Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Troy Aaron Ratliff : The Author Interview

Once again, Twitter has helped me to meet a wonderful author and a friendly pal! I'm excited to share my interview with him with you today. He had a lot of interesting things to share about his work as an author and artist. Check it out...

What inspires you?

Inspiration comes in so many forms and avenues that to pinpoint it down to a certain singular thing is kind of impossible.  I find it in music, novels, movies, the world in general, other writers, news, deep, intellectual conversations, and what I feel is the most important: daydreaming.  That age old question of “What-if” is one of the most powerful tools for a writer.  And inspiration can come from so many other sources as well.  If I had to answer in the most simplified, bare-bones manner for me, it would have to be either music or other people’s work.  Both can trigger the interior avalanche and that avalanche might have been held back because I couldn’t work past one tiny little thing, one singular detail in something I’m working on. 

Mostly, as far as my writing is concerned, I write because it fulfills me and satisfies my artistic and creative side more than any other avenue.  It sounds cliché, I know, but I write because I have to.  I also think, for a part of me, it’s something I own that is wholly mine which is an inspiration in of itself.  Growing up, I had friends who could play the drums or rock a guitar or could sing, and I couldn’t do any of it.  But the one thing I had that a lot of them didn’t was that longevity and complete creative control.  If one of them in the band wanted to call it quits, the band was - nine times out of ten - over.  Me, twenty years later?  I’m still writing while the others have moved on from music. 

In short, the whole of creating and finding inspiration boils down to the mood I’m in and what I’m feeling antsy to create (drawing, writing, outlining, photography).  The creative process for me comes in waves, oscillating between writing and drawing.  I can be on a drawing and art streak for a month and then, suddenly, nothing.  Same goes for my writing too.  Fun fact about me: If I have a story cooking in the back of my head and I’m gearing up to write it, I’ll usually seek out some new music.  It doesn’t even have to be associative music either - meaning if I’m writing a story in the Midwest doesn’t mean I go looking for some acoustic Neil Young, or when I’m writing about the city I don’t need a shot of hip-hop but once I find that perfect song for the mood I’m writing in, I’ll know.  Usually by then, I’ll slip on the headphones, set the song on repeat, and listen to it 600 times.  I know it sounds insane, but the music can put me in the right headspace.  Sometimes a song may not be what I’m looking for at all and silence truly is golden.

You also are an artist and photographer! How does having multiple creative endeavors help your work as an author?

Original drawing by Troy Aaron Ratliff
It gives me a break from writing, which I feel is needed to create well-rounded, complete 
fiction.  I can’t speak for all writers, but when I step away from my work and come back to it with fresh eyes and new thoughts rambling around in my head, I can see where I shined and where I stumbled in my prose.  I say “new thoughts” meaning that what I had on my mind when I first wrote the words could have evolved in the time I toyed with my drawing or my photography.  I think this trinity of creativity fuels each other and when I push the limits of one and then return to another, I’m able to go at it full throttle.    

Photo by Troy Aaron Ratliff

Is there another genre you'd like to try writing? If so, what?

I’d like to try my hand at Literary Fiction if only to shake up that world a bit.  I know Lit. Fic. can be boring to a lot of people, and to tell you the truth, I can understand why.  The standard subjects in L.F. have become these long-winded tomes about coming to America, the stereotypical dysfunctional family, and anything else that if it isn’t on HBO as a miniseries can be the literary equivalent of Ambian.  I like to consider my own work “Literary Horror”, which I believe is very different from “Gothic Horror”.  But to write a straight Literary Fiction novel, no monsters or weirdness involved, I think that would be a challenge for me.  And if I did write one, I could always enter it into some grandiose book award!  Move over McCarthy, Roth, and Franzen!  Here comes Ratliff (don’t hold your breath on this one.).

What are you working on now?

Original drawing by Troy Aaron Ratliff
Actually, my first novel.  I can’t give too much away because I’ll be bombarding everyone with it when it’s ready, so I’m keeping it hush-hush right now.  I originally wanted to publish it around November but I hit a snag and it got delayed.  It’s not in development hell, though and I hope to have it out this year.  I do have other goals in mind for the rest of the year too.  One of my long-term goals that I’d love to accomplish, maybe not this year, but sometime very soon, is to have a coffee book of my art and my photography and my general thoughts on the world.  Of course, I’m planning to release another short story or a novella again in 2013, along with new photography and art.  I have plenty of things I’m always working on, with the novel being the primary focus.  I think the resolution every year is to grow and hone the skills I already have, which I think is a fantastic goal for everyone every year, no matter what you do.  Food for thought for those that don’t have any resolutions.  Just grow.

