Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dust Bowling with Vick Schoen

Today I am sharing my blog with Vick Schoen. Vicki and I were critique partners for many years. Through several different groups the two of us wrote on. She has been essential in me becoming who I am as a writer. She has a new novel set in the dust bowl era here in the Texas Panhandle.  

Historical Fiction As It Was Really Lived

In the Texas Panhandle during the 1930s, the hard, cracked earth seemed to turn on the men and women who had nurtured it all their lives. The decade-long drought had rendered the fields barren, susceptible to the constant wind tearing away the topsoil. A tough place to eke out a living. Some folks left. Some died. Some lost their nerve and their hope. But the strongest survived and became the backbone of the area. These are the folks who personified the enduring values of the American West. These are the heroes of Inherit the Texas Earth.

These are the people who joined the Last Man’s Club promising to remain in the area and support each other through the hard times. These are the people who found time to play and laugh and love during one of the most trying eras in American history.

Writing about them was a challenge. I wanted to make my fictional characters strong enough and vulnerable enough to pay just homage to the real players in the drama. And I wanted to acknowledge the land on which they built their futures.

Meet some of the main characters.

Willy Gil Kellogg talking to Gramps as the old man is dying ... 
Gramps lay on his side facing the open windows. An evening breeze was making an unsuccessful effort to clear out the odor of medicinal alcohol and vomit. The western sky glowed with oranges and pinks—the day’s last attempt to keep the night at bay.
“Will, come ‘round over here.” Gramps’s voice sounded small and empty, not the commanding, full resonance Willy Gil had heard his whole life. “Pull that chair up. I got something to say to you.”
“Yes, sir.
“You comfortable, Gramps?”
“Oh, sure.” The old man sucked in a shallow breath of air. “’about as comfortable as a snake in mud.”
Willy tried not to grin—but did anyway. “Grandma says eat some soup.”
“Well tell her I ate it. Make her happy. But toss it out the window. I’d just throw it up.”

Rosemary Fielding on her first morning in Texas ...
Rosemary looked at the wheat ready to harvest, the shack needing repair that would be their home, this plot of land Pa had signed a lease on yesterday claiming, “The good Lord’s wantin’ us to be Texans.” Sharecroppers. That’s what they’d become.
Pa had tried cotton farming and failed. Then he’d worked at the sawmill in Augusta and failed at that too. Now was his opportunity to fail at wheat farming. About the only thing he hadn’t failed at was getting Ma pregnant.

Quan Blackhorse on returning to his family’s abandoned home in the Texas Panhandle ...
Quan sat cross-legged on the floor picturing what had been before the accident. His mom baking bread, his dad coming through the door dirty, tired, and proud. He strained, trying to make his memory retrieve the sounds of the Comanche his father spoke only to him, but it had been eight years. He shook his head. Then he rose and spoke to the air. “I am back, Father. I cannot assuage my guilt, but I will redeem your name. The burden of injustice is now mine.”

The Land
Willy Gil walked the hard, sore ground that was his farm, mourning. Mourning for events that couldn’t be changed and now needed to be put to rest. Mourning for the child and mourning for the family member who killed her. And now the killer appeared terminal.

You can read chapter one of Inherit the Texas Earth at

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Taking Flight with the Thieving Birds

So I had this gig writing for a music magazine. It was fun while it lasted, but we parted ways after having a deep philosophical divide about the musical influence of the late great Waylon Jennings, compared to the bro country babble of one Luke Bryan.

I am proud of some of the stuff I wrote including a few articles that were rejected as too far off the mainstream path. Today I am sharing one such article about a band called the Thieving Birds. I chose to share it now because the band is again playing here in my hometown of Amarillo, Texas and if you can get to the show ... Hoot's Friday night October 16th .... you need to do so.

by Travis Erwin

From small towns to big cities, they are all the same …

A scratched, dented bar. Stools to perch on. Not too comfortable, but sturdy and more than adequate to take a load off. Off in the corner the golf video game replays glory shots of games past. Beside it, a man is taking shots, not of liquor but at pixelated deer with an orange plastic gun …

… the neighborhood bar.

Under the soft glow of neon two men play pool. The clacking of balls a natural accompaniment to the clink of beer bottles. The flotsam and jetsam of conversation rises and falls to just trump the volume of the music. There, in the space between songs you catch a shiny bit of confession not hushed in time.

It is early still. The back corner where the small stage sits, if you can call a few raised planks of plywood a stage, is dark. Waiting.

