Why I write in first person…

If you’ve read any of my fiction, you’ll see that a surprising percentage is written in the first person. That’s a lot of “me” I grant you, and that’s a mixed blessing. Of course, I’m not really a 10 year old half-caste kid in the 12th Century (Lucca the Louse in Acre’s Bastard) nor a first generation German-American from 1920s Milwaukee (Willie Braun in The Count of the Sahara) and I’m certainly not a 1950s Korean Vet car salesman (my latest short story on Scriggler. Check it out.)

It’s really not an ego problem. I don’t set out to be the center of attention (shut up!). In fact, I never noticed I was actually writing so much in that voice until someone in my writer’s group pointed out that the same curmudgeonly middle-aged loser keeps showing up in a lot of my stories. For the record, he’s not the same guy (the anti-social railbird in On the Rail, and the eaves-dropping alcoholic in Through the Arbor Vitae,) but I suspect they’re closely related and may have gone to the same middle school.

They’re also not me, although my own appreciation for cigars makes it easy to describe a lazy smoke on the deck and my experience as a comedian and professional speaker certainly influenced the way I captured De Prorok’s barnstorming tours. But just because I use “me” and “I” doesn’t mean they’re my thoughts and actions.  In fact, I’ve been judged pretty harshly by the thoughts and comments of some of my characters. What can I tell you, people used different words to describe people 75 years ago. I sometimes blush writing them. (My work should have a disclaimer that the opinions of the characters are not necessarily those of the management.)

So why do I do it? Truthfully, it’s an accident.

I’m not a 10 year old Syrian boy…. but I play one in Acre’s Bastard

I always start with a character who is another person. Ramon Pachecho is a Puerto Rican boxer I invented, and I was able to maintain that distance throughout the story. Lucca Le Peu was born when I saw a news picture of a Syrian boy in the back of an ambulance after his village was bombed. Willie was a simple way to narrate the story of Byron de Prorok from a neutral standpoint—I needed an innocent observer. Somehow, they go from “the old guy at the cigar lounge” to “I”. How come?

First person allows me some advantages as a writer. One of the comments I got from “Arbor Vitae” when it posted on Scriggler was from a fellow author who appreciated the way I do interior monologue. That only happens because I put myself so deeply in the character’s place. Inevitably it starts with “why does he/she do this?” and eventually becomes “if it were me, why would I act that way?” At that point, it’s just easier to capture those thoughts and expressions in their voice. Maybe I’m just not that good a writer.

First person for me is an exercise in empathy. I was taught early to put myself in the other person’s shoes (fortunately I have small feet). While I’m wide open to charges of “cultural appropriation” or telling stories that aren’t mine to tell (I’ll pour the anejo and we’ll have it out in person,) I also believe it gives me deeper insight into character. That’s where you find the humor, the emotion and the tension. Something is far more dramatic if it happens to you than to someone else. Watching someone’s horse die isn’t the same as having your own pet’s life drain away in front of your eyes. (Spoiler alert?)

For me, insight comes from within. Even going back to my standup days, I was more of a commentator than an observer. Some comics can neutrally observe from outside (Jerry Seinfeld is the ultimate example.) I usually found the humor in how I react and process something, and hoped the audience would relate. I’ve never taken an old man to a cockfight, but I suspect if I did I’d sound a lot like the narrator in Tio Fernando’s Field Trip. It’s just funnier.

I don’t set out to write everything in first person, it just usually works out that way. I hope you check out a couple of the examples and keep reading.



Latin American Drama w Charles Ameringer

One of the great joys (for me) of reading historical fiction is finding out about people, places and times I either never heard of or gave no previous thought to. No offense to those who spend their entire reading hours in the Civil War or dealing with the Tudors (the hell with it, offense meant. Change the menu on occasion, it’s good for you!) When I heard about Charles Ameringer’s novel of 1920s Venezuela, “The Sons of Hernan Garcia,” I figured it was worth speaking to him. It’s not like I have a shelf full of early 20th Century Latin American stories taking up space. What about you?

