Kirt Hickman is a technical writer turned award-winning fiction/nonfiction author. His works include two speculative fiction series (the science fiction thrillers of Worlds Asunder and the Age of Prophecy fantasy novels) and the how-to writer’s guide Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness. Kirt’s latest release is Assassins’ Prey (February 2021), the second novel in the Age of Prophecy series. You’ll find him on his Amazon Author page.
What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Assassins’ Prey?
Assassins’ Prey is the second book of the Age of Prophecy fantasy trilogy, which tells the story of a young farmer who sets out amid deception and betrayal to stop the fulfillment of a prophecy that promises to plunge all of the Civilized Lands into an age of darkness. Readers should read Book I, Fabler’s Legend, before reading Assassins’ Prey.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The Age of Prophecy trilogy is the product of a fantasy roll-playing campaign. All of the main characters were created and played by real people. This takes the control of the storyline out of the hands of the author and puts it into the hands of the players. As a result, the story is more rich and intricate than it might have been otherwise, but developing a story that will sell as a series of fiction novels in this manner requires a lot of trimming and shaping of the plot after the gaming campaign is over.
From an awards standpoint, Assassins’ Prey is the middle book of a trilogy, so contest judges have neither the beginning nor the end of the story. That makes it more difficult for me to win an award for the book. Nevertheless, Assassins’ Prey was a finalist in the 2021 NM/AZ Book Awards.
Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
My main characters (largely an ensemble cast) include a young farmer, a former constable, a handicapped half-elf, an ice wizard, a demon-hunting priest, and a half-demon monk. As extraordinary as some of these characters are, my readers will relate to them because they (like, we) struggle to overcome their own unique fears and weaknesses, priorities and moral sensibilities, and personality conflicts while pursuing their common goal.
How did the book come together?
The inspiration for this project was the fantasy series written by RA Salvatore, which takes place in a world that he shares with the Forgotten Realms fantasy game series. The books read as though they were developed as part of a roll-playing campaign (though I don’t think any of them were actually created in that way). From his inspiration, however, I decided to create a unique world of my own and host a game campaign to develop the storyline for the trilogy.
It took about a year and a half of roll playing to play out the story in each of the three books (so four and a half years total). Then I spent another two years banging the first book into shape. So Fabler’s Legend took over six years to write. Assassins’ Prey has been a long time coming because my life was interrupted by a couple of crises that kept me away from my writing for a few years after the release of Fabler’s Legend.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
The physical world (i.e. the geography) was pretty easy to build. I knew what elements I wanted the world to have, but I didn’t want to generate an entire world map detail by detail, so I used a computer gaming program to generate the map randomly. I thought I would need to generate many random maps before I got one with all of the elements that I was looking for, but a suitable world popped out on the first go-round.
From there I had to develop the structure of each of my kingdoms (race, politics, economy, etc.). This was probably the most difficult part, because I wanted several diverse kingdoms. But even these were largely determined by the geography of each region. The area with the densest mountains went to the dwarves, the large green swath went to the elves, fertile regions for kingdoms with agricultural economies, etc.
When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, and when did you know it was ready for publishing?
My writers’ guide, Revising Fiction, describes my writing process. I follow it exactly, step by step. One of the advantages of Revising Fiction, and the writing process that it describes, is that it has an end. When I reached the end of the process, I knew the manuscript was as good as it could be. I could have continued tinkering with it, I suppose, but any improvements at that point would have been marginal at best.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Playing the game was a lot of fun. As far as the writing process goes, I always enjoy the editing more than I enjoy writing first draft. My first drafts are always pretty atrocious. Editing, on the other hand, provides instant gratification—I can watch the book improve, right before my eyes.
Of all the books you’ve written — Worlds Asunder sci-fi series, Age of Prophecy fantasy series, the nonfiction how-to Revising Fiction, and several children’s books — which one was the most challenging, and which was the easiest (or most enjoyable) to write?
Each series has its own challenges. Revising Fiction was the easiest to get onto paper. I already had the writing process figured out. It took me only nineteen days to put it onto paper in book form. Then I just had to scour my writing sources for examples to illustrate each point. The Worlds Asunder series has been the biggest challenge, I guess, because I’ve had to come up with six novel-length fiction stories from scratch, some of which aren’t actually written yet.
What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
I see the same types of problems over and over again in novels that I critique for beginning writers. These problems fall into two categories: the story and the writing, both of which are critical to a book’s success.
The story must make sense, particularly the actions of the characters and the motivations that drive those actions. The story must be clear, consistent, and cohesive.
Writing is a craft that must be developed. You can’t just type words that describe the events and expect the narrative to be engaging. I get a lot of manuscripts that are rife with passive voice, emotions that are told rather than shown, characters and settings that lack detail and specificity, and large informational sidebars just dumped onto the page. Writing must be polished to be engaging.
If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
In terms of TV shows and movies, I certainly have my favorites (among them are Star Trek and just about anything produced by Joss Whedon), but I don’t really have much of an interest in working in film. The workload and pace of such projects requires far more time and commitment than I’m willing to give at this point in my life—it would take the fun out of it. Of course, if someone wanted to produce a series or feature film from my own novels, I might be persuaded to reconsider. J
You have years of experience as a technical writer. How has that experience benefited your fiction writing?
My years in engineering enabled me to develop the start-to-finish process that I now use for everything I write. Without that, I’d still be staring at the first draft of my initial manuscript, wondering what to do with it.
Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I’d had a better understanding of the time commitment required for the marketing aspects of the job. If you want your book to be successful, you have to take the time to market it. This is true whether you’re traditionally published or self-published.
What are the key issues in writing a series to keep readers coming back for more?
Tell a good story through the eyes of unique, interesting, and believable characters.
What writing projects are you working on now?
Host of Evil, the final book of the Age of Prophecy series.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.