Today marks the official kickoff of the Spit and Song Book Tour presented by Storytellers On Tour, and we’ve got a great lineup helping us spotlight this incredible Fantasy Adventure tale! Spit and Song is a standalone story, but second installment in Travis M. Riddle’s Ustlian Tales series. I had a great chat with Travis about this book, SPFBO, and what lies ahead for him. Keep scrolling for the tour schedule, more info about the book, and the interview.
We’ve enlisted the help of a group of wonderful and talented bloggers and Bookstagrammers to help us feature the Spit & Song. This is what we have going on, so make sure to check out each and every one throughout the week for some brilliant content, including reviews, spotlights, and more.
JUNE 14TH–THE WELCOMING
Whispers & Wonder
Out of this World SFF Reviews
Spells and Spaceships
OllieSpot SFF Book Reviews
The Paperback Voyager
Foals, Fiction & Filigree
JUNE 20TH–THE ENCORE
For more about this tour visit Storytellers On Tour.
Kali is a merchant who yearns to leave the harsh deserts of Herrilock and travel across the sea, trading goods and soaking in the sights and cultures. With a new potion on the market undercutting her profits, though, her seabound dreams are put on hold indefinitely.
Failed musician Puk hits rock bottom after yet another catastrophic performance. Wandering the city streets in search of any sip of booze or whiff of fire-spit he can get his hands on, he resigns to the fact that he’s stuck in the desert with no way back home to Atlua.
Until one day, their paths cross with an illicit job opportunity. With its hefty payday, Kali and Puk could afford to finally escape the desert heat and set sail across the gulf.
The black market job would see them travel endless dunes on a road made from a massive dead beast’s ribs and out to a mythical city in the sea, scuffling with monsters and thugs in search of a long-lost book that might be the most dangerous object in the world.
How hard could it really be?
Travis M. Riddle lives with his pooch in Austin, TX, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English Writing & Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University. His work has been published in award-winning literary journal the Sorin Oak Review.
Thanks so much for joining us, Travis. Since we already have your official bio, care to tell us about yourself in ten words or less?
I’m a dingus trying to tell weird and unique stories.
What’s a day of writing like in the shoes of Travis? Do you have any quirks, routines, or rituals?
I don’t think I really have any rituals aside from brewing a cup of coffee before I start. I just sit down and write as much of a chapter as I can that day—ideally I write a full chapter a day, but if I can churn out a couple thousand words at least, that’s a victory. I need to at least complete a “scene,” it’s very difficult for me to stop in the middle of something and come back to it later. It throws me off.
Can you share with us something about Spit and Song that isn’t in the blurb?
There’s actually a language in it called Carsuak that’s spoken a few times by a race of centipede-people. I’m not going to pretend I’m some kind of Tolkien, but I did come up with a lot of vocabulary and grammar rules for it so that everything they say actually tracks and makes sense. Coming up with all that was a lot of fun, especially since it was specifically meant to be something highly unpronounceable by humans.
Give us an idea of how Spit and Song came to fruition.
I came to it with a collection of disparate ideas that I wanted to do, which I then figured out how to form into a coherent story. I wanted to write about a merchant; I wanted there to be some weird black market city on an island; I wanted extremely non-humanoid races; and on that note, I wanted no human POV characters. I had recently read Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, and I was fascinated by his truly bizarre races that were not humanoid in the least. It was so refreshing, I couldn’t stop wondering why more fantasy doesn’t do that and instead all the races are essentially reskinned humans. So I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the world. When I knew those were the main elements I wanted, I started thinking of how to slot them all into a story, and eventually when I was piecing things together and figuring out the plot, I stumbled upon the themes I was exploring with the story.
Spit and Song is book two in your Ustlian Tales series, but it can be read as a standalone. Can you tell us about how this book ties in with Balam, Spring (which is seriously one of the most comfortably immersive stories I’ve ever read, by the way), and do you plan on continuing this trend by writing more standalones for the series?
