Friday, August 3, 2012

Troy Aaron Ratliff: Octopus in Spaaaaaaace!


Some people are so creative, it can’t be contained in one area.  Sometimes it spills over into several media at once, kind of like people who knit AND crochet AND make friendship bracelets…

Okay.  Bad example.

Kind of like people who are verbal AND visual AND vocal at the same time.

Better example.

Troy Aaron Ratliff is a super-creative dude who covers just about every medium for self-expression there is – writing, art, photography...voice impressions, too.  I suspect he can probably belt a fair version of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” given enough Johnnie Walker Red and unfettered access to a karaoke machine.  And the whiskey might not even be necessary.  Troy and I met up through a mutual friend on Twitter, and it turns out we have a lot in common: similar senses of humor, taste in music, creative sensibilities, and the whole indie publishing thing.  Kind of awesome when you realize there are other people out there whose interests overlap with yours.

Sometimes they turn out to be great friends, too.

Troy is that, for sure.

And now, here’s your chance to get to know Troy a little better.  Pull up a chair and sit a spell.

*****

How long have you been honing your writerly craft?  I’ve been scribbling words into stories since I was eleven years old.  I don’t have a very classic christening into writing.  There was no beautiful moment when the craft was passed on from a relative.  Nor was there a time when a teacher really touched me with the idea of being a writer, instilling in me an appreciation of words and language.  Although, I do have a fun memory of reading a story to my 3rd grade class and everyone - including the teacher - laughing hysterically.  Maybe that was a prelude to the bigger story unfolding before me.  I think it was something else, though.  Near my eleventh birthday, Jurassic Park came out in the theater and blew my mind.  Let me repeat that.  IT.  BLEW.  MY.  MIND.  You want to know how much?  I saw it 47 times in the theater.  This fact can be found near the top of my resume.  So, you could say it affected me just a bit.  Eventually, I found the novel by Michael Crichton and was actually disappointed on the first read.  There wasn’t a play by play of the whole movie like I expected.  Parts of it were changed.  There was other stuff in it that wasn’t in the movie.  But after I read it again, I found the parts that were missing from the film were actually pretty good (the river scene with the baby and adult T-rexes come to mind and, of course, the gory, graphic death of Dennis Nedry - I still get an evil case of the giggles thinking about that scene).  Soon enough, JP led me to the story that made me want to be a writer, and the novel Crichton wrote just before it: Sphere.  This book rocked my little world four times more so than the dinosaur-smash-and-bang novel or even the life-altering movie itself.  Remember, I was eleven when I first read it, but I think that was the story that made writing more than just a little hobby I was toying with and became a full fledged goal in my life.  After Sphere, I knew I wanted to be a writer.  When kids say “I wanna be like Mike,” people assume Jordan or Jackson.  When I said it, there was more of a literary quality to it than a musical or athletic one.  Thanks Michael.  I miss you.

You’ve self-published one novella, one short story, and two flash fiction stories: THE UNINVITED GUEST, LITTLE BERNIE’S MAP, HIGH BRIDGE and GOING DOWN.   Tell the folks a little about what inspired each story.  If you want to go all the way back, say, to the first evolutionary steps of my writing career (maybe even on a microcosmic level), I would have to say all of them began with my dad.  He told me once that he was “that guy” in meetings at work that, at the very end of it all when everyone was antsy to leave, would always ask the question: “What if…?”  Essentially, I would combine that inherent trait with some of my more vivid daydreams.  That was how The Uninvited Guest began.  I was actually at a wedding in a lodge in the woods of Ohio and I thought, “Hmmm, what if this happened right now…?”  It hit me like a freight train and I couldn’t shake it for the life of me.  I ended up leaving the wedding early to start the story. Little Bernie’s Map was an interesting one in that I had just come back from a family vacation and the idea started burning a hole in my head.  I wrote it, but never did anything with it.  A let it sit for a while (ten years to be exact) before the story came back to me around the same time the financial crisis did.  I pulled it out, rewrote it, and found it to be a pretty solid piece of work.  I’m really proud of that story.  




