Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction
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Science has created a world where anything is possible and everything is affordable.
A world where illness and disease have been eradicated.
What if you could be young forever?
What if you didn't want to?
Levi Clayton Furstman's decision not to be inoculated with technology designed to bestow youth and immortality leads him on a journey that forces him to reexamine his relationships, his purpose in life, and, ultimately, what it means to be human.
Interview with Author Daniel Seltzer
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
This is the first book of the trilogy When We Were Gods. In Leviticus, Levi Clayton Furstman (“Clay”), a husband and father in his early 50s, struggles to understand society’s fascination with reality television, the entertainment world and the need to be constantly connected to the Cloud by means of the latest apps available for the iMeme (Apple’s latest must-have personal electronic device that includes a nano-camera and a two-way communication device implanted directly into one’s nervous system). But his whole world is turned upside-down when American nano-scientists (working in conjunction with DARPA) not only perfect molecular manufacturing and distribute Genesis replicators to every American household, but also introduce PreVentall – an inoculation involving nanobots that restores health and bestows eternal youth. Clay’s hesitancy to receive the inoculation while his wife and friends all physically return to their youth causes Clay to reexamine his personal relationships, including his renewed friendship with Eva, the daughter of a close friend who shares his love of literature (which has been rapidly disappearing over the past several years) but who he discovers has been working alongside a DARPA military officer involved in the Genesis project. As one of the last remaining “old” persons in America, Clay begins to question his purpose in life, and, after a chance encounter with a mysterious homeless man, ultimately, what it means to be human.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
I spent a few years working at a major university in a post-doc position researching the Societal and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology (“SEIN”). The whole field of nanotechnology was new to me. I learned a lot working there – both in regards to what nanotechnology was capable of doing and what scientists believe it can do. Anyone interested in the far ends of the spectrum should read Drexler’s seminal work Engines of Creation. Early in my tenure there was a call for papers (and I don’t recall exactly) for how nanotechnology will affect society. It must have been certainly much more narrow – but I did spend some time trying to think how the introduction of molecular manufacturing would affect all aspects of our lives. I also read an article about how medicine would like to be able to put nanobots into each of our cells to correct RNA/DNA replication errors and otherwise monitor and “fix” cells. The implications of both advances really blew me away. So these ideas were floating around in the back of my mind when I read a paper attempting to prove, definitively, a currently scientifically controversial subject. I read the article and it struck me that I could, using the same perimeters as the author, reach the exact opposite conclusion, and that’s when this trilogy was born. I know readers will be asking: “What article? What controversy?” I feel that if I disclose that information now, it will ruin a lot of the excitement building in the story – where it’s going. There are plenty of clues, but I’m not ready to reveal the end-road at this juncture.
What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?
I guess the real message comes from the ethicist in me. I want readers to recognize that there are always two sides to a story. The development of molecular manufacturing has the potential to really affect the world in a positive way, but, as the readers will find out (not only in Leviticus but also in the remaining books) that just because some scientific advance has the power to positively affect our lives, does not mean it will. I’m also harking back to the age old questions: What is our place here? Why are we here? Listening to NPR a few years ago, I heard a discussion on the age old question, the original question, which I (as well as the interviewer) thought would be: Who am I? but actually is: Where am I? The speaker, a rabbi, pointed out that the very first question that appears in the Bible is God asking Adam, “Where are you?” The question of “Who are you?” can be answered without any need to reference anything outside your own conscious and being – which raises the old dilemma of whether you can prove the existence of anything other than yourself. But the question of “Where are you?” demands reference to outside sources, demands that you place yourself in relationship to others. Clay struggles with the question of who he is, not only in reference to himself, but in reference to those around him and to his place within history, in a sense. I want my readers to question, not who they are, but where they are.
How long did it take to write the book?
