The End Is (Actually, Was) Nigh...

Let me take you back to mid/late 2006. In several key ways, the podcast fiction landscape was very different than it is today. There were probably 80 titles at Podiobooks.com (as opposed to the nearly 430 (!!!) at the time of this writing). The podfic space was essentially still forming, and creative and promotional precedents were consistently being set. The creator community was smaller (and as a natural by-product of this, generally tighter). Some of the current biggest names in the space weren't yet on the scene. While the current podfic space is obviously vibrant and thriving, there is little doubt for those of us who personally experienced that explosion of creativity in 2006 (and in 2005, from several brilliantly prescient authors) that there was a palatable newness in the air, a collective Go Out And Create Awesome Things vibe in the creator community. This was way before anyone snagged a major print deal. All we creators had was you -- our listeners -- and each other.

During 2006, during what I recall to be the height of this initial go-get-'em collaborative spirit, Mur Lafferty released her supernatural fantasy novella Heaven. It was, deservedly, a hit. In a brilliant plot twist halfway in the story, the world ends. Boom. Done. (Since the novella has been out for about four years, the statute of limitations on spoilers has passed, amigo.) And this incredible development set off an epic brainstorm in my noggin.

What follows is a document I wrote and pitched to Mur Lafferty -- and informally pitched to several podfic authors at the time. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the project. For a few weeks, many IMs were sent from author to author -- "A Crisis On Infinite Earths for podiobooks? Cool!" -- and the groundbreaking idea code-named The End Is Nigh, conceived before Mur wrote the Heaven sequels, looked like it might actually happen.

Alas, we were all so damned busy. The End Is Nigh died on the vine. But does it have to be truly dead? I present that 2006 document here for you, below, for two reasons. The first is to provide a time capsule of a neat (if complex) collaborative creative idea that simmered for a few weeks back in the day. The second is to suggest that projects like The End Is Nigh remain entirely possible in the current podfic space.

While I'm not promoting the idea that creators should craft a project identical to The End Is Nigh (though you're certainly welcome to run with it if you wish), it's obvious that the spirit of creator collaboration is alive and well in the present podfic space. As a continual fan and supporter of podcast fiction, I'd personally love to see something like this -- a universes-hopping, creator-driven meta story -- happen.

Anyways. Here we go. Hop in the flying DeLorean, hit 88, and head back four years. Back when the end was nigh...

And so we go back to 2006...

In Mur Lafferty’s podiobook Heaven, the machinations of gods send two dead youngsters on an ethereal trek that -- in the end -- causes an apocalypse.

The endtimes actually happen on Earth, and the world as we know it is destroyed.

While the story in Heaven goes on, a question remains: What if that apocalypse affected not only the world in Heaven, but all worlds? A simultaneous wiping of the corporeal slate that affected all universes -- spanning space, time, dimension, etc.?

What if you could hear those stories, those fights for survival, on all of those worlds?

What if ... we could do all that at Podiobooks.com?

The Goal:

To ceate a first-time, history-making event at Podiobooks.com. By creating a multi-novel "crossover" series that hinges on the events in Heaven, we can generate interest not only in Heaven, but all of the novels that participate in the event.

The concept of crossover stories isn't new; comic books and television series do this often, and with great effect. Global crises often affect more than one title in a comic company's catalog, with characters of each title dealing with the problems in their own way. Sometimes these heroic acts affect the outcome of the "meta-plot" -- the story arc of the global crisis. Other times, the stories in these individual titles merely showcase the crisis, and how the characters handle the problems in a personal way.

The goal of this project is to create a new title at Podiobooks.com called The End Is Nigh. This title will feature the contributions of participating authors -- and the characters/stories of their respective podiobooks. Like the crossover events seen in comics and TV, some of these tales could affect the outcome of The End Is Nigh meta-plot. Others can simply be stand-alone stories in which the characters of an author's podiobook deal with the menace/events in their own way.

The Payoff:

What’s in it for podiobook authors? By creating an anthology of tales that, in the end, are a kind of "advertisement" for each podiobook that participates, The End Is Nigh will expose listeners to titles at PB.com that they aren’t listening to -- and may otherwise never have listened to.

Of course, nothing like this has ever been done in podcast fiction (there have been small crossover events in the works of J.C. and Scott), so this major event will create a cool "news peg" with which to promote Podiobooks.com. In addition, it may prove to be a fun creative exercise for the authors involved, and it may be a hit with the listeners.

By promoting the event in the podo- and blogospheres -- and in traditional media, if possible -- The End Is Nigh will bring brand-new listeners to PB.com. It will also bring current PB.com visitors to other titles at the site. The goal is maximum exposure for PB.com and its authors.

The Small Challenges (and Solutions)

#1: Events in relation to a podiobook’s feed Due to the "personalized" nature of the feeds at PB.com -- ten listeners of any given title can be listening to ten different episodes in that podiobook -- we simply cannot incorporate The End Is Nigh content into the feeds of our novels. And considering that these are "what if" stories that should never be considered canon by authors or listeners, we shouldn't want to do that anyway.

Instead, we'll create a new feed at PB.com that features this anthology of tales. To make things clear for the listeners, there can be an announcement in the opening of every episode that states while the tale features characters/plotlines from a particular podiobook, this specific story is part of The End Is Nigh, and should be considered a fun "what if?" exploration. The End Is Night should not -- and will not -- affect the "true" plot of any title at PB.com.

However, The End Is Nigh story should take place during the plot/events of participating podiobooks (or in the universes of those titles, at the very least).

