Crime fiction writer Travis Richardson hog-tied my attention— when his story “A Misunderstanding” —juked and jived across the pages of Flash Fiction Offensive online magazine back in late May.
Richardson’s joining us under the spotlight because his latest book, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, now sits cocked and loaded and ready for release on November 27th.
Described as a blistering exploration of crime, retribution, and fragile humanity, this battered, tattered collection contains sixteen stories: including a lopsided battle between an aged arthritic grandmother and an evil sheriff, whose power and reputation make him seem “untouchable.”
The son of an air force pilot, Travis was born in Germany, but left that country when he turned two—and spent the next two decades living in a small Oklahoma community—where the Arkansas River snaked between his family residence and the larger city of Tulsa.
Like many folks before him, Richardson heeded the call to “go west, young man.” At age twenty-two, he set forth for California; and sojourned in the Berkeley Bay area before calling Los Angeles home.
No surprise at all then that the stories in this collection take place in the American South, as well as the West Coast. Indicative of the title, writer Hilary Davidson, Anthony Award-winning author of ONE SMALL SACRIFICE, describes these assembled tales as: “Steeped in blood and grit …. Travis Richardson’s stories represent the dark side of the American Dream, and they are unforgettable.”
Richardson’s skills with paper and ink have earned him the distinction of seeing his work nominated and short listed for crime writing achievements that include the coveted Anthony, Macavity, and Derringer Awards.
And after reading but a handful of Travis’s stories, I can certainly see why. Two of my favorites at the moment include “A Misunderstanding” and “How I Got in the Navy.” Both appeared in Flash Fiction Offensive. And folks can read these gems for free at the Links below. As an added bonus, you can listen to the latter on audio—though Travis is not the reader for this well-constructed production.
As readers can see in “How I Got into the Navy,” Richardson writes with intelligence, but gets down in the mud with ease. And he keeps his characters in action—a skill that’s especially evident in his suspense tale “A Misunderstanding.”
In these two particular stories, I see three simple yet invaluable writing techniques that Travis routinely uses—but which many of today’s best-selling authors don’t. And these techniques make his writing fluid.
Except in cases of gravity, Richardson employs contractions. Contractions roll off the tongue, and they sound less formal—which makes both narrative and dialogue more realistic—because most of us typically use contractions when we talk.
To additionally propel his readers, Richardson routinely uses Fragments rather than complete sentences.
We find evidence of these two techniques in the following passage:
There’s a Cadillac in the driveway. Victor’s hit squad. Shit. The family took too long. Should’ve ran solo.
Not: “There is a Cadillac in the driveway” and “He should have ran solo.”
I’m not suggesting by any means that all sentences and fragments by any writer appear this short and clipped.
In another passage Richardson writes:
I’d say hello in class or the cafeteria and she’d give me a bittersweet smile.
Not: “I would say hello in class or the cafeteria and she would give me a bittersweet smile.”
Both the stories I’m referencing contain about a thousand words. Yet only once does Richardson elect not to use a contraction—and I imagine he made this decision based on the “gravity” in this scene—because in the subsequent sentence Travis uses a contraction once again:
After the call ends, Russell cannot stop his hands from shaking. He’s screwed up before, but nothing on this scale. “Fuck me.” He sprints up the stairs. Entering his bedroom, he wakes his wife, Phoebe.
The third technique Travis uses to make his prose fluid and propel his readers involves avoiding the word “had” much more often than not. In fact (excluding dialogue) his story “A Misunderstanding” employs “had” just once. While in “How I Got in the Navy” (again excluding dialogue) we find the word “had” only six times. A total of only seven times in nearly 2,000 words.
In complete contrast, I grabbed a best-selling book from my nightstand, which a friend beseeched me to read. I painstakingly discovered (as I sadly suspected) that this particular author employed “had” eighteen times in a mere 2,000-word span.
That’s three times more than Travis.
And the author whose words I counted is certainly not alone in this regard. Assuming this particular writer followed this trend throughout the course of the 400-plus page novel … readers will trudge through repetitious “hads” nearly 2,000 times (1,800).
I've actually read the entire book. And no way in hell do I feel like counting. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the total count proved higher.
To help clarify this point, I constructed the following passage—which resembles the type of writing I all-too-often find when opening books in bookstores:
“He had realized that he had been holding his breath during the entire time that the bank robber had been in the bank.”
