Author Interview – Michael Patrick Hicks

Emergence will be released on 4th May. To celebrate its release, Convergence will be on sale at $0.99 for the week.

Michael Patrick Hicks’s debut novel Convergence was an Amazon Breakthrough Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and after reading it, it’s clear why. Not only is it action-filled, turn-the-page-and-find-out-what-happens-NOW reading, it’s also my favourite type of story in that it asks some very difficult ethical and philosophical questions about how future technology might affect the nature of humanity.

convergence
Convergence is set in a futuristic, post-invasion United States which has broken up into different territories. Main character Jonah Everitt lives in a refugee camp in what was California but is now under the control of the invading Pacific Rim Coalition. He’s also a DRMR addict. DRMR stands for Databiologic Receiver of Mnemonic Response, and is effectively a chemical and technological advance that allows users to relive the memories of the dead.
Jonah is hired to kill a high ranking member of the PRC and steal his memories, an act which sets an unexpected set of consequences into play.
I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read it, but it had me gripped from the first page.

emergence-800-cover-reveal-and-promotional
As a beta reader, I was lucky enough to get an advance look at Emergence, the second in the DRMR series. For those unaware of the nature of beta-readers, we read the novel prior to publication to help pick up plot-holes or style and story issues. I didn’t find too many of those (Mike’s a good writer), but I did keep writing little essays on his manuscript because he has so many fascinating concepts to mine around the DRMR technology. I just wanted to jump into his world and keep digging. You know it’s a good book when you want to grab the author by the lapels and shout, ‘Come with me! I need to know more about your world.’
Luckily for me (and you), Mike’s agreed to come along and answer some of my questions.

Your first novel Convergence is set in a post-invasion United States. This makes for some very interesting political speculation as to what would happen if a Pacific-Rim-style Coalition did invade the U.S. What attracted you to this setting?

I simply wanted to do something that was a bit dystopian and to make the environment something that was not only dangerous, but which would have a severe impact on the characters and uproot everything in an interesting way. I wanted something that was a bit grittier, a bit more noir. I was really attracted to America as a failed experiment. The USA is a very, very young nation and a bit of a Johnny-come-lately on the global stage that sometimes has a very peculiar arrogance to it. I wanted to see a North America that was “after the fall” so to speak.

The DRMR technology has some drawbacks, mostly in the form of addiction, but it also invites some interesting conjecture as to how living someone else’s memories would influence and change the user. I can’t help thinking that the introduction of this technology would lead to greater empathy and peace within the world, as people learn what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. Do you agree with this? And if not, why not?

While I think, and at least certainly hope, that the world is moving toward greater, progressive values and inclusivity, I’m fairly positive that a technology like DRMR would be badly abused, if only by a minority of retrograde people who fear positive change and inclusivity. For all the good that could be done with it, I think there are some inherit problems and that it would kind of ruin everything for everybody. Maybe I’m just a pessimist. But, as readers will see in Emergence, it’s definitely a technology that’s ripe for exploitation!

Everyone has the stories they tell themselves about their own lives, so that even someone using the DRMR and accessing the memories first hand might come up with a different interpretation of who that person is. If someone accessed DRMR of your life, what do you think they’d learn from you?

Oh my goodness. I have no idea! Probably that I’m some horrible, darkly maligned personality with too many tortured thoughts and unending mental screams of anguish. Or maybe that I’m far more caring and squishy than I’ll publicly admit to.

If you could access the DRMR recordings of someone in real life, would you do it, and how do you think it might change you?

I don’t think I’d want to access the DRMR recordings of anybody I was close to. There are certain political figures and big-mouthed zealots that I’d be curious to access, but mostly to satisfy my own morbid curiosity on whether or not they’re the delusional, hypocritical con-men I believe they are, or if they actually believe the garbage they spiel. I don’t think such access would make me a better person, and I probably don’t want their particular brands of poison lingering in my head after all.

The DRMR world is detailed and feels very real. How did you go about researching this kind of political situation and the accompanying technology?

For the invasion angle, I looked at publicly available documents of Chinese officials war-gaming potential plans for invasion and looked at various refugee camps. The technology angle required a tremendous amount of research into memory formation, memory deletion, brain structures and how they interact, and some of the work that DARPA is doing. While the DRMR technology is a sci-fi concept, there are certainly efforts out there in the scientific community to make it not only plausible, but entirely possible.

