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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Interview with Cycle of Ages Saga Co-Author, Jeremy Hicks

I recently sat down with old friend and screenplay author Jeremy Hicks to talk about the various projects he’s working on.  Like me, Jeremy has been an avid reader and fantasy fan since childhood.  He’s also been writing for much of his life—he and I wrote a monthly column called “He Said, She Said” in high school wherein we debated titillating topics ranging from summer reading assignments to Homecoming activities.  Jeremy consistently put up solid arguments, but it’s pretty safe to say that I always won our friendly debates.  I have no doubt that he disagrees whole-heartedly, but this is MY blog so there you go.
Jeremy and his writing partner Barry Hayes finished their first screenplay CYCLE OF AGES SAGA:  FINDERS KEEPERS in April of 2009 and are in the process of trying to sell it to producers in California.  They have also completed work on SANDS OF SORROW, the second installment of the fantasy series, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING REDNECKS, a zombie story co-written with Jeremy’s younger brother Joshua Hicks that they have high hopes for given the market’s current insatiable appetite for brains and all things zombie-fied.  As if those projects alone weren’t enough to keep the duo of Hicks and Hayes chained to their keyboards day and night, they also have a “road trip style comedy” in the works and are looking to bring the CYCLE OF AGES SAGA to market as a comic book series.
I was elated when Jeremy agreed to sit down with me for an interview about his work, the genre of fantasy, the query process and the e-reader medium for my burgeoning little blog.

Michelle:  I realize that to sum up any story in a nutshell rarely does it justice, but can you give the readers an idea what the Cycle of Ages Saga (COAS) is about?
Jeremy Hicks:  The Cycle of Ages Saga is an epic fantasy that mirrors the political and ethnic unrest in our own history, unrest that is very much still with us today.  It is also a lesson in how a government can turn people against virtually anybody to achieve its strategic ends.   At its heart, the main storyline is about how one man’s mission to save his nation and its people and bring peace to a war torn planet becomes the shared goal of his newfound friends and allies, even past the point of his untimely demise.

M:  Anything out there that the lay person can compare COAS to?
JH:  It’s Tolkein-esque in the scale of the size of the conflict—the fate of a Free People is at stake…and it’s similar to Game of Thrones on a political scale, but it is driven by more dynamic, action-oriented characters.  Then there’s the magic aspect…it’s not your Harry Potter brand of magic.  The story is graphic…similar to the old Conan movies.  The casualty rate is high, more like a horror than fantasy film.

M:  Why fantasy?  What drew you to the genre?
JH:  For me it was about the old adage ‘write what you know’.  As a teen I enjoyed role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons…they were a social outlet…and often times another friend and I were counted on for the creativity to keep those games going…to design the worlds and come up with the scenarios that led the games forward.  I’ve always loved the complicated storylines, world building, creatures and mythology of fantasy…as I got older the underlying religious and political conflicts found in fantasy intrigued me as well.

 M:  How did you and Barry go about building the physical world of COAS…the places of Faltyr, Oparre and Moor ‘dru where the stories take place?  How did you make them so complete…like actual main characters in and of themselves?
JH:   The setting for the Cycle of Ages Saga is a fusion of our two imaginations as much of it was drawn from separate worlds we created as settings for various role-playing games.  Faltyr is the main continent as well as the commonly used name for the world as it is the whole world for most of its provincial peoples.  The primary nations of Faltyr and its rulers come from Barry’s imagination as does the overriding plotline constituting the Cycle of Ages Saga.  Its races, cultures, religions, languages, and countless characters and subplots are products of both of our imaginations.  Many of the cultural groups, ethnicities, religions, locations, and even languages are based on examples from our own world.  This is a way of making the fantastic familiar to its general audience and allows us to investigate alternate ways of developing these civilizations and using them to tell our stories.  As with any good myth, it must seem rooted in truth.  We wanted to created a multi-layered world that would be worthy of the breadth and depth of our stories.  In the end, it was like weaving a tapestry with our minds.

