In Which I Shake My Cane At Whippersnappers

From me, tonight, on Twitter: "There is an entire generation for which the term 'LP' means nothing. I am old."

And then: "No, whippersnappers. 'LP' does not mean "Linkin Park." I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT IS. GET THE [REDACTED] OFF MY [REDACTED] LAWN"

And then: "I will always call albums LPs. It's in my WRETCHED, WITHERED GEEZERFIED DNA."

And then: "All of youth culture just sent a carbon-dating crew to my house. After a brisk analysis, I am apparently FIFTY THOUSAND YEARS OLD."

And then: "Don't mind me. Me and my buddy OSTEOPOROSIS are sitting here on the porch swing, drinking Country Time and listening to the phonograph..."

And then: "Good gravy, there's nothing like gumming a Whitman's Sampler until it finally melts in your toothless mouth. FLIP THAT LP, OSTEOPOROSIS!"

And then: "Off to run over some white-earbud-wearing punks with my Hoveround. I'VE GOT YOUR MP3s RIGHT HERE"

At which point Buddy Brannan said: "When Melanie got her Hoveround the rep said that the echoing voices at the Grand Canyon were the old people going over the edge."

To which I replied: "@bbrannan No. It's the sound of YOUTH CULTURE GETTING SMASHED UNDER THE MIGHTY HOVEROUND'S WHEELS"

And then the mighty John Cmar said: "@jchutchins I'm sure you shouted SUCK MY OSTEOPOROTIC FEMUR-HEAD, BIEEYATCHESSSSSS!!! #mybodyisanelderlywonderland"

To which I replied: "@Cmaaarrr That's EXACTLY what I said. The fountain of spittle was glorious, as I didn't have my teeth in. #MyLiverSpotsTasteLikeAwesome"

To which he replied: "@jchutchins There's nothing like gum-slurred froth-speech to put the young'uns in their place. #ifonlymyprostatedidntweighmedownso"

At which point I could not reply, as I was wheeze-laughing. For I am a geezer.

As you were.

--J.C.

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.

That's *Colonel* J.C. Hutchins, My Friends...

I have the unbelievable privilege to report that I have received the highest honor that can be bestowed by my home state, the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I am now a Kentucky Colonel. Yes, I can in fact put "Col. J.C. Hutchins" on my business cards. While you need not hail from the Bluegrass State to receive this supercool distinction (and true honor), I suspect most Kentuckians grow up hearing about the Colonels and maybe -- in their secret hearts -- quietly hope they might someday become a Colonel themselves. I certainly know I did. The title is an honorary one (it's the best deal ever -- it requires no duties, and carries no pay or compensation other than membership in the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels), but is absolutely awesome.

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How did this come to pass? Thank Jack Staples (left), a fan of my fiction. Jack secretly nominated me for this honor, which apparently survived the vetting process and was presented to Governor Steve Beshear for consideration. (Only Colonels can nominate others for commission; Jack himself is a Colonel.) Today, I received a package containing an 11"x17" certificate signed by Beshear and Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Also included was a hand-written note from Jack:

While no one can speak for the Governor as to why he writes a commission, I can tell you why I nominated you. It was for your selfless dedication to the people around you as you rose in the ranks of podcasting, as well as your contributions to the field of podcasting.

As I told Jack, I'm absolutely humbled that he believed anything I've done in the New Media space warranted such attention. The fact that this potboiler-writing (and pot-bellied!) wordherder was approved further stupefies me. :D

According to a document that accompanied the certificate, Kentucky Colonels are "Kentucky's ambassadors of goodwill and fellowship around the world." This is very cool, but it's got me wondering: Does this mean I have to behave myself?

colonel certificate

Unbelievably, I'm now in the company of Colonels such as Johnny Depp, Muhammed Ali, Elvis Presley, Winston Churchill, Whoopi Goldberg, Tiger Woods, Betty White, Babe Ruth and Pope John Paul II. I take greatest pleasure in knowing I have the same honorary Colonel-dom bestowed to Harland Sanders (the KFC colonel) and Tom Parker ("The Colonel," Elvis Presley's manager).

Personally, I'm hoping someone cooks up a fan-created "Novelist Version" of the Clue board game, if only so someone out there can someday say: "Colonel Hutchins in the Library with the Revolver!"

In all sincerity, I'm absolutely honored to be a Kentucky Colonel, and am especially grateful to Jack Staples for finding me worthy of nomination.

Call me Colonel,

--J.C.

#StillHere Gets Some Sass! (And Violet & Christiana Too...)

Here's an excerpt of a blog post made by my dear friend Jeff Sass -- a former co-worker and contributor of 2008's 7th Son: Obsidian -- at Dad-O-Matic. It's about the #StillHere experience:

"I found out about TheColony.Discovery.com from an unexpected package that I received, and I made the short video below to document my own experiences with this clever promotion.  If you are reading this, then you can assume I survived and am #STILLHERE.  Enjoy!"

Check out Jeff's brilliant video below ... and then read his post at Dad-O-Matic. He gives the #StillHere experience a big thumb's up, and also poses an intriguing question about kids and new forms of entertainment. Give him an appreciative shout in the comments at Dad-O-Matic!

