Native of area debuts novel
By Sherry F. Pruitt, Jonesboro Sun Staff Writer / Nov. 28, 2011
JONESBORO — Jonesboro native Cathy Travis has written her third book, a work of fiction titled “Remember Who You Are.”
She published “Target Sitting” earlier this year and “Constitution Translated for Kids” in 2006. Both were non-fiction books that prepared her for the work of fiction. Her career as a communications director and senior adviser on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., also helped in the fiction writing process, she said. She retired in 2008.
“Everything’s a story … even non-fiction. There’s context and characters and action in journalism, politics, business and in entertainment in fiction. Writing about the sheer tonnage of things I wrote about in campaigns and politics got me ready for the appreciation for the story,” Travis said. “Politics and government taught me the art of people, more than anything else, in terms of writing fiction. From politics, you get a level of knowledge — beyond Ph.D. — of knowing what people want when they approach you, knowing when people lie or shade what they’re telling you, what motivates them, stuff like that. It’s a skill similar to that of a cop or a lawyer — just not as important as those. But it gave me remarkable insight into the human condition at all levels.”
“I knew I was a decent writer early on. I won a city essay contest when I was 11-12ish. Once, in junior high (Douglas MacArthur), a teacher read my paper in front of the class before she passed them back out, saying it was ‘the perfect’ paper. I was embarrassed, proud, scared. I was a geeky teen-ager, everybody was staring at me. It was wonderful and awful. Even then I loved politics, wanted to use that skill in campaigns.”
The 1978 Jonesboro High School graduate recalled an incident in literature class that she believes made her a better writer. The conversation went something like this:
“My JHS lit teacher was Jane Jamison, tough teacher; I liked her very much. One day, early 1970s, she gave back graded essays – and I was sure she’d made a mistake. My essay was good, probably better than most others. Always got A’s in her class. The grade on this paper was a B.
“So I went to her desk after class and said, ‘Hey, that looks like a B. Just wondering, did you mean, is that really a B?’”
Jamison: “Yes it is.”
Travis [pause] “Why?”
Jamison: “Because you can write better than that.”
“It was one of those throwaway conversations teachers have with students every day,” Travis said. “But that one stuck with me. After that, my philosophy was: It’s only good if it’s always good — consistently good.”
Travis also is an alumna of Arkansas State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science.
Going through the publishing process, Travis learned about new-age digital publishing, she said. She used Digital-Publisher-Kindle Digital Books for her most recent publication.
“Publishing today … is moving away from ink on paper to digits on a computer. I picked exactly the wrong time to shop a novel as a new author to publishing houses. Books are on a fast road to antiques. Anyway, last spring, I decided to launch a series of digital books,” Travis said. “Last July I released ‘Target Sitting,’ and this novel is the second in the series. There’s another novel coming out in January, plus a couple of non-fiction books after that.
“Think I love digital publishing. It eliminates agents, publishers, printers, distribution and personal connections with thousands of booksellers — all the stuff that most storytellers do not have easy access to. Now, storytellers connect directly to readers. Sorta the democratization of publishing books-stories.”
The digital book has a few more than 97,000 words and 44 chapters.
“There’s lots of characters, and the storyline runs from kids playing in a neighborhood, to high school football players, Vietnam veterans, church and courtrooms … so it jumps around to different settings in ‘Craig’s Ridge,’” a fictional town in the novel, she said.
Travis said the 1960s era was an interesting time, and some of the goings-on might have found their way into the pages of her book.
“There was streaking at ASU, a war, painful assassinations, the moon race, all that. The fight over integration of schools was over legally-politically. But a lot of people still weren’t happy about it. So, we were largely being educated together, but the subliminal message away from school was that it just wasn’t right. So that was a weird dichotomy,” Travis said. “It was that tenor of the times — and a kid’s sense of injustice when adults didn’t do what they preached about — that planted the seed for this story. Guess I sort of carried that with me through politics and government, always ‘explaining’ the South to the people around me who didn’t get us. By 2001, I was already writing the story.”
She said it took her six to eight months to complete the project.
“This one I started while I still worked on Capitol Hill, but only in spurts, and only a couple of times a year,” she said. “Then I finished it in 2008 after I left the Hill.
“First, it was getting the time and space to do it. You gotta get your head in the scene-situation, then get into the heads of the characters, and move the scene forward. It’s different from other writing I’ve done, but still a story. The mechanics are quite different, given the length of it, the character development. And like all writing, has tons of re-writes and tedious edits. But — as you know — that’s all part of it.”
The author said she schedules writing time into her daily activities: “I’m generally up at 6 or 7 a.m., write for a few hours, go to the gym, come back and write till I’m tired. Usually that’s late afternoon or early evening.”
Her target audience includes “people interested in history, people for whom the South remains an enigma, people who’d like an insight into the difficulty of black-and-white dynamics at that moment in our history, and anybody who’d like a look at a great story about my hometown, how we grow, how we see each other when we aren’t bound by the traditional stereotypes of each other.
“I’m just starting to hear from people who’ve read ‘Remember Who You Are,’ and I’m so happy that people are liking it,” she said.
The book is only available online at Amazon for $2.99.
Her next project aims to please political geeks. Titled “Elected,” the alternate-history premise is that the U.S. Supreme Court does not get involved in the 2000 presidential race. The book will be released in January when the primaries start defining the race for the November general election.
But that’s only one project that Travis has under way.
“I’m also putting finishing touches on a book about the nation of Azerbaijan, the little country between Russia and Iran, a multi-cultural, multi-religious, mostly-Muslim democracy,” she said. “It was just a thrill to pray at a Christian Church in Gabala, Azerbaijan. And while we were touring a Jewish Temple in Guba — near the Russian border — we heard the Muslim call to prayers. It’s an amazing place and the most important U.S. ally most of us never heard of.
“I’m still writing on-interviewing for a book about my boss on Capitol Hill, Congressman Solomon Ortiz of Texas — an amazing man, one of my favorite people, remarkable life of service. But the draft’s nearly done on that one.
“There’s a third novel percolating; I just haven’t put my whole head into it.”