Interview: Graduate Travis Heermann (Part 2 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.

Part 1 of this interview, posted last Sunday, is available here.

How do you feel your writing and writing process changed as a result of having attended Odyssey? What insights did you gain into your own work?

The biggest thing that I got from Odyssey was being able to apply a working vocabulary to aspects of writing that I had been mostly doing only intuitively. Story structure is a good example. I was vaguely aware that stories had an act structure, but I’d never applied myself to learning all that before.

My classmates also pointed out some themes that I seemed to gravitate to, which was nothing I’d ever thought about before.

How many stages does your work go through before you send it off to a publisher? How much of your time is spent writing the first draft, and how much time is spent in revision? What sort of revisions do you do?

I’m on the verge of abandoning traditional publishing for the time being. I’m pretty much fed up with small presses. I feel very strongly that I can do it better myself, with a broad network of incredibly skilled professional contacts, than a small press can. I’m feeling enough pressure of advancing age that I’m not willing anymore to devote four or five years to finding a home for my next book when I can go to readers directly with a professional-level product and keep most of the money.

These days, I spend 2-6 months on a first draft, then go through it again with a serious polish. This polish includes tying together thematic threads, making sure every scene is pulling its weight, and sprucing up the sentence-level prose. I start with the big picture stuff and work my way down to the sentence level.

Then, depending on the project, I might send it out to beta readers. I wrote a YA novel a couple of years ago that was extensively beta-read and critiqued for maybe six months. I’m going to be putting that out myself this year. Another example, The Hammer Falls, was also extensively beta-read. I collect all the feedback and go through it carefully to determine what’s useful and what’s not.

When you wrote The Ronin Trilogy, did you have the entire series planned out ahead of time, or did you write it by the seat of your pants? What were some challenges unique to writing a trilogy?

511eqV1o9wLWhen I started writing The Ronin Trilogy, I envisioned it as one novel. I had the whole story in my head. But then, after some back and forth with a literary agent, I decided to expand it into two books. Then when I contracted with a literary agent, he convinced me it needed to be three books, and he was right.

I had the overarching story, I knew how it ended, but I still had a lot of dots to connect in the middle. That process was largely seat-of-the-pants, but by the end I was outlining more and more.

The challenges of writing a series are that the trilogy needs structure, and each book has to have a satisfying ending. Each book has to tell a cohesive story as a single act of the larger arc. It’s a balance that requires thought and planning to do well.

What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?

Not being able to produce it fast enough. I’ve got several contracted projects lined up for about the next nine months. Not a bad problem to have, but having to produce X words per day can be a lot of pressure.

Craft-wise, I’m not sure where my weaknesses are. My skills have evolved since Odyssey. I suppose characterization is still a challenge because characters can be perfectly real in my head but require a few more touches on the page to make them come alive.

What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?

I’m getting ready to start a novella for a game company’s fiction line. I’m in the early stages of putting together a comic book adaptation of my Ronin novels. I’m about two-thirds of the way through a YA werewolf novel, which is a sequel to one of the pieces I submitted to Odyssey for critique. And then, after all that, I’ll be collaborating on a series of urban fantasy novels with an author I’m not yet at liberty to name. Oh, and I’m also in the early, early stages of another horror screenplay project with jim pinto.

So, yeah, a lazy year I guess.


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