Interview conducted by Sassy Brit - for alternative-read.com

OKAY, and now for the interview. Introducing Mr. Ray Melnik, author of The Room and To Your Own Self Be True!

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.

SB: Please can you share an outline of your story.

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.

SB: What inspired you to put pen to paper? Have you always felt you had a story that needed telling or was it something that just happened?

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.

SB: Do your characters appear to come out of nowhere, or do you spend hours creating their lives?

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.

SB: Who are your preferred authors and literary influences?

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: The last two books I read were books of poetry, The Music of Ourselves and Five Books of Marriage; both written by Harry Owen, the first poet laureate of Cheshire. I admire how much story he is able to put into such a limited amount of word, much like a good song lyric. I like different types of books, from fiction to science to poetry. When I am working on the novels I need to keep my timelines in order so I don’t read when I’m writing.

SB: I see from your website you are musically talented, and as you have already skimmed on this subject may I ask you to elaborate a little, perhaps share one experience about these adventures with our readers?

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.

SB: That's super. I am glad I asked! Okay, this is for fun in conjunction with my weekly Wednesday book meme -- What is on your desk? (Or bookshelf?)

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.

SB: Finally, if you could name one book, which changed your life (not one you have written yourself) what would it be and why?

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. :)

Interview With Existential Novelist Ray Melnik - by Tyler Tichelaar

Tyler: Welcome, Ray. I'm very excited to interview you today. To begin, I'd like to make it clear to readers that your second novel, "To Your Own Self Be True" is a sequel to "The Room" but can also be read by itself. That said, let's talk about "The Room" first. Will you tell us about the main character, Harry Ladd, and what his situation is when the novel begins?

Ray:  Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my stories. Harry is a man with profound thoughts and an unbending commitment to reason. He has views about the nature of the cosmos that are contrary to most. When introduced, he is going through an extremely tough time. His divorce had just become final, his mother is dying and he is struggling to maintain a close relationship with his two young daughters, Kaela and Lainey. At first he is going through this painful time alone since his brother had written his mother and him off long ago. But soon begins his relationship with a young woman, Lacie, he had known for some time. They fall in love when Lacie comforts and supports him, knowing all that he’s going through.

Tyler:  Will you tell us about Harry’s brother, Malcolm, and why he is estranged from his mother?

Ray:  Malcolm is two years younger than Harry, and they were abused by their father growing up. His angry nature frightened Malcolm the most, and Harry was only able to shield him from so much. Their mother was a victim as well, but only Harry fully understood that. Malcolm blamed her for not protecting them, and later blamed Harry for supporting their mother, so he drifted away and disowned them.

Tyler:  Ray, Harry’s life is not all problems at this point. He has a love interest, Lacie. What made you decide to include her in the novel?

Ray:  Because love is the one true universal gift in someone’s life. Whether it is the love for one’s children or the person you choose to share your life with. It was Carl Sagan who said, “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” It’s also the source of our greatest pain, because it adds the suffering of the people we love, to our own.

Tyler:  We don’t want to give away the ending to “The Room” although I thought it stunning and the perfect ending to the book. But the phenomenal event that happens at the end is based in string theory. Will you define string theory for us and explain why or how you used it in the novel?

Ray:  String theory is the first candidate for the theory of everything. It is the merging of quantum mechanics and general relativity—the very thing Einstein tried desperately to discover. Basically it contends that everything in the universe is composed of tiny vibrating strings of energy that exist in six additional spatial dimensions to our three spatial dimensions and time. Some contend that it borders on pseudo-science, but the math works and the theory is supported by some of the most brilliant minds on the planet from the most prestigious universities. Popular pseudo-sciences are held up by wishful thinking, post office boxes and blogs. The theory is used in “The Room” as Harry’s only clue to an extraordinary event that happens to him, but I went no further. The answer is revealed in “To Your Own Self Be True.”

Tyler:  In “To Your Own Self Be True” you referred to M-theory and stated that several string theories were incorporated into it. Will you explain M-theory to us also? Did you learn more about science and these theories in the time between writing the novels?

Ray:  When five versions of string theory were produced, it was an embarrassment of riches. How can you have five theories of everything? In 1995, Edward Witten used M theory to explain the previously observed dualities. He added one more spatial dimension, and the five versions of string theory became five ways of looking at the same thing. What makes this area of physics so extraordinary is that if this is proven to be true, it reveals the possibility of infinite alternate universes with histories different than our own. Long before writing “The Room,” I was interested in these theories and quantum physics in general. After reading Brian Greene’s book “The Elegant Universe” and Leonard Susskind’s book “The Cosmic Landscape,” I was convinced this was the best direction to look in to discover the true nature of the cosmos. I take extreme liberties in my novels with these theories, but when I was finishing “The Room,” I had a brief email conversation with Leonard Susskind who is widely regarded as one of the fathers of string theory, and in one email I apologized for stretching string theory so far to fit my novel. He wrote back, “Strings are meant to be stretched.”

