Interview and Review with Author Troy Aaron Ratliff

24 Sep

Just Past the Trees by Troy Aaron Ratliff

Happy Monday to all of you! I have to say that I am so excited about bringing this interview to you today! It is my great privilege to introduce you to the wonderfully talented Troy Aaron Ratliff and showcase his newest release, “Just Past the Trees”. So, go grab that morning cuppa, kick back with the laptop, or hunker down in front of your screens!!! I can’t wait for you to read all about this!!

A brief description: On a hot summer day in Central Florida, a young man discovers a bloodied body in a field behind the repair shop where he works. Grizzly and twisted, the body leaves few clues as to the offender, some questioning if such a horrible end could actually come at the hands of another. The young, struggling writer with the crummy landscaping job who found the body never expected what his find would lead to, nor the friendship he would develop with the fellow writer and crypto-zoologist interested in the case and pressing for answers. Together, neither of them could have guessed the incredible gift they would receive in their budding friendship, the invigoration to their writing, or the heart-stopping experience they would ultimately share.

Now that your interest is piqued, time for the interview portion of our program!! Ladies and Gents, I give you Troy Aaron Ratliff….(I’ll know if you’re not applauding)

What was your favorite part of the book? 

My personal favorite part of Just Past the Trees were the interludes of literary discussion between Doug and the nameless main character.  I left him nameless because, even though the character was written in the masculine form, I wanted all writers to relate to the feelings the authors were struggling with.  The conversations they have in the story are very similar to ones I’ve had with my writer friend whom Doug was the inspiration for.  I wanted to capture the feel of publishing, through my eyes, anyway, in 2012.  Obviously, I couldn’t catch everything with a novella, but I did get to touch upon the malleability of fiction and how that element of writing isn’t really utilized the way I think it should.  There is a certain beauty in fiction, a lack of absolutes, you could say, that can come in all kinds of forms.  With non-fiction and mathematics, there are absolutes, but fiction can go anywhere, particularly experimental fiction, which I touch upon in JPTT.

What was the hardest part to write in the book?

The ending.  I had to play with it several times to finish it the way I felt was the best.  In the end, I really liked how it tied publishing and urban legends together.  Strange bedfellows for a story, I know, but I think it worked.  I’m proud of that story and think it goes right on par with my others.  But the ending was hard to write, I’m not going to lie, mostly because I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out.

What do you wish was different about the book?

The length.  I can’t believe the amount of readers who have told me they wanted more of the story.  One even suggested that I should pen a sequel.  I might just do that.  Right now, I have too many other projects on my plate.  Truthfully, I haven’t even thought that far ahead, but maybe I could tinker with one that deals with the characters a few years later, maybe the publishing world will go through another sea change and I can make a comment on that.  I think it’s one of my stronger stories and I like the characters, they’re fun, so they might have more to say.

Who are your favorite authors? Favorite books?

Great question for a writer, which for other aspiring writers, is a question to really ask yourself if you’re struggling.  I know it’ll make some cringe, but my favorite authors are Stephen King and Tom Robbins.  I absolutely adore Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates and that novel was actually the story that reinvigorated my passion for writing again.  I had gone through a three-year slump where I didn’t write one word.  Some of that was environment, some of it was me not getting in gear, some of it was just not being inspired to write, and some of it was the spark missing, the one that made me love writing in the first place.  That novel, the wordplay, the characters, and Robbins’ lyrical language reopened my love all over again.  I’m not ashamed of that three-year lull.  When I look back on that time, I think of Henry David Thoreau’s quote of “How vain is it we sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

What sparked the idea for this project?

I don’t really recall what brought me the idea directly, but I knew I always wanted to write a love letter to the craft of writing.  At some point in their career, almost every writer will do this.  I’ve been writing since I was 11 years old, so with nearly 20 years of writing under my belt, I thought it was finally time.  At the same time, a friend of mine was working on a novel that dealt with urban legends and crypto-zoology.  Armed with that inspiration, I knew where I was going to take the story and how I was going to execute it.

How personal is your writing?

I’ve plucked a few stories in my personal life, using them throughout my work whether directly or exaggerated.  Just incidences here and there I find interesting or intriguing or worthy of inclusion, but over all, not as many as some would think.  The world building and character backgrounds are part of the fun for me.  They’ve said of Richard Pryor’s comedy that the funniest part of his routine was how blatantly open he was with the audience, going into vivid detail of the embarrassments of his life.  I’m not that far yet in marrying my life and my art, but I think every writer exposes themselves little by little with each new piece of work, some on a microcosmic level.  If you have a prolific writer who pours their soul onto the page, you can gain a solid skeleton of their personality through their words.  A lot of my readers who know me say they can see my personality in my work.  Many of those same people say they really enjoy the characters I come up with and the problems they fall into, so I look at that as a compliment that they like me as a person.

What is your writing routine?

