Can you give us a brief overview of your book? Is it part of a series?
Our Dried Voices depicts a future world without disease, hunger or privation, in which the last members of the human race travel to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity.
Several hundred years after their arrival, 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.
With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony.
For now, Our Dried Voices is not part of a series. However, many readers have asked about a sequel and I have some ideas about what that book might entail.
Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
Yes, I did, and Our Dried Voices was traditionally published by Scribe Publishing Company. On the way to signing that contract, I sent a lot of queries to agents and publishers and got a lot of rejections. I soon realized that this process is not uncommon. J.K. Rowling famously got “loads” of rejections for the first book in the Harry Potter series before it was accepted. I’ve come to believe that every author has to go through a certain number of rejections before their work is accepted. It could be one, ten or 100 rejections, but at some point, you’ll hit your rejection quota and get a “yes.”
How long before you got your offer of representation/your first contract? Was it for your first novel?
Years. Our Dried Voices was my first novel. It took me about a year to write the first draft and another year or so to edit it to the point I felt it was ready for submission. I sent out queries to a few agents and publishers and started working on a second novel. I got some tepid interest from a few people but nothing concrete. Eventually, one agent told me the manuscript was promising but recommended I send it to a professional editor. I did so and received some valuable feedback. I then spent another year or so rewriting the novel to incorporate many of the editor’s suggestions. I sent out more queries and continued to work on my second novel. More than five years after I started writing Our Dried Voices, I got a publishing offer from Scribe Publishing Company. They published the novel the following year.
What factors influenced your decision to go with a particular agent or publisher?
As this was my first foray into the world of publishing, I didn’t have much experience to work from. But I was impressed by the enthusiasm the head of Scribe showed about Our Dried Voices. In one of her early emails, she wrote, “Wow - what a hauntingly beautiful, unpredictable story! I would be thrilled to publish this book.” I figured that if she was so passionate about the novel, she would do a good job of introducing it to new readers.
Briefly describe your journey in writing your first or latest book.
I started writing Our Dried Voices in 2008, during the summer after I graduated from college. I had played baseball in college and my college coach had found me a job as a player and coach for a baseball club in Sundsvall, Sweden. My responsibilities were limited to coaching and participating in senior team practices two nights a week, coaching and playing in two games on Saturday or Sunday and coaching the occasional practice or game for the club’s junior team. So I had a lot of time on my hands, especially during the days, and I was able to write a good chunk of the first draft over the course of that summer.
After Sweden, I returned home to Chicago for a month, then traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to play and coach for another baseball team. I had studied abroad in Cape Town while in college and had played for a local team. After Sweden, I went back to join the team for the full season. I had a temporary office job during part of my stay in Cape Town but still found plenty of time to write.
I distinctly remember writing what became the third-to-last chapter of Our Dried Voices in my head while jogging through the Cape Town suburb where my host family lived. I would write a sentence in my head, memorize it, write a second sentence, memorize the first two, write a third, and so on. When I got back from my run, I typed out that chapter of the novel.
I was fortunate to have these opportunities for many reasons, including the fact that by the time I returned home from South Africa the following year, I had the first draft of Our Dried Voices.
If you used a graphic designer/publisher’s designer, how involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
The cover for Our Dried Voices was created by a graphic designer working for the publisher, but I was very involved in the process. We went through several iterations before settling on a cover I felt best represented the theme and tone of the novel. I passed over a lot of cover ideas I thought were too bright and flashy. Our Dried Voices is about a simple group of people, and I wanted the cover to reflect that. The cover also depicts one of the clues that lead the protagonist Samuel to his ultimate showdown.
What is your writing process? Do you listen to music or do you like silence?
My writing process has changed a lot since I wrote Our Dried Voices. I now have a day job, which leaves me with less spare time to write. Nowadays, I do most of my writing while on the bus or train to and from work, during lunch breaks and in the evenings after work. If I’m not in front of a computer, I write in a notebook or on my phone. At the end of the week, I compile everything I’ve written on a project into a single document. And I definitely prefer silence when I’m writing. The one exception is that I’ll often go for a walk outside to stimulate some creativity. When I’m outside, I’m obviously surrounded by a variety of sounds but unless they’re loud and clearly distinguishable words, they seem to fade into the background.
Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
It depends on what I’m writing. Our Dried Voices has a plot where elements need to happen in a specific order. Over the course of the story, Samuel faces new and increasingly difficult challenges. He learns novel ideas and additional ways of expressing his thoughts. And he continues to discover fresh clues that lead him toward the reason behind the problems in his colony. So I crafted pretty extensive outlines before I started writing Our Dried Voices to make sure that everything occurred in the proper order.
My current project is different in that it revolves around four characters and their backstories. There is a progression of events, but those events don’t need to happen in a specific order to make logical sense. When I started the first draft of this book, I had an idea of what the four characters were like and I just started writing whatever scenes came to mind. This process allowed the characters to develop organically and in a way that felt natural for the story I’m telling.
What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
I’m on most of the usual social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.). I enjoy answering questions about various topics in my fiction and about writing in general on Quora and I maintain a blog on my website. I also have an email list where I share updates on my writing as well as discounts and giveaways for my books and other related products.
What’s next for you?
I had another book published last year: a choose-your-own-adventure novel titled The Friar’s Lantern. And I briefly mentioned my current project, which is a novel tentatively titled Parabellum. Parabellum tells the story behind a fictional mass shooting in my hometown of Chicago. It follows four characters in the year leading up to the shooting and investigates how and why they might be involved in the attack. I finished the first draft of Parabellum last year and I’m currently editing it. If all goes well, I hope to publish it in 2020.
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Greg Hickey is a former international professional baseball player and current forensic scientist, endurance athlete, author and screenwriter. His debut novel, Our Dried Voices, was a finalist for Foreword Reviews' INDIES Science Fiction Book of the Year Award. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Lindsay.