When I tried to think of what genre Convergence is, I came up with a lot more than one: science fiction, dystopia, future tech, thriller. It’s a difficult book to pigeon hole. A lot of marketing involves trying to raise awareness of a book among fans of that genre, and having an original concept can sometimes make a book more difficult to market. Do you think this has been the case with Convergence?

To a degree, it has been, yes. But, the readers that have found it, so far, have been very kind and have received the book warmly. So, for that I’m completely grateful! Convergence is definitely a mish-mash of a lot of different genres, so if somebody hates sci-fi but loves mystery/thrillers, I think there’s a good chance they’d like Convergence. A lot of people think sci-fi is just aliens or Star Trek type stuff, but there’s plenty of room within the genre for other types of work. I operate very much in the Cyberpunk Noir end of things. Convergence is definitely more on the Blade Runner end of science fiction, in terms of it being very much about humans, on Earth, dealing with daily life, but their life just happens to have a little bit more high-tech stuff than we do. At least for now.

Who would you say are your favourite authors, and do you think they have influenced your writing?

Stephen King, Richard K. Morgan, Tom Clancy, Dennis Lehane – those are my big favorites. And yeah, I think they’ve definitely influenced my writing, a lot. Particularly in terms of technothriller writing, I think reading each of those writers has really helped shape my own writing style and my approach to writing and story-telling.

Can you give us a sneak peek into what’s coming next for the third of the DRMR series?

Not yet. Emergence is book 2, and that releases Monday, May 4, 2015. I’m working on an entirely separate and different project at the moment, for the Apocalypse Weird crew, and that’s where my focus is at these days. I’ve got a couple ideas for the third DRMR book, but it’s still a ways off. People should keep an eye on http://michaelpatrickhicks.com and sign up for my newsletter there; whenever I have an announcement to make, those are the readers that get it first.

Where would you like your writing career to be in five years?

I’m certainly hoping I’ll have a nice catalog of titles that a wide range of readers can plunge into!

What is your least favourite part of the publishing / writing process?

The business side of things on the publishing end can be mind-numbing and exhausting. Trying to line up ads with a number of promotions sites, and locking in release dates and coordinating between print and digital markets and waiting on proof copies, and keeping track of income and expenses for tax purposes, and spreadsheets and spreadsheets and spreadsheets – that is all very much not glamorous or fun. Don’t let anyone fool you – writing is a business, regardless of how much fun the writing side of things can be. But even that has its dreadful moments! It’s work. It’s not digging graves or working in a coal mine, thankfully, but you still have to be mindful of the fact that it is, first and foremost, a business.

You can connect with Mike on his website, twitter, facebook or goodreads (and do. He’s very nice. I promise)

Nosferatu

nosferatu

I’ve been intending to see the original 1922 version of Nosferatu for ages. It’s one of the seminal horror films of our time (arguably even the most influential). I got to see it in the best possible way: in Bristol’s Victoria Rooms accompanied by original organ music — just as it would have been shown back in the day. (Enormous kudos go to David Bednall on the organ and his improvised score. It was incredible and I can’t believe how much talent must be needed to improvise something that awesome.)

I’m not sure if anyone could possibly complain about a review of an almost hundred-year-old movie containing spoilers, but if that sort of thing bothers you, consider yourself warned.

Nosferatu is a thinly-veiled version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The original script was the Dracula story, but the film makers couldn’t obtain the rights so they ended up changing the names and the ending. Unluckily for them, it was still close enough that Stoker’s heirs sued successfully over the adaption, and a court ruled that all copies be destroyed. Luckily for us, all copies weren’t destroyed. At least one survived to become one of the oldest and greatest horror movies of our time.

The film hasn’t aged nearly as much as it could have. It’s still relevant. Still scary in parts and it’s had me thinking about it on and off over the last few days. The most obvious difference to modern movies is the over-acting, but I really enjoyed that part of it.

happyhutter

Gustav van Wangenheim as Hutter was the most manically jolly character I have ever seen on the screen. It felt a little silly at first (there were a few titters in the audience), but it did mean that when he does finally realise the nature of the Count and cowers in his bed, terrified of the monster coming towards him, it felt like watching a happy, bouncy puppy realise it’s about to get a kicking. I haven’t felt that sorry for a fictional character in some time. Poor innocent little puddle.

coming into the room

Nosferatu (Max Schreck) was fantastic too. There was no angst or guilt or sparkles. He was just pure creepy vampire and I loved him.

ellen

Greta Schroder as Ellen was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting such a strong female character from such an old movie. I thought she was going to spend the film screaming and fainting. There was plenty of that but she was the one to save the day. She was certainly a lot cleverer and determined than her innocent puppy of a husband.