Do you have a ritual or a certain head-space you need to be in to write? Tell us about your process:

I think every writer has some kind of method and I’ve experimented with several different avenues of the writing process.  I may have an idea pop into my head and I set the keyboard on fire.  Other times, I let it linger in my mind because I may have the idea, but I’m shaky on how to execute it.  I’m shaky because if I do it, I want to do it right.  As a matter of fact, I’m working on a story I first thought of over a decade ago.  The idea and the bones of the story have rattled around in my mind for those ten years, but now it has matured in my memory banks, stewing in its juices, and I feel it’s ready to be born.

Recently, I’ve begun to see the formation of a solid process to my writing.  Life tends to get in the way more times than I would like it to, but that’s just how it works sometimes.  We would all like to be able to write and edit all day and watch our output quadruple.  But when it comes to the drafting, the writing, and the editing all coming together, my process has certainly expanded and developed into something I’m proud of. 

Here’s how I do it.  Generally, I’ll write and let loose my creative monster, just to see where the story takes me and how far.  Before long, I start to see the story as a whole coming together and I’ll have to plot out the narrative if I’m enjoying the ride and the characters.  After that, I’ll keep to a flexible outline (meaning if a better idea comes along, then I’ll use it, which could mean a change in the whole story) but I’ll still write until my fingers bleed.  After I’m finished, I’ll review it and read it out loud before sending it to some friends.  Then, I’ll leave it alone for a bit.  Again, the whole stewing-in-the-juices method.  When I come back to it with fresh eyes, I’ll go through two rounds of editing with my friend’s suggestions noted next to me.  After that, I’ll send it to one of my editors and wait.  I’ll take their suggestions to heart (yes, editors, I really do listen to you - and writers, you should listen to your editors!) and I’ll make the changes I deem necessary.  I go over it two more times and finally, by that point, I should feel happy enough to publish it.

Has there ever been a time you felt like giving up? What kept you going?

Photo by Troy Aaron Ratliff
Absolutely.  I recently asked a Facebook group if there was ever a book that made them want to give up, to stop writing completely because there was no chance of them ever being anywhere near as good.  As writers, we are in a blender of emotions when it comes to our output.  We could all find that writer who blows us out of the water.  To counter that, we might stumble upon a writer that we think is utter crap, while the writer in question has a legion of rabid fans who are foaming at the mouth and would scream the opposite.  I actually bring this up in my novella Just Past the Trees of this question of hanging up the pen and paper for good.  Coming upon an insurmountable case of writer’s block because of a lack of inspiration or we discover someone’s creativity that is the mountain to our molehill can be very, very tough on the ego and the artistic mind.  What keeps you going is up to you and what you make of it in the end.  For me, I’ve been writing for almost twenty years.  It’d be like cutting off a limb or losing a family member.  I’d feel so empty if words left my life and that’s really what keeps me going.  I can’t see myself without my writing.  I may drift away from it from time to time, and I feel that’s okay, but to leave it completely?  That’s a hard pill to swallow.

What is your current obsession (absolutely anything!)?

I went to Jamaica this past summer with my wife and I guess I had an awakening, kinda like Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion).  But, not so much a spiritual awaken like he had, but more of a musical one.  I haven’t been able to stop listening to Bob Marley and Wailers album Legend.  I think those three days on that island were my happiest of the year.  At one point, when I was on the sandy beach - and I felt like I was actually in a screensaver - I told my wife that I wanted to be buried there.  Obviously, there was a soundtrack playing the entire time that was none other than Bob Marley.  I had heard his music before, sure, but it didn’t strike me as deeply as it did when I was there.  Now, when I’m stuck in traffic or fighting the chill of the winter weather, I listen to him and I’m instantly happy with the world.  Maybe I’ll be drawing some inspiration for his island melodies and write a tropical story sometime soon…

Thank you so much for talking to me! Readers can find Troy Aaron on just about every social media outlet there is! Check him out at one or all of the following locations :

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Always nice to learn about fellow writers!