Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you write.
I’ve always told or written stories, as long as I can remember anyway. I read histories, myths, legends, and various types of fiction to fuel my creative fire. As a result, I have so many influences that different styles of scenes and stories pop up in my head all day long. Some of these make it onto paper. Even fewer of them turn into full blown storylines that I complete. I used to write simply for pleasure and to see how a plotline played out on paper. A few years ago, I decided to turn to professional writing to supplement my income. After a series of debilitating injuries coupled with degenerative conditions, I am trying to pay all my bills and raise a child with my writing.
What is the first book that made you think about writing?
As far as the first book that made me consider writing as a profession, I would say it was actually Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. After reading this book on the horror genre and its variations and trends in different forms of media, I thought seriously about writing, though even then my tendencies favored short stories and scripted ideas. Honestly, I wanted to write scripts for the small and big screen and use the short stories to develop those ideas. I didn’t really want to do anything as tedious and long-term as devote myself to a novel. Now, I’m editing my third and longest creative work to date. Also, the first one written solo.
Tell us a little bit about your books.
My co-author and I have two novels, part of the Cycle of Ages Saga, which actually started out as feature-length screenplays. They’re fast-paced, character-driven story lines that introduce our dark fantasy world of Faltyr and draw our audience into the main plot line while having story arcs for the other characters. We created a sandbox-style world big enough for all our ideas, one that would allow us to explore creative twists on common fantasy and horror tropes, plot lines, character archetypes, creatures, etc.
Cycle of Ages Saga: Finders Keepers is the initial novelization of our first screenplay, and it introduces us to Kaladimus Dor (The Master-of-Disaster), a dangerous wizard on his way home from a secret mission when he shipwrecks himself and others on an island full of ravenous living and undead residents. He is largely the plot catalyst and primary point-of-view character. Finders Keepers refers to the guild of mercenaries and adventurers who ally themselves with Dor to try and escape from the island.
The sequel, CoAS: Sands of Sorrow, continues the adventures of Kaladimus Dor and Finders Keepers months after their island escapade. It chronicles their accidental and disastrous entry into Faltyr’s Blood War, resulting in an arduous race across a haunted and twisted desert to save thousands of elves doomed to die in a concentration camp created by the Kingdom of Oparre.
I’m editing the third novel now, the first one with just my name on the byline. CoAS: Delve Deep is about three times longer than Finders Keepers and really dives into the main story line, develops the main characters further, and explores more of the weird, wild world of faraway Faltyr in the process. We’re planning two to three more novels to wrap up the Cycle of Ages Saga. But I already have a short story and novelette published in anthologies that connect to this storyline. We have more planned and a few written. So Faltyr will only continue to evolve and expand as a franchise.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Hmm…depends on the genre, culture/ethnicity of the character, and their personality or attributes. You try to find a name that fits. Sometimes, the name comes first, though. Then the character writes itself. For the Cycle of Ages Saga, some of the names are derived from previous D&D campaigns Barry or I ran for various groups over the years. For example, much of the character and place names associated with Moor’Dru, Oparre, and the Crimson Phoenix came from Barry’s campaigns, whereas the Unen’ek elves and most of the actual cultures, and their fictional empires, on the continent of Ny come from mine. Many of the names have been changed at one point for one reason or another. Kaladimus Dor started out as Doore, but people kept calling him Door-E, which would not do.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Technically, the Battles of Delve Deep in the most recent novels were pretty difficult. There’s also a scene involving a dam that was challenging. I hope I have my research right on that one. If not, I expect to hear back about it from readers. Emotionally, the last two chapters of Cycle of Ages Saga: Sands of Sorrow were the toughest. They came to me in a dream two years after the completion of the initial rough draft and almost wrote themselves. The new editing was much rougher and harsher, but with an awful beauty to it. They left me in tears. Still do when I read them.
Why do you write the genres you do?
I tend to write horror, fantasy, or steampunk, but I want to try my hand at space opera, too. If you’ll notice, these are all genres that fall under the broad heading of speculative fiction. My writing tends to lend itself to something speculative regardless of what tropes and settings are used to tell a story. I research, but I am not an expert in every field. And it is not as easy as some authors make it sound to find subject matter experts willing to gab and gab about a particular plot point. Therefore, I’d rather avoid hard science fiction, medical thrillers, and murder mysteries for this very reason.
Since you write so many genres, do you have a favorite genre and why or why not?
Honestly, I prefer to write horror. My mind was fed with too many horror movies, history books, and revealing documentaries, so it bends toward dark, depressing, and grim topics and situations. That was why I wanted a dark fantasy bent to Faltyr and our fantasy tales associated with it.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Despite some bad experiences with traditional publishing, it led me to a career as a professional writer. None of that would have been possible without the ticket I purchased for Imagicon several years ago. That’s where I met another writer friend, M.B. Weston, who recommended the person who eventually published our Cycle of Ages Saga: Finders Keepers. That’s why she was named in the dedication for the first printing of that novel.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
That’s an extensive list, and while I’d rather not drop names, I will credit those author friends who have helped me edit, promote, and even handle cover design and interior formatting for our novels.
Alan Lewis has been a big influence. He has edited short stories and longer works for me and handled interior formatting for our second novel. Alan is also a talented graphic designer who has worked on the cover layout and design for the new editions of our novels.
Kim Richardson and A.J. Johnson are other author friends who have worked as editors on our novels, and the late Logan Masterson was a close friend and a good critical editor for several of my stories. M.M. Schill has helped beta read stories for me, including Delve Deep, where she provided valuable input to help shape the story arcs for certain characters.
There are dozens of others I chat with on social media, hang with at conventions, and discuss or debate everything from movies and books to politics and religions online and in person. Besides the enthusiastic, supportive readers, these author friends have helped me keep going during bouts of sickness and depression and even anger at continued failures and impending financial doom.
Last but not least, I have to mention Barry Hayes, my long-time friend and co-author, who agreed to combine our creative ideas and work on the development and writing for the first two Cycle of Ages Saga novels and a total of four feature-length screenplays. Without his involvement, we would not have achieved our dreams of becoming published writers and small business owners. With his renewed involvement, perhaps we’ll meet with more critical success and find that oft elusive profitability zone.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It’s really the editing process that transforms you as a writer, if you’re learning from your previous mistakes. Heavy repeated edits before publication helps trim and clean the manuscript, shaping it into a better, more refined version of the story you want to tell. You also learn your common mistakes (grammatically-speaking), stylistic tips and uncommon grammar rules (if the editor is worth their salt), and how to avoid those mistakes in the future.
As far as the publishing process, our first novel was published traditionally. It involved a long wait (that drained us financially as we were travelling to cons to promote our upcoming release and paying for the creation of promotional merchandise and swag for potential buyers) for a lackluster cover on a book delivered literally weeks before we were due at a huge literary event. By that time, the second novel was almost complete, but we wait two more years before deciding to pull it from the publisher and publish it on our own.
During that period, I found my writing heavily impacted the inability of our first novel to find sustainable sales; the inaction of our publisher on the sequel; and the mounting expenses of promoting online with little success and paying to attend conventions (our major source of sales). Dealing with another publisher for our Faltyr short stories involved an extensive wait as well, and recently ended with the rights reverting to us (without another of them even being published). This experience motivated me to do more with self-publishing with our own company rather than deal with small-time publishers who are largely wasting people’s time and driving writers to write less, not more. We do have our sticks in the first with a big house, but only we chose to approach them after hearing that they treat their writers well, prompting us to create more and wait less.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
The initial ideas and planning/plotting phases energize me, and the writing and editing phases exhaust me. I find the marketing and promotional phases soul-crushing, financially-draining, and often depressing. That’s truly the worst part.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
For us, it was unscrupulous agents and back-end vanity presses that technically qualify as small-to-midlist publishers because all the costs incurred by the authors are on the back-end, when you have to buy your own books to sell, book your own cons and book-signings, manage every aspect of promotions, and pay for all the marketing costs, while taking home a small percentage as a royalty.
If you plan on having co-writers or illustrators, put everything in writing, have a lawyer look over it, and pay a notary to file it. Then establish yourself as a business, obtain an FEIN, and then keep track of expenses. I think most writers fail to write off their expenses to cover their tax burden on their business expenses. This is the only way to soften the blow of marketing, promotion, and travel expenses for conventions, book signings, and literary events. Treat yourself, or your writing organization, as a business and act like a business, but a legitimate one. Also, don’t spam people to market your book and don’t engage in so-called shotgun marketing to reach agents or managers. It’s expensive, annoying, and those who respond are usually looking to take advantage of new writers. One more thing, build an online presence and platform and start building an email subscriber list before your book is done. We wanted to wait until we had a finished product, so we were “real” writers, not aspiring ones. That’s a mistake. If you don’t market and engage on social media and build a readership, you will have no one to launch your book to, unless you happen to have several years to wait on a traditional publisher to take notice, consider your book, and let you know if they want it or not. Then several more years to wait while it is edited, promoted, and then released.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes, and some of it is intentional. I try to avoid similar books from the same genre as something I am writing or planning to write. I read those in between projects or while working on another genre. And sometimes part of writer’s block is reader’s block. Often you get to the point where you are simply tired of re-reading and editing what you’re writing. Lay it aside for a bit and then come back to it. You’ll be surprised what errors and awkward phrases you will be able to eliminate after some time away from a piece you’re writing or have written.
Do you Google yourself?
I don’t Google myself as much as posts involving me, my co-writer, or our creative works. I do that to check and see where we (or those specific posts) fall in various keyword searches. I advise doing that to make sure your posts, interviews, reviews, etc. are showing up on the first search page for each search engine.
What question do you wish I had asked and what is the answer to that question?
I would have liked you to ask, ‘What book do I think should be required reading for students?’ My answer would be Mark Twain’s War Prayer. If you’ve never read it, read it. Then you’ll know why.
Mr. Hicks has two stories coming out it the anthology Chronicles of Mirthstone.
Mr. Hicks can be found on Facebook and at jjeremyhicks.com
His books can be found at cycleofagesaga.com and on several websites (Amazon and Barnes and Noble)
Feel free to ask Mr. Hicks any further questions you might have.