 

Ultimately, a fantastic film and one I was really pleased to have seen. It was even worth the wait to get to see it with such a fantastic live score. This evening I’m going to watch the 1979 remake. Let’s see how it measures up.

Updates

Apologies for the lack of posting, all. It’s been a busy, busy month and writing has had to take a back seat. Busy stuff this month has included a move out of London, my son starting his new school and about a zillion other things,

Upcoming projects include a contribution to a new anthology from the same awesomely talented group of writers who brought you No Way Home. (Yes, I’m including myself). No Way Home has done tremendously well and I am incredibly proud to be part of it. I’ll announce more about the new anthology in due course.

In other news, now that I’m settled I’m looking for a job. If anyone knows of anything interesting going in the Bristol area, let me know :)

 

Farewell to the great Terry Pratchett

I was so sorry to have heard about the death of Terry Pratchett on Thursday. He was not only my favourite writer (and I think one of the true greats) but also someone for whom I had the utmost respect and admiration.

Pratchett is my comfort reading. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve read each of his novels. I also couldn’t tell you which is my favourite, but if I were to list my top ten favourite books of all time, Terry Pratchett would have written every one of them.

Terry Pratchett not only influenced me as a writer, but also as a person. His books made me think. You can build an entire world philosophy off of Pratchett quotes, and make the world a better place.

RIP, sir, you will be much missed.

On Growling

Everyone has their own pet peeve when it comes to books.  Mine is growling.

I get why writers use it. It’s a handy short cut for: This guy is an alpha-male. Look at him putting everyone in their place. He can’t be bothered with the petty waffle everyone else cares about.

The problem is that I haven’t actually heard anyone growl in real life. I know I’m being a pedant, but it always throws me straight out the story.

I recently read an otherwise decent book that was marred by one of the characters growling all the time, especially during the sex scenes. This was when the female character imagined him as a muscley black panther slinking through the jungle (as you do apparently) and then when they were at it, he’d ‘growl like a panther’.

Firstly, panthers are better known for their screaming than their growling (which is even worse), but this is what a panther growl actually sounds like:

Dunno ’bout you, but if a woman actually heard her partner making that noise during sex, she’d either burst out laughing or run away. Probably both at the same time.

 

Last chance to borrow on Amazon

I’m going to be removing my books from KDP Select on Amazon (which allows readers to borrow the books). This will be from 9 March for A Murder of Crones and 11 March for The Secret Dead.

Other authors have had a dip in income due to being in Select. This hasn’t had much of an effect on me (I’m not making much at the moment anyway) and I am getting a good number of borrows so I’ll be sorry to lose that. Whether readers will go on to buy them instead remains to be seen.

My real reason for taking them out of the program is simply because Amazon requires exclusivity to participate and this no longer makes sense. The exclusivity applies to giveaways of ebooks as well as sales on other platforms so it really restricts my ability to get my books out there to readers.

I think it’s a real pity about Amazon’s exclusivity clause. I don’t think it does any favours to readers or writers, and I really wish they’d get rid of it. I’m not convinced it’s such a bonus to Amazon either.

There are still going to be plenty of opportunities to get freebies. I’m going to try go perma-free on The Secret Dead and will do an ebook giveaway for Murder of Crones on Librarything later in the month (both not possible under the Select program).

Keep watching this space or follow me on twitter. I’ll announce when the giveaway is up and running.

On writing Merely a Madness

Merely a Madness appears in sci-fi anthology No Way Home which will be released on 2 March 2015.

No Way Home Kindle

Merely a Madness  signifies something of a shift change for me and my writing. Like most writers (or at least the published ones), I’ve put a lot of words down on screen and paper, and the vast majority of those haven’t seen print.

A couple of months ago, I came across the printed manuscript for my first novel Halcyon Days. I hadn’t looked at it in more than ten years, which is probably a long enough break to look at it objectively.

The objective verdict? It’s bad. The story idea isn’t that awful, but the writing? Definitely amateur level stuff.  Maybe one day if I have time and can be bothered, I’ll salvage the idea and rewrite it.

