Scroll down for the interview!
To Your Own Self Be True: (See my review here!)
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OKAY, and now for the interview. Introducing Mr. Ray Melnik, author of The Room and To Your Own Self Be True!
Interview conducted by me, Sassy Brit.
SB: First can you tell me more about yourself, the writer behind To Your Own Self Be True.
RM: Thank you, Sassy, for the opportunity to talk about my story.
After winning awards for fictional writing in High School, I went to college to study literature. After a couple of years I was presented with an offer to join a rock band and it was a little bit too appealing to pass up at the time. I was the lead singer in original bands and directed my writing toward lyrics for a time. After a few years in a group called the Fine Malibus, the guitar player, Steve Stevens went on to join Billy Idol and I opened a recording studio in New York and also began writing pro audio columns for a music trade magazine. I continued writing technical articles when I moved into my career as a network architect. I have an insatiable appetite for science and reason so fictional writing was a great vehicle to explore all of it.
RM: To Your Own Self Be True, continues the story from, The Room, a novel I published in 2007, but is meant to stand on its own. It is the year 2021. The story is told through the mind of a young scientist, Kaela, whose father was just killed in an auto accident a few months earlier. Kaela is beautiful, kind and brilliant, but like all of us, is searching for meaning in her life. Before her father is killed he shares a secret with her about an extraordinary event that changed his very existence 15 years earlier in 2006. Kaela is lonely, but an experimental artificial intelligence system, she calls Adam, helps her through these hard times. When she is assigned to work with a distinguished scientist, Dr Kyle Trace, at SciLab where she works, they soon discover that an earlier experiment that Kyle performed in 2006 may have been the very thing that affected her father. Kaela is touched by a young man named, Rael, who is from a different kind of world, but something about him appeals to her. Kaela, Kyle and Rael soon team up in an effort to right a past wrong.
RM: It took the breakup of my marriage to spark my interest in writing fiction again. In my first novel, The Room, the lead character, Harry, is going through the breakup of his marriage as well and it helped me sort things out in my own mind. The story I needed to tell there was how a single event can change the course of one’s life and that we may not be able to do anything about what life throws at us, but we decide what we do about it. I wanted to see what would happen if I reshuffled the deck. With To Your Own Self Be True, I was able to go even deeper and write about how even through the worst of times, there is comfort in love. As an existential writer, I believe that life has no inherent meaning and it is only what we make of it that matters, and gives it meaning. To me, love is the one universal gift that all of us share. It was Carl Sagan who said,
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
Now that I have begun to write fiction again, I have many more stories I would like to tell and other than a few essays and short stories, it will be novels moving forward.
RM: My characters are composites of many people I have known, but never completely like any one. I start with character outlines where I write the personalities completely out so I can remain on track and not veer from what the character believes or is like. Sometimes incidental characters don’t even show what is evident in the outline, but it’s there if I need it.
My lead players are written out in much more detail. In my first novel, The Room, I gave the protagonist my love for science and reason and in To Your Own Self Be True, his daughter, Kaela is a chip off the old block, but I added quirks. Once I have these outlines, it’s easy to know how they will react to any situation they are faced with.
SB: Do you write ‘as and when’ you can fit it in, or have a set time schedule? Have you any routines to get you in the mood to write?
RM: I live in upstate New York with 2 hour train rides each way to work in New York City each weekday. I write mostly in the mornings, but I also travel at times for business. It’s a great option to have on 12 and 13 hour flights to Tokyo and Hong Kong. Those are the undisturbed times. I write other times, but life seems to more often get in the way.
RM: My favorite authors have been dead for quite some time. I love the existential stories and Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, best. I have to admit that I have a deep respect for science and read many books on quantum and astrophysics. Although it’s not fiction, it gives me the ideas to write in a genre that I prefer to call fictional science rather than science fiction. It is much like the way Carl Sagan used science in writing Contact. When I was finishing my first novel, since it had roots in String Theory, I had email conversations with Brian Greene, who wrote The Elegant Universe, and Leonard Susskind who wrote, The Cosmic Landscape. Leonard is known as one of the fathers of String Theory, so in one email, I apologized for stretching String Theory so far to fit my story. He wrote back, “Strings are meant to be stretched.” So all in all, I would have to say that existential fiction and real science are my strongest influences.
SB: What are you reading now? Do you prefer one genre over another?
RM: I had some really great times as a lead singer. I spent time with people like, the Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Kiss, Billy Idol, Robert Palmer and many others. One of my best experiences was recording an album in Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. We spent 2 months there recording an album for Island Records with Rolling Stones producer, Jimmy Miller. Robert Palmer would come over with a bottle of wine, which he emptied by the end of the night, and he sang backup on 3 of the songs. The album went unreleased when Steve Stevens left the group to join Billy Idol, but it was still a blast. That was the Fine Malibus, from New York City, where 13 of us lived in a 3000 square foot loft; band, crew and girlfriends.
RM: I have to say that my writing space is anywhere I have my laptop, but I do have a home studio for all aspects of the writing, including when I promote with podcasts, multimedia introductions, the graphics and other endeavors. I would lose my mind if I wasn’t doing something creative and they center on my novels. I am including a photo of my workspace. Most books I finish, I donate to the library. The books on my shelves that I keep are some of the greatest works in science; mostly quantum and astrophysics and evolutionary biology.
SB: Oh, I love it! Click on the photos for a bigger picture, everyone! Thank you for sharing those with us. Now, where can our readers buy your books? I’ll try to calm down whilst you answer.
RM: The Room and To Your Own Self Be True are available almost everywhere, worldwide, most notably Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I only wish Amazon would tie the reviews from the US site to other Amazon sites such as the one for the UK.
Added by Sassy: And through your website!
RM: When I was 17 years old, just months before starting college, I was tossed on to the sidewalk with my things and I worked evenings to pay for the credits and a small studio apartment so I could go to school as planned. One of my first courses was “Existential Literature”. I always understood that most people, at least here in the States, didn’t look at life as I did, but when I read The Stranger, by Albert Camus, I discovered that there were others who thought the same way. It helped me realize that life is neither malicious nor kind. It simply doesn’t care. We make our own destiny.
SB: That’s quite profound! Thank you, Ray, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this with me. It’s been a pleasure, and I look forward to hearing how any further novels are progressing.
RM: For a brief time while promoting, I’m writing a few essays and short stories. I posted the first essay on my site. Like the prologues, essays are a satisfying rant about the absurdities I find hard to understand. It helps as new characters are developed for the next novel and I’m currently tossing a few story ideas around. I’ll start in the next month or so. Thank you as well, for a review with depth. You understood the philosophical underpinnings and much of what I hoped a reader would take away from the story. Cheers.
SB: Cheers, Ray! (Very British — is that not?) I’ll keep an eye out for them, or maybe two. I rather like a good rant. 🙂
Lovely readers: Don’t forget to sign up for the two book set free prize giveaway in Mr. Linky!