Most of the crowd came to drink. They'd be just as happy if the band didn't play. Talking over the jukebox is one thing, but they’ll have to shout once the band kicks off.

There are a few who came for the music.

But not the rowdy happy hour holdover holding court at the bar. His suit jacket tossed to the side as forgotten as the crappy work day that drove him to stop in for a beer or ten before heading on home. He'll call in sick tomorrow, not really remembering what went down, but neither will he regret the night. Except maybe for the dry cleaning bill to remove the smell of cigarette smoke from his suit jacket. But even that is okay, because hey, he nearly talked that waitress, the one with two inches of tanned flesh showing beneath her Senor Frogs tank top, into going home with him …

… the neighborhood bar.

The band arrives. Checks in at the bar. Everybody but the base player orders a beer, because the bar provides domestic bottles or drafts free of charge. The bassists doesn't care. He pays for a Jack and Coke because he likes that whiskey burn. Because he needs that moody edge.

The band takes the stage to tinker with their equipment. There are no roadies here. These guys are their own roadies. For that same reason the t-shirt and CD table stand empty until after their set.

This same scene is played out night after night. Could be any bar. Could be any town. Could be any band.

But on this night there is magic in the air.

The Thieving Birds are playing more than three hundred from their home in Fort Worth, Texas. They are playing for less than fifty people in a nondescript bar. In a nondescript town. Lead singer and guitarists Ace Crayton looks like Val Kilmer, circa Doc Holiday in Tombstone, but like the band's genre, Crayton's voice is harder to pin down. Smooth entering the notes, but rawer on the exit. Every word packed with emotion. Are the country? Are they rock? In the end it doesn’t matter, because they are just that damn good.

The band has undergone a few changes. Kenny Hollingsworth has taken over at guitar joining Crayton, bassists Rody Molder, and drummer Beau Brauer, but their music is raw, emotional, thoughtful and rebellious somehow. Listening to them is liberating in the way adulthood seldom is. Like a stolen smoke in the junior high bathroom, or that rush of adrenaline the first time you talked your girlfriend into sneaking out the window after midnight. Live and on stage they interact with their audience and are playful between songs. Readily accepting shots from their handful of admiring fans, the band didn’t seem to care how many were in attendance just so long as those in the room enjoyed the show.

And enjoy it they did. In the middle of the set I looked around. The pool balls sat idle, the orange plastic gun dangled from its tether. The happy hour business man took a break from his pursuit of Miss Senor Frog and settled happily onto a not-too-comfortable stool, whiskey in hand. The Thieving Birds had captured the room, taking flight with energy, magic, and talent.

These birds are no doubt headed for greatness and my thoughts after listening to both of their albums (Gold Coast and Thieving Birds) only reinforced that I was lucky to catch them in such intimate terms down …

… at the neighborhood bar. 


Thursday, October 8, 2015

P is for Plodding

These days I seem have more to say than I do time to say it. Or in this case write it.

It's been a busy hectic summer and fall, but I think the one normal facet of life these days is that none of us have enough hours in the day.

Writing has been going well, despite no obvious evidence to the outside world. I am closing in on finally finishing a novel that I first started some ten years ago. At the time I was a bit intimated by he complexities of the story and its characters but as my skills have grown over the years so has my desire to finish. I have also started another story, this one with series potential that I am really excited about.

Meanwhile I've been doing a fair amount of freelance work for everything from a music magazine, to to football articles, and the exciting world of Femco oil pan drain plugs. A great novel

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Women's Fiction Writer's Association first ever retreat. The event was perhaps the best writer's gathering I've ever been to. Met a lot of great and talented authors and I just finished reading The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White . I loved the novel. Deep complex characters that surprised and enlightned from start to finish.  And that ending ... WOW!

I was fortunate enough to get to hang out with Barbara and listen to hear cute cheerful British accent.

She and my wife haggled with the jewelry makers in Old Town while I strolled along and soaked up the cool vibes. I met many other longtime online friends as well as acquired new ones. The talent level was amazing.

Bet you can't pick me out.

I encourage anyone who writes Women's Fiction to check out he group and join. You won't find a more supportive organization.

So that's what I've been up to. What about you?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ties That Bind

My life is tied to written words.

I chose to bind myself to them. Sure my mom led me to a love of reading with those countless trips to the library, but I fell in love with books and stories, characters -- imaginary and otherwise of my own volition.

That love of reading created the writer I am today. Now I'm bound to written words all the more. Writing is are how I express my ideas, my emotions, my sentiments. But it is also how I learn explore and investigate.

