Boom, I return! I’ve had a look at my emails and it turns out I have just under a dozen interviews remaining. If my maths is right (and it hardly is), I’ve interviewed close to 20% of all entrants this year. I still intend on interviewing everyone, so I’m happy to spotlight all those who want to show off their works.
Today’s interview is with Travis Riddle, author of Balam, Spring.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write? My name’s Travis M. Riddle, and I’m an author from Texas! I’ve self-published two fantasy novels: “Wondrous” and “Balam, Spring.”
How do you develop your plots and characters? It usually starts with a scene or setting that I think sounds interesting—with my newest book, I actually thought up two scenes, and they ended up being one of the very first and one of the very last. From there, I tend to develop more of an actual plot and some characters to fit into that plot. The last part of the process, which is the most important for me, is that after I get a few key details ironed out I begin to understand what the themes of the story are and what it is I really want to write about. From there, I’m able to craft the rest of the storyline around that theme, which is immensely helpful in the plotting of events and figuring out what I want to say and how I’m going to approach it.
Tell us about your current project. My latest novel is titled “Balam, Spring,” and it’s about three people living in a quiet coastal village who have to come together to discover the cause and a cure for a new, fatal illness spreading throughout the town before everyone succumbs.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them! The novel follows three main characters: Theodore Saen, a schoolteacher who’s on break for the next few months and witnesses the first death from the illness; Aava Yren, a newly-graduated white mage who is brought to Balam to find a cure for the disease; and Ryckert Ji’ca, a retired mercenary who’s absorbed into the mystery due to nothing else but his own curiosity.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction? Like I said before, theme is the most important part of the writing process for me, though that may differ from person to person. I am just personally more motivated to write when I’m really passionate about the “idea” behind the whole story. It helps me feel like my story has a direction and purpose.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book? A big influence on the world of Balam was the Final Fantasy franchise. I didn’t base it on anything in particular from there—though I named a few things or characters as homages to the franchise—but I wanted the world to evoke a similar feeling to how I felt when I first played “Final Fantasy IX.” I wanted the world to be as awe-inspiring as it was quaint, brimming with both wild, grotesque monsters and beautiful scenery.
What inspires you to write? Usually things that anger me or make me sad, as depressing as that sounds, haha. The two novels I’ve released and the one I’m currently working on are all completely fantastical stories, but come from real emotional places plucked from my life. Getting the story out there helps me to process and work through those emotions.
What was the hardest part of writing this book? The book was inspired by my stepmother’s battle with terminal cancer—before I began writing it she was diagnosed with around two years left and thankfully has lasted four already, which is amazing. But tackling the themes of anger toward the uncontrollable and the grief of losing someone took a toll sometimes. It was both difficult and therapeutic.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why? I don’t have a specific moment I can pinpoint (without spoilers, anyway), but I will say that writing the scenes with Aava and Ryckert interacting were always really fun. They’re so different yet so alike in so many ways, it was a joy developing their friendship and showing how they complemented each other while working together.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it? I (hope) I learned to be more economical with my storytelling. I wanted each scene in the book to either move the story along or reveal a detail about the character(s)/locale to help forge a connection with the reader.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it? I create character sheets before I ever start writing a chapter. I come up with their immediate family and their names, backstory leading up to the beginning of the novel, how old they are, their appearance, anything I can think of. I do the same with the world—I map it all out, placing different cities on the map, or deciding on the layout of the town and where certain shops and houses are. I feel like this not only helps me with continuity, because I’m not making up and then forgetting details as I go along and have documents to refer to when I need to, say, mention a character’s brother or where the school is located—but it also backs me into a fun creative corner. Once I have all these details laid out, it feels definitive—this is who the person is, this is their history. So when something arises, I feel like I have a better understanding of how they would react to it, and I can no longer cheat and have them just react a certain way that may go against their personality in order to make the story progress.
What are your future project(s)? Right now I’m working on a new novel that’s set in the real world but is still very much fantasy, with a tinge of horror to it as well. It’s tentatively titled The Narrows, and it’s about a group of friends who meet up in their hometown for the funeral of a friend and begin to encounter dark, fantastical things that they believe might be connected to his death.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do? I recently recorded a season of a podcast with my buddy, musician Awsten Knight from Waterparks. It was pretty well-received and we’ll be releasing season two soon. In addition to being really fun, it was also extremely easy, so if I could spin that into a career, that’d be pretty awesome haha. If you’re interested in that at all, it’s called Awsten + Travis’ Slumber Party, and it’s about us reading Waterparks fan fiction then reviewing it. So it’s kind of literary!
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)? It’s probably easiest to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for the most up-to-date info (and dumb jokes), both @traviswanteat. I’m on Goodreads as well if that’s more your speed!