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: