What UCF professor Micah Dean Hicks spends his time doing outside of the classroom might surprise you. For the past six years, he’s been writing about otherworldly creatures, from ghosts and robots to aliens and “pig people” (those are people made of sewn-together pig parts, in case you were wondering.) His new book, “Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones,” tells a ghoulish tale about all of the above.
“I wanted to write a book that would feel big and ambitious and strange, so I intentionally mashed together a lot of science fiction and fantasy tropes that you don’t typically see in one book,” says Hicks. With the book already getting rave reviews since its publication in February, it’s safe to say that Hicks succeeded at writing a good (albeit creepy) novel.
“This novel is extraordinary,” says Adam-Troy Castro, a writer for Sci-Fi magazine. “It is Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle,’ mixed with H.G. Wells’s ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau,’ set in the creepiest, screwed-up town since ‘Salem’s Lot’…[A] major achievement.”
The glowing reviews make sense when you consider Hicks’ resume. In 2011, he got his PhD in creative writing at Florida State University. While there, he met his now-wife Brenda Peynado, who got a job teaching creative writing at UCF in 2017. A year later, Hicks was hired, too. “Though I haven’t been at UCF very long, I’ve had such a great experience with my students and colleagues,” says Hicks. “This is a dream job for me, and I feel very fortunate to be here.”
“Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones” is Hicks’ second published book. His first — a story collection titled “Electricity and Other Dreams” — won the 2012 New American Fiction Prize. Along with winning several other awards, Hicks’ stories and essays have appeared in dozens of publications, from the New York Times to Lightspeed. He is no stranger to the publishing process, but he doesn’t deny that it’s hard work.
Hicks spent six years working on “Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones,” with the process including three major rewrites and numerous small revisions. It took time and persistence before he finally found his book a publisher in John Joseph Adams. But it wasn’t until Adams made the offer to Hicks that they discovered a wonderful coincidence: Adams is a UCF creative writing alum.
“I think that John receiving his degree from the same department where I now teach says a lot about the quality of our students and faculty,” says Hicks. “He’s been amazing to work with. He’s very good at helping me do a better job of writing the kind of book I want to write. I also appreciate that he’s a very ethical person who thinks a lot about representation and how stories can work to make the world a better place.”
Hicks’ and Adams’ shared goal to make the world better through literature is clear in “Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones.” While the book tells an outlandish story of a town where people are haunted by ghosts, its characters deal with real-world issues of otherness and economic anxiety, with references to racism, police brutality, poverty, bigotry toward immigrants, and corporate abuses. But overall, Hicks’ goal for the book is based on some writing advice he received from a former teacher: “A good story should ‘make the heart sink or make the heart leap.’ The idea that a story should be a deeply emotional experience for the reader, that it should make us feel something, was one of the most useful things I learned as a young writer.”
Some other advice he tells his own students? “I tell them that I think it’s important that they enjoy the act of writing. Publishing is so competitive, and there is no guarantee that you will see your work in print. Doing the work itself needs to be enough. It needs to fulfill you in some way.” So, it can be difficult for a writer to find an editor like Adams. But when two Knights link up to make a book, great things can (and did) happen.
Learn more about “Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones” by visiting Hicks’ website, and if you’re interested in improving your writing with the guidance of published authors like Hicks, consider a major or minor in English – Creative Writing. Hicks and Adams will also have a reading and Q&A of their book on March 18, 2019 in room 102 of Engineering Building II. For more information about the event, visit its Facebook page.