Going Down is pretty straightforward in that it dealt with a certain elevator I had to brave at a new apartment complex I had moved into.  Not that it’s based on a true story or anything, but it was that “What if…” moment hitting me again.

High Bridge was my first work of fiction I ever published, and is dear to me in more ways than just being the origins of my writing to the world.  It started out as a memory that I wanted to put to paper for my brother who passed away in 2008.  It was the first memory I had when I heard the news and it became powerful enough that I wanted to share it.  It was small enough to let me break the ice and take the plunge, it was powerful enough to me that I thought it would see some love to the public, and it was moving enough to me that it might help someone else who was dealing with something as traumatic as losing a relative.  No, it’s not the strongest piece of work I’ve ever written, but I stand behind it knowing I’m not a memoirist and that it’s a salute to my brother. 

What have you found the most rewarding aspect of self-publishing?   Fulfillment.  Without question, the sense of accomplishment I feel knowing that I’m a published writer, that my stuff is out there and not on my hard drive collecting digital dust, is the most rewarding of all.  I never enjoyed playing handball with agents and editors and publishing houses, because in the end, the query only bounced back or, worse, not at all.  That was boring to me.  And when you’ve wanted to be a published writer for nearly twenty years, the ecstasy that comes in the release is beyond measure.  To me, the stigma of being an “indie writer” is fading.  If I would have done this a few years ago, I don’t think I would have had that same level of satisfaction, but the publishing world is changing everyday.  We hear about it all the time.

What has been your biggest challenge?  Equating my time and doling it out evenly to my family and my work.  Easily that is the biggest challenge of all.  With everyday life and all the pesky interruptions that come with it jumping in the way, it’s more than a wake up call that this life is like a second job.  It’s a slap in the face.  It’s a bucket of cold water thrown on you at 4 in the morning, screaming like a drill sergeant for me to “Try Harder.”




What’s up next on your author’s to-do list?  I have a new novella coming out sometime in August that is a definite step in the adult realm called Just Past the Trees.  Not adult-sexually, mind you, but adult in general context.  What I have out there now is fairly safe in a weird Twilight Zone kinda way.  There is a soft innocence to them that has a Rod Serling-esque flavor to them.  What I have coming down the line is me growing up in my work, which, I guess could be considered poetic in a sense.  Before last year, I had zero presence online.  None.  I bypassed Friendster, MySpace, all of it without even going to the sign up page.  Now that I’ve been on here for a year, I’ve joined some awesome writing groups online and am finally moving with my life-long goals.  So I am growing.  Also, I have a full-fledged novel in the works too, something a lot of people have been asking of me, which, of course, is beyond flattering.  Many thanks to everyone who has.
 
Being the total creative soul that you are, you are also an incredible artist.   Tell us all a little about your medium, process, inspiration for what you create?  Well, my process is simple: Don’t think about it for too long and see where it goes as I’m doing it.  Art is the most “organic” process I have.  I’ll start with an idea, an image in my head of something, and I’ll just let it go where it goes.  It doesn’t turn out exactly the way I want every time, but that’s the beauty of it: you don’t have to think about it like that.  In writing, you have to be plot-conscious. Does the story make sense?  Is it readable?  Entertaining?  With art, the magic sparks from the spontaneity, and therefore, leaves you with an open arena to play in.  An open arena, an odyssey on the blank canvas?  Heaven.

You’ve recently opened a Zazzle shop featuring your artstuff incorporated into some really cool products.  How did this come about?   Over the course of this past year, I’ve adopted a quote that you can see on my Twitter Bio.  It’s simple and only two words, but they’re powerful to me: “Try Harder.”  I’ve received a few responses to that as my bio.  An “I don’t try, I do!” is always funny to see in my feed.  It kinda bugs me, but I laugh at it in the end.  The one that really gets under my skin, though, is Yoda’s “wisdom” of “Do or do not, there is no try”.  Ugh.  I understand everyone has their own way of perceiving the world, but I’m not about to take life advice from a puppet in a space movie on how I handle my passion.  My response is usually along the lines of, “Fail enough times and get back to me how much you ‘do’”.  There are many, many things I’ve failed at and some I’m not about to even attempt (anything in The Olympics are prime example).  When I set out to be a writer in the self-publishing world, I knew I wanted to give out more than the average bear and my art immediately came to mind.  I’m actually surprised by the response.




