Monday, February 18, 2019

Micah Dean Hicks Interview - Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

Photo Credit: Scot Lerner 2018

Micah Dean Hicks is the author of the novel Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. He is also the author of Electricity and Other Dreams, a collection of dark fairy tales and bizarre fables. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Hicks grew up in rural southwest Arkansas and now lives in Orlando. He teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.


Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (February 5, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1328566455
ISBN-13: 978-1328566454


“A tour-de-force of the imagination. Hicks has created a world that is beautifully and brutally surreal and yet, at the same time, BREAK THE BODIES, HAUNT THE BONES stands as a hyper-realistic psychological portrait of the death of the American factory town. My own identity as an American was disturbed and changed by this novel; some dormant understanding was shaken awake. This is a stunning and profound debut.” ―Julianna Baggott, bestselling author of New York Times Notable Book Pure

“Hicks’ debut novel is a thoughtful tour of the rotted and haunted heart of America. Highly recommended.” ―Jeremiah Tolbert, Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author

“I can’t stop thinking about this book. It’s a haunting story that burrows under your skin like an insect laying eggs that hatch within you in the middle of the night. Hicks’ mesmerizing imagery kept me turning the pages and asking myself ‘How is this book happening? What sort of literary witchcraft am I witnessing?’” ―Maurice Broaddus, author of Buffalo Soldier and The Usual Suspects

“BREAK THE BODIES, HAUNT THE BONES is a breathless wonder of a debut novel… Hicks is a magician with words and has written a spellbinding, haunting and necessary book.” ―Anne Valente, author of Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down

“Hicks has crafted a haunting story with multi-generational appeal, where the very real horror of poverty meets supernatural horror, and social issues like xenophobia, racism and economic anxiety are addressed organically through allegory and gripping storytelling.” ―Chris L. Terry, author of Black Card and Zero Fade

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I’ve never really wanted to do anything but make up stories. All my life, I’ve loved books, movies, and narrative games. Probably as early as twelve or thirteen, I was thinking about writing novels, looking up publisher submission guidelines, reading books on writing craft, and trying to figure out how to do this seriously.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
In the six years I worked on this book, I moved five times and worked for four different employers. All of that took up a lot of time and headspace.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
Reading Gabriel García Márquez’s short stories in college did more to shape who I am as a writer than anything else. I had grown up reading fantasy and fairy tales. I crave magic and wonder in my stories. But I never really knew how to write about my childhood and lived experience in the rural south until I read García Márquez. Even though he and I are from very different places, the way he took supernatural elements and combined them with rural life felt so seamless and made so much sense to me. He showed me how to draw from my own background while still writing the kind of magical stories I’ve always loved.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
A former student who is brilliant and who I have a lot of respect for sent me a message telling me how much she loved the book. She said that it was strange that she knew the author because the novel felt like a book that had just always existed, something people had been reading and talking about for years. I’d been feeling some imposter syndrome, the fear that my book wasn’t really a book because it came from me. So having someone reassure me that, yes, this is a real novel and some people really like it was a wonderful feeling.

The book hasn’t been out for very long, but I’m also crossing my fingers that there will be fan art.
Can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about your new book Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones?

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones is about a dying factory town haunted by ghosts. The spirits swarm through the buildings of downtown, making the residents move farther and farther away. Ghosts get lost inside car engines, washing machines, and cell phones, making them useless. Many people in town share their bodies with the dead, spirits that give them painful curses and double-edged gifts. As the novel begins, something new has appeared in town: a walking, talking pig person who says he’s come to work at the factory. Jane worries her brother, driven by his ghost to invent strange machines, might have something to do with the newcomer.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Jane?
I knew that Jane would be the one holding her family together, but as I wrote her chapters the depth of her loyalty surprised me. I also had a lot of fun writing the stormy friendship between Jane and her ghost.

Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
I wanted to do something that felt big and ambitious and strange, mashing up genre tropes from SciFi, fantasy, and horror. In terms of book’s themes—otherness, economic decline, corporate abuses—these are things that have always bothered me and would probably have worked their way into anything that I wrote.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
In my book, there’s a pig man named Hogboss who has been created to oversee a pork processing plant. I’d like him to meet the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They’re both ugly, imposing, and hated for being different. They’re both created by someone who doesn’t take good enough care of them.

