Since he started reading, Patrick Hicks has known he would write a novel.
“By the age of ten I was really enamored by the magic of novels,” says the Augustana College Writer-In-Residence.
On March 25th, Hicks realized his dream when Steerforth/Random House released his first novel, The Commandant of Lubizec.
“I started working seriously towards writing a novel when I was about twenty,” Hicks says. “It’s taken me twenty-five years and six failed novels. Lucky number seven, I guess.”
Compared to previous novel attempts, Lubizec was written quickly. Hicks spent about a year and a half crafting the book, which explores Operation Reinhard, a portion of the Holocaust often lost in conversation about the mass genocide.
According to Hicks, the three locations encompassed by Reinhard were “death camps, not concentration camps. There was no slave labor in these camps. There was no selection process.”
Hicks was waiting for fans to arrive at a book signing at Zandbroz in downtown Sioux Falls when the idea for Lubizec struck him.
“I was there and no one else was there,” Hicks says. “It was a terrible winter night. So I started to read this book about operation Reinhardt.”
Within five minutes, Hicks had outlined his entire story structure on three pages of paper.
For the next year and a half, Hicks was not only writing but extensively investigating his topic.
“I did three separate research trips,” Hicks says. “The first place I went was Krakov, where I spent about 30 hours in Auschwitz.”
Next, he visited the Lublin death camps. On his final trip, he saw the site of the Warsaw ghettos and Treblinka. He also interviewed a Holocaust survivor for three hours.
In getting the novel accepted by a publisher, Hicks took an unconventional path.
“All the agents I contacted said the writing is great, the subject matter is important,” says Hicks, “but I cannot sell a Holocaust novel. So I sent it out by myself.”
Steerforth, which accepts less than one percent of submitted novels, sent Hicks a contract within ten weeks of getting the book.
Hicks believes that what made this novel a success with the publisher was the voice of the narrator, whom he envisions as a memorializing history professor.
Hicks’ poetry has also aided the book’s style. Many reviewers have commented on his lyrical writing. Hicks has written five books of poetry, with another to be released in June.
“Poetry has definitely influenced my prose,” Hicks says. “I care about every word in my prose.”
Part of what is wonderful about being around Augustana students in the English department, Hicks says, is that they feel the same way.
“They’re really invested in the written word, and I learn a lot from them,” Hicks says. “It’s inspiring to me. I look out in class and see myself 25 years ago.”
Senior Claire Bestul, who is in the midst of reading Hicks’s book, has noticed the very thing he points out.
“I could really hear Patrick Hicks’ voice when I was reading,” Bestul said. “I intended on reading just the first couple of sentences,” but his voice “pulled me in.”
While Hicks would never teach his own books in the classroom, he says the book is targeted at college aged students and could have value in a course.
“It cracks open conversation about the responsibility of the individual in the state. What are our own personal responsibilities to history?”
Augustana’s writer-in-residence is already well into another novel.
“My goal is to get the third and maybe final draft finished by September,” he says.
The Commandant of Lubizec is available at Zandbroz, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.