Also, be sure to check out additional unboxing videos from two of my personal #geekcrushes: the stellarly-talented blogger/author Violet Blue and ever-awesome author Christiana Ellis (who was also an Obsidian contributor).

As someone who's received special packages like this in the past, I'm thrilled that they've all enjoyed their experiences so far.

#StillHere,

--J.C.

Podcast Audio Promo For #StillHere

If you're a podcaster looking to fill about 50 seconds of your show for a cool creative project, give this audio promo for #StillHere a spin. It promotes the transmedia prequel experience for Discovery Channel's The Colony, which can by found at TheColony.Discovery.com. I collaborated with dozens of brilliant creators and programmers at Campfire on this groundbreaking narrative as #StillHere's Lead Writer.

--J.C.

Denise Crosby Video Now Live At JoinTheColony.com

The only thing cooler than helping Campfire create a celebrity Public Service Announcement set in the fictional post-apocalyptic world of #StillHere is watching it after it's been assembled and published.

Of course, it's exponentially cooler when that celebrity is actress Denise Crosby, perhaps best-known for her role as Lt. Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. (TNG geeks like me also know her as "Sela.") This is one of the coolest things I've ever worked on. Check it. Tweet and FB it. Embed it at your blog.

[VIDEO HAS BEEN REMOVED]

This PSA -- and more than 300 other updates, comments, newscasts, blog posts, breaking news stories, photos and videos -- await you at TheColony.Discovery.com. It's an online prequel experience simulation for Discovery Channel's show The Colony. The Colony's second season debuts on July 27.

Mainline this free content at TheColony.Discovery.com. Sign in via Facebook Connect to behold how the incurable virus Denise describes -- the Nuclear Flu -- might affect you, and those closes to you: your family and friends. (A Facebook login isn't required, but boy, does it make it so much cooler...)

#StillHere,

--J.C.

#StillHere, A Fiction Experience For Discovery Channel’s “The Colony,” Is Online

stillhere

My latest fiction project -- a groundbreaking online narrative that gives you and your friends ringside seats to the end of the world -- is now live. I've worked with dozens of talented creators and developers on this story for months now, and hope you'll find it as fun and resonant as we do.

We've nicknamed this story #StillHere. It's a transmedia experience designed to introduce you the devastated world of the Discovery Channel's TV program The Colony. It's an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live here: this world has been wrecked by an ultra-contagious virus called "Nuclear Flu." The second season of The Colony debuts in the U.S. on Tuesday, July 27.

The Colony show features seven non-actor volunteers participating in an immersive social experiment, exploring what life might be like after this biological catastrophe. They're tasked with surviving without creature comforts, facing physical and emotional challenges -- including danger from rival survivors. I've seen The Colony's first season, and thought it was pretty amazing.

My involvement with The Colony and Discovery begins and ends with #StillHere, an exclusive online prequel experience that simulates how this pandemic could spread and affect those closest to you. Using the familiar setting of your favorite social network, you'll bear witness to the unhinging of the world, told from many unique perspectives: those of your family and friends.

Literally, your family and friends. Your Facebook-connected buddies are already posting at the site, riding shotgun toward the apocalypse. Your loved ones are writing status updates about hope and coping in this damaged world ... sharing newscast videos about the virus ... commenting on blog posts, photo galleries, home-made videos, breaking news stories and more. They're scraping by, desperately trying to outrun the Nuclear Flu, and need you to join them.

Which you should do. Right now. At TheColony.Discovery.com.

More than 300 updates and comments -- and dozens of videos, photos, articles and more -- await you, all set in an America ravaged by this unstoppable virus. As part of a creative team that included artists, filmmakers, animators and programmers, I acted as Lead Writer, playing a large role in creating the world of #StillHere. But this narrative machine had many moving parts, and the people who envisioned and executed this project are as numerous as they are talented.

I'll soon tell you more about #StillHere, the experience of crafting its content, and the astoundingly brilliant folks at Campfire, the company that conceived this project and invited me to collaborate with them.

In the meantime, give the #StillHere simulation a spin. Visit TheColony.Discovery.com, log in using Facebook Connect, and behold a unique narrative experience customized solely for you. If you enjoy it, share its content on Twitter and Facebook with your friends and family. Spread the word.

Oh. One thing. Don't bother getting a preventative flu shot or buying a surgical face mask before embarking on your #StillHere experience. Nuclear Flu is already in the air, right now. You've probably already contracted it.

Your friends certainly have. As you'll soon discover, not all of them will make it.

TheColony.Discovery.com. Have fun.

#StillHere,

--J.C.

New Fiction Project Coming Next Week

biohazard logo

In mere days, a groundbreaking fiction experience I've been working on since mid-May will debut online. I'm very proud of it, and hope you'll check it out when it's live. What is this new story? I've been working under a non-disclosure agreement for months now, and can't reveal much until it's in the wild. But I convinced my keepers to let me leak a few deets before then. I'll first tell you what it isn't ... and then follow up with what it is.

