Tag Archives: Travis McKenzie

Paying for Our Passion – T.B McKenzie

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Today’s guest is a genuine renaissance man! Father, teacher, swordsman–and gifted writer–despite all his excellent qualities, Travis McKenzie still manages to be a humble and all round good guy–lesser men might let it go to their head! Travis is a fellow Satalyte author, and you can check out his new release here (and how awesome is that cover?!), or go along to his launch by joining the Facebook event here.

It hurts to talk about how I fund my writing. It hurts because in doing so I have to admit certain uncomfortable truths. Like the fact that I am a lazy man. That I am full of anxiety and fear of failure. That I am a hypocrite, who spouts the virtues of hard work, persistence and growth mindset theory to his students every day, yet would rather time travel to the point where my books are published, than have to go through the slog of actually writing them. But admitting these problems is only the first step to recovery. And this brings me to my central metaphor, which I intend to twist, stretch and mix to make my point. If writing is my answer to self-actualisation, then not-writing is a dark addiction I must overcome.

I made the drastic choice in 2014 of putting myself into procrastination rehab. I took long service leave and wrote every day. Then, after a term of one long hard-work-montage in which I re-wrote my first novel from scratch, I went back to work, albeit at a much reduced part time load. My money wealth was limited that year, but the time I bought was worth it. I continued to live the Hemingway dream (minus the hunting) and polished up my sequel then outlined book 3. It seemed that I had cured myself forever. But as any addict will tell you, only your behaviour back in the real world counts.


I re-entered that real world last December with the arrival of a new baby, and the move to a new home that was needed to keep us in the comfortable upper levels of the Maslow pyramid scheme we had signed up for. I went back to full time teaching because it turns out you can only pay a mortgage by the alchemical process of converting time back into money and then giving it all to the bank. And here is the hardest admission of all. I used that as an excuse and haven’t written a thing since I packed away my study last November.

I lied to myself, of course, like any addict does. I said I’d write at nights, on weekends, in the spare hour on Monday after my Year 9 English class. But I was back on the good stuff: pure procrastination (intermixed with moments of new-baby panic and nappy changing) After all, I consoled myself, I had earned it.

This is where my higher power of anxiety comes to the rescue. Many try to silence this voice, but I have learned to trust a little of the truth it tells me at 4.15am when my son decides to jump in our bed and warm his frozen feet on my lower back. I need to get back on the wagon.

The good news is that I already know the answer. I need to give up my beloved HBO and write at night; I need to stop trawling Reddit posts and write on the weekend; I need to close the Facebook tab at work and use that hour after Year 9 English to, you guessed it, write.

Of course, had I stuck to that last rule I wouldn’t have seen the post from David calling out for a writer to talk about how they pay for their passion, and it turns out that this has been a wonderful moment of catharsis. Mostly, I guess, because for the first time in months, I’m writing.



Born just before the ‘80s began T.B McKenzie grew up in South Gippsland Victoria, where boys either surfed or played football. He did neither and, as this was a time before the Internet, he found his escape in books. Somehow he missed the boat on Tolkien but discovered instead the works of Lloyd Alexander, Terry Pratchett and Ursula Le-Guin, who all had a lot to say about things people seemed to have forgotten.

He never looked back and ever since his first story — written in grade four about a monster, a sword, and a hero — he knew he wanted to be a writer. He lives now with his wife and young son in Melbourne, where he makes money to pay the bills as an art teacher and stays up way past his bedtime writing the sequel to The Dragon and the Crow

The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – T.B McKenzie

Born just before the 80’s began T.B McKenzie grew up in South Gippsland, Victoria, where boys either surfed or played football. He did neither, and, as this was a time before the Internet, he found his escape in books. Somehow he missed the boat on Tolkien but discovered instead the works of Loyd Alexander, Terry Pratchett and Ursula Le-Guin, who all had a lot to say about things people seemed to have forgotten. He never looked back and ever since his first story — written in grade four about a monster, a sword, and a hero — he knew he wanted to be a writer. He lives now with his wife and young son in Melbourne, where he teaches Art at high school by day, and swings a sword in a Western Martial Art class by night (turns out this is way more fun than surfing or football). Every now and then he even finds the time to write.