Charles Ameringer, born in Milwaukee, WI, September 19, 1926, is professor emeritus of Latin American History at Penn State University.  During his academic career, he published eight scholarly books.  Now, in retirement, he has drawn upon his travel and research and unleashed his imagination to produce works of fiction, namely, the spy/thriller, “The Old Spook” (2012), the urban drama, “Duke Wellington: East Harlem Lawyer ” (2015), and “The Sons of Hernan Garcia” (2018). (Editorial note, that makes him nearly ninety-freaking-one, and he’s still writing. I am out of excuses.)

What’s your novel about?

The book takes place during two years (1920-1921) within the rule of Juan Vicente Gomez of Venezuela (1907-1935) and Hernan Garcia’s tyrannical rule is based upon that of Gomez.  It was a rule that was extremely cruel, and although the book is fiction it spares no details about  the evils perpetrated by a dictatorship.  That which the fictional characters endure and try to repay in kind makes for a thrilling game of cat and mouse.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?The Sons of Hernan Garcia by [Ameringer, Charles]

The birthday party of the five sons wherein they express their hatred toward Garcia and the ways they would like to do him in.  Although the sons were “blowing off steam,” the tyrant’s security force takes their remarks seriously and undertakes a deadly manhunt.  The reader is taken for a journey across the great plain of Venezuela, populated by exotic birds and animals (egret, jaguar, and anaconda).

I can safely say that qualifies as a unique story, and one not often told. Where can we learn more about your books and your work?

You can find me on Amazon by clicking here

or on Goodreads

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction of all types from around the world.

Samurai Action and Fantasy with Travis Heermann

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a Kindle book that looked like fun: “Heart of the Ronin.” Think Yojimbo, if Toshiro Mifune could talk to dogs. (He was so cool, he probably could, but didn’t want to brag about it.) Just go with me on this one. I have already stated my deep affection for samurai cinema and stories, so it’s no wonder I wanted to interview the author, Travis Heermann.

Travis is a novelist, freelancer, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poet, and a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. His latest novel, co-authored with Jim Pinto, is the horror-Western Death Wind. Other novels include The Ronin TrilogyThe Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction published or forthcoming in Apex Magazine, Alembical,Fiction River, and others. His freelance work includes contributions to the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Battletech, Legend of Five Rings,and EVE Online. He lives in Colorado.

Now, on to the questions.

What’s the basic story of your book?

Heart of the Ronin and the Ronin Trilogy in total is about a young masterless samurai, a ronin, and his quest to make a name for himself in a world that despises him. He saves the life of the noble maiden, beset by a pack of bandits led by a terrifying demon. Ronin and maiden fall in love, only to discover that she is promised to another, a political match with a powerful samurai lord.

At its core, the series is about the Zen concept of non-attachment, as its applies to things like love, honor, and duty, all of which come into deadly conflict throughout the trilogy. There’s also some exploration about the nature of evil and how the Eastern notion of evil differs from the Western. All of that couched in an adventure story that takes on an epic scope.

I get that. When I have to explain my samurai fixation, I often refer to them as Japanese Westerns. One of the basic tenets of my own work is that swords are cooler than guns.  What’s your fascination with this time period?

I’ve been a fan of samurai films and director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune since high school. Mifune’s wolfish presence fills a screen like John Wayne did, with larger than life characters. I wanted to write a samurai novel. What started out as a single novel ultimately became a trilogy.

I settled upon the time period, the 13th century, because I fell down the rabbit hole of research. Japan’s history, well documented for almost two thousand years, still fascinates me. There are so many fascinating eras and characters of incredible power, few of which are even barely explored in Western media. In the 13th Century, Japan was the target of two invasions by Mongol Empire, a force of conquest and culture that stretched all the way to Eastern Europe before it fell into decline. This seemed to me like the richest possible ground for some amazing stories, and I was not wrong.

I hear ya. One of my favorite T-shirts asks, “What Would Toshiro Mifune Do?” Without giving away the goodies, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

In Heart of the Ronin, my favorite scene is probably the one where Ken’ishi, our ronin protagonist, saves Kazuko, the noble maiden, from the bandit attack. First, it’s just a ton of great action, and its the first encounter between these two characters, which will shape the rest of the story. Also, the leader of the gang, the oni, or demon, even though he’s defeated, returns over and over thematically throughout the series. He was just an amazingly fun character to write–and to keep bringing back in new and ever more demented ways.