Writing like I just penned bores me to tears: while reading Richardson’s work so far has undoubtedly proven a pleasure.
Whether readers agree with my analysis or not, Spinetingler Magazine listed Richardson’s novella LOST IN CLOVER in their Best Crime Fiction of 2012. Besides penning his second novella KEEPING THE RECORD (released in 2014), Travis’s stories also appear in numerous anthologies—including THE OBAMA INHERITANCE—an award-winning collection that happens to feature work from renowned crime writer Walter Mosley. And that ladies and gents is an accomplishment I wish I could claim!
For those who will be in greater Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 28th, Travis will host the book launch for BLOODSHOT AND BATTERED at prestigious West Hollywood’s Book Soup at 7 p.m.—and he’s got an interesting line-up scheduled.
His wife, Teresa Wong, will read a poem that she penned—based on Travis’s story “Maybelle’s Last Stand.”
Meanwhile actor and attorney Sachin Mehta will entertain attendees by reading Travis's comic short story “Here’s to Bad Decisions: Red’s Longneck Hooch.” And if the crowd proves lucky, Travis may also sing a tribute to the West Hollywood metal scene of the late 1980s. The tribute springs from one of his stories, “I’m Not Sure Which Way I’m Headin’”—and since he ain’t sure if he’s gonna sing yet … then I guess some things ain’t changed.
His singing ventures aside, Travis appears poised for greater things—and I for one certainly hope so.
Heartfelt thanks, Travis, for joining us here at Center Stage. And cheers to our fine audience for attending this show as well.
Folks can visit Travis Richardson on Facebook and also at his website:
You can also find Travis's work at Amazon:
Today I'm pleased to shine the spotlight on our first poet at Center Stage. Though trying to introduce this writer while properly referencing her various "bylines" isn't the easiest task to tackle.
The simplest most exciting news involves her book YEARNINGS—a poetry collection authored under the name Ayo Gutierrez. While this collection largely features her own work, YEARNINGS includes poems by an International cast of eighteen different writers, in an array of poetic styles. For the sake of transparency, I have the honor of being counted among them. And I also had the pleasure of acting as a proofreader for portions of this collection, scheduled for release on Friday, November 23rd 2018.
So while I typically write crime fiction, I'm conversant with Ayo's work. Nevertheless, Josh Jones (author of the novel SHELTERED) graciously describes Gutierrez's work in this collection far more eloquently than I could possibly aspire. And accordingly I'll defer to him:
“Prose is the elegant recording of words to create stories that convey setting, characters, plot and climax. Poetry, especially in the case of Yearnings, is the translation of emotion into words. This collection is unyielding in its examination of the emotions in people, often from the perspective of modern women. Ayo Gutierrez is an expert of poetic irony, meaning we are able to read about things that are seldom spoken. Her subjects range from religion to child birth to inter- and extra-personal relationships. Gutierrez’s attention to detail in her writings enables us, the readers, to develop a greater understanding of the issues she captures. As she writes in one piece entitled Secret Lover:
“I embrace tight these ominous shadows and willingly
I disappear with them at sunrise.”
She brings us into the midst of a subject and wraps our minds in the comfort of her words, allowing us to steep in her perspective, disappearing with our evolution. Gutierrez does not offer up traditional formats in her poetry. You will not find sonnets nor iambic pentameter; rather, you will find heightened, sometimes disjointed, free-form poetry that bites and caresses. Instead of works about the beauty of rainbows, you will read about the intense, complex molecules inside that rainbow.
You will read about power, not about pretty.
Gutierrez and her fellow contributors have created something special.”
YEARNINGS also bears the distinction of containing a Foreword by award-winning poet Eileen R. Tabios, who invented the poetic form called "hay(na)ku"—a 3-line poem containing one word in the first line, two in the second, and three in the third.
While Ayo's poems often address serious subjects, her Muse doesn't dwell or wander solely in Dark Realms. Quite the opposite in fact. As Tabios adeptly notes:
"We are pleased to see a sense of humor—evident in the title 'My Brain Needs a KitKat' (and guess what I just added to the day's shopping list.) Humor is an underrated asset in poetry, and I'm pleased this poet has the wisdom to traffic in it."
