A while ago a friend recommended Convergence, a sci-fi thriller by an author I didn't know at the time, Michael Patrick Hicks. I was instantly pulled intrigued by the ideas behind the story: the main character is a killer and a "memory thief," and the crimes that Michael imagines rotate around a substance called "DRMR," a "a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead."
Even though it's not my field, I'm always fascinated by new breakthroughs in neuroscience, and what Michael imagines in his book is not so far fetched: scientists have been able to create memory chips and induce artificial memories in mouse experiments. Could there be a future where memories could become so important, they'd be worth killing for?
Of course I had to pose the question to Michael directly, who graciously agreed to be a guest here on Chimeras today. Welcome, Michael!
EEG: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started writing.
MPH: I started writing way back in high school, thanks to a creative writing course during my senior year. So, that was almost twenty year ago now, and in the meantime I’ve written several novels that will never, never, ever see the light, and spent a number of years working as a probation officer before leaving that behind to pursue opportunities as freelance journalist for several local newspapers.
The more involved I got on the newspaper end of things though, the more I realized how badly I wanted and needed to be telling stories of my own, rather than the stories of others. On a lark, I went back to an idea I’d had lurking in my brainpan for about a decade and ended up writing Convergence.
At around the time I finished that book, Amazon was taking entries for their 2013 Breakthrough Novel Award contest, which was free to enter, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was open to ten thousand writers, and I figured I’d get bounced out pretty quickly. Instead, Convergence kind of became the little sci-fi book that could and hung around through the semi-finals where it got a glowing review from Publishers Weekly and terrific feedback from the ABNA reviewers. That was really the final push I needed to decide on pursuing publication and, eventually, going the indie route and getting it professionally edited and up to snuff for release to a wider audience.
EEG: In your book Convergence you introduce Jonah Everitt, a "memory thief". I was hooked and bought your book on that one idea alone as I found it extremely intriguing. Where did you get the idea that memories could have one day a "market value" as powerful drugs and be worth stealing and killing?
MPH: The idea for Convergence goes all the way back to 1999 and a story about a research team at University of California at Berkeley figuring out a way to wire into a cat’s brain and record some very rough video of what the cat was seeing. That idea always stuck with me, and as I started looking into some of the research that DARPA is doing, particularly with their REMIND program, and a few stories that I had read about the chemical releases that occur during death, like DMT, which is a powerful psychedelic. I did a lot of research on memory formation, and recent experiments that have been conducted with labs and actually creating false memories that were implanted in mice, and all kinds of potentially scary stuff like that. I was also getting caught up in the burgeoning growth of social media, and it all just sort of came together and converged, if you will.
When you look back and realize just how much of yourself you’re putting out to the world in status updates, and then seeing tailored ads on social media based on things you’ve liked or talked about and what not, you have to realize there’s a certain aspect of commodity to individual experiences. Now imagine how marketable memories themselves could be, all fully encoded with the emotional resonance and chemical reactions that formed them. I think it would be incredibly sellable, and that certain memories, like those of death, murder, suicide that we would be morally opposed to being used as escapist entertainment, would become all the more valuable and desirable to certain segments through their sheer illegality. And there’s certainly already a huge market for secrets and information in the world today. Memories and brain interfaces just seem like the natural progression to me.
EEG: You are absolutely right, and the whole thing is fascinating and scary at the same time. Well done on catching up on the idea! You published Emergence, the second book in the DRMR series, last month. What can you tell us about it?
MPH: Well, the second book, Emergence, released in early May. I don’t want to say too much about it, though and risk giving away stuff to people who haven’t read the first book yet, but it’s a direct sequel to Convergence and deals with some of the fallout of the prior book’s finale. In Convergence, the central character was Jonah, but in the second book we see the world more through his daughter’s eyes. I would definitely recommend people read these in order, though.
EEG: Besides the DRMR series, what are you working on?
MPH: I’m putting the finishing touches on a couple of short stories for two anthologies that I will be a part of this year, and which are releasing toward the back-half of 2015.
I was lucky enough to get invited into the No Way Home anthology, which sci-fi author Lucas Bale curated and released earlier this year. All of us writers involved had such an awesome time with it that we decided to team up again for a second anthology. So, this one will be all about crime and punishment through the prism of science fiction and should be out at the very end of August.
The second story is a bit of fantasy noir for an anthology called Undaunted, which will be released by a small publisher, LARRIKINbooks, with a foreword by Delilah S. Dawson. I don’t think a release date has been finalized for that anthology just yet, but keep an eye out for news on it pretty soon. There’s some really exciting stuff coming up for this project!
EEG: Who are the writers (either past or present) that inspire you?
MPH: Off the top of my head: Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Barry Eisler, Chuck Wendig, Jonathan Maberry, Lauren Beukes – those are authors I admire and love, and their approach to the craft, each in their own unique and different ways, have really helped shape and inform the way I write.
I discovered King and Clancy back in high school, and those are the two that really drew me in to reading and made me a book lover. Wendig, I follow his blog daily and try to read all of his stuff, and the guy is just so diverse and prolific. I think he has the most spot-on advice in terms of craft and publishing and he writes it all in such an easily digestible, and usually odd!, way that it’s a terrific bit of infotainment. Hugh Howey and Susan Kaye Quinn, too – I think anyone interested in writing and publishing would do well to read their blogs, too.
On a more personal level, I’m just a huge fan of Lucas Bale and I’m lucky to be able to call him a friend and a colleague. He’s become a real source of inspiration for me (and if he’s reading this, this is probably the first he’s hearing of it!), but the dude is just so tenacious and hard-working. We both stuck our necks out there with our first releases last year and, I guess, have sort of come up together and supported one another, but I’m constantly impressed with his drive and work ethic. He’s always writing, always coming up with new projects. He’s able to write full-time, which I don’t have the luxury of, so he’s kind of become the high-water mark by which I measure myself and think, jeez, I wish I could do what he does. Practically every time I talk to him, he’s got a grand new idea! So when I start to get complacent or lazy, I imagine that Lucas has probably written five thousand words, outlined a new series, and started in on a brand new short story, while I’ve been dicking around on Facebook instead. He’s just a total work horse, so getting to talk with him regularly and seeing updates on his upcoming stuff and new releases, it just puts me to shame and that inspires me to nudge out a little bit more on the word count whenever possible.
EEG: Lucas is indeed an amazing writer, I'm hoping to interview him next! :-)
Thanks so much Michael for chatting with us today and best of luck with all your future projects.
To find out more about Michael's books, visit his website at http://michaelpatrickhicks.com