Please tell us about who you are and what we need to know about The Ancestor.
I’m the author Lee Matthew Goldberg. The Ancestor is my fourth Book after Slow Down, The Mentor, and The Desire Card. I write thrillers with a literary bent to them. I’m born and raised in NYC and run a literary series there called Guerrilla Lit. My aspiration for The Ancestor is for it to be made into a TV series, so I’m working on it as a pilot too.
The Ancestor is about a man named Wyatt who awakens in the Alaskan wilderness with amnesia. He has a mirror around his neck and sees another man who looks exactly like him. He follows that man back to his family, which brings forth a memory of his own wife and son, except these memories are from the late 1800s when he left them to be a prospector in Alaska during the Gold Rush. The book is a meditation on identity and what makes us into the person we are, but also a thriller as Wyatt decides he wants his doppelgänger’s family as his own.
We'll come back to what you feel makes for a good thriller, but first I'd like to hear more about why writing "a meditation on identity and what makes us into the person we are" was important to you?
I wanted to grapple with what it was like for my character Wyatt to lose everything about himself and basically have to start over from scratch. He slowly begins to have memories of his past, but because they were from over a century ago, does it really add up to who he is in the present time, or has he become someone new? Is our make up a sum of our past experiences, or is it more? Will Wyatt wind up repeating some of the same mistakes he did a hundred years ago, or will he veer from who he was and become a more formed human? Many of the supporting characters feel chained to their pasts as well. Some will break free while others are unable.
There is interesting conflict here, Wyatt wants to become "a more formed human," while also deciding "he wants his doppelgänger’s family as his own." From this perspective we can cheer for Wyatt, though he also sucks. One means for addressing a conflict such as this is to create empathy for the character. How did you approach this with Wyatt? Also please speak to the importance of creating empathy for one's characters in general.
There’s definitely good and evil in Wyatt. He’s an anti-hero. A lot of my books are about flawed people. No matter what, you need to create empathy for your characters. They have to be living and breathing, warts and all. Readers will want Wyatt to be good and do the right thing, and they’ll be sad when he doesn’t. It's what makes him human. But from very early on in the book, Wyatt tells the readers exactly who he is. He’ll do anything to get his family back, even if that means creating a new family that belongs to someone else. As much as he may try to fight it, he’ll step on anyone that gets in the way of his goal. He’s a walking time-bomb and closer to exploding as the book progresses. My job was to make readers still root for him, even when he’ll inevitably let them down. The trick is giving him qualities that readers can relate to, evoking sympathy enough so you understand why he does what he does, even if you don’t agree with it.