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Author Stephen Aaron Grey has recently published his very first fiction book. Why are we interviewing an author here at Live High Five? Well, he asked politely for one thing. That, and the fact that he introduced us to Drum and Bass way back in the 90’s definitely helped (DJ Freaky Flow, anyone)? But let’s leave the 180 BPM at the door for a while.
Stephen ‘s book, titled “Ant Farm,” explores the not-so-fictitious idea of a group of sentient creatures breaking away from an oppressive (and heavily armed) regime in favor of forming their own “more just and equal” society. The problem, cyclical in nature, is that some individuals (in this case, ants) rise to the top of the social sphere, while others remain as mere workers or become dregs of society.
Drawing parallels from how many humans seem to act to times, “Ant Farm” is practically an indictment of current society. The powers that be, those in control over and in power to protect and serve the health and well being of their populations, can (and often times do) find themselves corrupted by material gain, influence, and power. Sound familiar? The fact that Stephen managed to write earn entire book on these topics without uttering one derogatory or offensive word still astounds me.
So, without further ado, we’re going to talk to Stephen about his very first book. File under “Long Reads,” and enjoy!
G- Stephen, how are you and thank you very much for speaking with Live High Five today. You’ve got quite a big endeavor going on right now, huh?
S- It is, and also thank you for taking the time to talk to me today! I’m really excited about this. This is a brand new thing for me and very different from what I’ve done in the music realm, but it’s exciting nonetheless.
G- Well, it’s still a creative art and, since you opened the door, people know you for the music side and we all know that already. But I’m pretty sure people don’t have any idea that you are also an aspiring author… How did this come about and tell us a bit about your thought process with this.
S- Sure. You know, I’ve always been, I shouldn’t say always, but for a while I’ve been interested in greater world issues that are happening globally. Wars, poverty, all kinds of things. You know, I’ve studied a lot of that, and I’ve read a lot about it, and developed my own philosophy, taking bits and pieces from other people’s philosophies, and sort of realized my own truths. Certainly, lots of other people share those philosophies that I hold, which in a nutshell is people should be able to do whatever they want as long as they are not hurting other people.
There are a lot of books out there with this kind of philosophy, but there aren’t any that really break it down for a layperson, an average Joe or even for young adults who aren’t really interested in heavy politics or heavy philosophical discussion. I thought, you know, I want to explain this kind of philosophy to somebody… How can I do it? What book can I possibly give them that wouldn’t bore them to death, or would go over their head, or they’d find too dry, or whatever, and I can’t think of many. There’s a lot out there that are interested in this kind of stuff, and people that want to learn more, but people just want sort of a casual story to teach them about these kinds of contexts, and I can’t think of any books that could do that.
There are other books, like one that I drew heavily from, which is George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” which does that kind of thing, but with a completely different philosophy. I read his book, and I saw other books by Daniel Quinn, and Ayn Rand who wrote “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”, these are people that have taught philosophy through fiction, and I wanted to do something similar, but with a different philosophy. You know, being involved just in music doesn’t allow you, especially Drum and Bass which is mostly instrumental music, it doesn’t really allow me to convey those types of messages, and a book is really the only way I could think of doing it. So, that was kind of the genesis of how this came to be.
G- Alright. Now, the book is called “Ant Farm.” Where on Earth did you come up with the idea to use ants and cockroaches as a fictional political tale which really rings true in a lot of regards, which we’ll talk about later on?
S- Sure. You know, I was saying earlier that one of the models I really admired for this kind of thing was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”
S- But as I was trying to play on my story, I was thinking ‘Why don’t I do something of an homage or tribute to George’s book,’ because it does such a good job of teaching people things in a very simplified way. But farm animals weren’t really going to work for what I want to do. What could I use instead, and I got to thinking about other kinds of creatures.
I didn’t want to just do humans, because it’s way too literal. With something more literal, people want more information, and I didn’t want to give an information-heavy book, so I was thinking ‘what else can I do,’ and the idea came to me of ant farm, thinking about these little tiny ants that you can buy in the store. They’re just hustling along and working away, and I thought that is sort of a pretty good metaphor for humans working hard and busily, and those were going to be my main characters.
And I also had to think of who would be an appropriate villain. You go back to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and eventually the pigs become villains… What’s really out there in the insect kingdom that really scares people or is really disgusting, and I thought cockroaches were a good fit.
G- (laughing) Yessir.
Alright, so to go into the actual process before we go a bit deeper, as your first book, it’s depthy. It pushes the 200-page mark, and there’s really a lot going on, so tell us a bit about your writing experience… How long did it take you, and what was the process like, because it’s still a creative art.
