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.

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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.

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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)

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