This new fiction experience, which I've nicknamed #NewHutchFiction on Twitter and Facebook (since I can't yet reveal its title), is NOT:

  • A novel, novella or short story
  • A podcast in any shape or form
  • A "paid" experience -- it'll be Free
  • Available in any conventional format such as a printed book or e-book, and will never be

Egad! No book? No podcast? Nope. It's something new, a breed of fiction that -- to the best of my knowledge -- has never been seen before. It will unfold exclusively online, using familiar web technologies in unfamiliar, but very cool, ways.

So what can I reveal? This fiction experience IS:

  • Designed to be a realistic, authentic experience
  • Text, video, photos and other multimedia stories, nearly all of which were written by me
  • Dozens of other talented creators -- from producers to model makers to art directors and filmmakers -- contributed to this experience, making it an amazing and unique collaboration (an environment in which I thrive)
  • In a surreal twist, YOU will be the star of this story (though it's not a Choose Your Own Adventure-like tale)
  • The project is a spin-off of a television series from a major cable network
  • You know this network
  • Being a geek like me, you watch and love this network

By my reckoning, this experience is red-hot. It's something I would enjoy experiencing as an audience member, which is the primary reason I signed up to help create it. I, and the company that hired me to realize this project, have pulled out all the creative stops to create an authentic and emotionally resonant experience for you.

The money invested into this project is sick. We've hired professional actors, some from screen and stage. We've got slick production values. We've even got a celebrity cameo up our sleeve that'll knock you out of your shoes.

Watch my site for more announcements. In the meantime, below are a few teaser images from the experience.

Oh wait. I forgot to tell you what the story's actually about, didn't I?

It's about the end of the world.

--J.C.

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tease3

New Sci-Fi e-Zine Now Available For Sale!

My buddies Scott Roche and Zach Ricks -- two incredible podcast storytellers -- have cooked up something mighty cool for sci-fi fans. Learn all about it in this press release!

Enjoy Your Sci-fi and Fantasy How and Where You Want

Beginning July 4th, science fiction and fantasy fans will be given a new place where they can discover authors and stories they’ll be able to enjoy wherever they go.  Flagship, the new e-zine by publisher Flying Island Press, will soon be releasing these stories in formats for the Kindle, the iPad and iPhone, and other electronic readers.

Flying Island Press also recognizes the increasing popularity of podcasts and other forms of audio fiction.  So, in addition to the e-zine, an audio version will be available to listen to on any MP3 player.  Stories they release will be available both in text and in audio, allowing the consumer to choose their preferred version.

Zach Ricks, managing editor for Flagship, had this to say.  "I wanted to hearken back to what some have called the Golden Age of Science Fiction."  It's his hope that "FlagShip will be a place for optimistic, entertaining fiction."

Each issue will cost $1.99 for the text version or the audio version or get both for just $2.99.

Issues are now available at FlyingIslandPress.com!

The Best Home For Your Words

To my hyper-connected New Media writer colleagues: Watch this wise video from the always-awesome Chris Brogan. In it, he talks about spending gobs of time on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and how that investment may pull folks away from other, more important endeavors.

My takeaway from Chris' video is a brass-knuckled buzzkill for Twitter-enamored wordherders, but it's one worth considering: Every sentence you post in the fleeting ether of Twitter and Facebook is one less sentence you're dedicating to your creative work. If you're serious about writing, completing, selling and publishing stories, the best home for your words and creative energy is always your work in progress.

Your creative project will have a permanence, meaning and impact that those tweets and status updates never will. Tweeting about writing isn't writing. Tweeting critiques about others' fiction doesn't put more words on your own pages.

Social media networking sites do indeed provide wonderful places to converse about creativity -- but don't let their cozy, comfortable confines become a lullaby for your own creative efforts.

If you're serious about completing your creative work, publishing it, and getting paid for it, now's a good time to recommit yourself to those goals and funnel your words into the best home for them: your work in progress. The most resonant writing doesn't have 140-character limits.

--J.C.

My Thoughts On The "Supernatural" Season 5 Finale

Here be spoilers. If you haven't seen the season finale of Supernatural, it's best not to read on. Check out these pictures of kittens instead.

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Writers are slaves to the story. We work for it, it bends us to its will, we're its bitch -- never the other way around.

I think Supernatural is an incredible TV show. It's about two brothers who cruise the United States in a muscle car and slay monsters and demons. That immediately sold me on the concept, but it's an awfully good character-driven show too, which helps.

Like most genre shows, Supernatural's first few seasons were dominated by Monster Of The Week episodes (which are easy gateways to snag new viewers; essential when you're a new property), with vague allusions of greater machinations (hopefully to pay off in future seasons). However, things changed in Seasons Three and Four: all those niggling plot threads began to coalesce, propelling the Winchester brothers toward the endtimes itself -- Armageddon, in the here and now, with mission-critical roles for each of them. Very very cool.

I won't say this ultra-arc and buildup to Season Five's finale wasn't the most agonizing wait in TV history -- that goes to Lost; you poor Losties are masochists -- but Supernatural fans have patiently waited for more than two seasons, pining to see the prophesied Earth-rending devastation as viewed from Sam and Dean Winchester's ringside seats. We endured episode after episode of Big Talk About The Stakes and Terrible Hints Of The Battle To Come.

And finally, the finale arrived. I just watched it on Tivo.

Who farted?

