myself anytime I got a story published. I stopped after a while because I had a decent amount of publications and it seemed indulgent… but maybe it’s worth looking at it again.
Reward 1
Reward 2

In some ways, I feel bad for everybody at Sleuthsayers. You got me at low period. I’m not as interactive as I’d like to be and while I’d like to write a poignant blog that would shake up the writing community (in a good way), I can’t seem to knock that ball out of the infield.

On the positive front, next month I’m going to a writing retreat and I’m hoping that besides creating some output, I’ll have renewed energy to take me through the rest of 2019 and into the upcoming twenties. 

Have you had/have any writing productivity issues? For those who got past it, what did you do to overcome it?

Thanks for reading this!


Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at www.tsrichardson.com

                                                                              

06 May 2019

Serendipity


by Travis Richardson

Hello. This is my first time here. I want to thank Robert Lopresti for inviting me to be a permanent member of Sleuthsayers. I am honored to be invited to blog with so many talented and well-respected writers, many of whom are experts in short story writing—my favorite form of fiction.

It’s a pity that it is next to impossible to make a living from writing precise gems that waste none of the reader’s time with superfluous words. ;) I believe there is an untapped audience of potential readers who don’t know they are short fiction fans. How to expose folks to short stories so they’ll give them a chance and catch a short fiction addiction is a nut I haven’t cracked yet. Steve Jobs proved you could create needs that nobody knew they had with iPods and iPhones and iWhateverelses. But more on that topic in another post (assuming I’m not banned after this post).

A few quick words about myself. I’m originally from Oklahoma. I moved to Los Angeles in the late nineties, worked in television and then marketing for a few years before moving into up to Berkeley where I worked in academia. In 2008 I moved back down to LA. I’d written short stories and screenplays here and there, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that I started focusing on prose and five or so years after that, specializing in crime fiction. I had my first story published in 2012 and have since had about 40 short stories and two novellas come out. I have also worked on several unfinished manuscripts that may or may never see the light of day. 

While I've had a few weeks to prepare for this article in my debut, I never settled on a topic with my wife’s birthday festivities last week followed by my daughter's birthday this week. I feel like there are many issues I want to write about, but for some reason, I’d draw a blank when I tried to write a draft. Performance anxiety, perhaps. Not sure. But one question kept coming back, how did I get here? That is, how did Robert come to invite me after Steve Hockensmith left for greener pastures? (Talk about filling a big pair of boots.)

Today I’m going to write about serendipity. Years ago when I worked on a cable show called Home and Family, I took a pop psychologist to the airport after he appeared on the show to promote his book. I told him that I wanted to be a writer (instead of production assistant running errands for the show). He told me about his concept of serendipity. 

Apple Dictionary (the reference I use most these days) defines the word as:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

His pitch on serendipity was that while the core principle of the word involves luck if one prepares and positions themselves in the path of their goal, it increases the likelihood that a serendipitous moment may arise. And if that opportunity happens, that person will have the skills and ability to grab the moment and fulfill their dreams. A sports analogy might be a third-string quarterback not expecting to play the season because the two guys ahead of him are All-Stars, but an injury and scandal later, he’s taking snaps on Sunday in a sold-out stadium.  Or this guy who wound up being an NHL goalie for a night after a day of working as an accountant.
Scott Foster: accountant by day, NHL goalie at night
I often talked to the guests on the show as I shuttled them to and from the airport, or hotels, or wherever. I’ve forgotten most of them as well as what happened on that job outside of a few events (like twisting my ankle on an obstacle course during a commercial break before Bruce Jenner was about to run through it on live TV,) but that conversation stuck with me…although I forgot the psychologist’s name. Like Steve Liskow wrote last week, I think I’m a slow learning kinesthetic. It takes me a while to get something down and even longer to put it into practice, but every now and then things work out.

If you want to be a writer, you certainly need skill in the craft, a strong voice, and hopefully an interesting story to tell. A lot of this can be achieved with reading, writing, and rewriting. But there are other attributes that can help raise a writer’s serendipity percentage when it comes to getting published.

Shoptalk

An easy, cheap way is to read websites and blogs that talk about writing and those that have submissions. As the saying goes, information is knowledge. Find the genre you’re interested in and follow what folks in that world are talking about. Glean tips and tricks from those already in the game. If somebody has cut a path in a forest, it’ll be easier to follow their path than chopping down trees to go your own way. Although sometimes you need to use that ax to forge your own way, it’s just good to know that you’re a pioneer and not a wheel re-inventor.

Also, there are Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, Yahoo groups, and other places to join conversations and find out more about what is happening. (Yet, I still work best in person. Shaking hands, talking, working off of nonverbal cues, and everything else that comes with being in front of a person works best for me. While I’m half extroverted, I can't seem to function well in a digital world, especially places like Twitter.) Also, you are looking for places to submit stories, especially in the crime world, I always go here: http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com/

Events

Writer events happen all over the country. The bigger the city, the greater the opportunities. Living in Oklahoma (pre-internet days), there weren’t many events, but I would go out to see writers, poets, and people of significant cultural import when I could. Living in Los Angeles, there are so many events happening that I barely catch any of them. But to listen and support an author, and possibly meet them as well, is something that, beyond enrichment, might have benefits some day. What exactly? I don’t know. You won’t either if you don’t go.

Classes

Take writing classes. This could be a one-time weekend class, a community college program, or even an MFA. One can learn techniques to improve their skills and meet like-minded writers. The cost slide on a scale from free community and library programs to $60k masters level study/workshops. In Tulsa, I went to summer parks and recreations programs on creativity and learned about artistic expression. In Berkeley, I took a writing extension course and found out that I disliked a lot of mainstream literary writing after I had to write a paper on stories in “The Best American Short Stories.” This led me into a life of crime…fiction writing where more things happen than just wealthy characters’ overwhelming ennui.

