2015 Writing In Review (plus a shameless plea and a peek at 2016)

Last year was a banner year for me in terms of sheer accomplishments. 2015 was definitely my best year as a reader, my wife gave birth to our son (OK, so this is more her accomplishment than mine, but I’m at least 50% responsible for her enduring 9 months of morning sickness, back aches, heartburn, and the random thumping, kicking, and punching of various internal organs, that all resulted in our little bit of awesomeness that is a tiny, hilarious human who deprives us of much-needed sleep), and I was at peak productiveness writing-wise. It’s this last part I’ll be writing about today because this is, largely, my silly little author blog.

So, 2015 in terms of writing – I was in three anthologies, released a solo novel, and published a short story that originally appeared in one of these anthologies.

I also finished the manuscript for a novella, tentatively titled Mass Hysteria!, of approximately 50,000 words. I’m estimating this brought me to about 180,000 words of fiction written across the year. This is an awful lot of writing for me! I also wrote 141 blog posts, figure those are about 500 words each, a nice conservative estimate which gives me an additional 70,500 words written. *Phew!*

In terms of sales, 2015 was a definite improvement over my first year as an author-publisher, but still fairly insignificant in terms of income and paid sales. Income doubled over 2014, but not enough to off-set expenses put toward self-publishing my work, which means my indie career is still a far-cry from being a successful endeavor and I’m starting off 2016 heavily in the red. Expenses in 2015 were also double those of 2014 thanks to larger promotion efforts and editing (Emergence is a bigger book than Convergence, and more words means more money spent to edit).

A successful writing career is built on hard work, talent, and a whole lot of luck. Although I’ve got a few dedicated and devoted readers (thank you!), I haven’t yet gotten lucky enough to really break through. Although, in its first week of release, Emergence outsold the entire previous year’s worth of sales for Convergence, it was not enough to break-even on the expenses generated by editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing. I did run a couple free promos for Convergence, which were pretty damn successful in terms of volume, but had little impact in terms of carry-over toward more sales of Emergence or my other works. I gave away about 7,000 copies of my first novel, which is awesome, but I suspect a very large number of purchasers were simply collecting a free title. I saw little in way of new reviews and only about 4 percent of those ‘buyers’ went on to pick up my other titles. It’s a bit distressing, but also a lack of simple, pure luck. I just haven’t found my audience yet. That said, the word of mouth surrounding the solo release of my controversial short story, Revolver, generated a good amount of interest and sales, but it’s definitely not a best-seller by any means. Furthermore, Revolver is a very unsubtle and highly polemic work that may not exactly be the best entry-point for my work; I have to expect that title to maybe turn off a lot of new readers, actually. The good news is, those that do like it seem to be enthusiastically supportive of it, which is freaking awesome!

Unfortunately, all this means that a lot of the big stuff I had wanted to do in 2016 will likely have to wait. This comes down to easy economics, since I can’t spend money on making more art without that art making money to spend. One project I had wanted to tackle was producing audiobooks of my DRMR novels, but this is a very expensive undertaking and could easily set me back several thousand dollars. This would be on top of getting Mass Hysteria cover art and edited. And I’ve begun working on another sci-fi novel that I should be able to finish sometime this year, but finding the time to really sit down and write is getting more difficult (psst – having a kid can be a huge time drain! Who knew? But seriously, he’s awesome and it’s worth it. But still.), so everything is still kinda TBD on that front.

This means that some plans for 2016 are being shifted around a good deal. I’m seriously considering shopping around Mass Hysteria. If I can hook even a small publisher with this title, it’ll save me a lot of money in terms of editing and artwork. It’s an apocalyptic horror story, and there’s a few horror houses that I think it would align pretty well with. Kindle Scout could also be an option, but kind of a last resort for now since they require a completely finished book for submission, which still leaves me on the hook for editing and cover design costs. So we’ll see what happens there.

I’m determined to get Mass Hysteria released in 2016, but the when of it all is very, very murky at this point. Those two December anthologies have also given me two more short stories that, in about six-months time, I’ll be free to release as stand-alone titles, which means The Marque and Preservation will need an extra bit of work to get ready for their individual debuts. Again, though, I have zero idea what kind of timeline I’ll be able to operate on with those, and that’s a little bit scary and disheartening. I wanted to have a solid timeline to plan out releases for this year, but the financial aspects are seriously cloudy. So, hey, if you want more books from me, get buying them! Tell your friends to buy them! Buy copies for your friends, family, loved ones, enemies, neighbors, pets, dolls, future readers, strangers at the bus-stop, pantsless subway riders, your reading club, whatever.

