Posted By jatyler - 2nd June 2011
Michael Hickins + “The Score” = MB8:
‘The Score’ is an excerpt from a recently completed novel The What Do You Know Contest. As such, how do you select an excerpt of a larger work that will still have the standard expected story elements of beginning, middle, end?
It’s tough really, and in fact there are really only a couple of options. One is to use the opening sequence, which has a standard beginning, but in this case that didn’t work—there wasn’t something that worked as an ending. The other option is to carve an excerpt out from the body of the work, which I did by combining two separate scenes.
This excerpt houses a strong handful of characters, perhaps more than a traditional short story might offer its reader. Can you talk to us a little about how you can people a story so fully without losing focus or without going beyond the bounds of short story length?
It helped that it was a group scene, and that most of the action takes place in two settings – Max’s home, where there are very few characters present, and his sister Lizzie’s place. Group scenes are always tough, even when the reader has already been introduced to all the characters, and as an author, you need to give the characters some kind of defining tropes or characteristics that serve as quick touchstones. For instance, Caspar is suffused with violence, his language is violent, his thoughts are violent, even his philosophy is suffused with death.
The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing was published by Knopf in 1991. Can you share with our readers a little about that experience both in terms of bringing the book about and what has happened with the title since its initial publication?
Few things in my life were as exhilarating as seeing that book published. Just after it came out, I was walking past Rizzoli’s on 57th street, and – this is all thanks to the magnificent Chip Kidd book jacket – I saw that the entire right side of the store window was filled with this book. My heart really leapt out of its moorings at that moment. But the irony is, the book jacket made it look like a mystery novel or something, so most bookstores had it tucked away in the mystery section, spine out. So if someone happened to be looking for a mystery novel by some guy named Hickins, they were in luck. But the book didn’t get the “recently published” wall where it might have gotten better exposure.
In terms of bringing it about, I was living in France and sending the stories out to editors, getting very nice rejection letters, to which I replied by asking the editors something along the lines of, “if it’s not ‘for you,’ who do you think might like it?” Then I’d send it to the next editor with a cover letter along the lines of, “so-and-so said you might like this book.” It finally landed on Gordon Lish’s desk, and he loved it. He actually called my reference to thank her for sending my book along, and he told me she said she’d really thought it was awful but didn’t know what else to tell me.
So the upshot is I got the book published thanks to the recommendation of someone who really hated it.
The book was actually pretty well reviewed, but it just died a quiet death, and no one picked up the paperback rights. It was out of print for a while, but then I was able to bring it back to life as a print-on-demand book through iUniverse in 2000, and it’s been selling in dribs and drabs through Amazon and BN.com. And over the years, I’ve found an audience thanks in huge part to people like Adam Wilson, Michael Hemmingson, Zack Wentz, and others who have gone out of their way to praise it to others.
Now, it’s being republished as an eBook by Dzanc, which is incredibly exciting. I feel like I’m going to be able to reach a new audience – and a much larger audience than when it first appeared in print.
Your bio also lists books that were published using iUniverse, a self-publishing avenue. What brings you to release your work there instead of through a small or large publishing house?
There was a time when there were a lot of small presses that catered to literary fiction, in addition to larger publishers that also did literary fiction. But times have been very tough on the good small presses. I do think the economics of publishing are changing now, thanks to eBooks in particular, so hopefully my future works will find a home. But I have a pretty demanding full-time job, and I want to devote whatever time I have for fiction writing to the actual writing of fiction. If something doesn’t find a home pretty quickly, I just get it out there using self-publishing, and move on to my next project, like The Experiment in International Living, which I’m now polishing.
Read “The Score” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.