I also meet writers who were serious about taking their writing further. From the class in Berkeley, a few of us started a writing group.

Writing Groups

Writing groups have been essential in my growth as a writer. I’ve been in several throughout the years. Some only lasted for a few meetings, while others have carried on for several years. Having a successful group has a lot to do with the chemistry of the members, the commitment to allot time to yourself and others, and the ability to listen to and use criticism to improve your work.

Not every writing group is going to work out. There are many personalities at play. Some people are too dominant and others hostile. But others can be genuine assets that provide valuable insight. It also helps to have writers in your group who understand your genre. It can get frustrating explaining to a member who is writing a memoir why a dead body is necessary for a murder mystery.

Also, writer groups have benefits in that some members share knowledge about writer’s markets and opportunities. After I wrote my detective novel, a writer in a group told me about mystery writing organizations.

Writers Organizations

There are many writing organizations that help promote their members’ works and keep their genre relevant. Many are national organizations with regional chapters. I joined Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America in the San Francisco Bay Area and found both groups to be welcoming and supportive of novice writers.

When I moved back to Los Angeles, I attended several SinC and MWA meetings which led to me volunteer at some of their events.

Volunteer

Most nonprofit literary organizations are run by volunteers. The work takes up time that can be spent writing or other pursuits. But by volunteering, you are paying forward (or back) to other writers like yourself. Sometimes you get credit, but often you don’t, working behind the scene make sure the trains move on time (or the sausage gets made). Regardless it’s doing good for the community and it could lead to unexpected…serendipity.

In my case, I ran the craft room for the California Crime Writers’ Conference in 2011. I introduced presenters, made sure they kept hydrated and watched the time. Gary Phillips taught two classes. One was on dialog, but I don’t remember the other. Between the two sessions, I was talking to Gary and mentioned that I wrote short stories. He invited me to submit a story to his next anthology, SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER, AND FINANCIAL CRIMES.
I wrote the story, “The Movement,” which was my first publication. I will always be grateful to Gary for giving me that opportunity and for everything else he’s done for me and other writers. He's truly a saint in the crime fiction world.

So several stories, board meetings, and conferences later, Robert asked me to join SleuthSayers and I jumped at the opportunity. Is this serendipity?

Thanks for reading. I promise my next submission will not be so rushed! 

PS: Happy birthday, Pauline!

26 January 2016

Left Coast Criminals


by Melissa Yi

Hey, I'm heading out for the second mystery convention of my life, Left Coast Crime! Whatever shall I do? Especially if I want to save money?


Well, I’ve got three travel tips for you budget-conscious sleuths already.

1.     Register early. You knew this. I blew that one, waffling about whether or not I would attend. So, late registration for me. $275 U.S. at a time when the Canadian dollar is plunging. Luckily, I had enough USD to cover it.

2.     Google your flight.
 I used a lot of different flight sites, but I found them frustrating. A lot of them want you to choose both departing and return flights together, without offering good options (one gave me a 13 hour layover. Are you kidding me?).
For example, I’m appearing at the PoisonedPen Bookshop's International Fiction Night featuring Jewish Noir night at 6:30, so I have to arrive in time on February 24th. And flying back to Montreal on a Sunday is not a popular option. Only Google let me choose arrival and departure times for both flights, sifting impartially through different airlines.

3.     Airbnb
I’ve almost always had a good, and occasionally above-and-beyond experiences through airbnb, where you stay in someone's home. Although of course staying at the hotel is a swanky and convenient experience, I like meeting people, and sometimes they offer me food! Plus, what the heck. If you sign up with this link, we both get a few bucks off: https://www.airbnb.ca/c/myuaninnes?s=4&i=1

Now you're going to ask me, why go to a con?
1.     You could sell a book, like Michael J. Cooper sold The Rabbi’s Knight.
Michele Lang, Michael J. Cooper, and Melissa Yi. Yes, that's Jewish Noir instead of The Rabbi's Knight. Collect 'em all!
 2.     You could hook new readers. I live in rural Ontario. I can pretty much guarantee that no one in Phoenix has ever seen one of my books, let alone bought one.
3.     You could make friends. Travis Richardson told me a lot of writers hang out by the bar. He’s bringing his whole family!
4.     You could sell a short story or two. Hey, that's how I got into Jewish Noir.
5.     You could get some story ideas. I feel creatively listless right now. Maybe a con will help.
6.     It’s a vacation. I don’t remember ever going to Phoenix. My parents did drag me on a cross-continental trip to California one summer when I was little, so it’s possible I did go and don’t remember it except as a blur from the back of a van.
7.     Fanboy and girl squees. For me, this translates to “Dana Stabenow will be there!” I'll also be on a panel with Chantelle Aimee, Fan Guest of Honor (uh huh. Can't say anything more than that).
8.   Kenneth Wishnia told you to.

 
Why NOT go to a con?
1.     No time
2.     No money
3.     No interest
4.     Guilt
For me, it’s number four. I feel like I shouldn’t spend money on my writing. I should just slave over my laptop, ratcheting up my word count, sending out my stories, and get magically discovered by readers while I continue to work, work, work. I could be helping patients in the emergency room. I could be getting my kids on or off the school bus. Plus, I try not to travel because of carbon emissions.

Other people don’t feel this guilty. Theoretically, I’m allowed to have a vacation. My hair stylist, Christina Peeters, said simply, “I work hard. I deserve it.” Kris Rusch talks about how essential it is for writers to do continuing education. And the money’s mostly already spent.

Soooooooo…what about you? Do you go to cons?
And if you’re going to this one, see you at Left Coast Crime!