Authors Randall and Hailey Hicks

Book authors Randall and Hailey Hicks talked to about their recently released figure skating novel "The Girl Without a Face".


Randall and Hailey Hicks:  „I wanted a powerful story“


How did you develop the idea for this novel? 


Randy: My love for figure skating began when I was 19 years old and watching Dorothy Hamill skate to her gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck. Oh, what teenage crush I had on her! That was 43 years ago and I'm still waiting for our first dinner date. Maybe it's time I gave up.

So that was the beginning of my passion for figure skating. I love the uniqueness of artistic expression and tremendous athleticism. No other sport comes close. To me it is like going to the opera and suddenly people are doing triple Axels. So when I had the initial idea for the book, the challenge was presenting the sport from the unique perspective of the protagonist, an elite skater so an insider in that regard, but as a person, a complete outsider. I also wanted a truly empowering story, about a girl facing more challenges than most of us can imagine, but rising through those challenges. And along the way we laugh with her, cry with her, and cheer for her.


How was it to work together on the book? Who did what? What were the challenges for writing a book together?

Hailey: We had a pretty interesting arrangement. I have to give props to my dad as the book was his vision, and I actually didn't start out as his co-writer. But the main character of the book, Katie, is a teenage girl experiencing teenage girl things. Since the story is told in the first person from Katie's point of view, the dialogue and her internal thoughts really had to ring true. My dad was a high school girls tennis coach for several years, so he picked up a lot of teenage girl lingo surprisingly well.

But he wanted someone who was actually young and actually female to read his first chapters. I guess you could say I started off as sort of a sounding board for my dad. But soon I was making suggestions and my dad actually liked my contributions to Katie's character. So I started rewriting some dialogue and thoughts for Katie . . . how she looked at herself, her dad, boys, her feelings about not having any friends, and her insecurities as she faces the outside world.

So basically my dad would write the story, then I'd modify it as I felt was most authentic as Katie's voice. The book took a long time to write, more than a year. It was pretty exciting and really fun to start looking at life from a whole other perspective. I started to look at life in a new way.


As you wrote, you are skating fans and have followed the sport for a long time. Nevertheless, you needed to do some research. How did that process go? 

Randy: One of the best parts of the book was the research. Which is funny because usually research for a book is drudgery. The reality was that I didn't know how much I didn't know until I started researching. I spent almost year of research for The Girl Without a Face. I was extremely lucky that early in the process someone introduced me to Tom Zakrejsak, one of the top coaches in the world. I think he's coached more U.S. national champions than about anyone in the last decade or two. He was not only incredibly generous with his time in speaking to me, but also in reading early drafts of the book.

My goal was a feeling of complete authenticity in being in a skater's world, rising up the ranks to the Olympics. I also got input from many champion skaters like Jeremy Abbott and Todd Sand, and choreographer, Tom Dickson. Sometimes I'd only have a couple specific questions, or perhaps ask them to read a section for accuracy.

And a lot of time went into “creating” Katie’s home rink environment. There’s a saying among writers: "location as character." And Katie's rink, The Ice Castle, is truly a character in the book. Katie's dad owns the Ice Castle in Lake Arrowhead, California, and their apartment is connected to it. So the rink is basically Katie's living room. There was an actual Ice Castle in Lake Arrowhead, and it is pretty much as described in the book. It's been closed down for quite awhile, but in its day it was the training rink for some of the best skaters in the world.

In researching the skaters who trained there, I came across the fact that when Michelle Kwan was living in one of the cabins there with her dad, she had hamsters. Evidently they kept escaping and everyone would help her look for them. So finding those little real life details and putting them in the book was a lot of fun. I went to see the Ice Castle as it is now, abandoned, which was sad. But we got to bring it back to its glory days in the book. So now it lives on forever.


What was the biggest challenge for you writing this book?


Hailey: When I graduated from college I immediately moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand. So I was literally on the opposite side of the world from my dad. That meant he'd send me chapters by email and I'd make my changes and email them back. And we would FaceTime a lot, kicking around ideas when we were deciding what direction Katie wanted to take us. It would have been nice to sit across a dining room table, or hang out at a coffee shop, but we couldn't do that.

It was pretty tricky at times, especially when I was working as a guide for immersive adventure and service tours around Southeast Asia. Sometimes when my dad finished a chapter and it was time for me to review, I'd be deep in the jungle and have to walk around endlessly to get service. But in a way I think those challenges made it a stronger book. We didn't really have time to give much feedback, so we really tried to give our best work in the first draft.

At the time I was really busy working, caught between two totally different worlds. I'd go from building a house in a rural village to then hopping on my computer and entering the world of competitive figure skating. Sometimes it was challenging to get into the right headspace, but most of the time it was actually really inspiring to reflect on the raw, natural emotions of humans from such different lifestyles. Regardless of our appearance, nationality, social status, and skills, we all experience the same emotions - joy, fear, self-consciousness, confidence, hopelessness, and drive. I love the saying, "I am you. You are me. We are One." This is part of Katie's journey.


Randy: There are many great bios by figure skaters, and plenty of terrific non-fiction books about the sport, but are there any amazingly entertaining novels set in the world of figure skating? No. So that was my goal. I wanted to write the most entertaining and authentic-feeling book possible.

So one of the ways we accomplished that was to do something virtually never done in novels: we put real-life people into the story, interacting with Katie. She crosses paths with some of the biggest names in the skating world, from Tara Lipinski to Scott Hamilton to Adam Rippon. And when she is interviewed by the media, it is by actual figure skating journalists whose names figure skating fans will recognize. Since I'm a fan of On Ice Perspectives on Instagram, Katie even has a scene when Jordan Cowan comes out to film her. So there are all kinds of fun surprises when characters appear that skating fans actually know.

The other big challenge was the desire to touch people and make them think about how they treat and see others. In other words, I wanted to write a book that made a difference in the world, as lofty as that sounds. But the book had to stay fun, fast-moving and entertaining, never preachy. So this is an area where Hailey was so helpful. With her help, Katie Wilder became a real person with a mind of her own.

Sometimes you start writing a story, and the character truly takes over and tells her own story. Katie's unrelenting humor and courage in the face of what would seem to be insurmountable challenges, was inspiring inspiring even to us as the words appeared on the page. We truly feel honored to know her. One of the best compliments we got from our advance readers was them asking who Katie was based on. Who was the real Katie Wilder? The story felt so real to them they didn't see it as fiction.


Read also the book review on our website.

Randall und Hailey Hicks: The Girl Without a Face, Wordslinger Press, 368 pages, available as an E-Book and as paperback, ISBN 978-0983942573, for example on Amazon.