You can find out more on his blog, http://magickless.blogspot.com.au/ and facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/magickless

You devote a large part of your blog to the process of writing, approaching it from directions that I had never even thought of – such as the concept of Kishōtenketsu. Could you tell us a bit about your process, and how some of these methods have helped with your writing?

I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants (panster) writer for the first few years, and only when I had an editor did I realise how much time I’d wasted. Then I became what George RR Martin calls a Gardener, and spent most of my re-drafting weeding. Along the way I became very interested in plot structure, using the three act arc as a guide to inject conflict and tension in every scene. My book was published and just as I sat down to repeat the process with the sequel, along came an article on Kishōtenketsu. It was a bit of a revelation as it’s structure of KI (intro)shō (follow), ten (twist) and ketsu (consolidate), fit more closely to what I loved most about my genre. I’ve read somewhere that we don’t gravitate to a genre of book, so much as the emotion we want that book to give us. Romance fans want love, Crime and Horror readers hunger for fear and suspense.  I think with Science Fiction and Fantasy, what I’m looking for both as a reader and writer is a sense of wonder. Kishōtenketsu, I believe, has wonder at its heart. Perhaps no better example is the movie ‘My neighbour Totoro’ which I think might be the most pure adherent to the structure that I have found.

TravisheadshotB&WforNewSiteUsing this lens has made me see more clearly what I want my writing to do, both on the micro scale of scenes and chapters, and the macro with the individual novels and the series as a whole. Originally I was going to wrap Magickless up in a trilogy, each book divided into three parts. Now each novel has four parts, and it will be a quadrology. Or a tetrology–I never have worked out what to call it, but there will be four of them. The writing program, Scrivener, has helped this kind of approach, as it is set up to work outside in. In this sense I’ve become an architect, but instead of being limited by this, it has set me free.

Worldbuilding seems to a big part of your writing, with a lot of work going into the back ground of your stories. How do you approach creating a secondary world?

The whole idea for Magickless came to me when I was arguing with friends about how stupid it was to have a quasi-medieval setting were only a few ‘chosen ones’ could use magic. If magic was real in the world, then there had better be a damn good reason why only a small percentage got to use it, and if there wasn’t then everyone should be able to access this power. But if that was the case, then there was going to have to be some rules. Money would be meaningless unless power itself was the currency. Then there is the question of limitation–does everyone get to work any spell they like if they have the right book, or are there more intricate laws that dictate magic use? Once I asked the question ‘and what would you do in this world if you didn’t have magic?’ I knew I had a book. So I guess Magickless all began with world building. If you keep giving logical answers to questions about how a world will function, you cannot help but build a believable place. Customs, names–even the layout of towns–must all link to the driving force of a society. And of course there is the language itself. I am no Tolkien, but from the beginning I wanted a unique way for the inhabitants of Arkadia to cast their spells. I started looking into a priory or philosophical languages, as I knew that magic words and grammar needed to be far more precise that our metaphorical English. In my search I stumbled on Solresol, a forgotten musical language. I was lucky to find a small community of linguists who were trying to revive both its written and spoken forms, and they helped formulate the spells you can see in the book. This was a big part of the world building, as it shaped one of the most crucial questions–how does a child learn to be a magician? Of course, I also take world building literally and make my own maps.

Dragon and the Crow cover_POD_04 (2)

Your fantasy series, Magickless, has had an interesting journey, with the original publisher, Dragonfall Press, closing down. I believe that you’ve found a new home (congratulations!) for your books, but it must have been a tough thing to deal with? Can you tell us a bit about the ups and downs?

I signed with Dragonfall in 2011, and was thrilled to be part of a fledgling mission to bring independent Australian SF to bookstores. My editor, Michael Foster, helped shape the early manuscript into something I was really proud of, and after its release I was getting great reviews and making steady sales. All was well in the world and I was just finishing up the final edit on the sequel when out of the blue, Dragonfall had to close. I was devastated, of course, but I saw Michael’s point. He was a writer first and foremost, and running a publishing house by himself was leaving him with zero time for his own projects. He made the call to get out while the going was good, and not only returned all the rights to the authors he had signed, gave us the rights to the cover art he had paid for. I was flat for a while to say the least, but then realised I had a unique opportunity. So much of what I now wanted to do with the series had come to me towards the end of writing the sequel. Most writers move on, some return years later to do their definitive edition, but I could get it right now. So I started to re-write, and at the same time I re-submitted my work to new publishers, being very upfront with my situation. Satalyte Publications, a Melbourne based house, said yes, and slowly everything fell into place. Once again I am with an exciting independent publisher, have a brilliant editor, and am among an incredible line up of writers–old and new–who have a collective noun of books in the stores with many more to come next year. It’s been nine years since I first started writing Magickless, and I hope 2015 will be the year all the hard work pays off.