But they’re also experiencing the world for the first time, marveling at how beautiful and how cruel of a place it can be. I think they’d have a lot to say to one another.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m finishing a collection of short stories, many of which have already been published in various magazines. They’re dark, sad stories that borrow a lot from fairy tale motifs. Birds who get turned into boys and regret it. A woman with beautiful clockwork hands who has to live alone so that people won’t steal them. Two sisters who find an old oven than can bring the dead back to life. You can read one of them, “Church of Birds,” in the 2018 Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy.

If animals could talk, which would be the rudest?
Birds are definitely assholes.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
My dad has a pig skull sitting on his patio table. I think he likes having its company while he smokes on the porch.

Do you have any fun Halloween experiences you can tell us?
I like throwing big Halloween parties, making spooky playlists, putting out lots of food, and getting people to carve pumpkins. But I usually spend so much time organizing that I forget to buy a costume. I’m hoping to change that this year.

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
Once I went over to my friend’s house, but he wasn’t home yet. While waiting in the dark beside his front door, I heard a sound coming from the woods behind the house. A shrill, metallic squeal. It was a stuttering sound, stopping and starting, out in the forest where I couldn’t see. It sounded familiar and was getting closer. Then it hit me. It was the sound of a child’s tricycle, the wheels rusty, small feet working the petals. I got back in my car.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, with whom would it be?
Being a character in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians would be pretty amazing. Going to a magical college and learning how to be a magician. Exploring the magical land of Fillory and becoming a hero. But then again, you might also have your hands bitten off or have even worse things happen to you. It’s a tough call. I’d probably want to be Eliot. Definitely not Quentin.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
What day is it?

Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around.
I always keep a dog poop bag folded up in my wallet. Mostly it’s there in case I get caught in the rain and need to protect my cellphone.

1. Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber

Somehow, Angela Carter takes everything I love about the Brothers Grimm and makes the tales darker, sexier, stranger, and often sadder too. In “The Company of Wolves,” Carter writes: “The grave-eyed children of the sparse villages always carry knives with them when they go out to tend the little flocks of goats that provide the homesteads with acrid milk and rank, maggoty cheeses. Their knives are half as big as they are, the blades are sharpened daily.”

These are stories dripping bloody with danger, the fairy tale world of monstrous men and moonlit forests brought into sharper focus by Carter’s amazing prose.

2. Ben Okri, Starbook
A prince falls into an enchanted sleep. A maiden speaks to him in his dreams. A village of master artists captures the world in beautiful sculptures. This novel reads like a fairy tale with royal lovers, traitors, magic, and a feeling of dreamy timelessness. But something is wrong in the land. There are rumors of a white wind, European slavers, erasing people and gods alike.

3. Lev Grossman, The Magicians
Harry Potter, but a lot more adult. The Chronicles of Narnia, but a fucked up Narnia where magical creatures might shoot you with a crossbow, kill your friends, and eat your hands.

The first book in a trilogy, The Magicians tells the story of a group of disillusioned friends who discover that magic is real. They get accepted into a magical college, become magicians, and find that magic causes more problems than it solves. Later, they learn that the magical land from their favorite series of children’s books is real too, but it’s dangerous and nothing like it’s supposed to be.

4. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Gentleman magicians meet to discuss the history of English magic, but none of them have ever seen magic actually done. That is until the reclusive Mr. Norrell gives a demonstration, proving that English magic is alive and well. But my favorite thing about Clarke’s novel isn’t the polite parlor rooms of magicians discussing what forms of magic are respectable, wonderful as that is. More than this, I love the gray, crumbling world of Faerie that Clarke creates, full of wild magic and inhuman cruelty.

5. Gabriel García Márquez, Leaf Storm and Other Stories
In these stories, an old angel falls from the sky and gets stuck in the mud. The townspeople lock him in a chicken coop and force him to perform miracles, though they don’t turn out very well. A blind man regains his teeth. A paralytic almost wins the lottery. And a leper’s sores grow sunflowers. In another story, a beautiful drowned man washes ashore and causes an entire town to go into mourning. In another, a ghost ship pulls its heavy, spectral weight through the harbor. These stories take us to a place full of wonder, but also full of irony, disappointment, and heartbreak.

6. Ken Liu, “Good Hunting”
A father and son hunt magical creatures for a living, but the son falls in love with a shape-shifting fox woman, a hulijing. When the British come with their railroad and disdain for local customs, magical creatures start to disappear. Both hunter and prey find themselves changed by colonialism, having to find their way in a world of coal-power, chrome, and brass.

7. Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Monstress
I can’t stop talking about this comic. The world is so dense and layered. A history of war, broken alliances, and cataclysm gives weight to the characters’ every interaction. Humans enslave the magical Arcanics and consume their power. A cabal of vicious witches called the Cumaea hunts the main character, Maika Halfwolf. There are talking cats, ghostly Old Ones who drift across the sky, and winged ancients of the dawn and dusk courts. At one point, Maika visits an island formed from the remains of a dead god. You are not prepared for how cool this series is.

8. Karen Russell, “St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”
This is one of my favorite short stories ever. A girl born to wolves is taken to a religious school to be civilized. The wolf-girls piss on the floor, battle for dominance, and growl through their lessons. As they strive to become human, their memories of the forest become more and more faint. But one girl proves untamable.

9. Julianna Baggott, Pure
This novel is so strange, so beautifully written, and so original that I don’t know where to begin. Molecule-scrambling bombs destroy the world, fusing humans, animals, and machines. One girl has a doll’s head for a hand. A boy has a flock of birds embedded in his back, their fluttering wings stirring his shirt. An old man has a fan whirring away in his throat. The wilderness is full of chimera-like animal-machines, inhuman and elemental. You’ve never read anything like this.

10. N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season
In Jemisin’s novel, the first in her Broken Earth series, people called Orogenes are intimately connected to the movement of the earth. Aware of the tiniest vibrations, they can sense tremors moving through the ground from miles away. They can shield their communities from deadly earthquakes, but they if they lose control, they could sap the heat from the living, roil the ground, and topple cities. When parents discover that their daughter or son is an Orogene, the community might kill the child before a Guardian can arrive to train them to safely use their powers. There are also strange beings of stone sculpted into human form, pursuing their own patient agendas. I’m only halfway through the first novel, but already Jemisin’s world is a favorite.

Swine Hill was full of the dead. Their ghosts were thickest near the abandoned downtown, where so many of the town’s hopes had died generation by generation. They lingered in the places that mattered to them, and people avoided those streets, locked those doors, stopped going into those rooms . . . They could hurt you. Worse, they could change you.

Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.

When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.

Trigger’s Haunted Home

Trigger lived on the outskirts of Swine Hill, his house close to the forest surrounding the plant. A dirt track cut steeply back and forth to where his house sat on a hill. The yard was tangled with briars and wild blackberries. Old bits of trash, Styrofoam cups and rain-washed paper, hung in the thorns. The house was small, sitting up on concrete blocks. There was no truck in the driveway. A dirt path led to the door.

Jane stopped with her hand on the doorknob. “Are there ghosts inside?”

Just one. But, oh, Jane, it’s enough.

She went in without knocking.

It was dark and cold. Above her head, branches knit together, pressing their thin fingers against a bloated moon. The floor was thick with pine needles, fallen branches, and dead scrub, all of it clotted with ice. Leaves lay stacked, their brown edges frozen, like stars dead and fallen to earth. Through the elephantine trunks, wind pushed endless and heavy and sobbing like a train.

It took her a moment to find the furniture, to see the couch facing a busted television, the kitchen table piled high with snow. She moved aside leaves and found dirty carpet, frayed and hair-covered. Low animals crept in the corners of the rooms. Black squirrels and birds moving in and out of the branches. Rabbits, heads down, beggaring their way over the floor. From the hallway, a deer stared at her.

The only bright things in the dim were flares of blood, red-black and heavy as jewels, dotting the floor. Gunpowder and smoke hung so thick in the air that they coated her tongue. There was a hum, a ringing needle of sound that seemed almost on the verge of fading but never did.

Trigger was behind her, slipping a hoodie over her shoulders and rubbing her skin through the fabric. “You don’t have to stay,” he said. “We can go whenever you want.”

“There’s a whole memory in this house. It’s not just the ghost of a person. It’s the ghost of a place and time. It’s the ghost of something that happened.”

Jane’s ghost brought her fragments from Trigger, something he was trying to suppress. I am what happened. This place is me.

She pulled him against her. “Why would you stay here? Why punish yourself?”

Trigger didn’t say anything. He couldn’t get the words out, not knowing where to start. Everything in him was a snarl of self-loathing and anger. But he let himself feel everything, didn’t try to hide it from her. Jane’s greedy ghost drank it up.

The house isn’t haunted. He is. This is the same ghost he carries everywhere.
Copyright © 2019 by Micah Dean Hicks

You can purchase Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MICAH DEAN HICKS for making this giveaway possible.
3 Winners will receive a Copy of BREAK THE BODIES, HAUNT THE BONES by Micah Dean Hicks.. 
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