Don’t Tell Me What To Do

Don’t tell me I need to stay in a genre.


Don’t tell me I need to stay in a space confined to a shelf in the a bookstore.

Really? For real? Which shelf will I fit in at Borders?
Oh, that’s right.

That’s my point.

I don’t have a clue but don’t tell me what to do.

Don’t tell me what you think works.

You don’t have a clue what works.

Nobody knows what works until it works and it’s copied and it fades out.

Don’t tell me you know.

And don’t—don’t—please don’t—bring up the B word.

There are lots of be words I can think of beginning with B.

But the worst, the absolute worst B-word I can think of is BRAND.

Don’t tell me I need I brand.

Tell me I need to work on my craft. Okay. Yes. I get it and I will.

But don’t tell me I need a slogan or a tagline.

Don’t tell me I need to be something I’m not.

I’m not a brand and never will be.

Cheerios and Hanes and Heineken are brands. I’m a guy born in Knoxville who moved all over the freaking world until I landed on a mountain top in North Carolina without a clue of what to do or where to go. A teen who fell in love with Stephen King and Depeche Mode and decided it would be easier to write than buy Korg synths and perform.

But don’t tell me I need to be anything.

Yes, I understand your data and that’s fine.

The stock market has lots of data too and look where that’s getting them.

The world is changing and so is publishing and you’re a fool to say it’s not.

Yes, I will agree that I make buying decisions difficult.

If you liked the sweet you might not like the sour.

But don’t tell me that this won’t work. And don’t—do not even begin to tell me you have a clue on how it WILL work.

If it’s a science then it can be replicated, right?

If it’s a model then it can be molded and mass produced. Right?

But oh, that’s right—this is art. Something created by an individual that means something to someone.

This cannot and will not be replicated.

I’m not trying to be difficult. Really.

I know I am in an uphill battle.

What am I thinking anyway?

A male writing in Christian fiction?

A Christian novelist writing darker, supernatural stuff?

A writer trying out different point-of-views and different experiences?

A creator never wrapping it up in easy formats?

A storyteller giving you love one minute and then blood the next?

An inventor trying different things, even doing them with other artists?

A name that ultimately doesn’t stand for anything? Or does it?

What about tales with redemption? What about stories with second chances?

What about things that try to stir the soul in their own flawed, scarred way?

You have to give me credit. You have to give me a few kudos.

I don’t know anybody else out there doing what I’m doing.

If so tell me. Tell me and I’m going to follow them on Twitter and Facebook and hunt them down and ask how it’s going.

But tell me.

There’s nobody else is there?

I’m not bragging because my checking book begs to differ. My stamina begs to differ. My standing on the face of this publishing universe begs to differ.

I’m not bragging but I am trying to make a point.

I don’t want you telling me what to do.

I don’t even know if print books will be such a big thing twenty years from now. But the stories I’m trying to tell—emphasis on the word TRYING—are about hearts and souls trying to make a difference and trying to move on. And those sort of stories can stay around for a while.

I’m not trying to preach.

But I’m also not trying to paint a picture of a different world.

I’m trying a few blues and reds in a world of black and gray.

And that’s coming from someone partially color blind.

So don’t.

Just don’t.

I’ve been in those hallways and those buildings and I know the comfort they give. I know the arrogance that can come with success. My hallway and building don’t give that. All I get are a lot of tired sighs.

But you haven’t walked my hallway and you’re not in my building.

You can’t state my brand and you can’t confine me in any genre.

I don’t want my name to mean anything except awesome fiction. And for that goal, I still have a long ways to go.
I’m going to keep trying. And I’m going to try to tell heartbreaking love stories and terrifying supernatural tales. I’m going to keep trying to tell stories that move me and that make sense.

I’m going to find others who will let me tell their stories, and I’m going to bleed it out for them.

I’m going to find opportunities to tell unique stories and I’m going to do it in the only way my BRAND allows me to. I only have my voice and my worldview and I can try to disguise them but I am who I am. I want my stories to make people cry and see the sunset a bit differently.

A publisher would roll his eyes at that comment but a reader might not.

And I’ve made the move now. I’m no longer writing for myself anymore. Oh, I’m that arrogant and that egotistical to have it be about me. But I’m now writing for the readers. I’ve gotten enough out of my system and I’m really, genuinely trying to move a reader.

So don’t tell me what to do. Or where I should go.

Don’t tell me I’m making the easy decision because there is nothing easy about taking this route.

Don’t tell me you know because you don’t know.

25 years of publishing data doesn’t mean jack. Not in today’s world. You and I both know that.

I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong.

I’m just trying to prove that I’m worth someone paying me anything to publish. I still have a hard time believing that I’m worth any amount of money.

Believing in myself can still be hard.

But don’t tell me what to do. Because I might still be insecure, but I’m also very, very stubborn.

That stubbornness has produced a lot of stories and a lot of ambition.

I’m not telling you to bet the farm on me.

I’m just asking for a little encouragement. And maybe a pat on the back.

We all know that if this crazy thing I have going works out, well . . . I’ve been in the hallways of a company where that’s happened. And everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, changes.

But I won’t. I hope and pray that I won’t change. I want to continue to be the stubborn, sometimes stupid, sometimes silly kid who grew up wanting to be a storyteller and happens to be able to do this for a living.

I want to keep living.

And I want to keep telling stories.

That’s all.


