Monday, April 25, 2011

Interview with Kirt Hickman

Hey everyone - we are so excited! Our first interview! (There are those pesky exclamation points again).

We met Kirt last year at the Colorado Gold Conference in Denver where he presented an awesome workshop based upon his award-winning book: Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness.  I was so impressed by the response he received, I invited him back to be the speaker at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' May Education Event.

Kirt will present for us on May 21, 2011 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver.

Thank you, Kirt, both for agreeing to do our workshop in May and for being here with us on Cowboys and Dragons.

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.
It started pretty much on a dare, some 15 years ago.  My wife and I were on a road trip, listening to an audio version of King Solomon's Mines, by H. Rider Haggard.  When we finished it, my wife, Lisa, read the "About the Author" text on the back of the box.  It said that when Haggard read Treasure Island, he made the claim to his wife that he could write a better story.  His wife's reply was, "Do it."  The result was King Solomon's Mines.  Well, I enjoyed King Solomon's Mines, but it wasn't the best book I'd ever read, so I told my wife, "I think I could write a better story than that." Her reply: "Do it." The difference was that H. Rider Haggard was a writer and I was not.  So I didn't take my wife up on her challenge--at least not right away.  I sat on the idea for nearly 10 years, but I never forgot it.  I often thought about what I would write if I did decide to write something. 

I was an avid reader at the time (I still am), and I came across the "Venus Prime" series by Arthur C. Clarke and Paul Preuss.  Again, I wasn't terribly impressed by the story (at least not after the third book or so), but I was intrigued by one thing these authors had done.  They had written a series of books, each of which highlighted a world in our solar system as a setting for the story.  I thought that was cool.  What's even better is that we have learned a lot about those worlds since "Venus Prime" was written.  So I figured I would write a completely different story, but in a series of books that each take place on a different world in our solar system, and then portray those worlds as we now know them to be.  That's what I'm doing with my "Worlds Asunder" series.

Eight years ago, Philips Semiconductors, the company that I was working for at the time, went out of business.  I had no difficulty finding another job (which I still have today), but I negotiated some time off and took a few writing classes through UNM Continuing Education. That's when I began writing my first novel.  After I went back to work, I joined SouthWest Writers and continued writing.  The rest, as they say, is history.

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?
I have published two books in my "Worlds Asunder" series: Worlds Asunder and Venus Rain. I am currently working on the third book, Mercury Sun.  I also have a children's picture book, I Will Eat Anything, in print.  And, of course, my writing how-to, Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness.
My next book will be, Fabler's Legend, the first book in the "Age of Prophecy" fantasy trilogy.  Fabler's Legend is a high fantasy in which:

The great seer Ageus Mortaan foretold the coming of the Age of Darkness, the rise to power of the forces of evil, and the enslavement or extermination of humankind. For Nick Mirrin, this prophecy had never been more than a fairytale, until the minions of darkness attacked his family and destroyed his home. . . And until the preconditions foretold by Mortaan began to coalesce.
Nick's grandfather, on the other hand, had always believed. He had dedicated his life to the study of the Prophecy. But he's gone now.
With nothing more than a few scraps from his grandfather's journal and a group of friends he thought he could trust, Nick sets out to complete his grandfather's ultimate endeavor––to prevent the fulfillment of Mortaan's prophecy. 
The problem: Ageus Mortaan is never wrong.

Fabler's Legend is scheduled for release in May.  Unfortunately, I probably won't receive my copies in time to have them at the workshop.

I'm also working on Purple, another children's picture book.

Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?
I've long since lost count of how many rejection letters I've received.  As well as I can tell, there is no way to get a book traditionally published without suffering through a multitude of rejections.

I had a marked improvement in my results when I started paying a qualified professional to proof-read my submissions.  Before I started doing this, I never placed in a contest and I never got a positive response (a request for additional information) from an editor or agent.  After I started sending submissions that had been professionally proofed (by someone other than myself), I began placing in contests and receiving positive responses to about 50% of my queries.  I cannot overstate the importance of professional proof reading.  Because submissions are generally short, it doesn't cost much to have them professionally proofed.

Your book Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness is winning awards. You also base your workshops on the book. Tell us a little about how you developed the process.
Yes.  Revising Fiction has done very well in both the Ben Franklin Awards and the New Mexico Book Awards.  I believe the reason for this is because it bridges the gap between concept and application. It is the book I was looking for when I was learning to write. There are a multitude of great writing books out there, but most are written at a conceptual level.  When I read them, I had an idea of what I was supposed to try to accomplish in my writing, but I still didn't know how to accomplish it.  Revising Fiction takes that extra step. It breaks the entire process down into bite-sized pieces and presents the material in a start-to-finish, nuts and bolts, no-kidding-here's-what-you've-got-to-do approach.