Sceptre and the Sword cover_POD_05 (3)What Australian works have you loved recently?

By day I teach Art, and this term I have an artist in residence, Bernard Caleo, working with my classes and teaching them all about graphic novels. I was never a big comic book fan, and if I had to chose one medium as my primary source of entertainment, it would be audio books–about as far from a graphic novel as you can get. Then Bernard opened my eyes to the amazing underground comic scene in Melbourne and I realised that there are some stories that cannot be conveyed by words alone. Artist like Shaun Tan and his book ‘The Arrival’ can only work in the nuance of the panel. But the one I’ve really fallen in love with is Nicki Greenberg’s ‘Hamlet’. Shakespeare has always been tough for me to get into. I can’t stand the BBC style acting, or the overly earnest movie adaptations, and trying to read the plays in script form is jarring. Yet all writers should study the Bard, right? Well, it turns out that the ‘staged on the page’ version was the answer for me. All the original dialogue is there, delivered by a cast of surreal characters and juxtaposed against backgrounds that add symbology and resonance to the text. I might not be able to read it as I ride to work, but then again, just as some books need more than words, some stories  need to be read sitting down, somewhere quiet.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Aside from reading to my son, I don’t read many paper books anymore. I am what they call an audio-book-o-phile, and my audible library is growing fast. No one can deny that the book industry has changed, and while some are still waiting for the ebook magic bullet to hit its target, I think the greatest threat is TV. Books take time, and so does a season of Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, for an overly stimulated audience, reading seems set to become a forgotten hobby.The industry needs to find a new marketing angle and I think it could be audio books. At the moment they are still seen by many teenagers as something their parents listen to, but more and more are taking them up. Ecosystems like Audible, which will soon be opening its publication branch ACX worldwide, not only provide a way for authors to get their works recorded, but also into the earphones of anyone with a smartphone and the app. Some writers I talk to about this balk at the idea. Books have to be printed, they say, read! But to me, audio books take what we do back to the very beginning, when an elder sat across the fire-pit and told you a tale that captivated your imagination. Writing came later. We are story tellers, and my hope is that the narrated versions of books not only re-engage a generation with novels, but also re-invigorate the ecosystem of publishing.

Travis is also looking for anonymous beta readers for his new novel. If you are interested, contact me and I will organise a copy.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

Wednesday Writers: Travis McKenzie

There is a lot to like about conventions, the carousing, the food, the panels, the walking away with a swag of new books. But, my favourite part is the social side. Not only do you get to catch with old friends, but it is also a chance to meet new people and plug into the wider wrtiing community. I am always fascinated to find what is happening outside my usual circles, and to realise that even in my own city there are exciting new writers producing great work that I haven’t yet had a chance to hear about. At Continuum I found myself on a panel with a writer whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before, but by the end of the panel I’d learnt he really knew his stuff and had convinced me I needed to check out his work. So, it’s great to have Travis McKenzie here today to draw on his own experiences with writing a trilogy.

The trouble with trilogies, part 1.

Sequels are hard. They are like the second big relationship you get into when you’re in your mid 20s. You know a bit about yourself, you know a bit about girls, and you know things better be better this time around. A good one can expand everything; fulfil expectations and hint at wonders still to come. A bad one can be little more than a rerun of the first, all the time that old refrain ‘fool me twice…’ echoing in your head.

The problem is, I love sequels. I can’t get enough of them, and for my chosen genre — Epic Fantasy — they are as much a part of the territory as dragons, wizards and prophecy. I always knew my story would span a series, that was the point, in fact, of starting it in the first place. I saw the basic premise of my story (a world where everyone does magic and one boy who can’t) as a natural trilogy. The problem was, I only began with a vague outline of where everything was going.

