Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, Rogues of the Black Fury, and co-author of Death Wind, plus short fiction pieces 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 enjoys cycling, martial arts, and torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.
In 2016, he returned to the U.S. after living in New Zealand for a year with his family, toting more Middle Earth souvenirs and photos than is reasonable.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I enjoy movies tremendously, anything with a good story and great writing. I also play games occasionally, cook, and physical stuff like yoga, martial arts, and cycling.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
Life. People. History. Much of what I write is inspired by history or people I have encountered. I think all good writers are really writing about life. The horror genre itself is just one facet, one approach to stories about the human experience.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
Everyone comes to the term "horror" with their own set of preconceived notions. For some people, "horror" means slasher films, or monster films, or vampires, or ghost stories. But I like to view horror not so much a genre in and of itself as it is a flavoring for stories. Much of my fiction contains elements of horror, even though no one would qualify those stories as "horror." I think only when the "horror" flavor predominates is the story easily classifiable.
As for breaking assumptions, the only way to do that is with good storytelling, and frankly so much of what I've seen in the horror genre is just bad storytelling.
That being said, horror is perhaps the only field where actively bad storytelling can be embraced. Schlock is its own niche market, because in "bad" movies, the badness is part of the fun and has great value for the people who love it. But it's not the kind of thing that breaks stereotypes because it's a whole stereotype clubhouse.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
As a field, horror is one of the most conservative genres. That may sound strange, but the horror elements most often come from the shattering of social mores, the shredding of the status quo. The Real World gets upended somehow, but the presence of the monster, or the serial killer. The kids who sneak off to have sex in the woods are the first to die. The Weirdness, the Outcast, the Zombie Horde are what unsettle us because they show us that our safe little worlds are not that safe.
All that being said, we have jumped into a point in history where all the rules of a just, decent society just went out the window. I can't even begin to predict where horror writers will take the new paradigm. There might be a continued upsurge in dystopian horrors, or we have a wild pendulum swing back to Buzzby Berkley-style fluffiness in films and stories as an escape from the fact that we will be living in a real-life dystopia.
The old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," has found a new facet of truth.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
Much of Stephen King's early work, The Shining, The Stand, Salem's Lot, Pet Sematary, etc. Plus Shakespeare. Now there's a guy who knows how to write horror. Titus Andronicus anyone? Other influences include the old pulp writers, such as Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Nowadays, I love me some Joe R. Lansdale, occasionally some Edward Lee when I want to dance around in the gore.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
In the horror realm, Stephen Graham Jones is starting to rack up the accolades. I'm also a fan of Molly Tanzer's short fiction. She put a really fresh spin on Lovecraft with her collection A Pretty Mouth.
How would you describe your writing style?
Because of the pulp influences, I probably tend toward that style, occasionally florid verging on purple prose. However, I do enjoy experimentation sometimes. My story "Screaming Without a Mouth" in the March 2016 issue of Apex Magazine is an experimental, epistolary-style ghost story set in a post-modern Japan. That one uses the negative spaces as much as the text itself to tell the story.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
A few come immediately to mind.
One came after a reading at a convention of my Lovecraftian short story "Patterns of Threat". The theme of that story is how domestic abuse is a pattern that repeats until the victim recognizes this and breaks the cycle. After the reading, a woman approached me to say how profoundly the story had affected her, evoking a powerful visceral reaction. I saw her at another convention some months later, and she told me that my story was the nudge that prompted her to get out of a deeply abusive relationship.
Another came from a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who wrote to tell me how my novel Heart of the Ronin had gotten him through the worst of his tour of duty. He took it with him everywhere, and read it over and over, even in his foxhole.
An Australian fan of my Ronin series told me in all seriousness he planned to name his first born child after the male or female main characters of that series.
And the last: a few months ago a kid in middle school wrote to tell me he had loved my Ronin series so much that those books had inspired him to become a writer. This is exactly how it happened to me, when I was in middle school. For me, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels. Knowing that I have done the same thing for someone else that Burroughs' did for me is about the purest form of satisfaction that I can image.
I would be hard-pressed, however, to rank which of these experiences is most meaningful for me.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Being able to do it consistently. The emotional highs and lows of the composition process can be a roller coaster that lasts way too long.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Impossible to say. Every name I've chosen, both for characters and for the stories themselves, has been done for different reasons.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Scrivener + Dropbox is a must. Scrivener is great for making sure you never lose a keystroke, and there are a host of little tools that help organize the creative process. And I store my Scrivener files (all of my writing files really) in Dropbox, which allows recovery of deleted versions or files that have been wrongly saved over.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
Just write. Do it.
Getting your work noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
This is a tough one, because we can spend so much time looking for a magic bullet that doesn't exist. We hear rumors of magic bullets, but there just ain't any such thing. All I can do is reach out on social media, try to maintain an existing readership, and go to conventions to meet new potential fans.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
At this point, my Ronin Trilogy. It consumed fifteen years of my life and resulted in massive life-changes. I was a completely different person when I finished it than I was when I started, all in good ways.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
My horror-western novel Death Wind is my most recent publication, but that one floated around the submission realms for over three years before it found a home at WordFire Press. I've written two novels since that one. One of them is under submission, and the other is Spirit of the Ronin, the final volume of my Ronin Trilogy.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My most recent published novel is Death Wind, a Lovecraftian horror-western. It's the adaptation of a screenplay I co-wrote with Jim Pinto. Set in 1891, in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee, massacre, a pioneer doctor and his aging town-marshal father investigate a series of bizarre murders and uncover …
Well, we'll just leave that there.
Right now, I'm in the midst of a feature-length contemporary drama screenplay.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Poorly written plots that, to work, require the characters to behave stupidly, similar to Ye Olde Falling Down While Running Away from the Monster bit. Stupid characters find no sympathy with me. They instantaneously make me start rooting for the monster. Good horror is much more likely to come from characters doing smart things, like getting the hell out of the haunted house, and still getting screwed.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I just finished an awesome book, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a non-fiction book about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the incredibly prolific serial killer who skulked in its shadows. Larson has the soul of a thriller-writer.
The biggest disappointment was Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue. It’s a book that revels in the cleverness of its sentences and paragraphs. Ultra-sparkling prose drowned out any actual story and left me too annoyed to continue.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Where can I find your books?
Well, thank you for asking! Lemme tell you! They're all over Amazon and everywhere else.
My Amazon author page is here
Ken’ishi is just seventeen years old at the time of his parents’ mysterious death. He dreams of someday training with a master who will help him become a samurai.
Traveling with Silver Crane, a sword that belonged to his father, and a dog named Akao, Ken’ishi begins his adventure after he defeats a policeman in a duel and must flee. Just when he thinks he has escaped trouble, he saves Kazuko, the daughter of an influential lord, from a group of bandits. On their journey home, they fall in love, only to discover upon their return that she has been promised to a powerful samurai lord.
Forced to flee once again, he goes on a hunt to discover his past while fighting off warriors and demons, never forgetting that there is a bounty on his head. Will he find out if his father really was a samurai—and why the sword he wields seems to be infused with magic?
Written while the author lived in Japan, Heart of the Ronin combines historical fiction with fantasy to keep readers guessing what Ken’ishi will encounter next in Heerman’s mystical universe. Publishers Weekly says it best: “Numerous tantalizingly unresolved plot threads will have readers anxiously awaiting the second installment in this gripping tale of ill-fated love, betrayal and destiny.”