What I write isn't always true. That's the beauty. As a writer I can deliberate lay out untruths and still not get labeled a liar, but rather a novelist, a purveyor of fiction, an examiner of the human psyche.

Fiction authors do not tell the truth in the traditional sense,but we do reveal ideas, emotions, and sentiments that the universal truths of this world. We create something believable, tangible, and lasting. Or at least we do when at our best.

How do we do it?

By watching, studying, living.

Writing is often about the underbelly of life. The rawness lurking in the shadows that few of us ever want to expose to the light of day. Writing and reading are liberating pursuits.

I originally wrote this as a lead in to discuss my father. He passed away a few weeks ago. He was only 66. Unfortunately his affairs were not in order, and as I have always been somewhat estranged from his side of the family, I now find myself juggling to carry out his last wishes while settling his estate amidst dissenting views. This means a mess of lawyers and a pile of he said/she said.

No doubt a story or character will be born from all of this, for that is how the mind of a fiction writer works.

We search for bigger truths, hidden meanings, and scraps of humanity in all situations. Good and bad. This is definitely one of the bad, but I am a writer. My emotions are tied to words so perhaps the truths, the ideals, the emotions of this will eventually elevate my ability to tell a compelling story, because unlike people, written words, can live on forever.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Yes I Am

It's been a while now since my last book came out. Late summer of 2013 for those keeping count.

The reasons behind this fact are varied, but the result is I often get asked one of two questions ...

1) When the is next book coming out?
2) Are you still writing?

The first question is a tough one to answer because that fact is not up to me. (Unless I choose to self-publish which I have given serious thought for one particular novel I STRONGLY believe in, yet have never quite placed. Despite several disappointingly close calls) 

That second question always surprises me on several levels. One I know how passionate I am about the art of writing so I'm almost offended when someone assumes I could quit. And secondly I want to scream "ARE YOU NOT PAYING ANY DAMN ATTENTION AT ALL?"

 I'm always writing something. And sharing links on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I can even understand people not clicking over to read whatever it is I have shared but to ask, "Are you still writing?"

This is where it gets dicey. It is easy to be that guy that only hocks his wares. The social media equivalent of an Amway salesman, but I try to limit the hey will you buy my books posts. I share the stuff that is free out there a bit more often because hey, its not selling if there is no money involved.

But even with that aside I often talk about writing realted things. I share book news and the success of my writing friends. I live and breath in a world jam packed with literature. I talk about these same things in my face-to-face interactions. not incessantly but often enough I wonder how anybody can ever ask with a  straight face, "Are you still writing?"  

The one place I have been lackadaisical in updating is this blog so while no one has left a comment here asking ... "Are you still writing?" I could understand it from my readers here given my lack of updates.

So here goes some of the proof

Half a dozen articles ranging from Country Cliches to Beer to Crime for a place called Wide Open Country (they will be posting more over time)

Top O' Texas Football, Baseball, and Softball Magazines

and I have also been doing a good bit of business writing (press releases, blog posts, newsletter material, and magazine submissions) as well as social media work for several businesses. My favorite of which is a company called Femco Drain Solutions. 

Femco makes drain plugs for oil oil pans and other fluids and really it is a clever little gadget that makes it possible to change your oil without getting your hands dirty. It speeds the process up and is especially vital for fleets of all types as it streamlines the oil change process while also making it safer, cleaner, and more efficient. They also make great gifts for those hard-to-buy-for men so with Father's Day coming up give them a look at their website.

I have also started a new novel which I am very excited about. It is a bit different than the women's fiction I usually write, but I am having more fun writing and researching it than I have in a number of years with any other project.

So yes, I am still writing. Every damn day. Until I die.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Galloping Along

Earlier this week this blog hit Birthday #8.

Eight is a long time in internet world though if I am being truthful the heyday of this blog and most others has come and gone. People move on. Fads change. Focus shifts. If video killed the radio star then social media killed the blogosphere.

I miss the old days of such a vibrant writing community, but obviously not enough to do my part to keep them alive. I don't create or visit other blogs the way I once did. Frankly, I wonder how I ever found the time back then.

So much has happened to my gang of online friends. Some have passed on, others have finally found the success they so richly deserve. Others have disappeared altogether. I get a touch sad if I think of those that quit chasing their dreams. Perhaps they found new dreams to go after. Perhaps they are happier than those of us still fighting away in the tough world of publishing.

Some I keep up with via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram but it is not the same level of intimacy that the old blog world had.

