Today I’m delighted to share an interview with Travis Laurence Naught, author of The Virgin Journals, a memoir told through poems and prose and described by Gregory G. Allen as ‘an inspired read‘.
Could you please tell us about yourself?
My home town of Goldendale, WA was very small and kept me in a tight knit, active active social circle. After I graduated high-school, my family moved to Cheney, WA for me to attend Eastern Washington university. I worked with the men’s basketball team for 10 seasons, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and completed course work towards a master’s in sports psychology.
Now my life is fueled by coffee and writing. I still live with my parents out of simplicity and necessity as I do require an awful lot of physical assistance. Reading and watching sports fills a lot of my free time.
You’re a sports psychologist and work with a men’s basketball team? Would you please tell us a bit about that? How does it influence your writing?
Basketball used to be my life. 100% consumed my thoughts and actions. I was fulfilled in it by working with the Eastern Washington University team and my love of the sport lead me to pursue a graduate degree in sports psychology. Since I never got the degree I cannot in good conscience call myself a sports psychologist, but I thank you for calling me one.
There is kind of a dual perspective in that I could understand the sport but not physically act on my understanding. This shows up in my writing a lot and definitely came from my experiences with the basketball team. Just because I am frustrated about something does not mean I cannot analyze both sides of a story. Just because I do not have a good relationship history with the opposite sex does not mean I cannot want or understand what it would be like to have great experiences. Dual meaning.
When and how did you begin writing? Do you still work full-time? How do you balance these two parts of your life?
My earliest writing memory is from sixth grade. I started writing a short story that eventually included 20 + pages typed out. It is gone, history, vanished into the ether but I still think about it all time. That was also the last time I wrote anything of length.
After I started graduate school I found it necessary to write for myself, sort of a form of self therapy. Some people call it journaling but for me it was a necessary vent. It was not until I turned 25 and was introduced to music by The Doors that I started to realize I was writing poetry. That opened up a whole new element to my musings.
I no longer work with the basketball team because I am following some advice I read by Stephen King; paraphrasing “if a person is going to be an author they need to treat it like a full-time job”. On a normal day, I spend probably six hours at my computer working on either new pieces or marketing The Virgin Journals. Combine that with the different poetry reads I attend on a regular basis + personal reading time and there is no way I would have time to do what I used to with the basketball team.
THE VIRGIN JOURNALS
Could you please take us behind the scenes? Tell us something that we couldn’t pick up by reading the description or blurbs.
Nothing in it has been “refined”. Sure, in the process of getting The Virgin Journals published there was an editing process, but I did not re-write anything. I did take some names out of the letters contained in a couple of sections, maybe pulled F word or two out so that a piece would read smoother, but 99 percent of the words a reader will encounter are first draft material. ASD Publishing recognized this as raw and exciting and were easy to work with because they did not demand changes. This truly has been a positive experience from day one.
Would you please describe your book’s conception? Memoir can be hard to shape. How did you decide on structure and development?
I did not set out to write a book. My goal in every single piece was to deal with whatever frustration, want or desire was consuming my mind at the time. After six years of hit and miss writing I decided to see what was saved on my computer. It became very clear fairly early that I was dealing with three separate subjects in my writing and they became the Life, Love & World sections in The Virgin Journals. Thankfully my mind works in a symmetrical way and each section was already basically equal in length from day one of my compiling them.
After I got done organizing my documents on the computer, it was time to print them out and get feedback. I did not want my new found but old work to be given away for judgment and I was nervous about being shunned for some of the thoughts presented, so I had four or five people that I trust with my life beyond just writing take a look at it. They gave me positive and constructive feedback about a few pieces that needed taken out of the manuscript and also about how to find an outlet for my writing.
What do you hope readers take from The Virgin Journals?
Honesty with myself is always the main goal in my writing. Hopefully readers will expound this into the idea that being honest with oneself is a major step towards happiness. We all have bad stuff in us and we all need to deal with it. Hopefully readers will see the way I deal with my stuff and better be able to deal with their own.
Beyond honesty, I know that readers will be caught off guard by some of the rawness I present. People who know me will definitely be caught off guard by some of the things they read because I am a pretty easygoing guy in person. I curse around people who are comfortable with it but do not around others. I talk dirty around people who are comfortable with it but not around others. I smile a lot. I am a nice guy. The Virgin Journals kind of blows all of those ideas to smithereens!
What are your favorite and least favorite scenes? Why?
Each section of The Virgin Journals (Life, Love & World) contains a couple of pieces that I really like. Songs of Meaning in the Life section has gotten a lot of attention because everybody has a tune in their life that hits home. Writing this piece was very emotional for me but necessary as well. I think I’ve only gone back and read it two or three times because it makes me smile and almost cry every time … I’m more interested in new smiles and no tears in my life but sometimes it is good to reminisce.
Stealing Thought is a very short piece in the Love section but it is probably my favorite poem in the entire book. It showcases such a duality of feeling depending on whether the reader is happy or sad when they encounter the piece. I wrote it when I was bitter but the more I read it the more I laugh. A lot of the stuff in the Love section carries bittersweet feelings and I think it shows.
