I’m so happy to have this month to feature my friend Travis Lancaster as Writer of the Week for August.
Travis is an MFA candidate and adjunct professor of English Composition at Rutgers University as well as a fantastic fiction writer!
He and I went to college together and it’s so cool to be able to feature his talents here on the blog (we both wrote for the school’s newspaper haha).
I am especially thrilled to have his WOTW articles be a collection of several different fiction pieces- something we’ve never had here before! I invite you all to take a moment to enjoy Trav’s wonderful short stories, it’s truly such a joy to have this kind of talent and creativity oozing out of our cozy little corner on the web from so many different kinds of writers/artists.
1) So Travis, why write fiction?
For me, writing fiction has always been a way of looking at life differently; of taking an idea and trying to make it real, trying to make it pop off of the page. I mean, I could be a squeamish heart surgeon, or a Civil War reenactor, or Kim Jong Il’s bodyguard, without ever having to get up from my desk. But therein lies the biggest challenge of fiction: how do you take something so inherently artificial as a story, and make it real? I think that’s why I’m so drawn to it—because that is such an absurd/paradoxical notion. It’s always just made sense to me, writing fiction. And I think, in a world that can be so utterly senseless at times, you have to find those things, dig your claws in, and never let go. Otherwise things can become really meaningless and frightening.
2) Does writing about fiction through the (Sense)story sensory lens trip you up? Or is it exciting to make the story so specific?
If anything, I think it has helped me. Writers can be so quick to forget about their senses—which are, ostensibly, the only things we can count on to relate experience. So often they’ll strap on their authorial megaphone and wax lyrical about meaning and symbolism. Like I alluded to in the first question, trying to write a story and make it drip with sensory perception is one of the reasons I ever put pen to paper in the first place. I mean, the written word is by no means the most effective medium of relating experience, but when someone reads a paragraph about the sea lapping over their toes, and they close their eyes and can feel the tide pulling out, I just think that’s such a powerful thing.
3) Who are some of your favorite fiction authors/books and why?
This is a question I really love answering, but I think it’s hard for any bibliophile to answer this question in static terms. I think a person’s favorite book or favorite writer is constantly changing. Right now, the writers I’m highest on are George Saunders and Adam Johnson—and if I’m being honest, it’s been that way for a while now. George Saunders’ most recent short story collection, “Tenth of December”, is one of the best books you will ever read. In your life. It is really the most perfect piece of fiction I have laid eyes on. While yes, I think you need to look at it as a unified whole, and not just as a collection, each piece is so heartbreakingly unusual and one of a kind. There’s just nobody out there who writes like Saunders. Also, I just finished reading Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son—which just recently won a Pulitzer—and I don’t think I have enough space to talk about that wickedly poignant and hilarious novel.
4) Since the theme of the blog is one that asks us all to tell stories of our own lives and look deeper how does writing fiction rather than non-fiction help you navigate through life?
I’ve always thought it a little unfortunate that we only have this one life to lead—to the best of our knowledge, that is. I mean, how many times have you thought, Wow, I’d really love to be a secret agent, or a tightrope walker, or a wizard? The people whose stories I tell, the lives that I try to paint with my fiction, those are all little pieces of me. And I don’t mean in a psychological or Freudian sense (which I undoubtedly do, but that’s neither here nor there), I mean that’s me performing heart surgery, or driving cross country to find the girl who stole my heart, or—for the purpose of the story today—pretending to lift my elephant trunk up to the sky. Fiction helps me to see life, not just through my blue eyes, but through as many different eyes as possible: brown ones, green ones, and hazel ones, too.
5) Tell me your favorite sight? The first flash of Lake George-blue through the trees, as you’re driving down the mountain towards Hulett’s Landing (my family has a Lake House there). Truly the most beautiful place I can think of.
Sound? The sound a person makes the moment they’ve lost control of their respiratory functions, after laughing just a little too hard.
Smell? The fresh-baked cookie cloud that’s perpetually hovering over the four lanes of route 208 right outside of the Nabisco Factory in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
Taste? There’s nothing quite like the taste a cold beer after trekking to the top of Killington Peak in Vermont. My uncle and cousin can attest to that.
Touch? The feeling of a perfectly struck soccer ball flying off of your foot and into a net. Talk about poetry in motion.