Just before college, Ray won first place in the National Pen Women Competition for his fictional short story, Distinction, as well as winning second place in the New York Best of City - The Written Word. While attending college, Ray Melnik's course on existential literature opened a whole new world for him. He pursued a musical career as a singer and lyricist, after leaving college. In the early 1980s he was the lead singer for One Hand Clap and then Fine Malibus, with Steve Stevens, current guitarist and song writer for Billy Idol. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ray was engineer and co-owner of MANNIK Productions, a recording studio in the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York. In addition to lyrics, Ray, wrote a monthly column about pro audio for a music trade magazine, American Liverpool. Later moving into the field of technology as a network engineer and then architect, he wrote for the technology panel of a regional newspaper, Times Herald Record, and was the primary writer of articles based on home technology for the website New Technology Home.
Ray currently works as a Senior Network Architect in New York City, New York and is a resident of Staten Island, New York. His first novel, The Room, published in September 2007, is a story grounded in reason. His second novel, To Your Own Self Be True, the sequel, follows with the same intention. Burnished Bridge published March 2010 is Ray Melnik's first novella, and is a love story written on a canvass of fictional science. A series ending novel, Eyes In This World was published in September 2013. A novella, Ghost In The Park,was published in April 2016.
Marina Raydun: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?
Ray Melnik: I write science fiction, and given I’m an over the top skeptic, I take pains to make sure the events portrayed in my stories are realistic enough for the reader to suspend disbelief. For example, in my novel, To Your Own Self Be True, there is a scientific device at the center of the story. In describing some of the functions, it talks of harmonics and I made sure to use frequencies accurately matching notes on a piano. In another scene, frequencies traverse a field, so I looked up the humidity levels for that particular day in the area the novel takes place knowing that humidity has a small but measurable effect on sound speed. So, I would say it’s the extra research tangents taken to make sure the details described seem believable.
MR: What literary character is most like you?
RM: I would have to say that I have always related to Meursault, the protagonist in the novel, The Stanger, by Albert Camus. Not that I relate to his obvious detachment from others but to the way he perceives reality and sees the absurd in life. If I reference my own characters, the protagonist in my first novel, The Room, is modeled after my own beliefs and thoughts exactly. Doing so in my first story was an experience that made me feel incredibly exposed, but it was therapy at the same time as I was getting over a failed marriage.
MR: What book do you wish you had written?
RM: That would be, Contact, by Carl Sagan. It embodies everything I feel about the wonders of the cosmos. It is a wonderful story about science, the vastness of space, religion versus reason and a climax that makes you feel we are not alone in the universe.
MR: What is your biggest failure?
RM: Nothing to me is that permanent that it can’t be overcome, but that said, I would probably settle on my first marriage. Even then I would not have changed a thing since my children mean everything to me. Failures are temporary and we are human. Like Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
MR: Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
RM: Just self-imposed. I purposely won’t read fiction when I am in the process of writing fiction. With all the moments between writing the passages in the chapters and keeping foreshadowing straight, it is difficult to read other fiction because it breaks my concentration.
MR: What is your favorite genre to read?
RM: I enjoy fictional novels, but there is no question that my favorite books to read are about the sciences. I love them all, but my very favorite subjects are astrophysics and quantum physics. Not only because they fuel the ideas for my fictional stories but because they are two subjects that are beginning to reveal the true nature of reality, and perhaps the only two that really can. We are living in a golden age of both fields of study, and if people would open their eyes to what was discovered it might just give us the humility we so desperately lack. I believe it was Richard Dawkins who said that when it comes to life, there is no question why; only how. The how we are discovering. The why is up to us.
MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?
RM: When I published my first novel I was taken aback by a few people who seemed to go out of their way to be mean. You pour your heart into the story and in the process, you expose yourself. But then someone writes a review that says they were so engrossed that they missed their subway stop, or that the story made them think long after they finished. My favorite good review called my first book, post existential; existentialism with hope.
MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
RM: That would be, Carl Sagan. I have read every book he has ever written, at least twice. He died almost 21 years ago now, and the world is sorely in need of another person like him. His grasp of reality and the things that are important were second to none. What an interesting conversation that would be over drinks, although it had been rumored he preferred cannabis.
MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
RM: For short trips, just the task at hand with music, of course. On long drives, such as every few weeks to upstate New York, I think of possible essays. Sometimes they are put to paper, but many times just stored away.
MR: What does literary success look like to you?
RM: Writing is a side passion that I’m grateful I can pursue given a demanding career in tech. I have purposefully kept royalties at the lowest possible level in the hope that the price point would entice readers to give my stories a read. My goal many times is to introduce readers to characters of reason, not well represented in literature. It has attracted its share of religious backlash, but others have written to me to say it made them think differently than they had before. That’s success to me.
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