Jump into fiction is a first for local author Roy Ratzlaff

January 2, 2013

By Staff

It’s his book, even with no tangible copies. It’s his baby, even if gestation took a decade.

“It might be like pregnancy,” North Bend author Roy Ratzlaff said of finishing his first book of fiction. “There are different highlights that draw your attention along the way, but there is nothing like getting it done.”

“Freeboard” tells the tale of four men from varied backgrounds and how they deal with crises in their lives. The term “freeboard” describes the height on a boat’s side between the waterline and the deck.

“If you and I were getting in trouble in our lives, our freeboard, and our safety distance above the water, is low,” Ratzlaff said.

He got the inspiration for the story while canoeing down the Willamette River in Oregon in the summer of 2000 with his son Fraser, then a junior in high school.

“We started talking and we saw one of these barges moored on the side of the river and we started talking about how when you start standing on them, it feels like solid ground although it’s on the water, and we started making up this story about these guys on a barge and what it would take to take it out to sea,” he said.

A couple of days later, Roy walked into his son’s room and told him the story sounded like a good plot for a book.

Roy wrote it when he got laid off, seven months later, near Christmas.

“I had nothing else to do,” he said. “So, I just started living with those characters.”

Fraser agreed.

“He treated it like a full-time job,” he said. “Eight hours a day. He would go on trips and interview people, and have a home office.”

The characters, four men — an ex-con, a fast-living wild child, a strict Mormon late-bloomer and a goody two shoes — find themselves in the mid-1990s confronted with crises and big changes in their lives, all while at sea.

Little from the book is out-of-thin-air fiction, Ratzlaff said. Every situation in the book either happened to him or to someone close to him.

Ratzlaff based the ex-con on people he met while on a construction job inside a prison. The rest of the main characters have “bits and parts of me” in them, he said.

Nevertheless, he said, his proximity to the events did not make the research any easier.

“I was surprised by the amount, the enormous amount, of research that I tied into,” he said. “Most of that was my own standards, requiring an increased amount of research to make it more realistic. I couldn’t just get it off the Net.”

The research included trips to Ilwaco, near the mouth of the Columbia River, to talk to Coast Guard personnel about crossing the river’s bar.

“I needed to know the reality of that, and nobody better than the Coast Guard,” he said. “They do the rescues.”

Ratzlaff said the book “took off like a scared rabbit,” to the tune of 102,000 words. The work energized him, he added, even if it took proofreading it six times.

The writing wasn’t hard. Getting it published was. After rejection No. 25, he lost the stomach for it and decided to shelve his book.

More than 10 years later, self-publishing and electronic publishing burst in, and suddenly that long wait looked like a great decision.

“It made me feel fortunate that I waited that long,” Ratzlaff said, “with ePublishing having become the rising star in publishing and allowing little old me to get the book out.”

The book is available on www.smashwords.com.

“No hard copy,” he said. “It’s incredibly difficult to get a hard version published, especially books about men. The eBook allows it to stay as long as there’s interest anywhere in the world.”

The sequel to “Freeboard,” “Freeboard II,” is about halfway done, Ratzlaff said. He kept the name to make it easier for readers of the first part to find it. He described the sequel as a “wrapup” to the message in the first story.

“We can face our problems,” he said. “Our problems that seem insurmountable at first can eventually be resolved with the help of our friends and with our own fortitude.”


Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or smoraga@snovalleystar.com.

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