Convergence, by Michael Patrick Hicks – Analysing a Writer's Process
Michael Patrick Hicks first got in touch with me at the Writers Cafe on KBoards. He asked me to join a Speculative Fiction group over there and, as most authors do, I checked him out. His website is Cyberpunk meets Terminator and his first novel, Convergence, has a pretty special cover. I downloaded a sample, read a few pages and downloaded the rest. Michael's writing style reminds me of James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard - crisp, neat and slick and more often associated with US crime fiction written by Robert Crais. So when Michael agreed to be interviewed here, I jumped at the chance. Convergence is currently 99c across all platforms, but only until July 19th.
What was the catalyst moment which made you decide to write for publication?
I’d always wanted to be a writer, and it was a hobby for a very long time. Back in high school, I started writing screenplays and comic book scripts, not with the intent of selling them, but really just to learn how, and I was taking creative writing courses. Then, during the first few years of college I wrote three or four manuscripts, detective novels, and shopped them around to agents.
This was close to 15 years ago, and well before ebooks were even a thing. Self-publishing, at that time, was a joke and more of a vanity thing. Nobody really believed it was a viable option (although it certainly worked for Vince Flynn and Matthew Reilly!), so back then the only way to publish was to get representation. It was a long, grueling waiting game, and I learned pretty quickly that writing wasn’t going to be an option as a “real job” if I wanted to put food on the table regularly, and ended up majoring in Behavioral Science and found work at a local courthouse.
I was growing increasingly dissatisfied working as a probation officer, and left that job to go back to school. My wife is amazing and backed me up fully, so I went into the journalism program, knowing that I still wanted to write, and that seemed like a good medium between my life-long dream and having a real job with steady employment. And then the US news industry bottomed out and a lot of long-lived newspapers were going bankrupt. Even The New York Times seemed to be on rocky footing, so it wasn’t a good time for newspapers, which is where I wanted to be.
I found freelance work pretty easily, though, and churned out some good stuff for a few years. So, while I was finally published, I eventually found myself needing to tell my own stories, rather than the stories of others. I was balancing a full-time job with the freelance work, and apparently decided that just wasn’t enough, and set about writing my novel, Convergence, in 2011. After that placed as a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013, and self-publishing ebooks had burgeoned into a much more legitimate option, I decided to take the plunge!
How long do you generally research before beginning the first draft?
It varies, but typically I don’t spend a great amount of time on research. Convergence was a bit tricky, and I didn’t outline that first draft as deeply as I should have, so I found myself doing a lot of on-the-fly research. I’m working on its follow-up now, Emergence, and the research for that was a cakewalk since much of it had already been done for the first book!
What are the keys areas you research? Where does your inspiration tend to come from?
Science, first and foremost. That’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. On a daily basis, it’s just such an interesting field with so many crazy breakthroughs in so many diverse areas. For Convergence, I needed to learn a lot about memory formation and how it gets encoded in the brain, so that it could plausibly be recorded by a cybernetic implant, which is called DRMR in the book. I read a lot of science journal articles, and looked into DARPA research, as they’re developing similar technologies to help with brain trauma in combat veterans.
Where were you when you had the idea for Convergence?
I was sitting at work! I actually hadn’t planned on writing Convergence, per se. It was just supposed to be a short story that was set in the same world I was developing where the DRMR technology would function as the backbone that connected things. I was planning on using it as a free story to introduce readers to the DRMR series and hopefully hook them into buying this other full-length book I was actually planning on writing. But, as often happens, the story and characters had other plans for me and upended everything. It took on a life of its own and kept growing and growing, until I found myself typing THE END a couple hundred pages later.
How long does it take you to write your first draft?
Typically three to four months. I think Convergence took a little bit longer, maybe five or six months. There was a lot of rewriting mid-course, and before the first draft was even finished I’d rewritten the opening chapter twice. The first draft of Emergence was written in three months, and came along nearly fully-formed, beat by beat.
How many times do you edit that draft yourself?
I’ll give it two or three passes before turning it over to the pros, where it undergoes some really rigorous editing and fine-tuning.
What is your writing background and how have you developed your craft?