  1. The publishing world is breaking apart. It's going to survive, but it's going to look a lot different from what it looks like today. And a lot of the publishing world's conventional wisdom is breaking apart with it. In fact, one could argue that there's no covnentional wisdom left.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Write what you want and to heck with the rest. With that said I’ll always long for your romances. I’m just not into supernatural, thrillers, or mysteries. That’s not to say I won’t ever read one. But because you write such amazing romances I’ll be patient, keep watching, and when I spot a new romance by you, I’ll purchase it. I for one think it’s great that you don’t let money and power push you to do something you don’t believe in, just for the sake of making more money or to become a ”famous” author.

  3. I agree with you, Glynn. I feel publishers and authors have to work together. Some are doing just that. Others are stuck in the year 2000.

    And thanks Kym. But wait a minute–I can become rich and famous?? Seriously? Sign me up. I'll write anything!! (just kidding of course).

    Hoping for some more love stories. Jimmy Wayne and I have a fun one mapped out. 🙂 Seriously. But don't tell anybody.

  4. this was just a fantastic post. all of it. thank you for having such heart, and such a passion for creating art the way YOU want to, and are called to. so encouraging and refreshing!

  5. I agree…that is part of what makes your writing so compelling…it is written with passion and depth and doesn't have to be defined. Don't change a thing..and please, keep that fire!

  6. When you're designed specifically to carry an infinite voice and echo an intricate song … then attempts to do anything else will only mute the call. I'm certain God doesn't believe in genres either. 😛 Grace and peace to you … I need to read your books now. Thanks to Glynn for linking over here.

  7. so i go hill walking today, and hidden away from the main path i lie in silence and listen to crashing waves below pondering this exact subject: how do i be me,in a world that constantly tries to brand me?

    to say i LOVE your post would be the understatement of the century.

    you have nailed it with such heart and soul and courage.

    keep writing, will you? because another grown up kid just found you and decided to read…

  8. This is one of the best posts you've written…

    And it inspires me to buy every book (minus the romances) of yours.

    Way to go, man.

    I'm sharing this on my website.

    The world needs to hear this message.

  9. Thanks everybody for your kind words. It's nice to see some of my late-night ramblings be read and appreciated. It might seem that I share everything about this writing journey, but I really don't. I constantly have to hold back so I don't burn bridges or sound whiny. But publishing never ceases to surprise me, in good and bad ways. Glad to hear this post was understood!

  10. Great post, Travis! I agree completely. Out of my nine published books, three were technical books on how to create Web pages, one was a YA novel, two were suspense novels, one a true crime/inspirational, one (coming in November) a combined novella & nonfiction Christian living, and one (coming in December) a collaboration (memoir).

    I resist being forced into a box.

    Keep it up my friend!

  11. I have only one question–are you really colorblind? Seriously though, I love your stories. I am not into romance, but the others are great. I always wondered why no one wrote in more than one genre. Carry on!

  12. I enjoyed this post. I share similar sentiments about writing, branding and the publishing industry.

    Continue to press on! Heed your inner voice and compass.

  13. Keep going friend. Who says books have to fit in a genre box? No pun intended. Imagination and creativity are organic and God-given, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You'll always have your faithful readers:)

  14. *Print and put in front of my monitor* That way I can see it when I struggle with my own writing, oh and it goes right next to my pictures of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and John Steinbeck writing. Never stop, Travis and keep rock'n brother! Awesome post!

  15. That's why I love your stories because they span many different genres. I love the Solitary series, and I love 40. Different stories. I loved Sky Blue, and that's another type of story. And Isolated was an incredible example that a Christian can write redemptive horror. I loved it, and it kept me up at night.

    I hate the idea of having to decide on one type of story to write. I want the freedom to write whatever I want. Because you've been doing it, I think it gives writers hope to explore different genres and storytelling techniques.

  16. Gadget Girl–yes, I'm colorblind between greens and browns & blues and purples. I never knew how much purple is in this world until our first daughter was born–she loves purple!

    Good to hear everybody's comments. Thanks for sharing them! Every encouraging.

  17. Thanks for writing this. I am a writer who also doesn't want to be put in a box. I don't want people to get stuck on labels like: "Christian" "Romance" or "Psychological thriller", but enjoy whichever I feel God placing in me to write. Allowing Him to use me as He would…

    Also, thanks for not putting yourself into a box…though I have not yet been able to read one of your books, I am a voracious reader who reads romances, some historical fiction, and A LOT of the darker stuff, so I look forward to reading someone's work who offers them all.


  18. WOW, you certainly grew a pair with this post. You are doing it your way and I totally respect you for that. Not conforming to what everyone else wants you to be is 'Genius' in this day in age. Believe in yourself and you will achieve. I believe in you, all your fans believe in you! Keep writing and we will keep reading! Good Luck and stay out of the box! 🙂

  19. Dear "fleet of Penn" (or perhaps I should say, "Hey Mac?!"),

    I have worked with you for all these years with the vision of becoming your Teller.

    Also, if I ever stopped, I would oh-so-miss your stick figure napkin pencil sketches.

  20. Only a writer would present being color blind as endearing. I find it slightly irritating, yet to some degree an advantage in client presentations.

    I guess the juries out on this one. I'll get back to you.

  21. Just landed here through my friend, Claire's site.

    Her comment is mine today. Keep writing. Everything you said is what matters–your heart and your uniqueness.

    It's hard to live in this world and be unique. You're inspiring me to keep on. And I'm following you…so glad to have found you!

  22. Thanks Amy. It's certainly interesting how this post from confident/defiant Travis seemed to stand out over the more melancholy Travis (and no, I don't always refer to myself in third person). Glad you found this blog. After this long year, I want to move my family to an island and spend the rest of my life writing messages in bottles!

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