Los Angeles-based noir-beast, Travis Richardson stomped into Messy Business with his horde of meaty answers. He’s been a Derringer, Macavity, and Anthony finalist for his short stories, and you can see him splattered across the great short story sites such as Shotgun Honey and Flash Fiction Offensive.
Hilary Davidson said that his short story collection, Bloodshot and Bruised, is “taut, twisted, and thrilling.”
Here he is –
A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that (???). What words do you have for such a philistine?
I understand, but it is sad. Fiction is mind-expanding and promotes empathy, said a university professor from somewhere. So fiction readers got that going for us and apparently you don’t.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
This is a tricky question. I like characters with all sorts of backgrounds and gradations on the moral compass, but insincerity from a writer—whether phoning in a character or trying to project something cooler/bad-ass/etc than they are without reason—grates my nerves. Reading time can be hard to find, so I need to maximize it.
Do you need a likeable protagonist?
Absolutely not. But they must be compelling or operating in a plot that is compelling enough that the character can eventually get in line with the story. Something needs to be there to make me want to turn the page. How does the protagonist become compelling? Perhaps by not doing the right thing and finding themselves in over the their head, opening the door into noir.
Name a great antagonist, novel or movie, and what they do for you.
This year I read The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne and The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh and they that had several similarities. Both had rural, outdoor settings with half of the pages devoted to backstory, but they also featured murderous fathers (or an uncle-possible-father) that their daughters have to confront with a potent mixture of love, anger, and fear. I like the emotional tug of war between looking at their mentor as hero and a monster. Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain and Hank Early’s Heaven’s Crooked Finger also tread into the same territory.
The Wire’s Omar and Stringer Bell are fascinating, complex foils to McNulty and his crew. They mostly operate as criminals with a code and are driven by love, power, and murder.
Finally, Ignatius J. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces by Kennedy O’Toole is a narcissistic wrecking ball of humanity that presaged the rise and chaos of Donald J. Trump.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
One would be overwriting. I grow tired and frustrated when the author is so domineering in prose that characters and story can’t breathe. I’m fine with lengthy descriptions and philosophies as long as it pays off and enriches the story.
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
I used to a lot, which was good for me to define what I don’t want to do as a writer. But I rarely finish a lot less dodgy novels these days.
This year I read a book that got a lot of hype, but I hated the contrivance of the situation that the protagonist was in and many of the scenes felt forced. I finished it with teeth bared, shrugging at the twist. I asked my wife to read it and see if I missed anything. She wasn’t impressed either.
What gets you writing? A great novel, maybe? Something you saw on the street or on the TV? Something else?
Up until a few years ago everything seemed to be an inspiration. Sometimes taking a scene from a movie or book, but changing the outcome and recasting different characters and settings until it something totally different than the original source. Other times it’s chasing an emotion and putting it into an intense narrative. Or a phrase might kick my brain in gear. I’ve modeled a few stories on another writer’s templates. (I wrote a story “I’ll Be You” in the style of Don Winslow’s early over the top novels and “Another Statistic” like A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.) Also politics have entered into my stories a lot more over the past couple of years.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
The last thing I turned in was a short story that will be in the anthology Faking Of The President coming out in April 2020. My story is about how 9/11 would have been different if Al Gore were president. I exhausted myself as I wrote and researched from July to October 15. The word count was supposed to be 5 -7k words, but the first draft clocked in at 13k. I had to make dramatic cuts to historical characters I really wanted to keep, but couldn’t. I remember a 2nd or 3rd draft came in at 10k and I didn’t think I could cut anymore, but I did and the story is better off for it. The lesson reinforced the mantra that less is more.
What’s your next work, in 30 words or less?
I have a short story coming out in Trouble and Strife, a book of crime stories based on Cockney rhyming slangs. (Look up these terms, it is fascinating.) My story is called “Lee Marvin,” a rhyme for starvin’.
Also I have a quartet of books I’m trying to finish set in the fictional West Texas town of Tarwater. It’s a nod to Jim Thompson and nihilistic rural noir.
Where can readers connect with you?
www.tsrichardson.com, Facebook, twitter: @tsrichardson