Well, as far as a paid writing background, I did some time as a journalist, and I did reviews for an online site called Graphic Novel Reporter. I think the journalism courses helped developed my fictional craft a great deal, particularly the copy edit and feature writing courses. In journalism, you have to write very carefully, almost deliberately, since print-space is limited, so you don’t use really flowery language, or big five-dollar words, and you never use three or four words when one will suffice. I tried to take that to heart in my fictional work, and to keep my prose tight and clean. My editors, both on the news end and from those who edited Convergence, helped me recognize a lot of the crutch words that I lean too heavily on, and I’m very cognizant of that now.
Do you use a professional editor? If so, for what – developmental editing, line editing or copyediting? Or a combination?
Oh, absolutely! Never, ever underestimate the necessity of a professional editor. They are a MUST. I owe a lot to the wonderful editors at Red Adept Publishing, who did content/development editing, line editing, proofreading, the works.
How do you choose your editor?
Research, research, research. After hearing a lot of good things about Red Adept and reviewing their services and pricing, they seemed like a natural fit for me. They did a sample edit of the first 1,000 words, and blew me away. I never saw so many mark-ups in my life on so short of a piece, even during my school days! I was humbled and amazed and knew they were exactly what I needed. Signing with them was a no-brainer.
Tell us about the cover design for Convergence – how was it put together and what input did you have?
The cover was designed by Glendon Haddix at Streetlight Graphics. In the book, there’s a full-sensory data compiler, sort of a VR for memory splices, called the convergence web, and I wanted it to be represented somehow on the cover. But the title also speaks to the convergence of man and machine, and the past and present (well, future), and Glendon was able to put it all together for me. I really had no idea what I wanted for the cover, but I was instantly pleased with the results.
What marketing do you tend to do to increase your public face?
I blog pretty regularly and I’m always happy to do interviews. I’m active on twitter and Facebook, so people are welcome to chat me up if they like. My marketing at the moment is pretty light, but I think I’ll be stepping things up a notch or two after I get a few more titles out there and can leverage a back-list for more visibility.
How do you see the landscape of publishing developing over the next 24 months?
Good question! Frankly, I have no idea. Things are so weird right now, with the Amazon/Hachette dispute, and this kind of us-vs-them bunker mentality that seems to arise every few months. It can be frustrating, but if traditional publishing houses want to charge high prices for their books, let them. I know things are quite a bit more nuanced than that, but for me, that’s what it comes ultimately comes down to. Let the consumers speak and vote with their dollars, and let the market decide which way the wind blows.
Obviously ebooks are on the rise and only getting more and more popular. Traditional publishing is going to have to adapt and learn how to be more progressive in the digital frontier, rather than being steadfast on paper sales and business-as-usual mentalities. Digital is the future, and it’s impossible to fight that. Consumers are speaking with their dollars, rather vocally at that, and publishing companies will have to meet those demands. And author-publishers will have to continue meeting consumer demands as well, by putting out solid, high-quality, professional work that will draw in an audience.
I do think it’s important for there to be a competitive marketplace in the world of ebooks. I’m not sure if Nook is even going to be around for another 24 months, but maybe their separation from Barnes & Noble will allow for them to take stock of what needs to be done and become a stronger competitor to Amazon. Kobo seems to be doing nicely, particularly in foreign markets, but Amazon obviously has quite a foothold on things.
I also think that authors bringing their work direct to market are going to become more commonplace, particularly midlist writers who may have more incentive to go direct rather than traditional means. It’s certainly an interesting time in the book world, to say the least.
What is your next work in progress?
Two in progress, at the moment. I finishing up a short horror story now, called Consumption, that should be out this fall. It’s a sort of food-gore, creature-feature grinder, a bit of a Lovecraftian Hell’s Kitchen.
I’m also working on Emergence, the direct follow-up to Convergence, and that’ll be going to my editors starting in September. I’m eyeing a 2015 release for that one.
Michael Patrick Hicks has worked as a probation officer, a comic book reviewer, news writer and photographer, and, now, author. His work has appeared in various newspapers in Michigan, as well as several The University of Michigan publications, and websites, such as Graphic Novel Reporter and Leelanau.com. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from The University of Michigan in Journalism & Screen Studies and Behavioral Science. His first novel was the science fiction thriller CONVERGENCE, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarterfinalist and a Kobo Next Read selection.
Goodreads (author): https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7909523.Michael_Patrick_Hicks
Goodreads (Convergence): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20945315-convergence