I’m going to discount the time it remained an idea and formed and changed in my head. From the time I actually sat down to put pen to paper (ok – really fingers to the keyboard) it was a little over two years. I was originally going to write a single novel in three distinct parts. I had actually written the first draft of parts 1 and 2 and was about 1/3 of the way complete with part 3. I’m not sure how long it was before I decided to write a trilogy, to take the first part and work on character development and expand the story, but it was relatively early in the process.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
That’s a tough one. I really relate to Clay and in many ways, he is very much like me. It is fun to take him into situations that I will never have to face and play around with how he reacts and what outcomes transpire. It’s a little like sitting in a time machine and moving forward and, if I don’t like the outcome, I can go back and change it. But my favorite parts of Leviticus to write were, what I’ll call, the side-stories. The story of Ismaya in Chapter 1, the tale of the Young Russian, and even the story of the Spanish Sisters. They are almost stories within the story and they each had a life of their own.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
After having left the ethics position at the University, I fell back to practicing law. I had my own practice prior to the ethics opportunity and it took some time to re-build the practice so I found myself with a bit of extra time on my hands. The idea of this story had been floating around in my mind and I decided that it would be the perfect time to try to write it down. I am not one to outline anything. My general practice is to write down my ideas and story as I go along and refine as I edit. I was an English major in college and it was really before everyone used computers to write papers. I’m sure there was a computer lab on campus and I suppose folks used it for writing projects but most still used typewriters or word processors, which (for those who don’t know) were really typewriters that would display a few lines or a screen’s worth of text that you could modify before you printed. My practice was to hand write my papers and then edit them as I typed the papers out. My method here was similar insofar as I just wrote and then edit and revisit and edit again and again. Initially the story began with the material which is now disbursed in chapters 2-6 and did not contain any dialogue until page 18. Everything was going on inside of Clay’s head. While the final project clearly changed, it did allow me to really figure out who Clay was and to, no pun intended, get into Clay’s head which, I believe, really helped me to understand Clay and keep him consistent though the novel. The story itself is on a set path, but the stories within the story did go in some directions which I did not expect, but found to be quite exciting.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
That’s a tricky question. One of my editors said, you can always edit a work. The trick is deciding when the edits stop adding to the story. I think I reached that point. That said, Leviticus ends on a Thursday. Now that I’m writing book 2, I wish I had ended Leviticus on Wednesday. I am working it through, so no one will ever know, but for reasons I’d be happy to discuss after Book 2 is completed and published, I would have liked to change the date of the last chapter.
How did you come up with the cover?
I had played around with a number of ideas as the book was progressing. But considering the novel deals with Clay’s struggle to decide whether he should be inoculated with PreVentall, I started playing with the idea of human vs post-human. I couldn’t think of anything more representative of man (as we know him) than DiVinci’s Vitruvian Man. I thought by melding Vitruvian Man with a modern (futuristic) version, that it would convey Clay’s struggle between what he thinks of as humanity vs. the potential for post-humanity. I like the look of DiVinci’s piece with his notes jotted around the picture. I wanted to work with that look and wanted the title to be in that vein. My graphic designer (Carolyn of CMS Design) came up with some ideas that really helped further develop this idea. I’m really happy with the final product. I was a bit surprised, however, when my brother-in-law told me that he found the cover to be intimidating. Especially with a title such as Leviticus.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I kind of think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Books, stories, novels, music, poetry. They have always inspired me; have changed the way I feel and look at the world. I have always wanted to write something that would change a person’s life, help them grow, have a profound effect. I hope that doesn’t sound egotistical.
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
The first story I ever wrote was a children’t book entitled The Heart-Shaped Ash. It’s a story about two boys who live in an idyllic world with their extended family, when disaster strikes. But the love the two boys have for their family saves the day.
What are you favorite books and authors?