Do you have any plans to combine writing and illustration?  As a matter of fact, yes I do!  I’m tinkering around with a pretty big project at the moment.  Baby steps right now, but I have a solid beginning that I started during the 2011 Nanowrimo competition.  I think this might be the beginning a grander series, the one that might define me.  I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it does incorporate my artwork with my writing, so I’m excited about that.  You’re the first to hear about it, but that’s all I can say for now, so no dates or details, but know that it’s going to be big and fun.


Brand new stuff!  "Defiance" by Troy Boy


Not content to have only two fantastic talents, you’re also a gifted photographer.  When and how did your interest in photography come about?   I wouldn’t say “gifted”, but I like the pictures I capture.  Apparently, other people do too, but there are far, far more talented photographers out there than me.  I’m very novice at it.  So, with that being said, my photography is still my calming outlet.  I can go crazy with my writing and out-right loony tunes with my art, but I go to my photography for a more down to earth connection with people to prove to them I’m not a completely crazy artistic.  That’s the Zen Master coming out in me.
   

What are your favorite subjects to photograph?  Right now it’s pretty simplistic: beaches, sunsets, sunrises, and clear skies.  I’m on Instagram as “Trizzlepuffs” where you can see a bunch of my work.  I’ve always admired photographers and the emotions they can invoke with some of their captures.  Time magazine’s Year in Pictures comes to mind as hitting us in the heart or making us laugh or cry or even uplifted.  I’ve always taken pics of scenery, but I am getting to a point of branching out to capture other things that might be the beginnings of a story or something that I could draw or use later for a drawing.  Or, better yet, help someone else.


 
You also do voice impersonations and accents, which begs the question: is there any end to your creativity?  It doesn’t seem like it.  I can’t play any instruments or carry a tune in a bucket, if that makes you feel better.  We all have limits and limitations.  I just try to hide mine a little better, but since we’re being honest here, yeah, there is a definite end when it comes to music.  Ask me to impersonate Brad Garrett or Robin Williams?  I’m there.

*****

How’s THAT for creative?  Dude’s got it rolling out all over the place.  Luckily for you, the internet is there to catch it all.  And lest you question the caliber of what Troy does, I’ve read his stories, and his Space Octopus mouse pad is all up on my writing desk.

Take my word for it: he does things right.

Snatch up his books at Amazon , head to his Zazzle shop to check out all the artstuffs, and zoom over to his blog to keep up with all the latest and greatest.  You're not gonna wanna miss what this guy does.

It's all-around awesome, and so is he.

Thanks for hanging with us, Troy Boy - much appreciated! 


  


8 comments:

  1. Great interview, guys! I'll definitely be checking out your stories, Troy. Totally want the octopus mouse pad, btw.

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  2. Wait...impressions too?!?!? Great interview!!! I completely forgot I have Going Down sitting on my tablet. And I just grabbed High Bridge...new Troy stories!!!

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  3. oh yeah! Troy is a fantastic artist, his creativity astounds me. Thanks for this awesome interview, it was cool to get to know him better.

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  4. Crichton fans unite! I loved Jurassic Park. :) Troy, you are indeed multitalented!

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  5. A guy who writes about vampires.. yes, this is more of what we need. And a sense of humor never, ever hurt!

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  6. Space? And Octopus? In the same sentence? That is a whole hearty meal of awesome. I am headed Amazon way... :0)
    And that's some incredible photos by the way. I can't draw, sing or play an instrument - and the last time anyone trusted me with a camera... well, let's just say it was the last time they trusted me with a camera.
    Good to know there are creative people out there - even if it does make me a tad jealous...
    :0)
    Tony

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  7. Great interview, thanks for letting us know it was around Troy! Multi talented or what!

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