I wrote a second novel after that. It was some sort of horror novel about demonic possession. That one is long lost (I saved it onto a stiffy disk and lost that).  I suspect that’s no great loss either.

The Secret Dead was my third novel and I remember very clearly the first thoughts I had after reading the first chapter: ‘This isn’t very good.’

I’m a writer, but reading will always be my first love.  I know good writing when I see it. And that wasn’t it.

It was something of a watershed moment for me. Instead of getting miserable, I just grew determined. Maybe I wasn’t good at writing, but that was fine. All I had to do was work at it until I was good. Easy. All that was needed was  hard work, and I’ve never been scared of that.

This is the real reason The Secret Dead took so many years to write. Part of it was juggling writing with a full time job as well as motherhood. Part of it was sitting in front of the keyboard and rewriting that first chapter thirty times. Most of it was learning how to write and figuring out how to make something readable.

The Secret Dead isn’t perfect. It’s a long way from it, and more-experienced-writer-me wants to go back and fix it. I suspect all writers want to do this. It’s the way it works. As we grow in experience and learn more of the craft, the next book is (hopefully) always going to be better written. I still have a lot to learn.

Merely a Madness is part of this process.  Because it’s a short (just a tad under 10,000 words), it was an excellent opportunity to play around and try something new.

***Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read it. Consider yourself warned***

It started out simply as tourists stranded on a post-civilisation Earth. I had the vague idea that someone in the party would end up betraying them, and that was the seed when I started writing.

Scifi is also new for me.  I read boatloads of it, but I’d never attempted to write it. You’ll notice there’s not a lot of technical sciencey stuff in the story. That’s because I didn’t want to come across as an idiot. (No one wants to be the one who comes up with metaphorical midi-chlorians)

Readers had mentioned that Vivia (the protagonist in The Secret Dead) can be a bit of a cold fish. (They may be interested to know that I went in and did a draft just to add extra emoting because she came across as something of a psychopath in the beginning.) This is my comfort zone. I like description, and detail, and plotting. All that human emoting? Much trickier to get right.

The challenge: write a character who is emotionally driven to the point of ignoring common sense and logic.

That fed through into everything else. The story started off as past tense, but about 2000 words in I shifted into present because it suited the immediacy and emotionality of it. I’d also never written a love story before. My readers will know there’s not much sentimentality in my other work.  Again, new challenge.

I’ll admit I think it’s a little over-the-top and dramatic sometimes, but it works and I’m really proud of it. Reviewers have been kind too, which always makes me want to do the dance of joy.

I’m really excited about this. Not just because it’s something different, but because I have reached the point in my writing where I have learned enough and have enough tools in my toolbox, that I can play around and experiment.  And do so with some success.

I’m really enjoying it. I’m working on a couple of other short stories right now – some for the Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror anthology coming later this year, and also a couple of London Bones stories to give out as freebies.

Trying to turn each story into a good read is still hard work, but it’s fun work. I’m having a whale of a time.

The Self-Publishing Sky is Not Falling

Fantastic post on the state of Indie Publishing from James Scott Bell, especially this bit on how to be a successful writer:

You have to write books that are good enough to get the people who read them to want to read more from you, and to recommend you to their friends and social circles.

Definitely worth a read for anyone considering publishing independently (and for those of us who already are).

Launch Party for No Way Home!

Yay!

We’re having a launch party for No Way Home on 2 March.  You can RSVP here.

While a physical party with wine and nibbles would be fun, this one’s going to be online (so all of us can attend).  And, and of course, there’s nothing to stop me you from having a glass of wine while attending… (just don’t spill it over your laptop)

The contributing authors are going to be chatting about their contributions, and there’ll even be some book giveaways (much better than nibbles).

Sound good? Of course it does. I’ll chat to you all there then!

The Work In Progress Blog Tour

Blog tour! Always fun.

The blog tour has some rules (which I’m going to break), but just so you know:

  1. Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.
  2. Write a little about and give the first sentence of the first three chapters of your current work-in-progress.
  3. Nominate some other writers to do the same.

Thanks to Michael Patrick Hicks for the nomination.

Mike’s debut novel Convergence was an Amazon Breakthrough Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and is a fantastic dystopian read.  Mike writes the kind of futuristic page-turners that are not only action-filled, but also get you asking the big questions about the nature of humanity.

I was  lucky enough to beta-read for his second novel Emergence, and regular readers of my blog will see more about his work here soon. I enjoyed both books so much that I asked him if he’d be willing to let me pepper him with questions about them, so keep an eye out for that.

