In this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” I interview Travis Hale, the author of Dream No Little Dreams, a novella set in Hale’s native Lubbock, Texas and the state’s South Plains. Hale is also an accomplished sportswriter whose work has been featured on NBC Sports World, SB Nation, SI Now and The Cauldron. Hale and I discussed his varied writing career, the San Antonio Spurs’ dynasty, and the joys of Tecmo Bowl.
Clayton Trutor (CT): How long have you been writing about sports? Did your interest in sports writing precede your interest in writing fiction?
Travis Hale (TH): I started writing in January of 2010. It was days after Texas Tech fired Mike Leach and there was of course a huge controversy as a result. I'd been lurking around Viva The Matadors (at the time it was Double T Nation) for a few months and decided to put together some thoughts in a fan post titled The House That Mike Leach Built. It got some good feedback, but more importantly, I felt a sense of closure and completeness after writing it. I still search for that feeling in everything I write, to this day.
So I did silly fan posts for a year or two when Seth (site admin for DTN, VTM and now Staking the Plains) asked if I'd start writing on the front page. That led to a gig at Pounding the Rock, where I covered the Spurs. Then that led to freelance opportunities with Bballbreakdown, NBC Sports, Sports Illustrated and now some of the political sites I write for.
But I always like to tell a story and describe even the most minuscule situation in vibrant colors, even when I'm simply doing a game recap. So I guess my interest in sports writing and fiction have always overlapped.
CT: What inspired you to write a novella?
TH: In 2015 I wrote a long form piece that I sold to NBC Sports about the city of San Antonio and its love affair with the Spurs. I really wanted to tell the story of the city and those that live here, a love letter to my town in many ways. And I'd wanted for a long time to write something similar about the city (or town, I guess) of Lubbock, Texas. So, before the college football season last year, I decided I'd try something different. I'd write a chapter each week and tie it into that week's Tech football game. I made it all up on the fly, but am proud of how it turned out--about 13,000 words in all. I really wanted to capture some of the aura and mysticism that exists in all that empty space way up in the Texas panhandle.
CT: You write about a wide range of topics. Which subject matter do you find it easiest to write about? Which do you find the most difficult?
TH: Personal subjects are easiest for me. I'm a pretty insular guy, so I express myself best in words. My daughter's pug died in 2016 and the first thing I wanted to do was to capture my emotions from that sad moment in words.
Along those lines, I have difficulty writing about things I don't feel a personal connection to. That year covering the Spurs was so helpful to me because I was able to train myself to make the stories and articles I wrote have a personal spin. Of course, you never want to make yourself the centerpiece of a story line, but I was able to refine my voice to describe the events of that season from the perspective of someone who, above all else, felt extremely lucky to watch up close the Spurs' relentless pursuit of a championship.
CT: What's your favorite venue for a live sporting event?
TH: I haven't been to very many, but the AT&T Center can be extremely raucous at times. These days, though, it's usually any gym where my daughter is playing. She's a sophomore in high school and plays ball at a pretty high level. There is nothing quite like watching her and her team play, especially in summer/AAU competitions.
CT: Tell me about your greatest video game victory of all time.
TH: I used to kill all the kids at Tecmo Bowl. 49ers, put Jerry Rice in the backfield and run all over fools. Then blitz Haley from his DE spot on every play and smack some sorry QB's. It was the best, especially when I played the Raiders and that poseur Bo Jackson.
CT: Tell me three things people don't know about Lubbock.
TH: 1. Lubbock has a spectacular music scene, some really fantastic musicians hail from Lubbock. There is incredible angst there, a constant fight between those with a 1950's mindset and those that want to break away from it all. That angst is a perfect breeding ground for creativity.
2. In all my travels, nothing quite compares to pulling onto a dirt road on a moonlit night and sharing a six-pack with an old friend. The cotton almost glows, the music sounds better and the jokes or weathered war-stories are funnier.
3. Lubbock used to advertise a place called "Prairie Dog Town." You could drive your car up to an old field in Mackenzie State Park and watch the prairie dogs bob up and down out there in their little burrows. Prairie Dog Town is still there, the city just doesn't advertise it anymore.
CT: If you could pick a player past or present to play alongside Manu Ginobili for one game, who would it be?
TH: It would have to be Jordan. The competitive fire that the two have is unmatched. It would make for epic late game situations.
CT: Which of the Spurs championship teams did you find most enjoyable to watch?
TH: It has to be the 2014 team, just because I was right there--in the locker room, press conferences, etc. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
CT: How would you compare the Spurs dynasty to that of the New England Patriots over roughly the same period of time?
TH: There are a lot of similarities, but some subtle differences as well. I think Popovich is more a player's coach than Belichick. Belichick seems to get the most out of his guys and then move on from them. Of course, football is a completely different animal, but Belichick is a master at putting together the right pieces to surround Brady and an always capable defense. Popovich might've relied on more of a core group for a longer period of time than Belichick. But both of the franchises should be proud. Success is difficult. Sustained success is difficult, and rare. And both found a way to sustain success.
CT: When you think of Cincinnati, you think of _____________
TH: "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."
Follow Travis Hale on Twitter: @LubbockElitist
For more of the same, follow me on Twitter: @ClaytonTrutor