There were some wonderful character moments (as manufactured at the last-possible-second as some of them were -- for instance: to my recollection, the key "kids in the Impala" flashbacks were never seen before this episode, making them smack of a deus ex machina catalyst in the context of the greater narrative), and when Satan snaps his fingers and makes an Angel of the Lord explode in a mist of blood and pulp ... well, that's unspeakably badass. Shattering longtime ally Bobby's neck was equally horrific and resonant.

But dude. When you yammer on for two seasons about the motherfucking Apocalypse, show me the motherfucking Apocalypse.

That didn't happen. Nor did a celestial smackdown between Satan and the archangel Michael -- again, something that had been meticulously manufactured and teased for two seasons. Which leads to a less-satisfying ... but still perfectly acceptable ... ending of Sam Winchester (possessed by Lucifer himself) and his half-brother So-And-So (I forget his name as he existed simply to be used in this poor endgame scenario, possessed by the archangel Michael) plummeting into Hell itself, where we can see Hell, and bear witness to the triumphant recapture of Lucifer's unholy essence.

But we didn't get to see any of that, either. We were treated to the sight of two dudes falling into a hole.

Perhaps I have snobbishly high standards, but when you rev me up for two seasons, you gotta deliver something more than two dudes pulling a Skywalker Noooooooo and leaping down a big-ass vortex. Gimme spectacle, man. That's what you've convinced me to expect.

Now I'm all for plot twists and upending expectations, but ending a stellar five-year run with a sigh makes me sigh. It makes me wonder what all that talky-talk gumflapping for the past two seasons was all about. If I can't go all the way with the prom queen, at least let me get to second base.

Going meta for a moment: I don't much follow entertainment news, but I caught wind that showrunner Eric Kripke always envisioned a "five-year plan" for Supernatural, and built a mythology and story arc to accommodate that. But CW, the network that airs the show, ordered a sixth season as this season -- the fifth and planned Final Season -- was underway. I reckon that network edict dropped a handful of sand into Kripke's creative Vaseline. I also reckon it messed with his (and the writing staff's) vision for Season Five. I wonder what the last half of this season -- and especially this episode -- would have been like, if the show were indeed to end here.

As a storyteller armed with this context, I can forgive most of Kripke's season finale script (and the direction of much of Season Five's second half) as I know he was probably compromising like crazy to deliver on Supernatural's promise of the Apocalypse, while building a launch pad for a previously-unplanned Season Six.

But as a fan, I'm underwhelmed and frustrated. I wanted more not because I'm a greedy fan (though I am a greedy fan), but because I was trained by the show to expect it. Two seasons of tension-building. Two seasons of angst about the roles Sam and Dean Winchester were to play during the endtimes. Big Talk Everywhere. And we get two dudes falling into a hole...

...and then the angel who was turned to pulp-mulch with a snap of Satan's finger is miraculously resurrected...

...and then the longtime ally whose neck had been shattered is miraculously resurrected...

...and, by episode's end, it appears the status quo has been reestablished in even more ways through even more miraculous resurrections. (Or some other mojo that'll be quickly explained next season.)

This represents a storytelling failure, because writers are slaves to the story. We work for it, it bends us to its will, we're its bitch -- never the other way around. Here's an instance of a story's climax that had all the foreshadowing of an epic confrontation, and was warped into a clearly well-intentioned, but ultimately unsatisfying, conclusion. I hate myself for bagging on this episode, and particularly hate bagging on Kripke's writing of it, as I think he's a frickin' genius worldbuilder and storyteller. I want to tell myself I'm not smart enough to get it, that I'm shallow for craving fireballs and not the family-driven ending I was presented ... an ending the story's creator clearly felt was worthy of the journey.

But dude. When you yammer on for two seasons about the motherfucking Apocalypse, show me the motherfucking Apocalypse.

--J.C.

I'm on GINK, the best social media site yet!

I'll soon be shutting down my Facebook and Twitter accounts, now that I've discovered GINK. It's the best social media website ever. Learn all about it in this video!

In Your Words: The Value of Twitter and Facebook

My ladyfriend and I are Facebook users. Last night, we discussed the latest kerfuffle regarding Facebook's recent changes to its privacy policy. While we disagreed on a few items -- I suggested that Facebook should be a protective custodian of users' privacy; my lady was less concerned, as she rightly knows that anything posted on the web isn't truly "private" at all -- we did agree that Facebook is the telephone of the Internet ... the increasingly-ubiquitous platform through which most online folk communicate.

I haven't changed my Facebook privacy settings (and wouldn't know where to look if I wanted to), but the conversation got me thinking about what online users are willing to exchange for communication. In the instance of Facebook, they're willing to funnel tons of keyword-packed personal information into their profile, and onto the Walls of their friends, to efficiently share their lives online. In exchange, they're bombarded by targeted advertising ... and their profile data (and the data of their friends) may be slurped up by Facebook application developers.

Is that exchange an equitable one? 400 million monthly users seem to think so. These days, I'm uncertain. Does the enjoyment and value I receive from my Facebook experience outweigh the expense (measured in my time on the site, and the "personality" data points Facebook and others may be collecting about me)? I'm on the fence, mostly because I like online conversations as much as the next social media nerd.