Tyler:  That’s great, Ray. A scientist with a sense of humor. In reading, “To Your Own Self Be True,” I was a bit concerned about it changing the meaning at the end of “The Room.” Maybe you can clarify something for me. The extraordinary event that happens to Harry at the end of “The Room” appears to be the result of Harry’s mother’s ability, through wishing really hard, to change events from the past—does the explanation in “To Your Own Self Be True” make that belief untrue, or would a change have happened anyway if Harry’s mother was not wishing for what she was—did her guilt and wish for a different past influence what happened, or was it just coincidental?

Ray: Let me first say that this answer would mean more to someone who has finished both novels. But if not; they may want to skip this answer for now because it will be a bit revealing.

The details are not discussed until “To Your Own Self Be True”, but in 2006, when Harry witnesses the brief encounters such as the clean window, they are the hit and miss trials by Kyle at SciLab, from the days leading up to Harry’s extraordinary experience. When his mother’s illness causes her to become delusional, one of those brief effects touched her, making her believe she was living in that time 24 years earlier. Stasis, in “The Room” linked to an alternate reality, skewed into the past for Harry and in the present for Kyle when he finally finds the correct settings that next morning. The convergence occurs only because Harry and his mother are inside the field. It alters Harry, not because of a wish, but because his mother’s counterpart had taken a different path. Most of his life remains intact, but that one change rippled through his life. In “To Your Own Self Be True”, Kyle and Kaela never expect Stasis could do anything but connect to an alternate reality. But that changes when Adam explains how they can intercept that same tunnel to 1982 and lock Kaela’s father from 2006, in place. It would be her father from her own reality and her own past. Stasis performs as expected by linking to the alternate reality in 1982, but provides the conduit back to her own reality in 2006. The complexity was necessary to bring it all together.

Tyler:  In the second novel, the main character is Kaela, the daughter of Harry Ladd. Will you tell us about Kaela at the time of the novel’s opening?

Ray:  Kaela is a beautiful young woman inside and out. She inherited her love of science and reason from her father and pursued what her father only dreamed of—a career in the sciences. But she buries herself in work and struggles socially because she lets her views isolate her. When the story begins, like her father in “The Room,” she’s going through a painful time in her life and it’s giving her nightmares. I won’t go further because too much is revealed at the very beginning.

Tyler:  “To Your Own Self Be True” is set in the year 2021, making it a futuristic novel, yet the setting is not so far distant to be unfamiliar to readers—what made you choose this year in particular and what decisions did you make about what the world would be like in that year, and why?

Ray:  I needed to have Kaela old enough to be given her position, while continuing her studies, yet young enough still to be discovering what’s inside her. The benefit was that it isn’t that far into the future and the technologies are possible. Some are already in prototype. For a few years I was the primary technical writer for the website, New Technology Home, so I benefited from the research. Take for instance, Kaela’s Universal Personal Assistant she names Adam. There is a prototype system in the works now, that is far more primitive, of course, but it’s only 2009. Voice command systems are already widely available and are improving all the time. Look back ten years and think about how far technology has come in that short period of time. But it doesn’t come with a bang. It creeps its way into our lives.

Tyler:  Ray, you have used the term “existential” to define your writing—you prefer that term over science fiction I understand. Why “existential”?

Ray:  Existential principles are the foundation for my protagonist’s lives—in “The Room,” through Harry and in my second through Kaela. Since the novels, for the most part, take place in the minds of my main characters rather than third person, I’m able to express those views. They both believe that when we’re born we are given only existence. Everything we do from there, what we learn and what we encounter, gives us value or not. I do use fictional science in my stories, but mainly focus on the feelings and views of the characters. I really enjoy the early existential writers such as Sartre and Camus, but I don’t share their depressing view of life. I believe in the same human limits, but without the angst.

Tyler:  In reading “The Room” I remember thinking your existentialism was hopeful. Why do you think you are different from Sartre and Camus in your viewpoint—were they reacting too heavily against a belief in God and order to the universe, and perhaps some of their despair was based in wishing for direction even though they admitted there was none, and now more than sixty years after they wrote their major works, the world is more accepting of the flaws in religious viewpoints, so you have room to take existentialism in a more positive direction?