But life does march on. Time gets away from me often and then I remember something or see a picture of a child I remember being born posted and think How, How the hell is it possible that kid is so big. Or I see photos of kids I remember going to their first day of school who are now teenagers. Elementary kids passing their drivers test. Teenagers growing up and getting married and producing grandbaby pictures.

It all get overwhelming at time. To think on it and study on how much time has slipped by makes me melancholy at times. As of life itself is passing me by.

But that is a dangerous habit. Looking back is never healthy. The writing life is not for the faint of heart. I think it is a trap we place on ourselves. A trap for which there is no escape.

The wildly successful are under pressure to produce that next great thing.
The mildly successful fight to hand on.
The yet to be successful wonder when their turn will come.

Few writers I have ever met are content and satisfied with their position in the business. I think this is because we live in our heads too much. Twisting turning examining our fates with the same scrutiny we do our plots and characters.

I'm just rambling on. Getting out thoughts. I suppose this is a long winded way to say I miss many of my writing friends. I miss the excitement of the chase that came with being pre-published. Now the saddle of expectation weighs me down but every once in a while I need to remind myself this is a race I chose to run.     

Monday, February 23, 2015


While blogging has not been going great, I have been busy writing. I'm excited about a new fiction project I've recently started, am pitching some other stuff I've just finished polishing, and luckily been swamped with a good bit of freelance work from sports writing to music.

You can check out some of that work here if you wish.

Freelancing can be fun and profitable but at the same time you get pigeonholed by what the client wants. Compromises have to be made and sadly not every business relationship is made to last. Sometimes both the ideals and ideas clash. I freelance not because I have to, but because fiction writing is a slow moving process and sometimes it is nice to see your words and ideas read in a timely fashion. And hey, every paycheck is a validation in a pursuit fraught with disappointment.

Having said that, my musical writing juices have been cooking as of late so I've been doing a lot of music writing and much of it is for myself as much as anything else. I love to attend live shows and I'm fortunate to have a handful of musicians I can call friend. One such person is Ray Wilson.  

Ray was gracious enough to send me an advance copy of his new CD Troubadour . Following his read I thought I'd write up a complete review to help spread the word so more people can check out his music.

Ray Wilson -- Troubadour

Ray Wilson is an old soul. That is apparent from the first note on Troubador. The album builds momentum taking the listener on a pleasurable time-warp of delicious funk and soul.

The opening track, “Rebel In Faded Old Jeans,” is smooth and smoky and perfectly sets the tone for the album. A hard guitar lick underscores the passion of the unnamed rebellious troubadour, but somehow it is understood this track is Wilson’s pledge to give his all to both the album and his audience.

“Racin’ Jake”  is a haunting coming of age tale about the challenges that make us who we are. Musically, it is perhaps my least favorite, but the tune is one everyone can relate to on some level. The third track “Misty Waters” showcases Wilson’s vocal smoothness, but is otherwise only a prelude of the album’s real emotion and power which shines through on the back half.

The folksy emotion of Wilson and the range of his voice materializes with “Sit Beneath The Tree” and carries right into the fifth track“Soul” which is lyrically my favorite selection from Troubador. “Outside on Sunday,”  is a delicately balanced tune that you can’t help but sing along with upon a second, third, fourth, and beyond listening, and within the boundaries of the album feels like a perfect place for our troubadour to land after a hard Saturday night.

Sounding a bit like a third Everly Brother, Wilson resurrects the crooning ballad with “Silver Threads,” and again reinforces the overall story feel of the album. Wilson has given us a life story whether it is meant to be a metaphor of his own musical journey, or more likely that of the collective inspirations behind his sound. I get the sense that Wilson is reflecting upon the way things used to be, both in regards to music and life while reminding us life can slip through our grasp if we don’t grab hold when we can. “Underdog” punctuates this point with its message that our strength must be internal if we are truly going to persevere, because without faith and self-belief, today’s underdog is simply tomorrow’s has-been. 
Wrapping Troubadour with a reprise of “Rebel In Faded Old Jeans” Wilson brings it back around to triumphantly declare, he is here to stay and that his old soul is one that cannot be denied.  The nuances of the album come alive on second, third and fourth listening, but the smooth buttery vocals and folk brand of blues make Troubadour an entertaining listen the first time through.   

For ordering information or to purchase a digital copy please click here. 

If you live near Amarillo be sure and come out to the Golden Light Cantina March 6th for the official CD release party. I sure plan to be there.