When Oro Valley native Jessica Hickam finished working as a production assistant on “Star Trek Into Darkness,” she had a “now what?” moment.
In her early 20s and living in Los Angeles, Hickam decided to go for it — she would polish and publish the young-adult novel she had written two years earlier in college.
“The Revealed” follows Lily Atwood, the teen daughter of one of the world’s most powerful men, in her struggle against a new threat to peace as the world recovers from international war.
The story came to Hickam in scenes, inspired by a conversation with her younger sister about how much of the human brain goes unused.
On Tuesday, SparkPress, a Tempe publisher, will publish the Arizona State University grad’s first novel. Today, the 25-year-old Hickam hits up her hometown for a book signing and reading at Mostly Books, 6208 E. Speedway.
We chatted with the newly published author by phone about life in L.A., writing and Tucson’s best eats.
On the first draft:
Hickam has a college class to thank for the publication of “The Revealed.” As a journalism and mass communications student at ASU, Hickam had a professor who promised an “A” for punctuality and perfect attendance, even if students chose not to pay attention in class. Hickam wrote the first draft in six months.
“I would sit in that lecture hall and just write,” Hickam said. “Every second I had, I had to be writing. I couldn’t put it down. It definitely captures you.”
Hickam has four books planned for the series.
On Los Angeles: With a passion for acting and film, Hickam always planned to move to L.A. After graduating, she spent about two or three months in the city before landing her first assistant job on a game show.
“I was jumping on every set I could,” she said. “I did extra work, and it is not the most glamorous work you can do. ... I’m in Los Angeles and I’m on ‘Pretty Little Liars’ (as a high school student), and you’re on set for 13 hours a day and making no money. But it was a total adventure and exploration, and I look back now and laugh.”
When she got a job on the set of “Star Trek Into Darkness” as assistant to concept designer Neville Page, she was “totally immersed in that life” and “ate, slept and breathed it.”
Hickam also works as a freelance writer for the entertainment website
SheKnows.com and does video interviews and hosting.
On acting and writing: “I started writing in fifth grade when my teacher gave a scary story Halloween assignment,” Hickam said. “It was the first time a teacher had ever said, ‘Write for fun. Be creative.’ It was so eye-opening for me. … I think what kept me writing is I’ve always been passionate about acting, and that was something I discovered at a young age. There are not a lot of outlets in Tucson for film acting, and writing filled that void. I could create these new worlds and live with these characters, and from the comfort of my own home.”
On driving: To make the most of her Los Angeles commutes, Hickam listens to audio books on Audible.com or music that inspires her writing.
“I always warn people in the car, because they want to listen to ‘Happy, yay, let’s drive’ music,” she said. “I have the worst taste in music. It’s emo, moody instrumental writing music. I say, ‘You can listen to my iPod, but sorry.’”
Driving time is also brainstorming time, so she keeps notepads handy.
“I’ll pull over on the side of the road,” she said. “Sometimes you work things through in your head that you know you’ll lose if you don’t put them down right away.”
On visiting Tucson: Born and raised in Oro Valley, Hickam tells everyone about Eegee’s.
Frost, A Gelato Shoppe is another sweet spot for Hickam, who got her first job there. The eatery has also employed her two younger sisters, and she calls it “family at this point.” For lunch, her family likes Ra Sushi, another must when Hickam is in town.
“Tucson will always be my home,” said the Ironwood Ridge High School graduate.
Her main character, Lily, also called Oro Valley home at one point, and the head of the fictional family’s security lives in a guest house decorated with Southwestern spice.
“Tucson has a specific aesthetic,” Hickam said. “People decorate with rocks and have saguaro cactus paintings on the wall, and you’ll see that in the book.”