The process itself is the result of my journey to improve my own writing.  The first professional critique that I received came back with one resounding and very detailed message, which can be summarized by the statement: Kirt, you need to learn how to write.  So I joined SouthWest Writers, attended conferences and workshops, went to classes, read books, etc.  What I got was an overwhelming mass of advice. Somehow, I had to organize the information for myself.  As a manufacturing engineer, I have made a living out of taking complex sets of requirements (or in this case advice) and boiling them down into simple, effective procedures.  That's what I did here. Ultimately, I wrote it up as a self-editing checklist for my own use.  Later, I was asked by a critique buddy of mine to share the process at an informal writers group meeting.  Based on the positive response that I received, I expanded the talk into several workshops and classes of varying lengths, and ultimately the book.

How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?
I write in the interstices of my life.  I have a day job and a family, so I have a lot of demands on my time. Still, I try to write every day.  I write during my lunch period during the week. On the weekends, I get up early and can usually get a couple hours of writing in before my family crawls out of bed.  If I have 10 minutes to spare while I'm waiting somewhere, I'll break out my manuscript and edit a couple of pages.  Having a clearly defined self-editing process helps to keep me focused and productive during my limited writing time.

When not writing, what do you do?
As I mentioned, I have a day job.  I currently  work as a process and safety engineer in a microelectronics research laboratory.  Evenings are pretty much reserved for my family.  All of my "hobby" time, goes toward my writing.

What did I not ask that you want to talk about?
I think that just about covers it.  I'm looking forward to seeing everyone next month.


  1. Kirt,
    Thank you for coming to the cafe. I enjoyed reading your comments and I'm looking forward to your workshop in May. Do you write the entire novel, let it rest a while, and go back to edit it? Or are you a chapter by chapter, write and edit kind of guy? Does it matter, or is it more a matter of preference like pantsers vs. plotsers?
    If you had one piece of advice to share with other writers about editing their work, what would it be?

  2. Great interview, Marne. Kirt, I'm intrigued with how your orderly mind deals with the chaos of writing without losing the creative spark that fuels the story. I applaud your great success. I have tons of engineers in my family and I doubt they could do what you've done--juggle so many things and still have the energy to write. I wish I could be there for your workshop. I'm sure I would learn a lot. Good luck with the new release.

  3. Hi Kirt, your (other-world, outer-universe) writing history is fascinating. I'm a historical buff but the two genres aren't that far apart. You have to have a great imagination to create a world you've never set foot in and then put your vision onto the page so when others read your story, they're right there in the moment. The forward-thinking step of hiring a professional proofer is admirable. Hmmm. I must try that. Thanks!

  4. Can't wait to look up your writing book, Kirt. Thanks!

  5. Kirt, I also started writing because of an "I can write better than *that*!" moment. I wonder how many of us start out that way. :)

  6. Abigail,

    I definitely started writing for that reason. I was reading a NY Times best seller and couldn't finish the book it was so bad. I tossed it under the bed and got on my computer.

    Ten years later I realize it isn't as easy as I thought it would be that night. LOLOL

    Kirt makes the whole process seem easier though.

  7. Kirt,

    Great interview. Sounds like Revising Fiction is a handy tool for any writer's toolbox.

    Wishing you many sales on your upcoming release of Fabler's Legend.

  8. Excellent interview! Thanks for sharing your writing journey and advice Kirt and thanks for hosting him.

  9. Kirt, I love hearing how I started stories. As someone who hasn't been writing since birth (which some writer's would have you believe - lol) I appreciate your candor. I'll check out your book. Thanks for the thoughful post.


  10. Kirt, the revisions book sounds wonderful. I'll definitely be looking for it, as I'm halfway through that process now, myself, and I'll take all the help I can get. Interesting that you found this easier because of your day job as an engineer. I'm hearing that a lot from other engineers/writers I know. It makes me wish I'd given more thought to my career choices. :) Thanks for sharing! I *must* go find this children's book, too. (I had problem eaters many moons ago, and "I Will Eat Anything" sounds like fun!)

  11. Very intertesting post, Kirt. Sounds like a book to pick up. I agree that proofing is a problem: no matter how hard we try to proof our own work, we inevitably read right over something others could catch.

    Nice job on the blog, everyone.

  12. I'll keep a look out for this book! It sounds like it could help me a lot with my WIP. Thanks for the great interview, Marne.

  13. Marne, thanks for your questions. I write the whole novel before I go back and do any editing. Editing a partially-completed manuscript is a great way to stall the creative process. I believe it's the reason why so many people never finish their first novel. If I could give only one piece of self-editing advice, it would be this: Delete every word that is not absolutely necessary.


  14. Kaki,
    I'm sorry that you're going to miss the workshop. I encourage you to pick up my book, "Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness" (if you haven't already). It covers the same material as my workshop (and more). I'll be back in Denver for the Colorado Gold conference in Septmber, to present a couple of shorter workshops. I hope to meet you then.


  15. Thank you all of the comments and encouragement. I'm looking forward to meeting you all in September.