Guess who's in our Interrogation Room today?
Deron Hicks, one of the mystery writers here on this blog. But this time, we, as an organization, are guilty.
Our crime? We somehow neglected to interview Deron Hicks about his first middle grade mystery novel, SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S GRAVE (Houghton Mifflin) when it came out last year! Okay, so Deron wasn't blogging with us back then. Still, it's no excuse. His wonderful Shakespeare Mysteries series was launching, and we let him slip through our hands.
Not this time. Deron's second book in the series, TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS, just released this week, and we've brought him in here for a long-overdue questioning!
First, here's a bit about TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS:
life changed overnight when she uncovered Shakespeare’s lost
manuscripts. Now the authenticity of those manuscripts is in question . .
. and the centuries-old family publishing business is in danger. In
this exciting mystery, thirteen-year-old Colophon travels from Oxford’s
lofty Tower of the Five Orders to the dank depths of London’s sewers in
her pursuit of truth and honor. But the stakes are high. Budding
cryptologists, Shakespeare fans, and mystery lovers alike will revel in
the twists and turns of this fascinating middle grade sequel to Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave.
And from the Deron Hicks file:
Deron lives in Warm Springs, Georgia, with his wife and two children. He has a degree in painting from the University of Georgia and a degree in law from Mercer Law School. Deron currently serves as the Inspector General for the State of Georgia.
And now for Deron's long-overdue questioning!
Your Shakespeare Mysteries cover a dazzling amount of time and space. What kind of research did you do for this series? Do you visit the places you are writing about?
Visits to the various locations described in my books -- Mont Saint-Michel, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Cambridge, and London -- have played an essential role in my research and perhaps, more importantly, in the inspiration for the books. There is simply no substitute for going somewhere like Oxford and experiencing it in person. On my trips to England, I would rush back to my hotel each evening after a day of traveling and try and record every detail from the day in my journal -- where I ate, how I traveled, the weather, the people I met, the places I visited . . . everything. I've also found that the staff at the various locations can be very generous with their time and knowledge. I once had a question about a painting at Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University. One of the administrators at the college offered to show me the painting in person. I spent a wonderful morning getting a behind the scenes tour of the college. It actually became a chapter in my second book -- TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS. Books, of course, continue to be a primary resource for research, although the Internet has proven to be a great vehicle for teaching obscure issues.
What was the original seed of this series? Do you remember where you started?
I have a tendency to pick a topic and then read as many books as I can reasonably find about that topic. (I once spent six months reading a series of books about Einstein's Theory of Relativity. My wife thought I was crazy). For most of my life, I was not a fan of Shakespeare. However, a few years back, I ran across Bill Bryson's book on Shakespeare -- THE WORLD AS STAGE -- and decided to give it a try. I was hooked. Shakespeare came alive. I then read another book about Shakespeare, and then another and another. I was in the middle of this endeavor when I had the idea for the final chapter in SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S GRAVE. It just popped in my head. I wrote the final chapter, liked it, and simply decided that I should write the rest of the book. My daughter was in middle school at the time, so I wrote the story with her in mind as the audience.
What's your favorite Shakespeare play? (Or character?)
It changes constantly, but I have always enjoyed A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. It has a timeless quality to it.
What do you find to be the hardest part about writing mystery novels for a younger audience? And what's the best part?
The best part of writing for a younger audience is, in some weird way, the same as the hardest part. I was an art major in college. Sometimes a professor would challenge us to paint with a limited color palette, which is very similar to trying to convey a realistic view of the world without bowling the reader over with some of the darker, more mature elements. I found the use of a limited color palette liberating and a stimulus for real creativity. I think the same is true in writing for younger readers. There are certainly limitations as to what may or may not be appropriate, but those limitations can serve to further the creative process, not hinder it.
Did you find writing the second mystery in the series easier or harder than writing the first? Did you change your process at all in writing the second book?
When I wrote my first book, I was not working on a deadline. I would write for a few nights and then forget about it for a week or two. There was no stress or pressure to finish. The second book was completely different. I had a specific deadline that I had to meet. To do so, I established a fairly rigid writing schedule. I had to put in at least an hour each night no matter what else was going on in my life. In many ways, this actually made the writing process a little easier. As I settled into my routine, I found that I could produce more and more every week. I didn't lose focus or drift away for a week (except, just maybe, once or twice).
What have been some of your favorite mysteries, real-life or fictional?
Two of my favorite books are by Caleb Carr -- THE ALIENIST and THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS. Both books are set in New York City in the late 1890s, and feel as if they were written during that period. There are elements of historical fiction in my books, so I know how hard it can be to get the details right -- the dialogue, the setting, the mood, the pace, and the feel of another point in time. Carr is a master at this -- and he creates a perfect setting for his crime dramas.
Have you ever solved a "real life" mystery?
I have been an attorney for twenty years, and served as Inspector General of the State of Georgia for almost three years. In my job as Inspector General, my office investigated fraud committed against the State of Georgia. Unlike most mystery novels which compress time and events, a real "mystery" can take one or two years to solve. It's often a very slow, meticulous process. Occasionally, however, we would have our "a-ha" moment where everything would fall into place at once, which was pretty cool.
You have an interesting day job. Do you uphold justice by day and write about crime by night? How do you juggle the demands of your day job, your family life, and your writing life?
At a literary festival last year, I was grabbed by another writer and asked if we could talk for a few minutes. She had just published her first novel, as had I. We sat down at a table in the restaurant at the hotel and grabbed a cup of coffee. She asked me how I handled the demands of a day job, family, and writing. I told her that I was often stressed and simply content to make it from one day to the next. But I told her it was totally worth it. She laughed, and said she felt the same way. I think we were both happy to see that someone else was dealing with the same problems, hurdles, and struggles. But as I said, it is totally worth it.
What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh light of this interrogation room?
I've kept a journal since I was in 5th grade. My journals are filled with decades of thoughts, impressions, ideas, drawings, and emotions. I use them to organize my research, to record story ideas, and to work through issues that I encounter as I am writing. My journals -- and the process of keeping a journal -- are essential to my writing process.
Thank you, Deron, for all your great information and insights into the mysteries of mystery writing!
For more about Deron Hicks and the Shakespeare Mysteries, here are some links to check out!
Also on Deron's site, a great photo gallery related to the series
Follow Deron on Twitter: @deronhicks
Like Shakespeare Mysteries on Facebook