This spun my mind toward Twitter. While Twitter doesn't yet have a robust ad-targeting engine in place, it most certainly will. Combine that with the disconnect I've felt on that social network for years now -- namely, that most of the news and tweets I read these days don't deliver a proportionate amount of value when compared to the time I spend there -- and I've found myself eking toward a fence-sitting position about Twitter, as well.

I've considered killing both accounts and moving on -- not to the Next Big Social Media WhatTheHellEver, but completely out of the online sharing space. Do people really care what I think, or what I'm eating? They shouldn't. There's nothing remarkable about my life, other than the fact that I share it -- which leads to remarks from others. Any Facebooker or Twitterer can tell you: when you stop posting on these networks -- when you stop contributing to the Conversation Engine -- people don't make an effort to engage you. Out of sight, out of mind ... and that's just fine.

I liken it to being at a groovy house party. You bumble in, partake of the festivities, and split. Are people going to gush about you after you left? Unlikely.

Anyways. That's the intellectual climate my brain's been in lately regarding social media super-sharing sites. The core question I'm asking myself is: Does this stuff add value to my life?

Only I can answer that question for myself ... and to be clear, my Facebook and Twitter experience is probably very different from yours. (For instance: I've been on both networks for years, used them as promotional platforms, and have thousands of followers/friends in both. This makes things fairly noisy.) But this morning, I was interested to see what you had to say. And so I posed this question on both networks:

Can you describe the true value that Twitter and Facebook add to your lives? I'm curious to know what you think.

Here's what you said. I provide these without judgment (or editing). My personal thoughts follow.

What You Said On Twitter

  • Absolutely zero.
  • It allows me to share the small nuggests of wit and wisdom I have with others, along with what I'm having for lunch.
  • FB has led to keeping in better contact with my family in the UK.
  • Facebook provides connections to time-lost friends; Twitter provides me realtime contact and sense of community.
  • Facebook is a way for me to keep track of what's going on with friends and family in a big picture way.
  • Twitter is more of an extended chat room and news/information source.
  • Facebook adds zero value. Twitter helps keep me informed, instantly, like a well-balanced news ticker.
  • With Twitter, I get to know when others are taking a dump, or stuck in traffic, or bored, or have a 1/2 price sale on.
  • Until my bros and I got FB we'd talk maybe every other month. Now we're up to date on each other daily.
  • Being able to be connected much more often to people I'd otherwise surely have fallen out of touch with by now.
  • Community. Real friendships even in virtual space. My social networking is more social, and less networking but tangible.
  • FB and TW intro'd people that I would have never come across and built friendships while seeing what work they were doing.
  • FB also reminds me of what high school was like and why I don't miss it...
  • I'd have to say community and conversation with real friends I wouldn't have the chance to know any other way.
  • When I worked a day job, there was a water cooler. Now that I work at home, Twitter is my water cooler.
  • T: points things out that I would probably have missed (e.g., 7th son podcast). F: Allows me to keep in touch without snail mail
  • I've learned so much just by reading ppl's blogs & news feeds, & I'm more entertained than ever before.
  • Twitter is useful & entertaining. Facebook is difficult to use & seriously un-fun.
  • FB/Twitter allow me to delude myself that I have some friends
  • I use Facebook to share pictures (mostly of my 2 year old) w/ all my friends, and stay connected w/ ones I don't see often
  • Twitter allows me to communicate without the draining quagmire of a blog which demands more than I'm willing to give.
  • Twitter has been great for getting to know and interact w/ all the podcast authors I've come to know and respect, and find more.
  • Twitter is the way I communicate with ppl & learn 'bout cool stuff. I only have Facebook because of friends & family.
  • It makes talking with my friends easier. It's very passive. Very easy to check when convenient.
  • I'd be heartbroken if all my Twitter folk moved to Facebook. I'd be overjoyed if all my Facebook ppl moved to Twitter.
  • Twitter helps me keep up with important people whom I can't see every day. It's easy and fast so we actually use it!
  • Facebook adds pointless frustration when I feel like I don't have enough od that. Twitter lets me keep up with cool people who are interested in the same stuff I am. I've never seen value in networking, but friendships are awesome.
  • No Value what so ever. Just purily for my amusment or at time aggrevation
  • Facebook is a fucking shit pickle! Twitter is great for news & such.
  • twitter keeps me in touch with you and other favorite writer/podcasters
  • keeps me updated on very direct information and news from people