One bright spot, and I need to keep in mind that it’s still early, but my inclusion in The Cyborg Chronicles, the latest release in Samuel Peralta’s acclaimed series of The Future Chronicles anthologies, looks to have given my profile a slight boost. In 2015 I went Kindle exclusive and have stayed there for a while. In the wake of my Chronicles story, it seems a few more readers are borrowing my DRMR books, so that anthology could be a nice entry point for new readers to find me.

Diversification is key, really. Readers weren’t finding my solo works, but look to be discovering it a bit more now that I was fortunate enough to get invited into a release as large as The Cyborg Chronicles. I may be appearing in a couple more anthologies in 2016, but the ink isn’t dry enough for me to discuss those details yet and anything can happen. For instance, I was slated to be in a fourth anthology last year, but the publisher dissolved before the book could be released. So, for now I’m only focusing on my cli-fi novel currently in progress. I’ve got a good 5,000 words built up there at the moment and plenty more on the way.

Cli-fi, sci-fi, what is this? What’s this about? Again, too early to discuss, but it’s a future-Earth story set in the days after humanity has firmly wrecked the world and climate change has significantly altered the geographic landscape. It’s a bit of a seafaring story with rogue military squads, pirates and salvagers, and mermaids. Wait, mermaids? Maybe mermaids. We’ll just have to see about that.

2015 Writing In Review (plus a shameless plea and a peek at 2016)

Books, Depression, and Writing: My 2016 Resolutions

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, but there’s a few things in my life that probably need changing if I’m going to try and be not only more effective in leading myself around in this world, but also happier.

Happiness is a big issue for me, as I’ve become keenly aware of over the last few months of being a new and sleep-deprived parent with an ever increasing temper. I suffer from depression, have, in fact, for quite a long while now and for the last two years or so I have been able to keep it mostly controlled with a prescribed medication called Lexapro. I haven’t written about this before, and I actually don’t think anyone, until now obviously, has really known about it beside my wife and doctors.

Some days are harder than others. I haven’t experienced truly crippling depression, the kind where I can’t even make it out of bed, although I’ve gotten close and my thinking process can get a touch dark and haywire at times. And if I’m not careful I could make (and have almost made) some pretty devastating choices regarding my interpersonal relationships simply because saying ‘fuck it’ seems much easier in the short term.

The medication helps, but there are still some proactive steps I need to take to ensure my own mental well-being. I’ve noticed over the last few months, particularly in the wake of our near-year-end shootings and the frothing hysteria of the far-right, anti-Obama, it’s-the-end-of-the-world, hooray-Biblical-Armageddon fear-monger types, that if I’m not careful I can let the world cripple me a little too easily. Thus, my first resolution of 2016:

  1. Limit my use of Facebook. This is the big one. My top priority. It’s often advised that those who suffer from depression not watch the news. The endless stream of reportage on how awful the world is only helps to reinforce the depressive’s viewpoint that the world really does suck and that everything really is hopeless. This is a problem. Facebook only helps feed into this. As bad news circulates, friends, family, and followers begin chiming in across your social media platforms, interjecting their own viewpoints. Which would normally be fine, until you realize just how many of them are either ignorant, spiteful, hateful, and generators of filth and believers in nonsensical conspiracies, as their BS begins to overpower and drown out the more rational minded. Some are just talking to the wind, others are preaching to the choir. And if you disagree, those who have never commented or Liked anything you’ve posted in the past, are among the first to hop on board and remind you how stupid you are. Over the last few weeks there’s been some posting about how bad the insular nature of Facebook friends can be, as we tend to seek out those who are similar to us, particularly in the wake of posts calling for Trump supporters to unfriend non-Trump supporters, an act that, I must admit, I am guilty of. Some question why this is a necessity, and my response to that is, why, exactly, do I need to have all these homophobic, mysgonistic, xenophobic, racist bullshit posts capturing my eyeballs? Why is unfriending the asshats so bad? It’s just proof of the awful state of the (in this case, very limited) world, and for a depressive it’s likely better to not be seen or heard. As it stands, my timeline is often cluttered with these asinine, bullshit ‘1 Like = 1 Prayer” memes, worries about how Obama is coming to take our guns (he isn’t, hasn’t, and won’t), pro-Trump rhetoric, anti-Muslim rhetoric, All Brown People Are Terrorists rhetoric, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and…fuck, why are these people my friends and followers again? It sometimes gets more and more difficult to parse out why I associate with these people (even in the loosest sense possible). If anything positive can be drawn from it, then it’s that these people can at least serve as a good reminder of the type of people I desperately hope my son doesn’t grow into, and the type of person I do not want to be. Because, let’s face it, if either of us become so damaged that we’re willing to support a fascist for president, we’ve seriously lost it and I’ve failed as a parent and as a human being. Frankly, though, the bottom line is that I don’t need this crap in my life, and Facebook, or at least my particular Facebook feed, seems to have devolved into the unmoderated comments section of any given website. The central question is, is this something I need? Is there a positive net effect to being active on Facebook? And right now, I don’t think there is. It’s a time-hog, useful largely only for procrastinating when it’s not all about people telling me how I should feel bad about whatever their cause du jour may be, or why I should feel bad because they don’t like my cause of the moment (Internet protip: you can ever only care about one thing at any given time, and that one thing is determined by the most vociferous follower/friend/family member who barely interacts with you online or off). While I won’t be scrapping my Facebook account altogether, I must make a concerted effort to, at the very least, limit my use of it. I think I’ll also be unfollowing, possibly even unfriending, a good number of people for my own sanity (and also because it’s my Facebook page, and I can choose who is connected with it). So, there’s number one.
  2. Write more. Writing makes me happy, and one of the best ways to stave off depression is to do things that make you feel good. 2015 was a bit of a banner year for me in terms of productivity. I wrote and published Emergence, appeared in three anthologies, and completed a new manuscript that should make its way to market sometime in 2016. I’ve also been invited to take part in a new anthology set for late spring/early summer release and have begun work on a new science fiction novel. Writing helps me cope in a lot of different ways, but it is also, first and foremost, a business. I’m a professional author and this helps me get food on the table and gas in my car, in addition to funding the release of my future projects. Or at least it would if I had enough sales to support myself and my family independently as a professional author (see #6 below). Hypothetically, the more I write, the more I can sell. Maybe 2016 will be the year I can good and truly test this claim, but there’s only one way to really know.
  3. Read Less. Now this is a bold proclamation! Let me explain though. I’m a compulsive book buyer and a bit of a NetGalley addict, which means in addition to purchasing a large number of novels and ebooks, I also have an enormous stockpile of ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copies. Too many to read, in fact. So my goal for 2016 is to request less ARCs and work on catching up with the titles already on my Kindle. I want to put ARCs on the backburner entirely, sooner rather than later, so that I can focus on the incredible backlog of owned titles that are presently sitting in my ever-expanding digital To-Read pile. Forgive me for making a rather misleading claim with this one! The goal isn’t actually to read less, but to refocus my priority and to read less ARCs, and give my attention to books I already have. I love reading. However, I don’t love it when reading feels like a chore.
  4. Read More. More non-fiction, in particular. While I have a whole ton of fiction and plenty of ARCs to get me through 2016 (and beyond!), I really need to peruse more non-fiction. For the last few years, in my annual reading round-ups, I’ve noted that non-fiction titles are a large deficiency in my reading habits, and this is something I want to address in the new year. I’ve got plenty of non-fiction titles on my Kindle, and a good number of them in my Audible wishlist; I just need to make more time to absorb them.
  5. Buy Less Books! This is a huge, huge, huge issue for me. I’m a compulsive reader, and, almost by default, a compulsive book buyer. I do recognize that psychologically, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with one-clicking a Kindle title and having it appear almost instantly on my tablet. This got out of hand in 2015, and with a three month old vying for household resources and attention, I must be much more conscious of budgetary needs and buy way less books. As it stands currently, I have an enormous backlog of titles both bought and in ARC form. I also signed up for a library card a few months ago, and it’s high-time I started using it. My local library has a pretty good digital collection, so I can score plenty of free reads – a number of which have populated my Amazon wish list in hopes of a price drop – without even leaving the house. It also makes it that much easier to balk at the asinine purchase price the Big 5 publishing houses tag most of their ebooks with, selling titles for the same cost as a hardcover novel and many times for more than the paperback version. This became a source of frustration in 2015 when I wanted to buy John Scalzi’s Lock In for my Kindle, which cost around $9 whereas Amazon was discounting the paperback down to, at one point, less than $5. I refuse to pay $15 or more for an ebook. And I won’t buy an ebook that costs more than the paperback, which means if I want it right then and there on my Kindle, I won’t be buying that book period. After perusing my local library’s digital collections, I’ve found a terrific way to continue reading my favorite authors and titles of particular interest without breaking the bank. And for those bemoaning me with “But $15 isn’t a lot of money,” well, no, in the grand scheme things of it’s not, and if I only bought a single title a year maybe I could excuse it. But I’m practically a bulk shopper. And with a three month old in the house, $15 is half a container of formula – so if I have to choose between buying the next Clancy or keeping my baby healthy, it’s a no brainer. Also, I have to save up money for publishing my own titles and hawking my own wares in 2016! The local library and the Kindle Owners Lending Library are most certainly the way to go from here on out!
  6. Worry Less About Other Writers. Writing is a business, but fellow writers are not competition. We’re all in this together. This resolution is all about trying to not compare myself to the success of others – I can certainly try to reach the same level of success my friends have achieved, but I also need to not berate myself over my own (perceived) failures. So far my work has been fairly well received by critics and readers, but sales are lackluster. Sometimes in talking about this business with my writer buds, they’ll lament about how they’re “only” getting 50 sales a day, and I just sort of cry into my beer wishing I were getting even 50 sales a month. What am I doing wrong? Do I really suck that badly? Is my work uninteresting, dopey shit? Are people finding my work? Or do they maybe discover it and just ignore it? Why? What am I doing wrong? It gets to be a cyclical bit of recrimination, and in the nature of cyclical things, this resolution points a bit toward resolution #1. While I certainly do not want to limit contact with other writers, I do want to limit my own feelings of failure and inadequacy. Some of this can be addressed by writing more and putting more work out there, opening up my chances of discoverability even wider. I was invited into several anthologies over the course of 2015 and was tapped for another one set for 2016, so I maybe don’t suck that badly. But still, I’m not getting any movie or TV deals; my stories don’t debut at #1 and their staying power is ridiculously short lived. Sales come in tiny spurts, one or two a week if I’m lucky. Clearly, I am so very much not an insta-best-seller like several of my author friends, and while I celebrate their success and am truly happy for them and immensely proud of them and their work, there’s a part that stings. I’m not owed a single goddamn thing – I realize this. I also realize that my feelings are nothing more than petty envy. I need to stop wishing for success and figure out a wait to earn it. Maybe success will come, or at least a modicum of success, and maybe it won’t. Until then, I need to stop worrying about it and remind myself that I’m just not there yet. It’ll happen one day. Maybe this resolution should have been titled Quit Being So Fucking Insecure. Yeah, that’s a bit more accurate…