S- Yeah sure. I think I started this conceptually in 2009. I’d be DJ’ing and on the road and I’d get these little ideas and write them down in my phone. After I had my ideas, I think I just said ‘Ok, let’s put some time aside and start writing.’ I was probably at a couple of coffee shops with my laptop, and I just really started writing. I wasn’t doing anything dedicated because I was busy doing other things with music and touring, so that obviously slowed down my progress with this book, but it probably took, for a first draft I wrote, maybe 6 months to a year.
I know you said 200 pages, but it’s not really that long in the grand scheme of things… Most books go much, much longer.
S- So then, after I had this first draft, I read it and reread it and I tweaked some things and changed some things, or thought of some additional ideas to put in. Anytime I added a new idea it’d have to reshape the whole story because maybe something I wanted to add… You know, if I have a 200 page story to finish, and I want to throw something in on page 50, that’s going to change how things play out on page 170. So, that took a little bit of time.
When I had a general story I was pretty happy with, I gave it to a few people just to read through, and they’d give me some feedback, and a lot of it was really valuable feedback. I changed some more things, and once I had a pretty close to finished copy, I sent it off to a few literary agents and publishers. It was something spread out over time… I didn’t approach 50 different agents in a week. It was really over a span of 2 years.
Finally, there was one publisher, a small publisher but a great publisher called Headline Books out of West Virginia that were interested in the story, and they gave me a few other points, and I finished it up. That’s the version we’ve got now.
G- Very good. That’s excellent. So, it wasn’t an overnight thing, just like establishing any type of career. It’s not an overnight thing, folks, so you’ve got to put the time in and that’s how everything will come to fruition for you.
So, now I want to dive a bit deeper into some of the subject matter, because as the ants separated from society, and you have graphs in there mentioning the population growth, mentioning economics, mentioning violent crime, and rest assured that, again, there are a lot of parallels we can compare to the human race.
You mentioned prohibition, you discussed the control of the transportation industry and postal control, the price of education, murder, violence, substance abuse, gambling… All of these things are mentioned. Additionally, you had a ‘Might Equals Right” situation occur on a few occasions. Explain a bit about the rationale in the approach that you took, but also talk about some of your own feelings on these matters.
S- Sure. You know, a couple of people that read early drafts of the books said that I was really tackling a lot of issues, and really not getting too in depth with a lot of them. You talk about economics and currency models and war and drug addiction and racism, and I think part of when I read the book after and made a short list of all the issues, I think there are like 40-45 current world issues that are explored. Some of the early people that read this said to me ‘Why not use fewer and get more in depth with tem all,’ and I said it’s because they all have the same theme. All of them, whether I’m talking about gambling or… And there are some issues that I didn’t discuss. I didn’t talk about prostitution in the book. I didn’t talk about intellectual property law, but even those, to me, have this very similar theme, and the theme is that in any entity, meaning historically, when a government tries to force its will on people, things go really, really bad over time, with any of those issues. And if I only explore a couple, the reader would be able to see that pattern. But when I cram in 45 issues into the book, and they all turn out the same way, and all for the same reason, I’m hoping that the reader will start to get the point that ‘Ok… they are trying to control people against their will, no matter what the issue issue, is a really bad thing.’
I had this revelation a few years before I wrote this book because there were still a few issues that I held on to that. You know, ‘The government does these things poorly, but there’s still a few things they need to do.’ And again, and again, and again, and again, every single thing they touch, I started to realize that there is nothing that they won’t screw up. I wanted to sort of wrap that message into the book, and that is why there are so many issues being dealt with there and I feel that it espouses my philosophy most accurately that way, and there also an easy fix to it that I think a lot of people are scared to explore which is interact voluntarily with people and don’t force people to do things. That’s a scary kind of thing for people when you talk about police and the judiciary system and military… How could we ever do that voluntarily? My book tries to explore some of those things and how they can be done without violence.
G- Right on.
And another very interesting feature of the book is that you include graphs in the book which documents growth. It documents income, it documents price of food and economics, and a wide variety of things are covered, and you can see patterns. How did you come up with the graphs?
S- Sure. Well, I think they’re more charts than graphs. When I think of graphs, I think a line graph or a bar graph.
S- I didn’t start with it. After a few chapters, I was getting confused because it was ‘Ok, are things getting better or worse? What does the data say?’ So, I made up some data and put it in towards the pint I was making. (laughs) Everything in the story is fictional… They’re walking, talking ants, so I needed to make up some data to accompany it.
It is not literally based on real world data, but certainly it’s modeled after real world data that I’ve seen. I looked up violent crime and GDP statistics and literacy rates and things like that for 20-30 different countries, and I found very similar patterns, which was that as the governments in these countries are more controlling, all of those things get worse statistically. And conversely, when other countries where they’re letting go of their power and letting people take control of their lives, things were getting better in all those areas. So I thought that by including these charts at the beginning of each chapter would help the reader see the “concrete” results of the actions that the government is taking in the book.