What You Said On Facebook

  • twitter became too commercial so I quit it. Face book and Pogo.com give me lots of friends and games to play while I listen to your podiobooks.com
  • Twitter allows me to stay in contact with friends around the globe. That is the biggest win for me. Facebook....well that one is still being figured out from the personal side, but doing plenty of work for clients here.
  • Facebook allows me to keep in touch with some friends I don't get to see often, and a couple times I have used it to get groups of people together for a cause or coordinate something. Other than that, I believe I could be perfectly happy without it.
  • I don't NEED either of them really, My twitter account is so overloaded, I'm sorting through it trying to make sense of it, I think I'll stop following so many people dunno. Facebook is nice to have for me, because I've been able to reconnect with friends I haven't seen or heard from in years.
  • I agree, I'd probably be much happier without it. I spend far too much "idle" time on it, wasted creativity time. My own fault, I could just stop logging in... The few people from my past that I've reconnected with have been fun to e-reminisce with but I won't be disappointed when FB goes the way of MySpace and becomes unusable.
  • FB allows me not to do any thing else sit here sucking my time away but I can't to brake free from the force!
  • To add to what I said before Facebook also helps me stay connected with a friend, when both of us aren't the most comfortable as far as the phone goes, I just never have been, and you know who she is too J.C. :) On the other hand, I do waste time on Facebook and so many of the apps are stupid and annoying. I liked it better without apps.
  • it's great....i'm in contact with old friends and conversing with people i would not have had the opportunity before....people like J.C. HUTCHINS author of 7TH SON (GREAT FRIGGIN' STORY)
  • Another thing I forgot: Facebook allows me to learn things about friends I never knew or never wanted to know, to pry into other peoples' lives, and to make assumptions about friends by learning about only a small piece of the big picture.
  • Mainly access to people that I would never have otherwise been able to contact and befriend.
  • Facebook gave me what I've always wanted, the ability to read people's minds.
  • hey give me the opportunity to shoot random thoughts into space and actually get responses to them, they allow me to stay in daily contact with people I never get to see, and they help me to discover and be in contact with other great creatives who inspire me to keep writing.
  • I hate talking on the phone, but this way I can keep track of people's lives whether directly or indirectly.
  • Twitter is just a distraction. It's not so useful to me. Facebook, however, keeps me connected with my friends all over the country and here in town. I hate talking on the phone, but I could type back and forth all day long. It's also great for planning get-togethers and inviting people to my choral concerts.
  • I've moved a lot in my life and lost contact with many friends, in spite of all the promises to "keep in touch".
  • Facebook has reconnected me with them and it's been wonderful. I don't have to email everyone separately to keep up with day to day things that aren't really important enough to email, but are nice to know. My mom has stopped complaining about how I never call, since she can follow me on FB. Without FB, I would feel much more disconnected from my friends who live all over the country. Twitter, on the other hand, moves too fast for me to keep up and it's too hard to go back and see something you missed. I don't use it as much.
  • Twitter: even the mere concept strikes me as a total waste of time. Refuse to get account or visit the site. Facebook: More of a source of pain to me. It's good to hear from old friends, colleagues, and the like, and now I get to see about 95 percent of them are more accomplished than myself.
  • Facebook: last week, I reconnected with people I went to Kindergarten with and learned that a friend I haven't seen in 20 years now takes her daughters swimming at the house I grew up in (and introduced me to the family that lives there now and we've shared stories). That's pretty awesome. Twitter: Reminds me of Prodigy chat rooms in the early 90's, which fostered tight groups who chatted among themselves regularly. I made friends there, that I still have. I don't have time to "hang out" with people much, but I am never lonely with all the people I talk to on Twitter.
  • Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with people I grew up with and lost touch with over the years, I have found people that I havent seen since I was in greade school. Pretty exciting to be able to reconnect.

What I Think

In last night's conversation, I concluded that nearly all of the tweets and Wall posts people make are meaningless and valueless. I don't mean this critically -- I mean precisely what I say: these online "blips," as personal as they may be, often have no resonant meaning for me, and therefore have no value. I don't get the rant-tweets, could care less about what many people are shilling, and can often be stymied by messages folks personally send to me.

(I assume most folks have similar apathy about my own rant-tweets, shillfests and "@" messages.)

The most valuable commodity we have as communicators is context. Context anchors our minds, and the minds of the people with whom we speak. And yet Twitter and Facebook often represent a context-less medium -- tools that can be used by anyone to express anything they wish, in any way they wish. Users are not obligated to provide context for what they post online, nor should they be.

This ultimate freedom of expression often results in tweets or posts that have no meaningful context to anyone other than the person who posted it: a rogue rant (the source of which isn't identified) ... a gripe about someone's behavior (without identifying the offending party) ... a statement that they're having a great day (without explaining why) ... etc.

Because of this, I've lately leaned toward the conclusion that Twitter and Facebook do not reflect a meaningful, truly accurate representation of a person's life. Its limitations -- and the choices users make on what to share and when to share it (and their own limitations on how they can express it -- vocabulary, thoughtfulness, etc.) -- cannot possibly accurately present a person's state of mind. And yet, this is precisely what so many social media users assume. That's a road that leads to unreasonable emotional investments in the self-curated projection of a person -- what that person chooses to share with his/her public and global audience -- and not what could be described as a "true" real-life reflection.

Those who embrace these networks with True Believer abandon -- with a relish that makes these sites not tools but a lifestyle -- are at risk of perceiving people, events and communities through an inaccurate lens. Of course, this risk exists for zealotry in any form, for all politics, products and people.

I am increasingly realizing that meaningful conversations rarely occur in such preposterous spaces. These are context-less, flawed means of communication where knee-jerk reactions abound -- and in-depth exchanges are nigh-impossible. It appears, based on my personal experience, that the most resonant, relevant communications occur where it's always occurred: in the back-channel, via email and private messages. If that's true, why are we investing so much time and effort creating and consuming endless streams of 140-character personality "blips"?