The World section allows the reader to look through my point of view at some wider variety of subjects. Exciting Race is a long form ramble about political ideals and how each person fits into the grand scheme of things. A great feeling of relief came over me after writing it and there are so many messages within it that I hope people take the time with it that it deserves.
WRITING & PUBLISHING
You’re a poet. How does that differ from memoir writing? Which do you prefer? Why?
I am probably the least qualified poet in the world. My genre writing selection stems from the fact my brain thinks in quick snippets and on paper it is defined as poetry. Most of what I write comes out in short paragraphs that I go back through and break into stanza format at points that naturally sound good to me. It connects with a lot of people because of the flowing nature and disregard for strict rules. Poetry is supposed to breaks rules, supposed to connect with readers on different planes.
Memoir writing specifically is a little tougher for me. Any actual events from my past described by me in The Virgin Journals were triggered memories by any circumstances I was surrounded by at the time of my writing. I have great situational memory but terrible point to point memory. For example, at the end of every basketball season I’m able to remember how I felt at the end of every other basketball season but if somebody asked me to describe the first day of practice on the last of the season I would provide a wildly inaccurate account.
Would you please describe your process? What are the hardest and easiest parts of the process? Did the stories or anecdotes come easily or did you have to work to shape them?
My writing process can be broken down into two distinct sections. Day writing & night writing. Each is very distinctive and comes with its own set of difficulties and enjoyments.
Day writing involves coffee and self motivation. Lot and lots of coffee, seriously up to an average of 40 ounces a day. I will generally brew a pot of my favorite brand, get set up in front of my computer, take a few deep breaths to see if any thought or idea is yelling to break free and then start dictating to my typing program. Generally speaking, my day writing is less emotional and more deep processing stuff.
Night writing happens after everyone in the house goes to bed. At night, the house is very quiet, I’m sitting at my computer after a day’s worth of stimulation from whatever activity happened to be partaken in, my mind will not shut up about how I wish things had gone different or what I’m going to do tomorrow or the next day or the next day and rather than keeping all that bottled up inside of me I let it out. Sort of an attempt at exorcising my emotions.
Since I’ve mostly written about me to this point in my life, I am trying more and more to broaden my horizons. Day writing helps me refine that while my night writing is still fairly selfish.
What has worked best for you, marketing-wise? Why? Have you tried anything that hasn’t worked? What would you change?
Marketing really is a trick. My personal social circle from Goldendale and Eastern Washington University have really been huge promoters of my work for me and I am indebted to them fiercely. They are telling their families and friends and I am hearing from people that I’ve not talked to in years congratulating me on this venture and that they are enjoying my work.
I am also very indebted to ASD Publishing since they are working hard at getting me on-line interviews such as this one! The internet community is hundreds of millions strong and it is a son of a gun to pepper such a vast electronic environment with enough stuff for people to take notice of little old me.
YouTube is kind of the bane of my social media experience. I have a number of videos of me reading poetry on their site but my views counters are all painfully low. My biggest need there is to get better at tagging my videos with some catchier phrases and keep my fingers crossed that one of them goes viral. Not all of the readings from the videos are in The Virgin Journals, but it definitely shows a range of my writing.
If you were to give one tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Write. It is that simple. None of what was included in The Virgin Journals was ever meant for publication when I was putting it on paper, that just sort of happened. The work in earnest really starts when a person decides to become an author. That is when they have to actually spend time forcing some words come out and maybe shirk some of their other fun activities in honor of spending time at a computer. Some people do not think that they are able to do that, but at that point I would tell them to just make stuff up. Nonsense, who cares, it will never be any good anyway sort of stuff. Once that blockade is out of a person’s brain they will be able to get back to their preferred genre of writing.
What are you working on now?
During National poetry month (April) I have a goal of having someone transcribe on to paper a new poem for me every day. That is a huge goal/step for me because I’ve only had two or three people actually write for me in the past. I plan on keeping it all in a single notebook and waiting until the end of the month to see what comes of that project.
I am also bouncing around a couple longer form ideas in my brain. There has been a false autobiography in my mind for about five years that I’ve played with on and off so maybe now is the time for me to really tackle that.
How can your fans connect with you?
I am available on Facebook (Travis Laurence Naught) and Twitter (@NaughtaPoet). My biggest downfall on both of those sites is that there’s so much information to browse through that I would lose hours of my day looking at other people’s stuff so I generally do not do much “other browsing”. I do respond to every message I get and am trying to get better at reaching out for initial contact.
Reach out to me, let’s talk deep, let’s talk shallow, but most importantly … let’s talk!
ABOUT THE VIRGIN JOURNALS
Travis Laurence Naught is a poet who is not willing to trade on tragedy. He is a man of risk, afflicted with ferocious, unrestricted thinking and ruthless questioning, though he has never taken an independent step in his life. Many in his shoes might feel confined by the metal of a wheelchair, but Naught’s work conveys a freedom and an audaciousness that will surprise readers with his startling views. The Virgin Journals speak truth through poetry and prose. They tell the reader about Naught’s frustrations, from being a quadriplegic to his life of celibacy in his late twenties. In the end, his expectation is for readers to forget physical disabilities and concentrate on that which makes us similar: life, love, and the obstacles we work to overcome.