When venturing into the public eye, Gutierrez has the kind tendency to bring other friends and writers with her. Her first publishing venture in 2017 involved the book BARDS FROM THE FAR EAST, an anthology of haiku and kindred verses. As one of five contributing authors in this collection, Ayo penned work under her married name Carolyn Abanggan. Additionally she is also known by her hyphenated-married name Carolyn Gutierrez-Abanggan.
While I briefly and initially pondered if this poet was besieged and afflicted by a multiple personality disorder, Gutierrez and her husband kindly thought shortening her author name when she became a TV co-host for the Filipino show Travel Art would make life easier on the rest of us. Carolyn's nickname "Ayo" springs from a word and custom in one of her local Cebuano dialects: When knocking on someone's door, visitors often call out "Ayo"—the equivalent of saying "Hello"—or is anyone home?
Meanwhile, and attesting further to the soundness of Ayo's poetry, her work has been accepted (and has or should soon appear) in 5 different anthologies:
I Have a Name: Anthology of Prose and Poems on Mental Disorders (2017); Hidden Constellation magazine (2017); A Promise of Doves (December 2018); The Anthology of Human Thought from Introvert Press (December 2018); and In the Crosshairs (December 2018).
Further complicating my life here at Center Stage tonight, Ayo brought who I call "Sparky the Sea Lion" with her. Sparky's a seasoned entertainer. And trying to type while keeping exuberant Sparky out of Ayo's spotlight so she can shine alone for once has proven maddening to say the least.
So yes, sir Sparky: you can finally CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! As we all applaud Ayo "Carolyn Abanggan" Gutierrez for her fine accomplishments. Heartfelt thanks everyone for joining us here at Center Stage.
Folks can visit Ayo on Facebook
And you can find her work on Amazon
#Yearnings #haiku #ayogutierrez #mickroseyearnings #poetayogutierrez
Courtesy of the ever Ink-Quisitive crime writer Jesse Rawlins (who's penned more than a dozen author interviews for Southern Crime mag Story and Grit) today's spotlight shines on Eastern Pennsylvania fantasy writer Debbie Kelahan. Debbie spent seven on-and-off years researching and writing her medieval novel, THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY. And that kind of passion folks earns dedicated Debbie some shine time under the spotlight here at Center Stage. Heartfelt thanks Jesse Rawlins for bringing Debbie's work to our attention. My roll as emcee finis, I now present their Interview!
JR Q. You’ve authored the medieval fantasy novel, THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY—featuring a magical-mythical realm: inhabited by Lords and Ladies, peaceful peasant farmers—and some dastardly evil fairies. Before we dive into this land called Lamington, let’s talk about you for a spell.
You dwell in Eastern Pennsylvania with your daughter and a husband, as well as two fine-feathered-friends: which include a quirky cockatiel. How did your writing Life evolve? And did you have other work published prior to your novel?
DK A. I was always writing something in my life—ever since I was able to pick up a crayon, pencil, or pen. As soon as I entered school, I tried to be one of the first students in my class to read. And when I did, I knew I didn’t just want to read, I wanted to write, too.
As time passed, I wrote short stories and poetry, and then longer stories. Sadly, I no longer have any of my earliest writing pieces. But I did take a creative writing class in high school, and my high school anthology contains a short story that I wrote. Also while in high school, I tried to have one of my short stories published as a children’s book. A New York City publisher was interested. But unfortunately, it was rejected. My very first!
However, I thought it was neat to have tried.
I never took a creative writing class in college. But being an English major, there was always something to write. And I did spend some time writing for the college newspaper. When I graduated and eventually went to work in a library, I continued to write and write … though nothing ever came of it until THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY.
JR Q. One of your Amazon readers commented that your novel features a type of folklore known as “Wiła” (pronounced viwa)—which is academically considered an influential force in the daily lives of many Eastern Europeans who lived during the Medieval Period.
What drew you to this Topic—and what kinds of research did you tackle? Also since you penned a Fantasy, to what extent did you elect to keep Historical Knowledge factual?
DK A. I wanted to make my fairies unique and not just your typical fairies. Most of the fairies people read about are from the British Isles, Ireland, and other European countries. I have a Polish background, so I started by researching some fairies online and also in a book I have. Ultimately, I decided to fashion my fairies after Polish fairy-like female spirits known as Wiła.