So, there you have it. My resolutions, coupled with a peek at my damaged, scarred psyche. What are you big resolutions for 2016?

Books, Depression, and Writing: My 2016 Resolutions

Finished With Mass Hysteria!

Mass Hysteria! is done!

Or at least the first draft is. There’s still plenty of adjustments and edits that need to be made before it goes off for formal development and edits sometime in 2016. But for now, it’s finished.

You may recall I mentioned writing a short companion piece to this story in an update last month, but I think I may hold off on that one for now.

I’m itching a bit to get back into the sci-fi groove, but I’m also a bit too burned out on all the real-life horrors of late to want to continue writing about cannibals and humans decimating one another so completely and so viciously.

Since my last blog post on my writing affairs, and in between finishing Mass Hysteria! right after Thanksgiving and today, we’ve seen terror attacks on Paris, on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, and in San Bernadino yesterday (some refuse to call these last two terror attacks, but I’m calling it like I see it.). In the US, we’ve now had more mass shootings than we’ve had days in the year thus far (336 days, 355 shootings. But it’s still fairly early on the Eastern Standard Time zone at the time of this writing. Those shooting numbers will go up again soon, if not today then by week’s end, no doubt).

So, no. I’m not in a particular mood to write about yet more horrors at the moment. Mass Hysteria! took a bit of a toll on me, and it got brutally dark in some areas. For now, then, any more stories in this world are off the table.

Mass Hysteria! is a complete story all by itself, so no worries there. Whenever it does release, you’ll still get the complete arc and know everything you need to know. The story I had tentatively titled Checkmate was little more than a subplot I had to drop and which was not working well with the central narrative of the story proper. I’m also becoming of the mind that…well, I dropped it for a reason. It wasn’t working. It just was so not working. Maybe rather than trying to shoehorn a separate short story out of it, it’s better to just move on. I’m not even in a particular rush to edit, which is probably a good thing (and besides, I can’t afford it right now, so that helps, too). I need to come up for some fresh air for a little while and get some distance between myself and the work.