The question is rhetorical, as I don't have the answer. And it does not mean that Facebook and Twitter are completely without value -- nearly all of your comments clearly illustrated that Twitter and Facebook resonate emotionally, and provide terrific opportunities to share, interact and make friends.

I'm suspect my feelings about Twitter's and Facebook's value -- and my thoughts regarding the billions of bits that are piped into those spaces -- contribute nothing new to the topic. But in light of my recent decisions to retire from the social media creator space, and the distance I've deliberately placed between myself and these online networks, I thought it might be illuminating to share them.

As with any communication tool, we get what we give. If we manage our expectations -- and pipe out positivity, meaning and value -- we'll most certainly receive it in kind. Or as one of my Facebook pals said in her reply to my question:

"These sites can be what you want them to be -- they don't have to be giant commercials (you can turn that off), or outlets for spam, or giant time sucks. Make the tools work for you -- not the other way around -- and you might find something to like about them. That said, you shouldn't feel societally required to engage in social networking just because 'everyone does it,' because plenty of people -- don't."

--J.C.

Interview: Seth Harwood, Author of "Young Junius"

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Kick back and enjoy J.C.'s interview with crime fiction author Seth Harwood, whose latest and greatest novel-length work, Young Junius, will soon be on sale in a killer limited edition hardcover edition. Learn about the novel, Seth's innovative partnership with publisher Tyrus Books and the unique challenges Seth experienced while writing this terrific book. Most important, pick up YOUR limited edition hardcover copy of Young Junius starting tomorrow, May 5. It's "Cinco de Junius," and you're invited to party!

From Seth's site:

Tyrus Books and I are printing a limited run of numbered, signed special edition copies of YOUNG JUNIUS for you, the die-hard Palms Family fans. This edition will be covered by a special, embossed dust jacket featuring artwork by my boys Jerry Scullion and Bob Ostrom. Inside, there will be a b&w insert with photos of some of the book's locations. A cloth binding, a metallic spine stamp, and more fun features will round out this gorgeous edition. We're looking at a run of less than 1,000 copies total. Once we sell them out, they're gone!

Get your learn on about the book at Seth's website, and be sure to order your copy using the coupon code "HUTCH." This'll save you a few bucks!

And be sure to check out Seth's LIVE May 5 call-in show with the good folks at Podioracket. Visit Podioracket.com for more information!

Dig what you hear in this podcast? Tell a friend! Use the "Share This" feature found at the end of this post!

The anthem for Hey, Everybody! is "Chip Away" by Jane's Addition, distributed freely via BitTorrent and the Nine Inch Nails/Jane's Addiction tour site, Ninja2009.com.

First Impressions: My iPad Wi-Fi + 3G

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Thanks to my girlfriend's boundless generosity, I am now the proud owner of a 64GB iPad; one of the "Wi-Fi + 3G" models. I've had about a full day to play with the device. I'll share my initial thoughts about the iPad and its potential here, and may write another post down the road. Before diving in, permit me two paragraphs that are intended to proactively address community concerns and potential feedback. I know many of you are supporters of the DRM-free open software and hardware movement, and are philosophically opposed to proprietary, closed marketplaces and technologies. I also know there are consumers who crave more of "something" in the iPad -- USB ports, a camera, Flash support, etc.

As a new media creator, I have always appreciated the open culture philosophy ... and as a consumer, I appreciate the hunger in wanting more of "something" in the products I purchase. However, this "first impressions" review will not address those matters. As an intelligent adult who's fully capable of making informed decisions, I understand the landscape and idealogical arguments, and have clearly made my purchase. Advocates may respectfully beat the drum in the comments (for it is a worthy drum to beat), as long as they respect my right to purchase and support the products I wish.

With that out of the way, what do I think of the iPad? I'm smitten. For the past day, I've consistently marveled at the speed and slickness of the device's software, and the elegance of its hardware. I've experienced a sense of wonder at nearly every turn, and have hummed a childlike mantra while using it: I can do anything! In this respect, I submit that the device is as "magical" as Apple's marketing campaign suggests: it's an intuitive, dazzling experience.

I haven't used a product this personally transformative since I purchased my first computer, a Mac LC, fifteen years ago.

Wi-fi speeds scream. I've yet to use the device's 3G feature, as I haven't had the need to drop $20 or $30 for "internet anywhere" access. However, I imagine speeds will be comparable to my iPhone's 3G transfer speeds (which are adequate for anywhere-access).

While the iPad certainly won't be the only slate-like device to disrupt the saturated PC/laptop/netbook space, I'm betting it'll be one of the best. Performance is excellent in the apps I've used, as is the display and touchscreen interface. The external mono speaker is very good; headphone audio is excellent. I'm no screen expert (or a device critic for that matter), but I've been amazed by the picture quality. It's the perfect size for what it does.