Routine?  What’s that?  I wish I had a route in my art, but it just doesn’t work like that for me.  If there is a story or an idea for one, or even an idea for my drawings, the power and the drive of it will push through the other daily, more “necessary” routines, like work and surviving.  Right now, my goal is to have some structure of a routine.

Which comes first? The character’s story or the idea for the novel?

For me, the idea for the story generally comes first, a scene or an incredibly strange sight that would be worthy of a detailed description and an explanation.  Sometimes, it might be something as minor as the title or a weird character I’d like to write about.  Usually, though, it’s a combination of those that all come together to form the hills and valley of the story as a whole.  If all of those combinations come together and I’m excited about the idea, and every time I open up the document and start scrolling through the first couple pages, that excitement grows, I know I got a winner on my hands.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

My love of horror and weird fiction, with a dotting of Sci-Fi, burned through anything else.  I’ve heard my work be called Speculative Fiction, Dark Fiction, and the one I like the most which is “Heightened Reality”.  That’s the title I can relate to the most with my work and I feel very comfortable in that realm.  With Heightened Reality, there is still a relatable aspect to the writing, taking the everyman or ordinary person in this world and putting them in extraordinary situations.  I have a platform I like to use which is “Horror vs. Horror” where I list the realistic horrors that are a part of everyday life and match them with bizarre and otherworldly horrors that could only be found in the pages of fiction.  If I can make the fictionalized horrors real enough to the reader, then I feel I’ve done my job.

How did you come up with the title?

Honestly, I don’t remember.  It took me a while to come up with an ending, so for a long time I didn’t know where I was going to take it, let alone a title.  As I wrote it, an image of the woods behind a rickety fence kept emerging.  One that was lighted by the sun on a hot summer day in Florida, but still had an air of murky intrigue with the shadows and clusters of trees beyond it.  The true essence of the story, in a literal and figurative sense, is about what lies just beyond the unknown.  Personally, I think the title is poetic, and I’m sure that was part of it then just as it is now.

What project are you working on now?

My first full-length novel.  I’m shooting for a late November release.  I don’t want to give anything away just yet, because I don’t want to make any promises, but I will say that it’s in the middle of a professional edit right now.  So, with my fingers crossed, I should be able to make that mark, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

Are there certain themes you like to address in your writing?

It depends.  Sometimes a story is just a story.  Going Down and The Uninvited Guest is that, just a story for entertainment.  It’s fun.  It’s for enjoyment.  There’s no deeper meaning behind it other than giving a ride.  But with Just Past the Trees, I touch on the publishing world and my feelings toward it.  With Little Bernie’s Map, there is an allusion to the financial meltdown and everyone affected by it.  Obviously, I don’t claim to have answers to world problems, which is why I throw in the fantastical side of the story, lifting it to that “heightened reality”.  I think that for most writers of fiction the theme you want to pursue will open up to you as the story unfolds and the characters become their own.

What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?

Read what you like and don’t force it.  There are so many distractions in life that if you read something that doesn’t genuinely interest you, why force it?  Why are you making yourself like it?  There’s millions of books out there, so why would you try to make yourself finish it when you aren’t even into the story?  Confession time: when I was younger, no matter how much I disliked the story I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt and press on, hoping it would be better.  There were only two instances where I couldn’t finish it because it was so terrible.  There were novels I tried to tackle later on and I couldn’t get past the first or second chapter.  My advice: Don’t waste your time.  There are plenty of incredible reads out there.  It’s just like with music and TV, you have to find an author that suits you.  From there, draw from them and see where your work takes you.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I think the toughest has been the idea or the overall story was silly.  Silly hurts.  The best?  The best compliments come when someone goes to the work of contacting me through Twitter or Goodreads to tell me how much they enjoyed my story right after they finished it.  I’ve only had that happen to me a few times and every time I’m floored and flattered by the love and excitement.  I got that a few months back when someone first read Little Bernie’s Map and I have to say I was floating two feel off the ground for a week.

If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Stephen King, my grandfather who died before I was born, and David Lynch.  That would be a weird dinner!

I want to thank Mr. Ratliff for taking the time to answer my questions, and hopefully you gained a little insight into who he is as a writer. As promised, here is my review of “Just Past the Trees”.

After much reflection on this story, I have come to one conclusion. I am conflicted.

Terribly conflicted. I’m still thinking about this story. But, that’s a good thing. There’s nothing worse than reading something, spending your time getting to know characters and a storyline, and when it’s all over and you’ve put it down, you’ve forgotten it. That cannot happen with “Just Past the Trees”.

What I loved about this story was the narrative. The narrator draws you in from the very beginning with his casual and often witty take on life and the people around him. This is the type of narrative that I have only seen done this well in a handful of books, all of them by best-selling Big Six authors. In this vein, Mr. Ratliff could easily be among them. Easily.