And then there’s that itch for sci-fi again. Science fiction is where I made my dent with the release of Convergence and Emergence. There’s a third book to be done, eventually. Maybe not right now though. Not until I’ve gotten my head into a little bit better of a space for the long-term commitment it would require.

The idea I’m tossing around now is, actually and funnily enough, post-apocalyptic. And although that doesn’t exactly inspire all kinds of happy thoughts, I think the kernel of the idea carries with it a certain amount of hope for mankind as a whole. We are, as a species, survivors, and it’s important to remember that, even when things get as bleak as they are at the moment, and especially as anger threatens to consume us. It’s easy to be angry, less so to be hopeful (at least for me).

And that’s what I need to write about right now. Survival. Change and adaptation. But most of all, a little bit of hope that can shine against the darkness.

Finished With Mass Hysteria!

A Not-NaNoWriMo Writing Update

bigstock-burning-computer-keyboard-170261961Another November, and another annual National Novel Writing Month is upon us. Although I’m not taking part in NaNoWriMo, I thought it would still be a good time to give you a little update on what I’ve been working on. Coincidentally, though, my current Work In Progress is expected to be (at least) a 50,000 word novella, which I hope to have completed by the end of November.

I started writing Mass Hysteria! over the summer, with the blindly optimistic hope that I could finish it before my wife delivered our first child. Naturally, the story kept growing while time grew more and more scarce as we approached our September due date. And since Baby Hicks was born, free time has been…well. What is this “free time” you speak of?

Whaddaya mean you need to find time to write? #fuggitaboutit

A photo posted by Michael Hicks (@mphicks79) on

Mass Hysteria! will be a return to straight-up horror for me, following my shorter detour into this arena with last year’s Consumption (which, incidentally, received this great review from SCREAM Magazine). It’s a dive into some natural horror, in which Mother Nature gets its aggro on against mankind and the food-chain gets flipped upside down…and then things get crazy from there. This past weekend involved writing a fairly strange and gruesome scene that I’d sort of been putting off, but finally plowed through. I’m now in the homestretch and think there’s maybe two or three more chapters worth of material left to cover before I hit THE END on this first draft.

Editing this one is going to be a bit of a doozy I think-slash-fear. I’ve already had to cut out a particular subplot involving events in DC since it just wasn’t flowing well with the main Northern Michigan-based narrative, and there’s more than a few things that need fleshing out and clarifying. But I still really dig that subplot, which means although my work will (should) be done soon on Mass Hysteria! prime, I’ll then begin working on a companion stand-alone side-story that I’m tentatively calling Mass Hysteria!: Checkmate.

The plan is to have both these titles released simultaneously sometime in 2016, budgetary concerns (read both time and money) permitting. They’ll be independent narratives, but set in the same “world” and facing similar events and consequences. Each will give readers a full story in their own right, but reading them together will provide a larger A and B story. Or at least that’s the plan…

Alongside writing, I’ll also be proofing final edits for my short story, The Marque, and giving a read over on some of the other stories to be collected in Crime & Punishment.

Crimeand-PunishmentMy story is a bit of cosmic horror by way of the apocalypse turned wild, wild west. It’s gooey and gory and inspired quite a bit by Eastwood westerns. I’m waiting on edits and suggestions to come through from Lucas Bale and Alex Roddie, and I was given a sneak peek at the forward from Samuel Peralta. If there’s an award for Best Damn Foreword Ever, Sam’s is a sure-fire winner, let me tell you.

I also recently completed edits on a short story, Preservation, which will be seeing publication in The Cyborg Chronicles, with an ETA of December. Keep an eye out for the cover and more release details as soon as I have them! Although Preservation is completely a stand-alone story, it is set in the DRMR world established in my novels, Convergence and Emergence. Preservation introduces us to all-new characters (a Wounded Warrior with plenty of cybernetic enhancements) and an entirely new setting (Africa’s Kruger National Park) than the central storyline told in the two DRMR books, so there’s no required reading prior to enjoying this short story. My hope is that it will act as a gateway to these novels, though, and introduce new readers to my work.

chroniclesThe Cyborg Chronicles is part of the line of The Future Chronicles anthologies, spearheaded by Samuel Peralta, and which, taken as a large body of work in its entirety, has featured the likes of Hugh Howey, Lucas Bale, Anthony Vicino, Ernie Lindsey, Susan Kaye Quinn, Ann Christy, Jennifer Foehner Wells, Peter Cawdron, Therin Knite, Ted Cross, and loads of other great authors.

In The Cyborg Chronicles, I’ll be sharing pages alongside Hugo Award winner Ken Liu, whose debut novel The Grace of Kings released earlier this year, and Hugo nominee and USA Today bestseller Annie Bellet. This a huge, huge honor for me, and having the chance to appear in a Chronicles anthology has been a dream of mine since starting this whole indie author venture a year ago.

So I think these projects will carry me through the rest of this year, and hopefully 2016 will be just as productive as 2015 has been. Now, what’s happening your world, writers?

A Not-NaNoWriMo Writing Update

Works In Progress

I’m not in any of these. But I’ll be in an upcoming Chronicle soon!

This year has been nicely productive, and in the back-half of the year we should be seeing a healthy bit of output as the finishing touches are put on several anthologies that I’ll be appearing in. Of course, this could all go to hell in a handbag, but as long as the marvelous editors and curators I’ve been working with are happy to publish the stories I’ve written for them I should be making a sizable splash in various arenas soon.

Earlier this year, I released Emergence, a follow-up to last year’s debut title, Convergence. I was also fortunate enough to be a part of the No Way Home anthology as fellow indie sci-fi writer Lucas Bale put on his curator hat to assemble some mighty fine voices in the speculative arena.

Not quite content to rest on the success of our first anthology, we’re all teaming up again to release our next wave of speculative fiction short stories with Crime & Punishment near the tail-end of summer, so keep an eye out for news on that one as we get a bit closer.

I recently had a small chat with Samuel Peralta, who has simply been killing it with the production of a number of anthologies in The Future Chronicles line-up (see the image above!), and who will soon be expanding his efforts with a second series of anthologies revolving around alternate history, alternate universes, alternate realities, etc. Naturally, this line-up will be branded under the Alt.Chronicles label, with Alt.History 101 launching soon.

I’ll be making my debut in a Peralta production later this year, under The Future Chronicles banner with The Cyborg Chronicles. This is, literally, a dream come true for me. There’s a few benchmarks I’m hoping to hit in my writing career, and getting to appear in a Chronicles anthology was damn near the top of that list, so this is a huge, huge deal for me. Not only are these collections superb, but I’ll also get to join the ranks of a long line of Chronicles luminaries like Ken Liu, Hugh Howey, Jennifer Foehner Wells, Peter Cawdron, Therin Knite, Susan Kaye Quinn, and so very many more. This is just some damn fine company to be in!

Finally, my first-ever fantasy (!) story will be appearing in Undaunted, from LARRIKINbooks, later this year. There will be some news on this front soon, though, and I don’t think it’s completely verboten for me to mention that this collection will actually be in the realm of fantasy-noir. Talk about an intriguing cross-genre mash-up! Plus, Delilah S. Dawson, author of Hit and Servants of the Storm, to name but a few of her novels, is doing the foreword on this one, and there’s a great stable of indie talent coming together here, as well. Check out the announcement at this LARRIKINbooks blog post and stay tuned here for more news in the coming months.

  • Crime and Punishment Anthology
    • THE MARQUE, approx. 12,000 words. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi western, a sort of “aliens vs. cowboys” thing.
    • submitted
    • Release – Aug. 31, 2015
  • Undaunted
    • DEBTS OF BLOOD AND FLESH, approx. 6,700 words. Fantasy-noir.
    • submitted
    • Release – TBA/October 2015
  • The Cyborg Chronicles
    • PRESERVATION. Manuscript of 4-10K words due July 17. Can’t say much about this one yet, but it will be a stand-alone short story with some very loose ties to my two DRMR novels.
    • In Progress!
    • Release – TBA/September 2015
Works In Progress

Emergent Thoughts, Or What I Learned About Writing While Writing EMERGENCE

Emergence finally released this week, and it’s looking like my hard work has paid off! The book is currently ranking near the top of the charts in Amazon’s Sci-Fi > Cyberpunk category, as well as that category’s Hot New Releases chart. To say I’m thrilled is a bit of an understatement!

But, man, getting to this release week? It’s been a bit of a slog. A good slog, but a slog nonetheless.

Now that I’ve come out on the other side of another finished product, here’s some random thoughts on the book, in no particular order.

writing1. Writing a sequel is fun!