G- Right on.
You mentioned, for some people or ants in the book, people got better. There were business problems of course, and there were some political contests and things along those lines. But for some ants in the book, things got better. But for the majority, things got more difficult. I suppose that is a vast parallel to what we see on our society right now in the US. People are making a lot of money off of people, and some people are having a hard time.
Obviously, we want a just society and we want morals, and egalitarianism and we want people to be free to do what they want. But I suppose it is freedom at what cost? In the book, who would you say is the standout character that you think would be the best one to emulate in the real world, ain real time.
S- Sure. I think there are lots of characters in the book that… Well, let me say this. You were saying there are a lot of parallels in the US, so if you want to use the terminology “Haves and Have Nots,’ certainly people with money and power and people without, and generally in the US, but not just the US. I lived in Canada for 30 years as well, and I’ve been to other countries and this part is not dramatically different no matter what part of the world you are from, and that part is if you’re politically connected, if you have friends in the government that can pull strings for you, and a lot of times those people are board members or CEO’s of corporations, they’re the ones that are politically connected because they are making campaign contributions and they’re getting kickbacks, not necessarily in terms of money but certainly in terms of favorable legislation. On a much more simplified level, I tried to convey that in my book.
You’ve certainly got ants that are taking those kids of shenanigans and they certainly reap the benefits, but it can also come back and bite you in the ass. A political friend today can be a political enemy tomorrow, and that could be the end of you, and that happens to some ants in my book as well. And I’d say there are also a handful of ants that don’t partake in those kinds of games. They go out, they work and try to provide a good or service for the rest of the populations, they don’t try to wield the sword of state and force people to do things against their will, and I think those are the kinds of people to emulate.
Certainly in the real world, there are lots of those kinds of people, too. There are a lot of people out there that are just hard working dudes that make stuff and want people to buy it or use it if they think it’s valuable and useful, and they don’t try to legislate their competition out of business like you see with the taxi cab companies trying to do to Uber or Lyft.
G- Right on.
Well, I guess I have a couple more philosophical questions, but you obviously have some tour dates coming up and you’re going to be doing some promotional appearances where you’ll have books with you to do signings. When can we expect these to be taking place?
S- Well, the one I know that is 100% confirmed right now is end of September. Danny The Wildchild and I are playing in Baltimore, so I’ll definitely be there and I’ll have books that people can buy there, too. Some of the other dates are still being worked out and I’m still waiting on a couple of things, but hopefully there’ll be more in the pipe. And I have some Canadian shows in October, but I’ll post all of those on my Facebook page and on Freakyflow.com. And for strictly book stuff, I’ll also post on my website stephenaarongrey.com or antfarmbook.com. So, I’ll definitely be posting all those things as they come up.
Now, I guess I’ll combine these next questions. As a person that has lived internationally and traveled internationally, how do you think a just society should operate and/or what is the overall message you want to convey with “Ant Farm?”
S- Sure. I think those are 2 different but closely related questions. Let me answer the first one first, which is how would I like to see the ideal society. I think the first thing that a realistic person has to acknowledge is that there is no utopia. It is impossible to achieve a perfect society without any crime, without any violence, without any poverty. That’s just not possible. People have tried it, and years later when they try really, really hard, it ends up exacerbating the problems and you get more crime and more violence and that kind of thing. So, I certainly don’t want to see anyone try to go for perfection because usually that involves forcing people to do things against their will and ends in disaster.
But I would like to see a society with a minimal amount of these kinds of things. Minimal crime, minimal poverty, maximum prosperity. Again, this is not a utopia and there are still going to be problems no matter what, but I think that kind of place that I just mentioned is realistic, and I think the way it can be achieved is if governments in the world stop trying to force people to do the things that they want them to do. Sometimes their opinions on what is right and wrong comes from the majority of people but, as we’ve seen through history, the majority is not always right. The majority around most countries in the world were in favor of slavery for hundreds if not thousands of years, as as you see know the majority was wrong every single time.
So, I think people have to start to realize that forcing people to do things against their will is not the answer, and when you have a more voluntary society, things go better and start to get closer and closer to that society with minimal poverty and crime and that kind of thing.
So, concrete examples that I’d like to see? I’d like to see the government completely end the war on all drugs entirely because that creates so many problems from exacerbating addictions to increasing gang warfare, because when you prohibit something, it’s still going to happen but it’s going to have a criminal element to it. People are going to be shot and killed over it. If you don’t ban it and people can buy marijuana or even cocaine in Walmart, there’s no drug turf war. I’ve never heard of someone getting shot in the crossfire in Compton over a bottle of Advil, and it’s because it’s legal. That’s just one example, but I’d like to see all kinds of things like that.
