Interview: Graduate Travis Heermann (Part 1 of 2)

Heermann-hi-resFreelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, and roustabout Travis Heermann is a 2009 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is the author of The Ronin Trilogy, Rogues of the Black Fury, and co-author of Death Wind, and has had short fiction pieces published 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 has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, a Master of Arts in English, and teaches science fiction literature at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and monsters of every flavor, especially those with a soft, creamy center. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT bestseller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.

Your latest novel, The Hammer Falls, was funded on Kickstarter in only twelve hours. Congratulations on both a successful Kickstarter and on the release of a new novel! You wrote a post in 2016 for the Odyssey blog on running a Kickstarter. Would you share some tips for getting the word out about Kickstarters? How did you encourage people to participate?

The key is stoking up your friends, family, and fans. 90% of this campaign’s backers were friends, family, fans, and repeat business people who had supported my Kickstarters in the past. And then you have to ask. For many of us, that’s the hardest part.

For this campaign, I used several strategies to get the word out:

1. Facebook ads. Resulted in no traffic AT ALL. It’s like going back to an abusive, gold-digging ex, and you think it’ll be different this time…

2. Posting on Facebook. Way, way, way less useful than it used to be. Their algorithms make sure your link doesn’t get seen by anybody. Posting a textual message to your wall and then posting the link in the comments helps with this somewhat,but the results were not nearly as good as the campaign I ran in 2015.

3. Posting on Twitter. Similar problem to Facebook with its incomprehensible black box algorithm. Practically no engagement.

4. Posting updates in previous Kickstarter campaigns, so that all my previous backers could see that I had a new project coming. Theoretically, these are my staunchest supporters, most likely to come back for another go.

5. Appealing to my email list. This is where nearly half of the contributions came from. These are people I send communications to regularly. I got about a 30% click-through from the email list to the campaign. Not everybody who clicked contributed, but that’s a good click-through ratio.

One caveat to this campaign is that the goal was set to a pretty low bar. Most Kickstarter how-to articles recommend you set up your campaign a month or two in advance so you can get the word out and build hype with your people. But this was a low-pressure campaign for me. I needed some money to help pay for the editing, with some of my costs already covered. So I chose not to do all that pre-campaign marketing this time.

The Hammer Falls stems from a short story you wrote at Odyssey in 2009. What made you realize you had the makings of a novel-length work? How did you go about turning the short story in a novel?

hammerfallswebpageThe original short story ended with only maybe 80% resolution. It felt like there was much more story to be told for those characters, and my brain put it on a backburner to simmer for several years before I decided, “Now is the time to pull the trigger on the rest of that Hammer story.” I also needed a few years of perspective on the things that inspired that story before I could approach some of the thematic elements more effectively.

What was it like writing the novel Death Wind with jim pinto? What were some of the challenges of writing a story with someone else? What were some of the benefits?

The Death Wind novel was a secondary effort because it’s an adaption of a screenplay by the same name, which jim pinto (he doesn’t use capital letters) and I wrote. We wrote the screenplay back in about 2011, which won some awards, so we figured the story had some legs, so we decided to adapt it into a novel.

Collaboration is a unique animal because some really surprising things can come out of two imaginations working toward a similar goal, things neither person would have thought of alone, so in that respect it’s really rewarding. The key is that you have to trust the other person to be honest, and you have to be open to the fact that some of their ideas are better than yours. Not everyone has the ability to let things go. You also have to be able to explain why you think your idea is better sometimes. It’s a give and take process.

You wrote a screenplay called Where the Devil Resides. What did you learn from writing a screenplay that you incorporate into your prose?

The screenplay Where the Devil Resides is an adaption of a novella by the same name, which was published in Alembical 4, edited by Lawrence Schoen and our very own Odyssey alumnus Buck Dorrance. I have now gone both directions in the adaptation process, screenplay to novel and vice versa. I’ve been told that my prose is very cinematic, which either means that has come from working on several screenplays or that my imagination tends to work that way. I’m not sure which it is.

The key thing about adaptations is that the length does not match up well. Where the Devil Resides happened to be the perfect length to adapt into a feature-length screenplay. Death Wind started out as a feature-length screenplay, but when I finished a first pass of the adaptation, it was only 45,000 words. This forced me to go back and flesh out several of the minor characters, making it more of a true ensemble cast in the novel. One of the great things that came out of that process was that while I was doing some research into Lakota language and history, I found some amazing bits of true history that resonated perfectly with the story we were trying to tell, so I incorporated those into the novel version. The novel feels much richer to me now.

Here ends Part 1 of our interview with Travis Heermann. In Part 2, which will be posted next Sunday, Travis will talk about his Odyssey experience, self-publishing, writing a series, and more.


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