I am a huge fan of dystopian literature. Probably my favorite book is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The first time I read it, I immediately re-read it. I also love the classic dystopian novels, 1984, The Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, and newer YA stuff, Unwind and Hunger Games (though really the first is the best). I am currently reading Cronin’s Passage trilogy. I thought The Passage was fantastic. I haven’t found the time to pick up The Twelve yet, but hope to soon. I also enjoy some children’s literature. I found The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw a fantastic read. I’m also a big fan of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. Read it to your kids – for them and for yourself.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the second book of em>When We Were Gods. I had an idea jump into my head this past week for another book, but I’ve got to put it on hold. I’m not sure I am ready to work on more than one novel along with my day-job just yet.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
I’m not sure I am qualified to be giving advice. This is my first novel and, except for some poems in my high school and college magazines (and excluding scholarly works), I am pretty green myself. I will say that writing is hard, but quite enjoyable. And perhaps, what is likely the most common advice: write, write and write.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
I have the luxury of working for myself. So I don’t have to juggle writing with my family, but rather my work. It can be a challenge and I don’t spend as much time as I’d like writing, but I also don’t have to sacrifice time with my wife and children. As I get further along in Book 2, and given that my business has increased since I started the first, I will probably have to cut into family time. My likely solution will be to work late, after everyone’s gone to bed. I’m pretty good at working on just a few hours of sleep and there is something a little romantic about writing in the wee hours of the morning, while the world is quiet.
“The technology for TIN has been around for decades actually,” said the young man assisting Clay. The lanyard hanging around the youth’s neck displayed the words Rudy and Genius.
It had been almost eight months since his family had purchased him an iMeme as a birthday gift and they had finally worn him down and elicited a promise to have the TIN nanochip fitted today. Rudy was explaining how the process worked and it seemed to Clay the young man knew what he was talking about. Most of the Genius Bar staff did.
“It uses the same technology the physically impaired use to transmit brain signals to a computer to perform specific functions. Your iMeme sits here on your Spot, or wherever you choose to keep it, and as long as it’s within a three-foot radius, it can transmit information to, or receive information from, the TIN, which is really just a cochlear nanochip placed in your inner ear. With two-way communication and the iMeme’s built-in nanocamera, the iMeme can perform any number of important functions.”
Clay was still nervous. “So you’re going to stick something in my inner ear? Right here?” he asked, looking around. “No doctor? No specialist?”
“Trust me sir, I’m an Apple trained audiologist. I’ve done thousands of these. I simply place this device in your ear and the TIN nanochip will be inserted into your cochlea. Takes just a few moments.” Rudy put a smile on his face to try to reassure Clay.
“That’s the problem, Rudy. I’m not too hip on you puncturing my eardrum with that thing. I mean, don’t doctors say that only thing you should put in your ear is your elbow?”
“Sir,” Rudy responded. “The PSD will barely enter your outer ear.”
“PSD? What’s a PSD?” Clay asked.
Rudy was clearly working to retain his patience. “Sir, the PSD is the Placement and Syncing Device,” he said, showing Clay the object in his hand. It looked to Clay like an ear thermometer with a small cable hanging off its lower end. Rudy pointed to the small tip protruding from the top of the PSD and continued. “A nano-needle extends from here into your inner ear and to the cochlea. The needle itself is thinner than the proboscis of a mosquito. Not only will you feel absolutely nothing, the procedure is so safe that even if the TIN were misplaced, there would be no harm done to you.” He saw the look of doubt on Clay’s face and added, “The TIN won’t be misplaced. I promise.”
Rudy put the PSD to Clay’s ear, pressed a button. Clay closed his eyes, expecting the worst. He felt absolutely nothing. A hopeful thought that the PSD was broken crossed his mind. He opened his eyes and turned to Rudy.
“Listen, if there’s a problem, I can always come back.”
“I’m sorry Sir. What was that you said?” Rudy asked, involved in hooking up Clay’s tiny iMeme to the cable dangling off the lower end of the PSD.
“I said,” Clay started and then jumped slightly when he heard a gentle whisper in his ear.
iMeme now activated: November 13, 2021. 5:43 p.m.
Clay spun around to see who had spoken to him, but quickly realized it was no one, simply his iMeme communicating to him. Clay flushed slightly with embarrassment as he noticed Rudy grinning. Clay wondered whether everyone reacted as surprised or whether Clay was the random oddball. The idea of being looked upon as some sort of fool annoyed him. “What if I want to take the chip out?” Clay asked.
A puzzled look crossed Rudy’s face. “Take it out?”
Author Daniel Seltzer is giving away 20 print copies of Leviticus and a $50 Amazon gift card! Enter through Goodreads and Rafflecopter! USA residents only, please.
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