When I started this story, I had no idea what I was in for and was looking forward to the journey. Fresh, engrossing and compelling, it moved quickly and when it was all over, I had to sit back, look at my e-reader and go, “What?” Not what I had expected, given the path I was forced to take.

Mr. Ratliff’s voice is far beyond this simple tale and that’s what I found disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a negative, nor a criticism of the author. In fact, it’s the opposite. What I wanted was for this voice to take me into a complex storyline and lead me through page after page of this artfully crafted narrative, only to end up in a satisfying, thrilling read. But, that’s not what this story is about. And it speaks to the talent of Mr. Ratliff that he made me want that. Made me want a plot that would hold its own against the power of the narrator’s voice. This is not a fault of the author. This is his brilliance.

This story is about the narrative, the journey of thought inside the mind of the main character. And what was written was, for lack of better words, really good. For me, the last third of the story, where things unfold, seemed to be just a foil for the author to bring things to a close. Another reader may disagree, perhaps the author himself, but this is what I took away from the story.

I flipped pages with ease, absorbed into the voice of the main character. A voice that was vivid and clear and reminded me of the first-person narratives of Greg Iles in “Blood Memory” and “Dead Sleep”. Engaging and gripping. I wanted more. I wanted more of Mr. Ratliff’s perceptions and I wanted them entwined deeply into a story that was much longer and more detailed. This is the kind of voice that could make any genre into a great read.

My conflictions are my own and should in no way be interpreted as negative. The only issue I had was that the overall story needed a tighter edit. There were one or two grammatical mistakes that actually jarred me out of reading because of the obvious error. However, that will not affect my rating, simply because what I loved outweighs them by a mile. Had it been any other story, the rating would have suffered. Another testament to Mr. Ratliff.

Should, at any time in the future, Mr. Ratliff decide to pen a tale that is both longer and more complex, you can be sure it will be at the top of my reading list. I suggest you put it on yours. In the meantime, grab up your copy of “Just Past the Trees” and congratulate yourself. You’ve just discovered an author you will be following for years to come.

A brief biography and links to find Troy Aaron Ratliff and his books online:

Troy Aaron Ratliff was born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio and self-educated in writing, art and voice impersonations. When he’s not reading, writing and cooking up his next monstrosity, you can generally find him defending the galaxy from the forces of evil, feeding hippopotamuses, dining with foreign dignitaries and Zen Masters, waking up to his supermodel wife, altering the space-time inter-dimensional warp or – more than likely – stuck in traffic somewhere in Southern California on his Magic Carpet.





7 Responses to “Interview and Review with Author Troy Aaron Ratliff”

  1. Natasha Slight September 24, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    I’m applauding, I’m applauding! Do you see me applauding? 😀

    I must say I find the idea of a nameless main character intriguing. It’s a concept to discover as I’ve never come across this before. And I didn’t cringe! Stephen King is also one of my favorite authors. I read Black House years ago and am tempted to freak myself out once again by reading it a 2nd time. I haven’t had the guts yet, though. Troy, I’m glad to see you’re not ashamed of your writing slump, sometimes life hands us a different plan than what we want. The important thing is you got that ‘spark’ back. Bravo!

    Authors reveal themselves in their writing!!! But I’m shy….I would never…hold on a second. *flips through her book to see* Gasp! It’s true! Honestly, that’s what surprised me when I wrote my first book. The thing is, it feels good to have such an outlet to let ‘some’ things out. 😉

    Wonderful review, Tara! Thanks for helping us discover such a wonderful author. 🙂


  2. writermirandastork September 24, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    This was an awesome interview! I completely understand your writing slump, I had one of two years due to other factors as well, and it was refreshing to come back to writing after it-the quote is very true. And I agree about writer’s imprinting themselves within their books; every writers leaves a tiny piece of their soul for someone to look into when they write.

    I can’t wait to see more of your writing, Troy, and I will be picking your book up today! It really does sound like a great book I’d really enjoy, and I love that you call it a ‘love letter to writing’. 🙂

    Thank you for bringing us another great new author, Tara! 😀


  3. Shiralyn Lee September 24, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    What a great interview. Troy sounds as though he has a unique way of seducing his audience and then capturing their attention. I’m now intrigued. 🙂


  4. Blue Harvest Creative September 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    A lovely interview and blog. It was interesting to learn more about you and your writing Troy. Looking forward to reading your work


  5. The Book Hipster September 24, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    Great Interview! I’ve read all of Troy’s work and it is all amazing…so looking forward to that full length novel when it reaches my hands. 😉



  1. FREE TODAY: Three Ebooks by Author Troy Aaron Ratliff « The Tarasphere - October 6, 2012

    […] you missed it, you can check out the feature and my review of “Just Past The Trees” here. Click on the cover to […]


  2. A Fly in My Soup « A Knife And A Quill - October 25, 2012

    […] Interview and Review with Author Troy Aaron Ratliff ( […]


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