Ray: It wasn’t until taking a course on existential literature that I realized there were others who questioned the way I did. There are a variety of existential views, but Sartre and Camus were generally closest to what I felt. But existential views don’t require feeling despair and angst over the belief that life is absurd and without any meaning beyond what we make of it. For me, it brings a deep appreciation for the great moments we do have. Life to me is an amazing accidental adventure with no guarantees. Everyone suffers through hard times, but I drive. I can’t be definitively certain about why some existentialists feel such despair, but I’m quite sure it’s not a wish to have guided order to the cosmos. I know that for me, wishful thinking would be the last thing I would ever be accused of. 

Tyler:  In the novel, your characters definitely have some opinions about what is wrong with the world, society, and certain beliefs. Writers are often accused of, or at least assumed to hold the same beliefs as their characters—to what extent is this true for you?

Ray:  Since both Harry and Kaela view the world through the lens of reason, they become frustrated and disappointed with the absurdities they witness around them. Harry feels that too many decisions, having a profound affect on our lives, are rooted in dogma rather than reason and do a disservice to us all. While Harry is more outwardly resigned to it all, Kaela’s few quirks feed off of it.

I do hold those same beliefs. I have the same existential views with the same respect for science and reason. My whole purpose for writing is to provide an alternate way of looking at things and hopefully add a different perspective for the reader.

Tyler:  Ray, after people finish reading your novels, what is your greatest wish for the reaction or understanding they will have?

Ray: First, my hope is that they see my novels as existential stories written on a canvass of fictional science and not just as science fiction. Even though I take great liberties with the extraordinary events, I do my best to reference real science where possible, and I base my projections for the future on sound research. But above all, I want people to realize that there is another way to look at life, and that there’s nothing wrong with questioning some of their deep-rooted beliefs. I hope I convey the thought that even though we may not be able to change what life throws at us, we have control over what we do about it. As Kaela says, “Life is neither malicious nor kind. It simply doesn’t care.” We choose our own path.

Tyler:  Do you find that your readers do have that response, or what kinds of responses have you received from your novels to date?

Ray: Nothing thrills me more than when I’m told that my story made them question. Many people will not agree with the way my lead characters view our existence, but what they do begin to understand is that kindness, generosity, compassion and empathy are not exclusive attributes of the faithful. People who are unwilling to even hear another side will not like my novels and shouldn’t buy it. On a side note; one thing I really got a kick out of was when a few people told me what they thought was going to happen or what they wished would.

Tyler:  Ray, are these two novels the only ones that will feature members of the Ladd family, or will there be more sequels or spin-offs, or do you have plans to write more books with different subjects or characters?

Ray:  I don’t intend to continue this story, but I never intended to continue “The Room.” While I was promoting, “The Room,” I wrote several short stories and I really missed the characters. I realized that two of the stories fit a continuance, in a way, and they became the basis for two of the chapters in “To Your Own Self Be True.” I’ll be promoting for a short time so I plan to write more short stories to test ideas for the next novel. I’m not sure of the environment I’ll end up using, but it will always be from an existential point of view.

Tyler:  Thank you for the opportunity to interview you today, Ray. Before we go, will you tell readers about your website and what additional information they may find there about your novels?

Ray:  Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my novels. I created “Emergent Novels” at www.emergentnovels.com for people to see the cover art, read the excerpt and synopsis, and watch multimedia introductions or listen to podcasts. I embedded a hidden image in the front cover of each novel. The one on the cover of “To Your Own Self Be True” is a bit more obvious, while on the cover of “The Room,” it’s much harder to spot. But if they give up trying to find them, there’s a magnified view of each on the Emergent Novels website.

Tyler:  Thank you again, Ray, for joining me today. I found both of your novels very thought-provoking, and I look forward to talking to you again in the future.

Tyler R. Tichelaar holds a Bachelor's and Master's Degree from Northern Michigan University and a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University. His family's long relationship with Upper Michigan and his avid interest in genealogy inspired Dr. Tichelaar to write his Marquette Trilogy: Iron Pioneers, The Queen City, and Superior Heritage. Dr. Tichelaar is also a professional book reviewer and editor. For more information about Tyler R. Tichelaar, his writing, and his author services, visit:http://www.marquettefiction.com/

A Conversation With Ray Melnik Author of To Your Own Self Be True

- by Norm Goldman

Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased once again to welcome Ray Melnik author of The Room and his latest novel, To Be Your Own Self Be True.

Good day Ray and thanks once again for participating in our interview.

Norm: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? How has it changed your life?