This means that at some point in the events of a podiobook's story, events can deviate into The End Is Nigh event. Authors can choose at what point in their story this deviation occurs. This creates a continuity challenge, illustrated in the next paragraph:

Scenario: A podiobooks author chooses to participate in The End Is End. He decides to have the Heaven apocalypse occur after Chapter 10 of his book. He also chooses to incorporate plot elements from his book into his The End Is Nigh contribution. (This is a very reasonable thing to do.) How will listeners who haven't listened to his novel understand those plot elements? Further, how will listeners who are listening to his book -- but haven't yet listened to Chapter 10 in the story -- understand those elements?

The issue can be remedied in two ways. The author can announce at the beginning of his The End Is Nigh contribution that listeners should probably check out his podiobook and listen up to Chapter 10 so any plot references made in his The End Is Nigh contribution make sense. Alternatively, he can choose to write a contribution that doesn't depend so heavily on plot elements in his podiobook. Neither solution is perfect -- the former can be an inconvenience for the listeners, and the latter can be creatively restrictive for the author. But by clever plotting or announcing the "must listen to chapter X" disclaimer, most The End Is Nigh contributions can play well to a new listener.

#2: Continuity strangeness The core concept of The End Is Nigh hinges on the description of the world's end as seen in Heaven. But The End Is Nigh takes the concept a step further by insisting that the world's end affects all worlds, all universes, and all eras.

This makes no rational sense. It's not explainable. But this conceit must be in place so that any podiobook title can participate in the crossover event. By extrapolating the "end of the world" to mean "the end of all worlds," any podiobook genre can participate -- present-day thrillers, historical fiction, fantasy, far-future sci-fi, etc. This also plays favorably with the gods/goddess/magical themes found in Heaven. As with most magical realism tales, it's just the way it is.

This "end of all worlds" solution can -- with the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the listener -- clean up any continuity strangeness.

#3: Making the stories accessible A final challenge for authors participating in The End Is Nigh is to understand that some listeners will be hearing the author's work (not to mention plot, characters, etc.) for the first time.  Listeners will not know the personality traits of the author's characters, or the era/universe in which their stories take place. Ultimately, The End Is Nigh should be viewed as a "gateway" opportunity, a chance to introduce the author's podiobook to the listener in a way that is easy to digest, and intrigues the listener to subscribe to the author's podiobook.

Stories in The End Is Nigh event can be as long as the author likes. Ten minutes, a half-hour or longer -- it's completely up to the author.

#4: Stand-alone stories, or “meta-plot”? One question remains. Should The End Is Nigh be a series of stand-alone stories describing the "end of the world" (or events leading up to that event) as seen through several podiobooks characters? Or should there be an over-arching meta-plot to the series in which the actions of some (or all) of the contributing characters can affect change?

Should The End Is Nigh be a series of short stories -- or a bona fide micro-novel?

META-Plot Possibilities: If The End Is Nigh is to be powered by a meta-plot, the authors' characters should be able to -- if the author chooses -- affect the storyline of the event. While the ultimate conclusion of The End Is Nigh will likely be total annihilation (we are talking about the end of the world, after all), the creative avenues to explore in the meta-plot are nearly limitless.

But how limitless? While authors will have plenty of creative freedom with their respective stories, the meta-plot requires a foundation of "rules" with which all authors should adhere. An editor would help oversee the creation of the meta-plot, and assist contributing authors.

Required is the involvement of Heaven creator Mur Lafferty. At the very least, Mur should provide a manuscript excerpt of relevant events in Heaven. In addition, Mur should provide any backstory or details that could prove useful for authors contributing to The End Is Nigh. Ultimately, a mini "bible" would be essential. The editor and authors participating in the event could use this document as a foundation upon which to create a The End Is Nigh meta-plot.

Make no mistake: The editor of The End Is Nigh would not the sole creator of the event storyline. Far, far from it. Contributing authors can -- if they choose to -- assist the editor in the creation of the meta-plot, and determine "key episodes" in which the storyline can shift.

This would require a collaborative effort by Podiobooks.com authors. It would be very challenging. But with the intelligence and creativity currently found at Podiobooks.com, a meta-plot could be created, and its narrative impact could be considerable. It's hard to say if all involved authors will be completely satisfied with the final meta-plot (every collaborative effort requires compromise), but it's an intriguing creative exercise. In addition, a bond within the Podiobooks.com authors can be created. Community and collaboration are good things.

Finally, Mur Lafferty would have final approval over the meta-plot, and its conclusion. It's only fair, seeing as how The End Is Nigh hinges on her creation.

In Conclusion...

Ultimately, a major crossover event such as The End Is Nigh will require time, dedication and creative investment by contributing authors.

The level of commitment for each author will vary greatly. Some authors will want to write a story for the event and not want to be involved in the creation of the meta-plot. This is completely understandable. Other authors will want to have a more active role in the meta-plot, and assisting in the overall arc of the event.

Regardless, The End Is Nigh project can have tangible benefits to Podiobooks.com and its authors. From crossover listeners (current users at PB.com who will check out other titles showcased in The End Is Nigh) to a brand-new audience, the gains can be great. Since this will be a truly groundbreaking project, it is likely to be covered in blogs and podcasts. With the promotional assistance of all authors involved, mainstream media may also cover the event.

This could be the biggest promotional event Podiobooks.com has ever released to date. No conventional publisher has ever done something this ambitious. The flexibility of the podcasting medium -- and the creative power of podiobooks authors -- works to the project's advantage.

This is an excellent opportunity to bring podiobooks authors together, promote our work and do something that will be remembered for years to come.

Who knew the end of the world could be so cool?

--J.C.