Welcome to the third Author Spotlight post of 2022! Every month, I showcase an indie author and interview them to find out more about their writing life.
This month, the author in the spotlight is Travis Baldree! You may know Travis from the world of game development or audiobook narration. I started following him on Twitter when he released the cover for Legends & Lattes, and I was honoured to read and review an ARC of the book after Travis and I connected. Legends & Lattes is one of my favorite books of 2022, and it one of my favorite cozy reads of all time!
Bio: Travis spent decades designing and building successful video games, including Torchlight, Rebel Galaxy, and Fate. He eventually switched careers to become a full-time Audiobook narrator, and is the voice of hundreds of books, most notably Will Wight’s Cradle series. Legends & Lattes is his first novel, but ideally, not the last.
Q: You are a big name in audiobook narration and game development. What made you branch out into writing?
A: I’ve always enjoyed writing and have a small pile of aborted novel attempts. Short stories and novellas were always easier. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo multiple times, but never succeeded until this year, when I discovered that I am not a pantser (much to my dismay). My friend Aven Shore-Kind convinced me to try again this past year, and we were NaNo buddies, and both got our first wins.
Q: How does your experience in game development affect your writing life?
A: I think there are probably some habits that carry over—working alone and holding yourself accountable is a big one. Also, the knowledge that there’s a lot of brute-force, no-fun work in the middle of a project that you simply need to bull through (although I didn’t put that knowledge into practice until this time!).
I think the biggest thing that has helped me was a realization that I FINALLY had embarrassingly late.
As a game developer, hopeful game designers approached me all the time with their big idea for their first game. “It’ll be like World of Warcraft, but also Grand Theft Auto!” Inevitably it would be huge, expensive, and impossible as a first time project. And my advice was always, “You should make Tetris first. Something small and manageable. There’s nothing wrong with Tetris. Make something modest and genius like Tetris and you can still sell a jillion copies and the game itself is still worthy! And you have a chance of actually pulling it off.” So I finally took my own advice. This book was my Tetris.
Q: How does your experience in audiobook narration affect your writing life?
A: I think it’s clarified my taste, and what I enjoy (and do not enjoy) on the page. As a narrator you cannot skim, and you must absorb and translate the intent of the author. Anything that gets in the way of that stands out. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained by translating prose of varying quality into audio. It’s EXTREMELY illuminating. In the same way that reading your own work aloud is excellent proofing for flow and tone and for mistakes, doing it for hundreds of other people’s books is very valuable.
Q: Why did you choose the self-publishing route?
A: Mostly I enjoy learning things—I like to know how every part of the process works. I hadn’t seen the other side of the fence from the author’s perspective, and I wanted to go through it all. That’s fun for me. Also it meant I could just act immediately, because I’m impatient. I want to see daily numbers, how they respond, the life-cycle of a book. I also like the control to do exactly what I think is the right thing to do, and then if I’m wrong, to learn from it.
Q: What was the inspiration for Legends & Lattes?
A: I narrate a LOT of speculative fiction about a white guy between the ages of 16–32 who must acquire great power and conquer a world-ending threat (or some variation of that). Which is fun! I enjoy it. But I wanted to write the OPPOSITE of that. I really enjoy when I get the occasional sweet romance—it’s like chicken-soup narrating. So I thought I would mash that together with the raw material of the fantasy fiction I read so much of, and do enjoy. It turned out I had something I wanted to talk about too, which just naturally made its way into the narrative—about not having to have one career, or one life. Starting over is fine—good, even! Why limit yourself to one thing? And about how important the people you surround yourself with are to all of that.
Q: How did your experience narrating your own audiobook differ from your experience editing audiobooks by other authors?
A: It was almost effortless. Narration for me is 50% anticipation—knowing where a sentence is going to go before I finish with it so I can hit the beats it wants to hit, and capture the right inflection. The closer I am to the "mind" of the author, the easier that is. And this is about as close as you can get.
Q: How do you choose your characters’ names?
A: This is going to sound ridiculous, but I very rarely have to think about it. They’re usually just there. Occasionally I will revise one if I feel it’s a little cumbersome, or I discover it conflicts too much with another name I’m using.
Q: Have any of your characters surprised you? If so, how?
A: They did. The romance in L&L was intended to just be a very strong friendship at first, but Viv and Tandri disagreed. Also a few of my "villians" turned out a little more sympathetic and likeable than I had anticipated . . .
Q: Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g., lighting a candle before you write, meditating before you write, going for a walk to get ideas)
A: I’m very non-ritualized, but I do like a routine. Working alone at home in a box to a pretty relentless audio schedule means I’m pretty good at putting my butt in a chair and working. It’s much easier if it’s the same time every day.
Q: What does your research process look like for your writing, if there is one?
A: Always as-needed—although that probably has something to do with the kind of fiction I’m writing. I might look up the parts of a boat or more detailed terms for a sword, but only as I discover I have to have them. I don’t really like data-dumps in fiction, so I try to keep myself from disgorging a bunch of research onto the page just because I can’t bear to let it go to waste. But maybe my opinion on that will change a lot as I write more!
Q: Do you have any specific authors or books that you've learned from on your writing journey?
A: I love Stephen King’s relatability, and the blue-collar, just-folks humanity of his characters. I love Will Wight’s ability to write clean, punchy prose without wasting words, and to sketch in rich characters with very light strokes. Apart from that, I’ve learned from ALL of the books I’ve narrated in a thousand little ways.
Q: What’s your number one tip for tackling imposter syndrome?
A: Allowing yourself to realize that absolutely nobody knows what they’re doing, and we’re all bumbling our way through as best we can. That there’s no magic talent, just the ability to work, and iterate, and keep on working when others might have decided to throw in the towel.
Q: How do you refill your creative well?
A: One of the nice things about narrating is that someone else is doing a lot of the heavy lifting—I’m constantly getting someone else’s creative output dumped into my brain. It’s pretty special in that regard.
Q: What are you currently working on? Are we going to get another cozy fantasy book from you?
A: I have a not-exactly-sequel in mind. I know and love the new characters already, and this time it’s a bit of a cozy-fantasy-mystery set in the same world. It’s coming into focus and I’m letting it idle a little more before I get rolling. A few cameos may appear. I’m looking forward to it! And now, I know that I can do it.
If you'd like to follow Travis Baldree on his writing journey or find out more about his stories, this is where you can find him: