Author Interview with Greg Hickey!
Hi, Greg Hickey welcome to the Indie Publishing Group website! Introduce yourself to us. Tell everyone who you are, where you’re from, what you enjoy doing, your hobbies and interests.
I was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago. After attending college in southern California and spending the year after graduation playing and coaching baseball in Sweden and South Africa, I returned to Chicago to earn a Master’s degree in forensic science. I now live in Chicago with my wife Lindsay and have a day job as a forensic scientist. I get my writing done on weekends, evenings and my lunch breaks at work. I grew up playing baseball and several other sports, and once my international pro baseball career ended, I channeled my competitive energies into marathons and triathlons. I have completed several of both types of events, including two Boston Marathons and an Ironman triathlon.
When did you start writing and why?
I started my first novel the summer after seventh grade. It was based on a short story I had written for class the previous school year about the passengers of a shipwrecked cruise liner forced to coexist on a deserted island. I enjoyed writing the short story, and my classmates and teacher seemed to like reading it, so I figured I’d just try to expand it into a full novel.
I didn’t get very far. I had grand ideas, but I quickly realized I wanted to be outside playing with my friends, not typing away on a computer in our basement.
Which is your favorite book you have written and what gave you the idea for it?
I don’t have kids, but I imagine this question is like asking a parent to pick his favorite child. I’m going to say my first novel Our Dried Voices, just because of the circumstances surrounding the writing process. I wrote the first draft of that book during my aforementioned time in Sweden and South Africa. So, it was really a big period of exploration for me on several fronts—writing my first novel, living abroad, having lots of free time to devote to this project. I remember the writing experience much more vividly than I do for my second novel The Friar’s Lantern, which I wrote while completing grad school and working.
The idea for Our Dried Voices was inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine. In his novel, humanity diverges into two distinct species, one of which is the Eloi, who are frail and unintelligent, and live a mostly blissful life without any need for physical or mental exertion. The question raised both in Wells’ novel and in Our Dried Voices is how humanity evolved (or devolved) to this unintelligent state. Wells has one answer (which I won’t spoil here), but I saw humanity following a different path. We’re very concerned with developing technologies to make our lives easier and more comfortable, and taking that pursuit to an extreme would lead us to an Eloi-like existence. So, Our Dried Voices explores humanity’s seemingly paradoxical quest to devote so much intellect to developing technologies that would eliminate the need for said intellect.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The title of Our Dried Voices comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”:
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar”
So, the title is a reference to these “hollow men,” the unintelligent colonists of the novel, and the “meaningless” way the colonists use language.
Who helped you with the cover? Or did you design it yourself? What was your inspiration for your cover design?
The cover design was my idea and was executed by Maria Petrenko of Hadrout Advertising and Technology, a designer selected by Scribe Publishing Company, the original publisher of Our Dried Voices. The symbol on the cover features prominently in the story. It’s my way of visually representing the mind and thought, which is the faculty between perception (symbolized by the eye) and action (symbolized by the hand).
What are some of the themes of your story?
Our Dried Voices is about what happens to humanity after humans cure all disease, solve world hunger and eventually migrate to a far distant planet called Pearl. The story picks up several hundred years after the arrival of the first people when the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence.
At the heart of the story is the tension between human ingenuity and the desire for comfort and ease. The novel also deals with themes of intelligence, communication, apathy, idleness, conformity, and independence. It questions what it means to be a human being and to what extent critical thought is an essential part of the human experience.
What’s your process when you sit down and decide to start writing a book? What is your process, and do you have a system?
In some order, my process is research, outline and write. The order and amount of emphasis placed on those steps differ from project to project. For Our Dried Voices, I did a little research to help me with the set up at the start of the story. I wanted to find plausible explanations for how humans could get from our present state to the world of Our Dried Voices—how we could cure our worst diseases, how we could combat global warming, how we could explore the farthest reaches of space, etc. But I spent most of my time outlining the main story. There’s a progression the main character Samuel goes through as he learns more about the colony on Pearl and becomes more intelligent in general, and there are a series of clues for Samuel and the reader that lead to the final discovery. So I had to make sure all of those elements occurred in an order that made sense and progressed naturally. The outline got pretty detailed, so writing the story wasn’t actually that difficult.
The Friar’s Lantern, which is a choose-your-own-adventure novel about free will and determinism, has some more complex philosophy than does Our Dried Voices. As a result, I spent even more time outlining specific scenes for The Friar’s Lantern. I actually went back and forth several times on a few scenes, crafting an outline, writing the scene, redoing the outline, rewriting the scene and so forth. My research was mostly limited to understanding the philosophical arguments behind the scene, so it was more focused and less extensive.
In contrast, I’ve done a lot more research and a lot less outlining for my current project. It’s very character-driven, and all those characters have complicated and slightly aberrant psychologies. I spent almost a year researching various psychological disorders, both in clinical terms and from the perspectives of people experiencing them. And I started writing as I researched, with no outline. I think that approach helped the characters come to life more organically, but I ended up with a hundred or so independent scenes I then had to put in the right order. I’m still working on outlining the novel and getting the scenes in the best place.
Have you got anything you’re working on now?
Yes, as I mentioned above, I’m currently working on a new project. It’s a novel about the story behind a mass shooting incident, tentatively titled Parabellum. The book begins with the aftermath of the shooting and then flashes back to the lives of four main characters in the year before the shooting. The reader will slowly learn why and how each character might have been involved in the final attack.
If you could travel to any location in the world where would you go?
I really love Cape Town, South Africa, where I lived for about four months on a study abroad program during college and another six months when I played and coached for a local baseball club after college. It’s an absolutely beautiful city, surrounded by the mountains and ocean, and the weather is great, kind of a mild Mediterranean climate. It has a fascinating history, with a long legacy of immigration from all over the world and then apartheid, so it’s very culturally diverse. And the people are all extremely friendly and welcoming. I went back last year for the first time in over eight years, and it was amazing to see how much the city had changed and grown in the time I’d been away.
As for places I haven’t been, I’ve always wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand. Like Cape Town, those countries seem to have a great combination of amazing cities and beautiful natural landscapes.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years’ time?
I published Our Dried Voices in 2014 and The Friar’s Lantern in 2017. I’d love to stay on the three-year track and have Parabellum published in 2020 with another novel ready for 2023.
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