He’s also the author of short story Consumption (which I really must read, because I’ve enjoyed his others so much) and Revolver.

Revolver is a story in the No Way Home anthology which features some of the best up-and-coming speculative fiction writers working today (including me: brag brag). But seriously, No Way Home is a fantastic set of stories. I thoroughly recommend it, and not just because I’m in it. No Way Home is due out on 2 March so watch this space.

First breaking of the rules (or at least bending a little), I’d also like to mention my fellow nominees Lucas Bale and S. Elliot Brandis, as well as J.S. Collyer who nominated Mike. They’re all authors well worth taking a look at.

My Work In Progress:

I’m busy with the third in the London Bones series titled Hive Memory.  I hate writing blurbs (so it should be shinier later) but this is what it’s about:

London’s famous werebees are about to select a new queen, but just at the most politically sensitive time, one of their own goes missing and returns three days later with no memory of where he had been or what had happened.  

Second breaking of the rules: I am a terribly disorganised writer. I write scraps and bits as they grab my attention from all over the story and then only decide later what order they go in. (Makes me sound great doesn’t it?).

In other words, here are three scraps, that may or may not be in the first three chapters:

Excerpt One:

Like many people, merely being around the police was enough to make me feel guilty. It didn’t help that the last time I saw Zee Haddad she’d given me a thorough dressing down. I shifted in my chair and tried to look innocent, or at least authoritative. This was my territory after all, and the werebee had come to me.
Zee sat in the client chair opposite mine, an untouched chamomile tea in front of her. We’d covered all the basic pleasantries — the how-are-yous, the miserable autumn weather, the tube delay that had made her fifteen minutes late. I’d provided her with a beverage. Then we’d chatted about my promotion to manager at the Trust. We were half an hour in, and I was still waiting for the reason she was sitting in my office.

Excerpt Two:

‘We’re meant to be workers, not lovers. Chastity’s a big thing in our culture.’
‘But?’
‘But we’re human too, and since when did humans keep it buttoned up? It’s like a French farce in the hive some mornings. Peek out the window and everyone’s sneaking out of one door and in through another.’

Excerpt Three:

I leaned back in my chair and studied his face. He wasn’t a conventionally attractive man. His face was a little too round, and the last of his hair made a Saturn-style ring around most of his head, but there was an intelligence to his eyes that made up for the lack of physical beauty. I could see why she liked him. What I couldn’t see was how he could be so blase about what happened.
I leaned forward. ‘You were missing for three days and you have no idea where you were. Doesn’t that bother you, even a little?’
He shrugged. ‘No, not really. It doesn’t feel like anything bad happened to me. And I’m clearly fine now. I wish she’d stop worrying.’
My internal weirdometer was pinging like crazy. Normal people don’t lose three days of their lives and just shrug it off. Despite the weirdness, I thought he was telling the truth. Anyone with the brain power to become one of the country’s leading fertility experts would also have the brain power to come up with a better lie. It was just a damned odd truth.

 Nominations

My first nominee is W. Freedreamer Tinkanesh.  

W’s writings have appeared in unknown, obscure zines and in the last ten years in various anthologies: ‘Write Now’ (UK, 2001), ‘Threads’ (UK, 2009, edited by Cassandra Lee aka Shawn-A-Lee McCutcheon-Bell), ‘Eclectica’ (2011, edited by Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc), ‘No One Makes It Out Alive (2012, edited by Hydra M. Star), ‘Blessings from the Darkness’ (2014, edited by Kelly J. Koch), ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2014 (edited by Jennifer L. Miller).
W. Freedreamer Tinkanesh is the author of the novel ‘Outsider’ (2012) and the collection of short stories ‘Tales for the 21st Century’ (2014).

Walki’s novel Outsider is one of the most original books I have read in a while and I thoroughly recommend it.

Connect with W. Freedreamer Tinkanesh on:  Livejournal, Twitter, Goodreads.

 My second nominee is Heather R. Blair, who readers may remember did an author interview for me a little while back.

Heather writes fantasy and paranormal fiction, including Shivers, a collection of (shivery) short stories, the Celtic Paranormals series of novels, and Phoenix Rising. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Connect with Heather: WebsiteGoodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

I may have another nominee coming, I’m just waiting for her to let me know she’s happy to accept the nomination. Watch this space.