M:  You’ve completed work on a different project called Night of the Living Rednecks.  As a zombie fan, I’m incredibly interested in this piece.  What do you think of the resurgence in zombie popularity so many years after the Night of the Living Dead movies in the 80’s given the success of shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead and movies like Resident Evil and Zombieland?
JH:  I love it.  Zombies are the universal metaphor…the ultimate evil man needs to unite us and motivate us to get our shit together.  One of the basic unwritten rules of a good zombie movie, even a comedy, is to use zombies as a metaphor for some sociopolitical message.  George Romero established this with his series of zombie movies starting in the late 60s, a very political time for our nation and the world.  This makes zombie movies the ultimate vehicle to propagate unpopular or just volatile political speech.  For someone as politically-minded as myself, I really can’t say that I love it enough.  However, there is an entire legion of zombie movie filmmaker that doesn’t seem to get it, and those stories always fall flat.  Resident Evil is a good example of that in my opinion.  The games have a very political message having to do with evil transnational corporations, their immoral, illegal experiments, and the consequences to an ignorant, unsuspecting populace.  In the movies, however, these political messages were largely ignored to concentrate on Matrix-style action that you never even see in the entire series of games.  As far as The Walking Dead goes, I just hope AMC didn’t shoot themselves in the foot by getting rid of Frank Darabont.  For us, that could be a bonus though as it means that he’s available.  Call us, Frank! ;)

M:  I know that once your COAS: Finders Keepers screenplay was finished, you guys dove headlong into the query process and weathered a virtual storm of rejections before final success at landing an agent.  Would you agree that many writers who face initial rejection have probably queried too soon?  Any advice for aspiring writers about the query process? 
JH:  Absolutely—many writers query too soon.  Barry and I were so excited to have a finished manuscript that within one week of its completion we’d registered it with the American Writers’ Guild, built a web-site promoting it, established an L.L.C., and were sending it out to agents…[all of that] was a bit premature and we learned that the hard way.  The ultimate finished product that finally got us our agent is a far cry from the original piece.  There’s great software for writers called Final Draft Pro that I recommend.  It’s important to edit and get formatting right before querying.

M:  Years ago, during our *ahem* journalism days, we were warned of print media’s coming extinction.  In the last few years we’ve witnessed the death of newspaper publications across the county as more and more people get their news on-line.  Now, it appears as if the same could be true for the novel publishing industry.  As an artist, how do you feel about eBooks?
JH:  I think they’re great.  If you’re an author not utilizing them, you’re missing a market.
Michelle:  So, no feelings about the book as a ‘sacred object’ or anything like that?
JH:  Writers write for two reasons in my opinion:  to stay broke or get paid.  As a society we should be doing more to educate people, especially young people, on how to capitalize on their art.

M:  Speaking of ‘capitalizing on art’, you’re a huge proponent of bringing revenue to our state through television and film projects.  Atlanta, Georgia was recently named one of the top three cities in the U.S. for filming and has been the location for hundreds of films, commercials, music videos, series and specials over the past few years.  What can be done to bring that industry to Alabama?
JH:  Alabama has a lot to offer.  The setting for Night of the Living Rednecks starts on Ft. McClellan in Anniston, and we’d like to see it filmed there.  The rest of the movie takes place in and around a piney woods trailer park.  We’ve got no shortage of those in this state.  I think that whoever is currently in charge of promoting the film industry in Alabama is doing a very poor job.  And traditional media outlets are not much help either.  In fact, we tried to get the Anniston Star to do a story on us, our Kickstarter proposal, and our efforts to bring jobs to this county and this state through the entertainment industry, and—no surprise—we got no response.  People just don’t understand the amount of money that can be brought into a local economy by a major Hollywood film being shot here.  Nor do they understand that that can lead to more tourism dollars down the road.  Natchitoches, Louisiana still sees tourism dollars every year from the Steel Magnolia house and that film was shot last century.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first author interview and that you’ll be on the lookout for Jeremy and Barry’s various projects.  It was fascinating to sit down with my friend and hear in detail about the CYCLE OF AGES SAGA and I can’t wait to see the duo’s vision come to life.  For more on Jeremy Hicks and Barry Hayes and their work, please visit http://www.brokeguysproductions.com or find them on Facebook at Broke Guys Productions.