Your mileage may vary. For me, writing was Emergence was, mostly, a lot of joy. This is a story I had in mind for quite a while, and one that, in order to get to, I had to write Convergence first. That book lays the basic groundwork for a lot of the things that happen in Emergence and sets up the characters. In Emergence, I’m able to take those characters and knock them around, manipulate them, leave them bruised and bloodied in a way that I couldn’t necessarily do in Book 1. Book 2 is where I get to go apeshit on everybody.

Emergence is also a lot more action-oriented, and the stakes are larger and more personal. I also wrote this one as more of a chase thriller, so it’s got a little bit of a different feel than the prior entry. It’s sort of like the Alien/Aliens dynamic to the sequel framework, and I wanted to push these characters into harsher directions with big, hard-hitting impacts.

2. Control Your Authorial Voice.

Every writer puts a bit of themselves into their characters, or puts pieces of themselves on the page (hopefully not literally). So while writing this book was fun, I also couldn’t get too comfortable, and I had to rein in a lot of my own influences that got laid down on the pages and in the character because those words weren’t necessarily true to the characters themselves. Sometimes my own personality worked its way into the story or thoughts of the leads, and it was a bit of corrupting influence.

When Emergence went through developmental edits, my editor, Laura, pointed out something to me that took me by a bit of a surprise. There’s a scene in the book where Mesa is going through a seedier part of Nevada, populated by gamblers and hookers, and she remarked that she could practically hear the crotch crickets. Laura noted, rightly, that isn’t really something that Mesa would say or think. It’s the kind of off-hand remark I might make, though. But not Mesa.

A little too much of me bled through. Yeah, I made Mesa, but she’s become very much her own person, separate from me, in my own mind. And while she can be foul-mouthed at times, I’m not so sure that she’s so blatantly vulgar.

So, there were a few instances where I needed to reign in my own peculiarities as an individual who was writing, and let the characters talk for themselves.

3. Writing Is Learning

Seems a bit like a given, but let me elaborate a little.

There’s certain rules to writing – things like tense shift and maintaining point of view. Convergence was a first-person work, and in that first draft I shit all over things like keeping it directed in first-person. Thus, there was a good amount of heavy lifting when it came time to edit. The editing experience with that book also gave me a huge list of no-no’s and things to avoid – phrases like “it was” or a list of crutch words, such as “like” or “just,” two massive crutch-words in my first drafts.

The editing process in Book 1, taken as a whole, paid off a lot when I was ready to get to work on draft two of Book 2. I could let the first draft be bad, because the writing was the most important part; just getting the work done was my primary focus. When it came time to edit, though, I felt a step ahead of the game, having gotten schooled on the ins and outs of content edits the prior time around. I was able to rewrite more effectively before the manuscript was sent off to my editors, which made their feedback all the more critical and necessary. I wasn’t hampering them with petty stuff, and they were able to focus on and scrutinize the more important things, like structure and content, and it helped make the line edits stronger.

4. Stick The Landing

Endings are important. Some books just kind of fizzle out, or come to an abrupt ending. In the first draft of Emergence, I really rushed the ending, which was stupid. It needed to have a proper come-down and a fitting resolution to what had come before.

Laura smartly suggested that I take the dual concepts that had formed the original ending and elaborate on them, giving them each their own chapter. And she was dead-on correct. The new finale is so much stronger, and such a better fit to the book itself. I’m really proud of how well this revision worked, and it prompted me to introduce a new character that could potentially have an impact once the dust settles a bit more and I start working on book 3.

5. Diversify!

While Emergence is book 2 in a series, one of the most crucial things I’ve done over the last year is getting involved with other projects. Writing, and the entire process that goes along with it on that path to publication, is time-consuming. Saying no to things – even beneficial things – can be awfully tempting. Let me tell you, though, that saying “yes” can be even far more rewarding.

The DRMR series is likely going to be the backbone of my early career, but I also want to have a number of other, smaller, strong works out there. The key to that is to dabble in other projects and dip your toes into unfamiliar waters.

When Lucas Bale approached me to take part in the No Way Home anthology that he was curating, saying yes was a no-brainer. I was enjoying Bale’s solo work and when I got word of what he was intending with the collection, I knew I had to take part. My story was a bit risky and has been largely well-received, if not a touch controversial given the current political winds in America. Taking part in Bale’s second curation, due out later this year, was an obvious and easy choice.