I have to admit, the fairies in my book don’t have Polish-sounding names. But that didn’t matter to me.
As for historical knowledge being factual . . . Well, I wanted the daily life and customs of the places that my story took place in to be realistic, but with fantasy elements included. Because at the end of the day that’s what the story really is! A fantasy.
But I love medieval history and I have lots of books about daily life in the Middle Ages. So it was easy for me to create a medieval world as the setting for my plot.
JR Q. I know nothing about Polish fairies and folklore, Debbie. Can you share some of the myths that you based your characters on? And what types of qualities and characteristics do traditional Polish fairies have?
DK A. I think all mythical beings and stories are similar from culture to culture. They just have different names and spring from different places. So the qualities and characteristics of traditional Polish fairies are no different than other fairies.
Historically, fairies are females. They are portrayed as beautiful creatures. And they often try to steal away a man or boy who has captured their attention—but usually with the intention of destroying them.
I strayed from tradition by creating male fairies, too. And my evil fairies work together to try and destroy a whole town, or an entire group of people instead of a single person.
JR Q. So how long did fashioning this unique medieval world and finishing your novel take?
DK A. It took me at least seven years to write my novel, on and off. I fashioned my medieval world as I went along. I wrote a brief synopsis and went from there. I don’t write out brief chapter descriptions or make detailed outlines. I prefer to “discover” what I’m going to write and where I’m going to end up—but within the boundaries of my outline. I would feel locked in trying to follow anything too rigid. But that’s the way I am. I never felt lost or felt that I hit a brick wall doing it this way. I find it exciting and fun to discover where the next road leads in a story based on earlier ideas.
JR Q. Your central character is a young peasant girl named Nan, who dwells in the land of Lamington. Through no fault of her own, Nan discovers she’s been unwittingly used by a band of evil fairies. Christmas gets banished from her homeland because of their dastardly deeds. And as a result of this debauchery, Nan gets vanquished to a monastery. How old is Nan? And what’s her personality like?
DK A. Nan is almost thirteen years old. She’s very mature for her age—because people grew up quickly in the medieval era. But Nan’s so bound to the land she was born and raised on that she doesn’t feel confident leaving Lamington to get involved in some kind of adventure. Of course, she ends up going since others have made up their minds that she must. But she never gets dramatic about leaving Lamington. Nor does she try to escape and go home. Overall, Nan is one tough girl, though she has her moments of self-doubt.
JR Q. Despite the presence of all these heartless fairies in your book, I imagine there must be an evil overlord or instigator behind this diabolical plan to forever annihilate Christmas from Lamington. If so, who is this master manipulator—and what are some of this character’s traits?
DK A. Well, in some ways you’d have to read the book to find out! But if you must know, he is a demonic being who uses others to bring about evil. If he doesn’t get his way at first, he keeps trying and trying until he accomplishes what he wants.
JR Q. Many fantasy sagas take place over the course of years or even decades. How much time passes in your novel as Nan engages in her quest for a mysterious jewel that ancient Legends say will restore both peace and Christmas to her medieval realm?
DK A. Nan’s quest takes just a few months. But when all is said and done, the story goes full circle back to Christmas.
JR Q. Despite the prevalence of all these dark forces, no heroic figures in fantasy sagas like these complete their quests alone. So who are some of Nan’s allies? What kinds of powers do the good fairies in your fantasy tale have? And what do these fairies look like?
DK A. Nan’s allies on her quest include Emma, the maid to Lady Catherine of Lamington. While Emma is a little older, Nan is definitely more mature. Initially Emma feels like she has to go with Nan at the request of Lady Catherine. But eventually she changes and is genuine about helping. There are many other allies, like Eolande and the fairies Nan later meets in the Land of the Diamond Sea. And Father John at the monastery is a strong ally, too.
My fairies look tall with light hair—blonde, reddish, or light brown. Originally the fairies in myth and legend did not have wings. Depictions of fairies having wings didn’t appear until the Victorian age. I wanted mine to be similar in looks to humans and to be taken seriously. So my fairies are very strong—and don’t have wings. Teeny fairies belong in Disney books and movies.
JR Q. Your novel has been described as a “battle between good and evil.” Why did you choose the idea of diabolical forces seeking to steal Christmas forever as your source of conflict? And looking back now, do you think the Christmas holiday theme may have hampered year-round sales in any way?