You write more than just the Ronin trilogy. Where can people learn more about your work?

Here are some links to where I and my books can be found.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/ B002E453X4

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ TravisHeermann

Web Site: http://www. travisheermann.com

Blog: http://www. travisheermann.com/blog/

Facebook: https://www. facebook.com/travis.heermann

Goodreads: http://www. goodreads.com/author/show/ 418704.Travis_Heermann 

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction of all types from around the world.


The One Book I’ll Never Get Rid Of. What’s Yours?

What’s the one book you’ll never get rid of?

I don’t mean the book that changed your life, or the title of the book that you’ve reread the most—I  mean the physical piece of paper and ink that has made multiple moves, survived periodic purges and you expect to have with you til you die? Since yesterday was #worldwidebookday and #nationalbookday, it got me thinking….

This is mine, a 45-year old ratty paperback version of Roget’s Thesaurus.

It’s not that I use it often in my work—I can’t remember the last time I actually opened it to find something. It’s old and fragile and I’m truly afraid it will crack or crumble into dust with use. I can find any word I’m looking for on my phone—and they’ve invented quite a few new words since this was written. But this is the book that helped make me a writer, and like most things we get emotionally attached to, there’s a story…

The last time I spent a night in the hospital was 1973. I was 12 years old and had a bad flu that landed me in the Mission Memorial Hospital for rehydration and overnight observation. I was fine, and bored, and wanted to just go home. Then I met the man who gave me this book, and a huge reason you’re reading anything I write to this day.

A big, friendly British man stopped by my room and asked if he could just pop in for a chat. He was Neville Cox—the hospital administrator. Of course, in the way of small towns everywhere he was also the Mayor of Mission for a time, and the regular speaker at Remembrance Day at the Legion, a newspaper columnist, and a lot of other things. He liked to visit patients in the hospital and (maybe he was just bored) spent some time with the weird ginger kid in room 214.

We talked about a lot of things, but when he learned that I was an avid reader, and thought maybe I might want to write someday (kids in small-town Canada just didn’t have those plans. I got my ass kicked by Randy Simpson regularly just for reading in public) , he did two things that altered my future in ways neither of us could have imagined.

The first, was he asked me if I’d ever read The Hobbit. Remember, I was barely 12 at the time, and that was pretty grown-up stuff. He gave me a very English “harrumph” and probably a “nonsense,” and insisted that I was certainly smart enough to read it, and I might enjoy it. It was the first adult book I ever took out of the library and sent me on a lifetime of reading things that well-meaning people thought I probably shouldn’t. We don’t do that enough for kids today.

When our visit was over, he went away, but returned about an hour later with the second thing. “No writer can be without one of these,” he said. “Words are your tools. You need to know the right one.” It was a cheap paperback copy of Roget’s Thesaurus. I don’t know if he’d just grabbed one lying around, or he actually ran down and bought it, but he presented it to me, signed on the inside cover in pencil.

“Presented to Wayne, August 1973, by Neville Cox”

This book saw me through high school writing and public speaking contests, college in Vancouver, the move to pursue a writing and standup career in Toronto, on to Los Angeles, then to Chicago and now, as I’m clearing out my life in preparation for our next move to Las Vegas, I realized that it will make that trip as well.

That well-meaning visit and off-hand gift to a young stranger has been fundamental in my writing 8 non-fiction books, 2 novels, (the Count of the Sahara and Acre’s Bastard) countless blog and magazine articles, and altered the way I think and view the world.

Since the town was minuscule, I encountered him a couple of times before I left Mission for good, and always thanked him politely. He never failed to ask how the writing was coming. (I was 17 the last time… I think I grunted and said, “good.” Not exactly proof of concept.) Mayor Cox, as my mother insisted I call him, passed in 2013 (here’s the hometown article. He was an amazing person, do yourself a favor…) That thesaurus still sits on my bookshelf, and will til I can’t protect it any more.

What about you? What’s the physical book that you will never, ever relinquish? Maybe it’s a children’s book you really loved, or something your grandfather gave you that you didn’t appreciate at the time. Tell me and share the question with your friends and others. It’s amazing what you’ll learn about them.