While most students leave their wildest dreams in the clouds to chase conformity, Angel Santiago, a senior marketing major, took it upon himself to write his first novel, “To Be Forever.”
“Growing up I always wanted to tell stories, because I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” Santiago said. “The first time I really wanted to write a book was in fourth or fifth grade when I picked up a Harry Potter book, and I thought, ‘Man, how cool is it that (J.K. Rowling) wrote all this, and now it’s a book that we can all read.’”
Santiago began his writing career several years ago when he started writing on Quora, a website designed to answer questions. As of the writing of this article, he has surpassed 5 million views on the website alone.
“I had a lot of ideas I couldn’t necessarily discuss with people about things I really care about,” Santiago said.
Although Santiago had his dream set in stone, it wasn’t until one fateful encounter with a complete stranger that he suddenly had the drive to bring his thoughts to the blank page.
“I was waiting for a paycheck on a job I was working back in my hometown, and there was a guy just sitting alone eating Chinese food,” Santiago said. “I always felt in my heart and soul that if there is a push to talk to someone, just talk to them and see what you can learn from them.”
Acting upon his outlook, Santiago obtained a whole new perspective on wisdom, giving him the idea for the premise of “To Be Forever.”
“He was a pretty smart cat –– he had lived a long life and turned out to have done a lot of interesting things in his life,” Santiago said. “I thought about it, and took it to the extreme. That guy felt like he knew everything, and I thought, ‘If he genuinely was all-knowing, what would I ask him? What would be the one answer to all?’ I took a while to think about it, and I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I just ask him for eternal life?’”
“To Be Forever” follows the journey of a young man who pursues the secret of eternal life; his journey taking him to the far reaches of his society. The idea of wanting eternal life might sound logical, but the novel takes this question into serious philosophical consideration.
“I meditated on (the idea) some more, and after a while I thought, ‘Maybe living forever would suck … you could never reintegrate into society,’” Santiago said.
During the writing process, Santiago had no excuses when it came to writing “To Be Forever” and worked on the project religiously, starting it while still in community college.
“I just sat down and did it,” Santiago said. “I said I wanted to write a book, and it’s a great idea. I think the coolest part about writing is when you get really deep and invested –– you just go to this different place. I think that’s when the best writing comes out.”
On his literary influences, Santiago speaks fondly of French philosopher and writer Albert Camus and how he viewed life.
“I like thinking about the question, ‘How do you live life?’” Santiago said. “At the end of the day, we’re all alive –– that’s our first concern before anything else.”
In terms of content, “To Be Forever” is a lot to think about. It dabbles in existentialism and the viewpoint of an objective witness to the uncomfortable side of life. However, while Santiago wanted this to be conveyed in his novel, he wanted the story to stay readable and enjoyable.
“Albert Camus once said that the best way to convey a philosophical viewpoint was to tell a story,” Santiago said. “There are pretty deep, complicated things to think about in the book.”
The novel also focuses on an all-knowing figure known as “The Sage” who, despite being the wisest man on earth, acts incredibly humble and laid-back.
“I always thought that if you do know everything, there isn’t so much to be worked up about,” Santiago said. “You can’t really have an ego, so you’re just a normal cat.”
While neither the protagonist nor “The Sage” are based on his own personality, Santiago shares the humble nature of the book in his life and in his writing. While the book is intended to be something to dive deep into, he maintains that he wants his readers on all platforms to think for themselves.
“I just want people to think,” Santiago said. “There isn’t anything that I write that I want people to agree with, so much that I want them to sit down and think about a dialogue between yourself and the other characters in the book.”
Santiago wants to take readers out of their comfort zone, just as the nameless protagonist in his novel has to do to answer his quest for eternal life.
“You meet a wide range of people, and my biggest goal with this book is to get people out of their comfort zone,” Santiago said. “This (protagonist) constantly has to get out of his comfort zone whether he likes it or not –– talking to people who are very different than he is.”
Growing up in a single-parent home for much of his life, Santiago owes much of his inspiration and work ethic to his mother, who had to work her way up to provide her family with the opportunities they have today.
“Growing up, I never really got to experience a lot of money,” Santiago said. “However, I experienced a lot of love and a lot of sacrifice, which definitely has made my perspective what it is today."
Santiago, who is 23, hopes to have three or four published works, including books of poetry, by the age of 25. He plans to work on his next novel this summer, furthering his dream of being a bestseller.
“When I really got into it, I realized that even if I don’t get famous or get a lot of money writing, I just love doing it, even if it remains a hobby,” Santiago said. “The sky’s the limit –– keep flying to the sun until I touch it or until my wings melt.”
“To Be Forever” is available on Amazon in either paperback or e-book.