Ray: Thank you, Norm. I started writing fiction in high school, winning awards for a fictional short story called, “Distinction.” When I attended a local college the next year, I took courses in literature and writing, but one course in particular really stood out. A course on existential literature explored the works of writers such as Sartre and Camus, and before then I had no idea that there were others who held similar views to mine. When I left school, I continued to write, but mostly technical articles. A career in music and then technology paid the bills, but when I did finally decide to write fiction again in 2006, I purposely set out to write existential stories.

It wasn’t writing that changed my life so much as it was a change in my life that affected my writing. My wife and I split up at the time and I used The Room to create Harry, who was working through those same issues. I gave him a reason to trust and love someone again.

Norm: To Be Your Own Self Be True is your second novel, how did the process of writing this novel differ from your first one, The Room? As a follow up, what was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

Ray: The Room is more linear and features a simple man with profound thoughts, who is pulled into an extraordinary event. To Your Own Self Be True features a formally educated woman in the field of science, set in the year 2021 so it inherently brought more complexity. There are more side stories as well. For my second novel I needed to use more fictional science, but trying not to lose focus on Kaela’s life, hopes and dreams.

What surprised me most was how after The Room was published, I missed the characters. They had become almost friends.

Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?

Ray: I have a deep love for real science, but I take extraordinary liberties in these novels. It’s more important, though, that the stories center on the lives of my characters. I prefer to consider these two novels as being written on a canvass of fictional science rather than science fiction. My second love is for reason and I use the character’s thoughts to make many existential points. These I consider to be the most controversial parts and I suspect they may go too far for some. But, to your own self be true, I must say.

Norm: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Ray: I wouldn’t. You can always agonize over little things here and there so I choose to accept it as is. But now I’ll have to see if readers take from the story, what was intended.

Norm: How did you go about creating your protagonist, Kaela?

Ray: Kaela was a good choice for me. She was shaped by the views of her father, but is still struggling to find meaning in her life. She is educated, but even more so, she’s aware of her place in the cosmos. Then I mixed in a few quirks and obsessions. It is her young age that provides the best vehicle to tell the story of how we all struggle to find our “it” in life; that which truly makes us happy.

Norm: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Ray: Something challenging is getting across an existential message and have the reader understand why my characters believe what they do. Kaela was raised without any belief in the supernatural, but most people were not. If I were writing existential essays it would be one thing, but I’m looking to send a small message in a novel that I hope is enjoyable, and where readers relate to the characters. This second novel was also challenging because I needed to portray the new technologies in incidental ways, without taking away from what the characters were going through emotionally.

Norm: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

Ray: I do hear from readers; some from email and others who I speak with personally. I’m looking forward to the comments about this new novel, but I can tell you about ones I received after publishing The Room. I’ve had people tell me that they have different views, but it made them think. I had someone tell me that they wished The Room ended with Harry remaining re-united with his wife and another, who as she approached the end, imagined Lacie with an engagement ring on her finger in the final scene. I had a few people tell me it affected them and a few who related to the abuse inflicted on the boys.

I will never forget, when in High School, my short story was published in the school literary magazine and was given as an English assignment in several classes. The teacher invited me to sit in anonymously on the classes as they discussed what they believed the author was trying to say. I saw first hand how much a reader’s personal views alter their perception of what they read.

Norm: What do you think makes a good story?

Ray: To me, a good story has characters you can relate to; where you feel bad when they do and you want them to succeed. There needs to be unexpected twists and if the reader feels the emotion, maybe even cries for the characters, it’s a plus. A good story makes you think about it, even after it’s finished.

Norm: What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Ray: I admit I’m a bit of a geek. I have an insatiable interest in science and technology. I work primarily in technology as a network architect, but I have a long commute and I travel often, so it provides me with large chunks of time to write. The positive side to the 12 and 13 hour flights to Tokyo and Hong Kong is that my Blackberry doesn’t work.

Norm: What will you be doing for promotion of your latest novel and how much of it is your doing?

Ray: I created a website called “Emergent Novels” where readers can read the synopsis, excerpts and reviews, download podcasts, see the cover art and watch a multimedia introduction for both. It is www.emergentnovels.com. I have a very satisfying life and have no interest in jumping into the hamster wheel of the publishing industry so I use iUniverse to publish and for worldwide distribution. I hire or barter for editing and proofing. I do my own graphics, web design and multimedia. Finally I coordinate review submissions, press releases and interviews, then reach out to writers groups and use social networks such as MySpace and FaceBook. I always say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead."

Norm: What is next for Ray Melnik?

Ray: I will promote for about six months and write short stories as I did after The Room. Then I plan on writing the next novel.