I was what we call a ‘pantser’ and by the seat of them I flew — well, perhaps stumbled — through book 1. This is fine for some, and I know many writers swear by it, but for me, I needed a different approach for book 2. I needed structure.

I read recently about an abandoned sequel for E.T. with the dubious title of E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. The plot went something like this. The Aliens from the first movie return, but this time they are evil — a genetically identical, but philosophically opposed race of ‘E.Ts’ who want to take over Earth. And its up to Eliot and the original E.T to stop them. Now on the surface that is a catchy plot, might even have worked, if it wasn’t for the little problem that it would have destroyed the entire theme of the original. Spielberg had the good sense to abandon that one — if only Lucas had as much restraint.

Another sequel that should have been avoided (and there are many, but this is my personal favourite) was Highlander 2: the Quickening. The problems of this can be summed up by the catchphrase of the first: There can be only one. To be more clear, for a movie that told us in no uncertain terms that there can only be one immortal, when they suddenly introduced an entire planet of them, the premise, and any connection to the first was destroyed. The list goes on, but the lesson remains the same; from Speed 2: Cruise control, to Teen Wolf Too, bad sequels either try to repeat the first or change it so dramatically all connection to the first is lost.

The lesson from this? If you change the rules, you change the story. The easiest way out of this problem is to change nothing at all and merely have new problems face the characters like so many TV shows that re-set at the end of each episode. There is the illusion of a bigger plot unfolding, but scratch the surface and you find only melodrama. You can dress it up with wizards and magic, but there are many series out there that feel like Days of Our Lives, and for me, hold about as much interest. I want change, I want expansion, and most of all I want resolution. But that last one, at least, is a problem for book 3. First, I have to make sure my sequel is Empire Strikes Back, and not Matrix Reloaded.

I think the answer lies in narrative structure. We have all taken creative writing 101 — whether in an actual class, via wikipedia, or Stephen King. We all recognise virtue of plot arcs, be they 3, 4, or 5 acts in length — and it is relatively easy to achieve this in one self-contained story. Characters are introduced, they face ever more complex predicaments, then climax, and resolution. Cut to black. Yet we often forget that an entire series must also follow a greater arc if it is to be satisfying.

In my day job I teach art. I recently set my year 11 students the task of defining their own principle of beauty. This is one of those impossible problems that I love giving my students. It instantly creates discussion, and forces them to back up whatever arguments they want to make with specific examples — the core of any good essay. My favourite this year was a student who argued that beauty is like fractal regression; any small part must itself work as a complete composition, no matter how you divide the work. He used Van Gough’s Starry Night as an example and demonstrated that if you zoom in, every magnification seems to work as its own complete abstract work of art.

He got an ‘A’ — and his essay made me consider that when it comes to writing, the opposite is true. When we expand a story over multiple books, there must be a coherent structure that each new episode becomes a part of. Just as Act One of a tale can be defined as ‘call to adventure’ so too does book one of a series perform the duty of introducing us to the world and characters of the bigger story. Act two has been defined as (warning tvtrope link — you may not return) ‘Confrontation’ by some, ‘rising action’ by others. If you consider some of the worst sequels you can recall, they do not so much as raise the action, as reset it.

If you follow that link you find a great quote from Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz, who sums this up perfectly,

“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down.”
I think too many of us, instead of setting the tree on fire, tend to put our characters up a slightly taller tree, or worse, throw them in front of a bus.

Right now, I’m piling the kindling. I promise that everyone will be safely home — if not a little singed — by the end of book 3.

Born just before the ‘80s began T.B McKenzie grew up in South Gippsland Victoria, where boys either surfed or played football. He did neither and, as this was a time before the Internet, he found his escape in books. Somehow he missed the boat on Tolkien but discovered instead the works of Lloyd Alexander, Terry Pratchett and Ursula Le-Guin, who all had a lot to say about things people seemed to have forgotten.

He never looked back and ever since his first story — written in grade four about a monster, a sword, and a hero — he knew he wanted to be a writer. He lives now with his wife and young son in Melbourne, where he makes money to pay the bills as an art teacher and stays up way past his bedtime writing the sequel to The Dragon and the Crow

Dragonfall Press is a small independent publisher of science fiction and fantasy, located in the Hills of Perth, Western Australia. Commenced in late 2010, their goal is to get unknown Australian authors known and to promote the wonder of worlds within words.