And I’d also like to see some of the “services” or so called services that the government offers to us, but really forces us to pay for and use, I’d like to see some of those things where the government says ‘Ok look, we’re not going to force you to use these anymore. If you want to, pay us for them. If you don’t want to, don’t pay us for them.’ And if somebody comes along that offers these things better or more efficiently, buy it from them instead. It’s conceptually simple, but implementing them would be a huge undertaking for various reasons. But I think that with these things, you’d see a dramatic improvement in the quality of life for people all over the world.
For the second part of your question, I think the overall message of the book is what I just said. Greater peace, prosperity, and happiness and minimizing suffering is possible if people stop forcing each other to do things and instead choose voluntarily to interact with one and other.
G- Ok. So I have one more question written down, but as this is my first time interviewing an author, I’d like to know if there is anything that you’d like to add or anything that you’d like to answer that I didn’t ask today. I’d like to give you the time to address them today as you’d actually be helping me today as well.
S- Yeah. I think we covered a lot of good ground. I guess I can only think that to people who are really tied to the status quo and have grown up thinking that the government has all the solutions, because that is what you’re taught in government schools, it’s certainly what I was taught in government schools and that’s what I believed for a while, at least consider that that may not be true. Consider it, look into it, explore it.
Hopefully, my book will, and I’m expecting my book will convince everybody or even anybody, but maybe it will shed some light on things you hadn’t thought about before, and maybe it’ll send you down a path to want to learn more about things and pick up other books that really do dive into the hard data that can back up and substantiate the claims that I make in my books that is intended to be a little more fun and for the average Joe.
I think also that I try to write it also for young adults. I hope I didn’t get too complicated for younger adults. I don’t think I did, because I think that, too often, older adults think that younger adults and kids are too stupid to grasp these kinds of concepts. I think if you’re a little older, maybe 12 or 13, try this book and see how you’ll react to it. I’m curious. Certainly if it’s age appropriate for them, and I think it is, it could give a different and much needed perspective that they’re not going to get from schools or most news outlets. So, hopefully this will be a different alternative and shed a little bit of light on some of these subjects.
And since this is your first endeavor at this, your first book where you’ve put in the time and I’m sure there were many coffees drank and many hairs possibly pulled out, but you’ve completed it and it’s in print. I’m very happy and proud for you, so what advice could you give to aspiring writers out, and this interviewer as well, from your experience with “Ant Farm” that may help and/or ease the process or give them a sense that they can do this?
S- Sure. You know, this is a really hard question for me to answer and it’s because I’m so new to it. When people ask me for advice about DJ’ing or music business advice, I’ve done that for 21-22 years, and I’m sort of a veteran there. I’ve seen a lot, and done a lot, and i’ve tried a lot of things and failed and tried a lot of things and succeeded. So, I feel like I can give really good advice in that world.
This is my first book, and I don’t even know it it’ll be successful yet. I hope it is, but it may simply flop, and who wants advice from an author who’s book nobody bought, right? I don’t think that’ll happen, but you never know.
So it’s hard for me to give advice because I’m still looking for advice from more experienced authors, to tell the truth. I can say that the path I followed so far was a long one over the course of several years, and if you feel passionately about something and you want to write about it, I guess first you have to know how to write well. I think a lot of people just don’t know a lot of basic grammar in school, and it may help to take an effective writing course.
And then, I think a strategy I tried to employ was, and I do this in life with everything, but here I tried to put myself in the shoes of my audience. So, I try and think ‘Ok, this is a philosophy that not a lot of people have been exposed to, philosophies of freedom and true liberty and not attacking your neighbor because you disagree with them.’ It makes a lot of sense, but when you get to the nuts and bolts, a lot of times it’s counterintuitive and a lot of people don’t really know it. So I try to think if I’m in that audience’s shoes, or the reader’s shoes, what would it take to convince me or keep me interested if I never heard anything about this before?
So, I think that maybe is some good advice. As an author, try to put yourself in the shoes of the reader who’s never been exposed to your messages and doesn’t know where you’re going yet, and try to keep it interesting to that person. If I was writing for you, what would you want to see here and what would make you convinced that this is something worthwhile?
On the business side of it after that, again it’s very hard for me to get into. I sent the manuscript around and it was a couple of years. But if you’re confident in it and if you know people that have read it that are also confident in it, keep pushing it and maybe you’ll be able to make a deal.
And, in this age, self-publishing is still a viable option. I think several people do quite well with self-publishing, so you’ll want to keep that in mind as well.
G- Right on. Well I think we did pretty well with the book today and I’m looking forward to its release. I hope people give it a shot as it touches on some interesting subjects in a very interesting way. Best of luck to you on the release tomorrow and thank you again very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today… This is a first for me as it is a first for you as I’ve never interviewed an author about a book.
S- Awesome, man! Thank you so much for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.
G- My pleasure.
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