Who: Travis Richardson
Where: Los Angeles
What: “Incident on the 405” (from Criminal Element’s Malfeasance Occasional “Girl Trouble”) was nominated for both the Anthony and Macavity short story awards this year. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines and anthologies. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime LA newsletter, reviews Chekhov shorts and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella is KEEPING THE RECORD.
This interview was conducted by email. Some answers have been edited.
If you had to explain your writing to somebody who has never read your work before, how would you describe it?
I call myself a crime writer. It’s the most consistent thing I write. I often dabble in noir and sometimes I write humorous or action-adventure tales, but I rarely write a straight up “who done it” mystery. I try to push my characters to extremes and have them react. Sometimes it’s funny and other times it’s tragic. Although I usually start stories with an idea in mind, once the characters start interacting, I just try to keep up on the keyboard.
Is crime what you originally set out to write, or did your focus and style change over time?
I originally wanted to write literary short stories as well as screenplays. While my literary shorts were sincere, not much happened except that somebody was unhappy and didn’t do much of anything. Eventually I began to burn out on reading New Yorker stories about wealthy, unhappy people with first world problems. In a writing class in Berkeley, we were assigned the Best American Short Stories of the previous year and the first story was “Puppy” by Richard Ford. I wrote an essay about how I was tired of reading the same down tempo stagnant stories. This isn’t to bag on the Pulitzer Prize winning author, if anything I’m grateful for the epiphany his story (after many others) provided. It broke me from the monotonous literary rut I had been stuck in for years. Around that time I also finished writing the first part of a coming of age novel based on my Grandfather living in depression era Arkansas. The next part was going to require me to learn several musical instruments and reconfigure a carefully constructed family after a tragedy. I wanted to try something new, so I began a manuscript called The Prodigal Detective. After completing it, I discovered a wonderful community of crime writers through Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America…. and I don’t look back much.
Is it different for your short stories than it is for long form fiction?
I think so. I like the boiled-down concentration of words in a tight short story. Especially in a good flash fiction piece where there is a beginning, a middle, and a devastating end. With longer shorts, I can expand on details like atmosphere and include a few more meaningful characters. Novels and novellas allow me to go further out on the story and include more details, but I hope to avoid excesses that might bog down the plot or sap energy away from the protagonist.
Do you have a favorite form of fiction? Does it vary between being a writer and a reader?
I like writing short stories better because I can explore different stories and characters and then start something totally different a few weeks later. While I would love the idea of a big fat contract to develop a series character over several novels, finishing several works in a year is satisfying. As a reader, I’d say I like short stories and novellas over novels. I’m a slow reader and I like that I can finish a short story in one sitting. Shorter works can sustain intensity and focus that most longer works can’t. To me there are parallels between music and writing. Short stories are like individual songs that are self-contained and keep a pace/rhythm for the entirety of the piece. Books are like albums with each chapter similar to a track. More often than not, there are a few weak pieces that make the entire work (book or album) uneven, even when the majority of the work is rock solid.
Who are a few of your favorite writers/inspirations/heroes?
Anton Chekhov (countless stories of fragile humanity and personal introspection), Jim Thompson (my Okie/LA noir hero), Daniel Woodrell (rural criminal/literary wordsmith), Don Winslow (humor and innovation), Cormac McCarthy (sparse, startling brutal prose), and Matthew Funk (infatigable crime fiction short story writer).
Your short story, “Incident On The 405,” was recently nominated for both the Macavity Award and Anthony Award. Congrats! What makes for a good short story?
Thanks! The nominations were totally unexpected. I believe that “Incident on the 405” resonated with readers because it had a lot of elements working for it. The two leads were women of totally different backgrounds who start out as adversaries, but become allies against a “greater evil” and a plot point hinges on (and is attributed to) a scene from popular novel. For some writers it’s the twist that matters in a crime story, but I believe in having a truthful, powerful, and poignant ending is the most important part. A twist or unexpected curve is great, but to have readers contemplate a story hours after reading it is what I’d consider a success. It’s also important to have the protagonist(s) altered in some way from the opening scene to the end of the story.
What is the last thing you published?
“I Don’t Where I’m Headin’
” was published in All Due Respect issue #4 in October 2014. The story concerns a washed up forty-something who’s doing his best to score in a small town Oklahoma karaoke bar when he sees a man who brings him back to his past as a hairband rocker and the LA Riots. I was inspired to write this after being blown away by Todd Robinson’s Anthony and Derringer nominated story “Peaches
,” published in Grift Magazine. It’s a heart wrenching story about a thug hunting down his old babysitter. Todd set a high bar that I wanted to try to touch. Read them both and let me know if I came close.
What is the next thing you are going to publish?
My biblical-inspired western, “A Village Called Eden,” is coming out from Dark Corners Vol 1, Issue 2 sometime in December. It’s the first chapters of Genesis adapted as a western with a Cormac McCarthy flavor. I was thinking about adapting the entire book of Genesis in this fashion, but I’m not sure yet. It might happen. (Also, in February my story “Marybelle’s Last Stand” will be in the anthology: Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked & Loaded.)
If you could recommend one piece of your writing to somebody, what would it be?
Hmm. That’s tough as many of my stories seem different from each other. Let’s go with “Because
” on Flash Fiction Offensive. In 1000 words I documented the life and the reasons why a criminal made important life-changing decisions. I’m proud of this one. Hope you enjoy.
Find Travis Richardson on Twitter, Facebook, and on his Blog.
S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Akashic Books and Crimespree Magazine. He is currently working on the novella, CROSSWISE, and his debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. You can read one of his recent short stories right HERE.