Thank you, I really appreciate that! Yes, both books are standalones following totally different casts of characters, and are only a “series” in the sense that they take place in the same world. There are minor connections/easter eggs between them, though. There’s a subplot in Balam about a young mage who…without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say got into a bit of trouble with his friend, and in Spit you learn more about that and see what happens to that friend 30 years later. That’s probably the most major connection, but still 100% of what you need to know for the story is within the pages.
Let’s talk SPFBO. You’re a current contender for that coveted selfie stick, but you’ve entered in the past, correct? Tell us about your past experiences with the competition. Is it as stressful as it seems?
Yeah, this is my third year entering. All my books have been put through the ringer now. It’s definitely pretty stressful, and there’s a lot of refreshing pages and stalking on Goodreads trying to figure out how your entry is faring, I hate to admit. This time though my book was nominated for the cover contest again (Balam’s was two years ago too) and it came in third in the blogger vote, so that was awesome! Amir Zand is the amazing artist behind it. SPFBO has been a great gateway into discovering fantastic self-published books; some of my favorite reads of the past few years have been self-published. These authors are creating really unique works and innovating in ways I sometimes feel like a lot of traditionally-published books aren’t.
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
The plot. For me, I always think of what sorts of locales and creatures and setpieces and such I want to explore, with just a rough understanding of the main characters. It’s when I actually start writing that I start to fully discover and flesh them out. It’s also usually a little way into the writing process when I figure out what the theme I’m exploring is, such as the feeling of creative futility and the toxic ways we examine our accomplishments that Spit and Song tackles.
Do you have a favorite character you’ve written? If so, who? What about them sets them apart from all the others?
From Spit and Song, definitely Puk. He’s so dumb and wildly incompetent, it was a joy writing all the ways he screws everything up. I was often improvising right alongside him. Actually for one of the schemes late in the book, the plan he comes up with was what I had written in the outline the entire time, but when I finally got to the scene I…realized that actually the plan does not work at all, and so rather than go rewrite everything and try to figure out something that went more smoothly, I figured hey, that fits Puk pretty well. Let’s just let it fall apart and see what happens.
What do you think makes a good story?
If I don’t care about the characters, then I don’t really care what’s going on. That’s why I spend a lot of time with my characters just walking around places, talking to each other, sharing meals together. You can fit in some good worldbuilding that way (especially showcasing different cultures’ cuisines), and you can also get to know characters a lot better. That way, later on when they’re in the middle of a fight for their lives or are succeeding/failing with their goals, you hopefully actually care whether they pull it off or not. I’ve read a lot of stories that dive into action scenes right off the bat, and it always bores and confuses me. I don’t know who these people are, I have nothing to hold onto, no point of reference.
Ok, let’s see what kind of person you truly are.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee every day, tea on occasion.
Winter or Summer?
Winter, since it’s more fun to come in from the cold and get under a blanket than to come in from the heat and…I dunno, disrobe?
Physical books or Ebooks?
Ebooks for most reading, but then buying a physical copy for those truly special books I want to add to the shelf.
Beer or Wine?
Neither, sorry! Liquor or nothing.
Books or Movies?
As an author, I hate to say this, but movies…
Pie or Cake?
Cake. Give me a wet cake. I don’t know why I like a wet cake but I love some tres leches.
Work hard or Play hard?
Play hard. I wanna have fun. And actually, this dichotomy is what Spit and Song is all about…
Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, Travis. Do you have anything coming up in the future that you’d like the world to know about?
I’m currently revising a new book that I just finished the other day. It’s the first of a trilogy, so this is my first time attempting a series, which has been daunting and interesting and fun. I’m not quite ready to reveal any details about it, but hopefully you’ll be seeing it later this year! Unless I screw something up big time. Which, hey, I might.
That’s all I got for ya! Be sure to keep an eye on the official Spit and Song tour page over at Storytellers On Tour (https://storytellersontour.online/2020/05/05/tour-schedule-spit-song-by-travis-m-riddle/) to see what the other bloggers and Bookstagrammers have to say!