Mystery, history, and Vincent Van Gogh—these are at the top of my list of favorite things. You may well imagine, then, how thrilled I was to run across a book that incorporated all three, Deron R. Hicks’ The Van Gogh Deception. On top of that, he also has a Shakespeare mystery series. I think I’m in love!
Be sure to look for our review of The Van Gogh Deception, which received a highly recommended rating in the May/June issue of School Library Connection. Subscribers can see our complete archive of reviews here.
As our forever-leaping columnist Stacey Rattner has written in the pages of School Library Connection, children’s book authors are the school librarian’s rock stars. And it is definitely one of the perks of my job that I get to have a little one-on-one with these rock stars and get to know them on a somewhat more personal level. Another perk? I get to share their stories with you. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the author of the highly recommended The Van Gogh Deception, rock star Deron R. Hicks (whose books, by the way, are anything but much ado about nothing!).
What made you decide to try your hand at writing children’s books?
Several years ago I was reading Bill Bryson’s book, Shakespeare: The World as Stage, when I had an idea for an ending for a book involving a lost Shakespearean treasure. Not an entire book — just the ending. But it was an exciting ending. My daughter was twelve at the time, and I thought I would try my hand at writing the rest of the story. I thought it would, at the very least, be a great way to introduce her to Shakespeare. I don’t recall ever consciously thinking that I was writing a children’s book — I was just writing a story that I thought my daughter would enjoy. She was the first person to read that story, which ended up as my first middle-grade novel, The Secret of Shakespeare’s Grave.
I know there’s some question to be asked that pulls in the fact that you’re a lawyer who studied painting and who’s now written a mystery that takes place in an art museum—I have this vision of you sitting in a courtroom, the case is a real who-dun-it, and you’re sketching Starry Night in your notebook. Perhaps I’ll just leave it at “what inspires you to write?”
There are so many cool and interesting things in the world, and writing provides such a great way to share those things with others. For example, I love Washington, D.C. and the National Gallery of Art. Every time I am in D.C., I try to take a few minutes and just walk through the National Gallery. I wrote The Van Gogh Deception, in part, to share some of the awe that I feel when I walk through the galleries of the museum — to stand in front of a Rembrandt, a Monet, or a Van Gogh.
Several years ago I was in Wales in the United Kingdom. My father and I were driving around the countryside, and we stumbled upon the ruins of an old castle (Wales is filled with old castles). It was getting late in the day, and we only had a few minutes to explore the ruins. On one side of the castle were the remains of a turret with the arrow slit still intact. An arrow slit is a thin opening in the exterior of the wall through which the castle’s defenders could fire arrows. I stared through the slit at the landscape outside the castle. There was absolutely no sign of anything modern within my limited field of view. I realized that I was seeing essentially the same thing that a castle defender would have seen five hundred years before me — standing in the exact same place that I was standing. There was a connection to history that was immediate and real. I pick up on some of those same themes in my books. That’s what inspires me to write — to bring those moments to life on the page.
The fact that you studied painting begs the question, do you have plans to illustrate any of your books in the future?
I would love to take a shot at that one day. However, I am also realistic. I often spend months laboring over one painting. Illustrators don’t have that luxury. The really good illustrators — and I have been blessed to work with some really, really good ones such as Gilbert Ford, Mark Edward Geyer, and Antonio Javier Caparo — are exceptionally talented artists and produce incredible work on some really tight deadlines. Still, it would be really cool to one day pair my words with how I see those words in my head.
Interestingly, although my new book has a wonderful cover by Antonio Javier Caparo, there are no interior illustrations. Instead, we have included QR codes which allow the reader to quickly access images of many of the paintings referenced throughout the book. I suppose paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Monet are an adequate substitute.
What would you like children to take away from your books?
I want them to see a broader world, and I want history to come alive for them. I think that’s the wonder of books. Books open up new worlds — they inspire us to want to see more, to learn more, and to experience more.
What do you enjoy most about school visits?
The questions. Adults tend to ask obvious questions — children do not. There is an honesty to the questions that children ask, which is refreshing and challenging.
Keeping in mind that we are a magazine for K-12 school librarians, is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t touched on?
My father was a high school principal, and I used to spend hours in the school library after school and on weekends just reading and thumbing through books on art, history, and all sorts of other topics. Books were my gateway to other worlds. Books fostered my lifelong passion for travel, art, science, and history. There is a wonderful painting by Norman Rockwell — Land of Enchantment — which shows two children reading as the characters in their books explode to life around them. I believe it hangs in the public library in New Rochelle, New York. That’s how I envision libraries — and that’s the role I want to play as an author. I want my books to open new worlds.
You can visit Hicks’ website at http://deronhicks.com/