Last month I was invited to take part in another anthology, this time revolving around urban fantasy. I had a great idea for it, but unfortunately I absolutely did have to say no due to saying yes for another project – writing a book for the Apocalypse Weird series (you can read my announcement on that here).

The key, I think, is to make your name visible across a few different platforms and try to hook in various readers through a number of quality projects.

This is also important because it helps keep me from getting burnt out on writing the same characters in the same series time and time again. I need to do some non-series work in order to dive back into the DRMR books fully refreshed and recharged. And hopefully you, and plenty of others, will join me in these other adventures!

EMERGENCE eBook Launch Special: 
  1. Buy CONVERGENCE (A DRMR Novel, Book 1) FOR FREE. amzn.to/1E2ZphG
  2. Buy EMERGENCE (A DRMR Novel, Book 2) for 99c: amzn.to/1GDsFx8
Offer valid Mon., May 4 thru Fri., May 8. Normal price for each title is $3.99
Emergent Thoughts, Or What I Learned About Writing While Writing EMERGENCE

Review: Writer Emergency Pack

Arrived today: The #writeremergency #darkmode deck! @writeremergency @johnaugust #amwriting

A photo posted by Michael Hicks (@mphicks79) on

Back in November, I supported the Writer Emergency Pack as a Kickstarter project and received the final print deck in December. I was absolutely thrilled with the final card deck, and wrote about it a bit back then and posted a couple pieces of iPhoneography to go with it.

Tuesday night, I received the Kickstarter backer-exclusive Dark Mode deck, which is basically the same as the regular pack but printed on sleek all-black cards and a much darker box. It’s really nice looking and a fun little change of pace from the standard cards. The Emergency Pack crew even added the delightful little touch of wrapping the Dark Mode deck in black tissue paper, helping to emphasize the stygian nature of this updated deck.

The two #writeremergency packs side-by-side. @writeremergency @johnaugust #darkmode #amwriting

A photo posted by Michael Hicks (@mphicks79) on

Although these decks started out as a Kickstarter project, the Emergency crew is now making the standard decks available on a wider scale. Every writer can (and should!) now buy them via Amazon.

Here’s the review I posted on their product page:

This is a terrific and easy-to-use resource for writers both established and up-and-coming, designed to help storytellers get out of whatever corners they’ve written themselves into or to brainstorm ways of reinvigorating stalled ideas.

The Emergency Pack is designed to look and feel like your average deck of cards, like Bicycle playing cards, but for authors in a jam. Using these cards is very simple and is outlined on a 3-step “Emergency Procedures” card at the front of the deck: focus on your writing conundrum, draw an illustrated Idea card at random, read it and then read the corresponding Detail card. Maybe the ideas will help, or maybe they won’t, but the goal is get you asking “what if?” and to hopefully get you drifting back into the right territory. Some random cards might be “What Would Indy Do?”, “Switch Genres”, or “Kill The Hero.” The accompanying illustrations are well-drawn, detailed, and amusing (and sometimes even downright irreverent).

Shuffling through the deck during one of my own jams helped me brainstorm a finale to a recent short story that I had no idea how to finish. The writing had gone smoothly throughout, right up until the climax. And while the fix ended up being fairly simple, it wasn’t really until I’d played around with these cards that I realized how helpful the Emergency Pack truly was. It gave me a much-needed kick in the rear, helped me think my way through a muddled segment of story, and wrap up my project in a way that I found both useful, true to the story, and a worked as a satisfying finish.

The Writer Emergency Pack is a fun little tool for writers, and it’s small size – the same as your average deck of playing cards – makes it’s conveniently portable for authors on the go. If you’re the type to write while traveling or at your local coffee shop, you can easily incorporate this pack into your writing routine at any place, at any time. You might not always need it, but, then again, it is for emergencies, and you never know when it might come in handy. It very well could save your entire story, although some of your characters may never forgive you.

I’ll have a new short story printed in an upcoming anthology (currently slated for Aug./Sept. time-frame), and I absolutely did use these cards to drum up that piece’s finale. They were a total lifesaver (well, for me, as an author anyway. Less of a lifesaver for some poor fictional schmucks, but whatever). I’ll let you be the judge on how well I did with that story later this year, but as far as I’m concerned the Writer Emergency Pack has proved to be an excellent investment already. I’m keeping these cards handy and close to the keyboard when I write, just in case.

And if you want some more info on these cards, check out www.writeremergency.com/

Review: Writer Emergency Pack