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Monday, April 14, 2014

An Interview with Raymond Steyn (author of Ancestor)

Joining us today all the way from South Africa is debut novelist Raymond Steyn, author of one of the more interesting titles to come my way in a very long time.

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Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Raymond. For those who haven't yet had a chance to check out your debut novel, Ancestor, please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a 40-year-old denizen of Cape Town, South Africa. A qualified chartered accountant (CPA for my American friends), I’ve worked in corporate finance the last fifteen years, but can remember declaring at the age of twelve that I desperately wanted to become a writer (or archaeologist). Funny how those early proclivities never disappeared. Now I’ve come full circle, I guess. Ancestor is best described as a prehistoric/post-apocalyptic SF thriller, and incorporates Neanderthals, mammalian hibernation and organ transplants, as well as the struggle for identity.

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing Ancestor, and what has the journey to publication been like?

My first attempt to write a novel crashed and burned in 2002. After two years of hard work, the end result turned out to be less than stellar (if science holds that a monkey with a typewriter, given infinity, can reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare, then I think it’s safe to say that my own effort could've been replicated by an amoeba over spring break).

Once you get the writing bug, though, it’s hard to shake. A few months later, I got the idea for Ancestor and the rest is (pre)history as they say. A full time job did interfere somewhat, but it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The amazing discoveries of the last few years, especially with regards to Neanderthals, have taken my book in directions I never envisaged at conception.

A plea to readers of Indie fiction – if you happen to like a book, please post reviews, even if it’s only one line. We desperately need it. Traditional publishers still have an important role to play as gatekeepers, but worthy Indie fiction needs word-of-mouth to rise above the piles and piles of sometimes very ordinary self-published stuff.

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

The first few chapters are the ones I revise the most. You have to decide where the story starts (often not where you’d initially thought), you have to draw the reader in and you have to set up the story without too much heavy-handed exposition. It’s like crossing a pit of vipers on a tightrope whilst blindfolded and being pelted with rocks (to paraphrase – it’s a delicate balancing act).

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when indulging your imagination. Were there any twists or turns in Ancestor that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

When I finished my first draft, I realized that my protagonist’s motivations could be strengthened by a radical overhaul to the entire book. It was a difficult decision to make, since it required substantial rewriting, but I think the book is better for it. Although I generally don’t dabble in detailed charts or diagrams, I do need a broad outline in my head when I write.

Q: A chartered accountant by trade, how did you come to write a novel that incorporates such diverse concepts as genetic engineering and Neanderthal archaeology?

What can I say? Who’s not fascinated by genetic engineering and Neanderthals? There’s an old writing maxim that ‘you should write what you know’, but I believe you should write what you want to know. Hence months and months of intense (but fulfilling) research.

Q: Write what you want to know - I like it! Given that you’re dealing with such complex subjects, how much research went into crafting the background for the novel?

The short answer – too much. For the long answer, please visit my website (www.raymondsteyn.com). I’ll be posting a detailed bibliography in due course.

Q: Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

Well, I've grown quite fond of my neighbor's dogs (insert maniacal laughter here). Other than that, the voices in my head also keep me company (solitude thus).

Q: When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

I think it’s impossible to try and anticipate readers’ reactions. If you can satisfy yourself, you’ll have silenced the biggest critic you could possibly ever have.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

I used to be part of a small writing group where we critiqued each other’s work. I happened to be the only male in said group (a humbling experience, to say the least). Let’s just say that gender issues are often the elephant in the room of literary discussions.

Curious aside – a well-known scientific study concluded that, due to the way humans’ Y chromosome is evolving, males will one day become extinct. So men are really an endangered species!

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

I think 80% of SF writers of a certain age will put Michael Crichton top of the list (especially with regards to the kind of SF that I aim to write). My earliest influences were Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Philip José Farmer, and Kurt Vonnegut. When I try to impress people, I’ll also mention writers like JM Coetzee and Ian McEwan. Funny enough, the writer that finally spurred me into action, was someone whose work made me think hey, I can do better than that! (writer will go unnamed). Fourteen years later, and here we are…

Q: When you're not writing (or reading, for that matter), what are some of the hobbies and passions that keep you busy?

Writing is my passion, and as an Indie writer, you have precious little spare time, but I enjoy traveling, running and watching the occasional rugby game (that’s gridiron without all the fancy gear).

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were Ancestor to hit the big screen?

Hmm, this is VERY tricky. I loved Russell Crowe in Noah, and I think he’d make a fantastic Neanderthal (little to no make-up required). For the rest, we’d have to involve Charlize Theron somehow (she’s South African and someone needs to save her from the clutches of Madonna’s ex, aka Sean Penn).

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there more to the Ancestor story, or perhaps a completely different project on the horizon?

I’m currently working on The Fossil King, a follow-up to Ancestor, that’s due for release in 2015.

I like the title! A huge thanks to Raymond for stopping by to join is today.

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About the book

Ancestor by Raymond Steyn
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Frion; 1 edition (April 10, 2014)

The prehistoric/post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller debut from exciting new talent Raymond Steyn. For some, genetic engineering holds incredible promise. Like transplant surgeon Vee Valkens, whose bold venture to infuse donor organs with mammalian hibernation genes changes course dramatically when the doctor contracts HIV. Invoking a state of suspended animation through an altered genome, Valkens wagers that time really does heal all wounds. But with every new development comes risk. For, while cloned dinosaurs remain fantasy for the foreseeable future, scientists today possess the means to resurrect ‘recently’ extinct animals like the mammoth, sabre-toothed cat and giant sloth. Not to mention the most enigmatic creature of all - extinct humans.

Like the Neanderthals. Separated by millennia, mankind is about to be reacquainted with a long-lost cousin whose demise is shrouded in mystery. Immensely powerful, with advanced cognitive abilities belying their feeble reputation, one of paleoanthropology’s most vexing puzzles can finally be solved, just as a new conundrum arises – will we enjoy a happy reunion, or reignite an ancient feud? After several decades in hibernation, this is the world our doctor awakens to. A world transformed into an Ice Age dystopia by unknown forces. A dangerous world. But all hope is not lost. Deciphering a cryptic map and accompanied by new allies, the doctor embarks on a quest across Africa to find a mythical Ark of Lost Wisdom. Because in the ultimate battle for survival, knowledge holds the key…

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About the author

Raymond Steyn was born in 1973. A chartered accountant by trade, he left a career in corporate finance to focus on writing.

He lives in Cape Town, South Africa and can be found on the web at www.raymondsteyn.com.

Ancestor is his first novel.

4 comments:

  1. Raymond, you look much younger than 1973 :)

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  2. Dezmond, I'm so old that when I was born, we didn't even have TV yet (South Africa only got television in 1976, I kid you not).

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  3. I believe it, I had a black and white TV till High School LOL

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  4. My black and white had 7 tv stations and cool slider buttons. The fun part kept me flicking around stations until I got a decent reception and don't get me going about the 'wheelie' buttons.

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