DK A. I got the idea when I was driving down a road one day during the Christmas season. Christmas being “stolen” or “taken away” is a theme in many stories. And I thought it would be something fun, not to mention challenging, to write about. The Christmas theme does sort of take away from year-round sales, though it’s something that can be heavily sold during the holiday season.
But the story isn’t totally centered on Christmas. It’s a medieval fantasy adventure with a large cast of characters and lots of twists and turns along the way—and can be read any time of year. While the book falls into the category of Young Adult, I think anyone who likes reading fantasy sagas such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy can enjoy this book and its historical medieval details.
JR: Thanks, Debbie. Interested readers can find THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jewel-Christmas-Holly-Debbie-Kelahan/dp/0692890637
You can also visit her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author70/
Dedication. Perseverance. Passion. Patience.
Four sometimes tough essentials for any writer anywhere.
Just ask Canadian crime and horror writer Beau Johnson. If there’s anything Beau knows, Beau knows waiting. For quite some time, he’s been counting down the days. Because his second story collection, The Big Machine Eats, is scheduled for release by Down and Out books on November 26th. Prior to this countdown, Beau’s been steadily penning tales for about a decade now. A neat one hundred of his stories have kindly been given published homes—many finding residence on the darker side of town. If urban whisperings ring true, some of these haunts might include: Flash Fiction Offensive, The Molotov Cocktail, Southern Crime mag Story and Grit, Shotgun Honey and England’s Spelk Fiction. One whispering I know to be true? Beau enjoys both Beckys from Roseanne equally.
But I imagine Beau’s countdown is easy compared to the waiting he once did. He spent roughly three years toiling before his first story was accepted by the Carnage Conservatory in 2011. In Beau’s own words: “Oh, what a day!”
Dedication. Perseverance. Passion. Patience.
Four sometimes tough essentials for any writer anywhere.
While a writing life can prove taxing, writing’s nowhere near as painful as the traumas that many people experience every day—sometimes every day … year after year. For as long as evening campfires have burned upon this planet, and stories have been told around these fires, there have been predators in our midst. And these predators look just like us.
Abuse takes many forms. Betrayal does as well. But for those who have been bitterly abused or betrayed true justice and remedy can never exist.
Beau Johnson understands this. And his principal recurring character is a man named Bishop Rider, a former policeman who’s seen too much … and suffered some traumas of his own. Mentally twisted by his experiences, driven by his demons, Rider suddenly spends his days dispensing his unique hell-bent brand of justice.
The hard working folks at Down and Out books helped introduce Mr. Rider to a larger audience with the release of Beau’s first published book and story collection A Better Kind of Hate in July 2017.
Like many suspense writers, Beau begins his stories in medias res—a Latin phrase which means “in the middle of things.” (Hey, lawyers aren’t the only ones who can toss archaic terms around.) While the action stays continuous, Johnson unravels his stories slowly: two strands at a time. He doesn’t cram “backstory” down our throats. Instead he spoon feeds us the past, as present events take place. And his recipes for recompense suit the original perpetrator’s crimes.
Some of Beau’s inventive recipes prove gruesome without doubt. But Johnson’s skillful with his ink. He doesn’t spatter arterial blood spray recklessly cross the page. He gives just enough details to spark our imagination—leaving our stunned wide-eyed minds to quickly picture the outcomes.
So at least in fictional reams, Rider will again serve up some justice on Monday, November 26th. Just as readers did in A Better Kind of Hate, they will find stories involving other characters in The Big Machine Eats as well. But the song, as they say, always remains the same. Wrongs have been committed: and some folks are going to pay.
If you chance to live in or near Brantford, Canada—also known as Telephone City—Beau will host a book release party for The Big Machine eats on Saturday, November 24th from noon to 1 p.m. at the Brantford public library. And hell yeah, he’ll be signing books.
Like many quality writers, Beau’s yet to earn the distinction of becoming a so-called “household name.” But’s he’s certainly a Celebrated name here at my house, which I call The Rising Sun.
So take a bow, my friend Beau Johnson. Hope you’ve enjoyed this spotlight. A pleasure and an honor to host you here at Center Stage. Heartfelt thanks to our great audience also for attending this opening show.
Dedication. Perseverance. Passion. Patience.
May they treat us all well.
Crime Writer & Reluctant Poet