Norm: Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Ray: I would just say that no matter what someone believes in, it is best we act as if only we can make a difference in each other’s lives. We can’t control what life throws at us, but we decide what we do about them. As Kaela says in To Your Own Self Be True, “Life is neither malicious nor kind. It simply doesn’t care.”

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with your latest novel, To Your Own Self Be True.

Ray: Thank you for allowing me to talk about my stories.

Norm Goldman, B.A. LL.L, is the Publisher & Editor of http://Bookpleasures.com. He is also a top 500 http://Amazon.com reviewer.

Interview With Author Ray Melnik

- William Bentrim

Ray, thank you for allowing me to interview you.

Bill, thanks for the opportunity to talk about my story and for your time and review.

Why did you write this book? What initiated this particular burst of creativity?

After publishing my first novel The Room in 2007, I started to miss the characters. The Room which takes place in 2006 involved an extraordinary happening near the end and since the purpose was to illustrate how a single event can affect our whole lives, I only eluded to what caused it. I also left the reader hanging about whether the protagonist, Harry, and his love interest, Lacie, ever get back together.

I thought it might be interesting to reveal the answers through the mind of Harry’s daughter, Kaela, but at a time 15 years in the future, in 2021. In The Room, she’s introduced as an 8 year old with a high aptitude in math and it would lead her to a career in the sciences. Since I’ve researched and written articles about new technologies for years, I was excited at the prospect of describing a world that I believe we’ll be living in not too long from now. I have a voracious appetite for science and it was fun to be able to use that background as well.

Does your story line develop organically or is it a gestalt before you begin?

Before I start I have the beginning, milestones and end, but the real story develops organically.

Is your process to outline and then fill in the blanks or just sit down and start to tell a story or ?

I start with writing a page or two that tells the story through the milestones to the end. I write character profiles for each of the players initially planned; with more to come later. Then with a number of chapters in mind I write descriptions by breaking up the original short draft into the parts I plan to tell in each. I set up an Outlook calendar and place the events on a timeline. It was interesting, turning the calendar to the year 2021 and following it there. There are always shifts and changes as the story evolves, but it keeps the pieces in order.

Do you have a favorite character in the book and if so why?

In this story I think I would have to say I related most to Rael. I was 17 years old when I started college during the day and worked a full time evening shift at a nursing home to cover, credit costs, expenses and rent on a small studio apartment. Like, Rael, I saw no benefit in complaining. You do what you have to do. In the novel, Kaela says it, but Rael understands it perhaps best; “Life is neither malicious nor kind. It simply doesn’t care.” I did care very much for Kaela and Kyle as well. It’s strange how I missed my characters when the novels were done.

What do you like the most about writing?

Since I hadn’t written fiction since school, I had forgotten how much fun it is. I can put my issues into the characters, make things turn out they way I wish they would, and do the impossible. It gives me a way to provide readers with an existential view of life and hopefully the realization that no belief system has a lock on compassion, generosity and empathy.

Where do your new story ideas come from?

I started writing The Room when my marriage broke up and it was a way to share it with the protagonist, Harry, who was going through the same thing. I’ve been fascinated with String Theory and it made a great vehicle to illustrate how a single event can change the course of your life. I was able to explore what would happen if the tables were turned.

When I was promoting The Room I wrote several short stories, two of which became subplots and the start of To Your Own Self Be True. The first was the story of Rael, the rape of his mother and the love he had for his little sister. It was titled, My Little Treasure. The second was the story of Dr Kyle Trace and his encounter with an alternate reality in his lab in 2006. That one was titled, To Your Own Self Be True which of course became the book title. I subconsciously wanted to continue the story of the Ladd family.

What advice has helped the most in your writing?

I got my best advice from the editors, Ed Hayman who edited The Room and Joann Horai who edited To Your Own Self Be True. It was a great benefit in so many ways, to have their point of view from outside.

What is the favorite book you have written?

So far there are only the two novels and both were enjoyable to me in their own way. Maybe after a few more I’ll have a favorite. (I knew this from Ray's web site, forgive me for a less than stellar question.)

Who is your favorite author and why?

My favorite author is Albert Camus and his book The Stranger, tops my list. My views about existence had been with me since before I was a teen, but in an existential literature course in college, that book was the first assignment and I finally realized that there were others who thought the same way that I did.

What advice would you give for the want to be writer?

Don’t be afraid to be honest and place some of yourself into your characters. Never be afraid to open up.

Ray, thank you very much for participating in this inteview, I learned some things and I hope my readers do as well.

William Bentrim is an author and reviewer. His blog can be found at: http://bookrevues.blogspot.com/