Much like Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch products, the iPad's true brilliance is its flexibility and personalization. I've downloaded several apps that match my interests and needs. They include:

  • Evernote: Note application that syncs notes over multiple devices via the web. Killer app.
  • Pages: Word processing app. I haven't used it yet. More on this in a moment.
  • iBooks: Apple's electronic bookstore. More on this in a moment.
  • Kindle: Amazon's electronic bookstore. More on this in a moment.
  • Comics and Marvel Comics apps: Electronic comic book app. More on this in a moment.
  • NewsRack: RSS/blog reader app. Spiffy.
  • Twitterific: An adequate aggregator of your (and my) preposterous, ADD-addled tweets.
  • A/V network apps such as NPR, ABC Player, TWiTPad: Terrific presentation of streaming content from excellent media outlets.
  • Netflix: This is a frickin' game changer. Amazing streaming video experience.
  • Text-based media apps such as USA Today, NYT Editors' Choice, SCI FI Wire: More great content, smartly packaged.

No games yet, as I'm not much of a gamer. I might give one a spin.

On to the stuff that's been in my head since the iPad was announced months ago. After asking Twitter pals to submit topics for this review, it looks like many of you have been thinking the same things.

How's the overall touch-based experience? Excellent; even better than the iPhone and iPod Touch experience. This is mostly because there's now real-deal real estate for fingers to do cool and interesting things.

What about multi-tasking? Like the current iPhone, the iPad does not support multitasking. This feature will come to the device this Fall in a software update. I've found my iPad experience to be just fine without it. I've been aiming for fewer distractions in my life, and a lack of multi-tasking certainly focuses my full attention to the content in-hand.

Is the iPad a laptop or netbook replacement? That depends entirely on how you do your computing. Most folks use their PCs to check email, surf the web, browse photos, listen to tunes, watch videos. The iPad absolutely does these things, and does them excellently. The device excels as a portal to consume content, just like a computer. (More on this later.)

Is the iPad J.C.'s laptop replacement? No. While it's entirely possible to bang out a novel-length work or screenplay on the iPad, I don't think I'll be doing that. (Though I might try with shorter fiction.) I can't imagine creating a complex video, or recording and editing a podcast, or doing nearly all of the other creative stuff I do -- desktop publishing, website design, image creation/manipulation, etc. -- on the thing. I have no doubt that savvy developers will create apps to fill these gaps in the months and years ahead. I also have no doubt that the iPad's computing power will increase, making such content creation possible. But for the time being, I'll probably be rak-a-takking on my MacBook Pro's keyboard for robust content creation.

This shouldn't surprise people. If you're accustomed to writing long-form emails, fiction or essays on your mobile phone, you'll be fine. I'm not.

How's the on-screen keyboard? Really really good, actually. Typing is brisk, and -- as most reviewers have claimed -- most comfortable in landscape mode. The keyboard is accurate; blame your chubby digits for typos. I'm looking forward to connecting my Bluetooth wireless keyboard to the iPad. Typing will certainly become even easier then; writing long-form content will be more feasible.

Is it just like a big iPod Touch? No. The speed of the device, and the amazing screen, take the touch experience (and content consumption experience) to the next level. It feels like you're holding the future. The iPad does indeed represent a sweet spot: we're accustomed to experiencing media in similarly-sized dimensions (books, magazines, etc.), and the iPad plays nice with that cultural programming. Blessedly, you'll no longer have to squint at the screen while watching video, or reading a book.

But it's really just a big iPod Touch. Right? Whatever you say.

How does it feel in your hands? Too heavy? Nope. It has a reassuring heft. In contrast, my Kindle e-reader always felt toylike in my paws. This is probably a throwback to my analog childhood, in which I always mentally equated quality with weight. If it's heavy, it's expensive. Don't touch it.

How does it work as an ebook reader? Excellently. Much fuss has been made about the iPad's screen (and backlit screens in general), and the accompanying eyestrain from reading material on it. I haven't experienced this, but I did find myself widening my eyes as I read books and comics -- not from the content; more likely from the backlit presentation. I had enough sense to consciously relax my eyes, and reduce the screen's brightness if needed. With these mental and physical adjustments, the device works perfectly well as an ebook reader.

It's brilliant as an e-comic reader too. Comics publishers truly, madly, deeply need to get their shit together in this emerging space. Selection of new stories is currently anemic. Not offering "digital trade paperback" editions of old storylines is a blown opportunity. DC Comics would have easily made $100 off of me in the past day, had they offered Grant Morrison's JLA or Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan collections in e-format. But as far as I can tell, DC isn't in the e-comic space at all. A shame.

Regardless, the writing was on the wall years ago, but it's in day-glow green now: Paper is now absolutely unnecessary to enjoy traditionally paper-based content.

Will the Apple, iPad and iBookstore marketplace save publishing? No. Only publishing can save publishing. The industry is thoroughly fucked on so many levels by insulated, tech-intimidated decision makers who are (probably) well-intentioned, yet desperate to protect an imploding content creation, promotion and distribution model. But, as they did with the Kindle marketplace, publishers are dutifully porting their text-based books to Apple's iBookstore -- a good thing, as it's another revenue stream money-grab. That's good news for authors.

Will consumers cough up $13 for iBooks that they can purchase in traditional format for $10 at Amazon? As with all things, the marketplace will decide ... and the industry will likely be slow to respond.

How can new media authors benefit from this new platform? The secret to differentiation and success isn't getting your stuff in the iBookstore. It's in apps. And I'll leave it at that.

How has the iPad impacted your life? I'm consuming more media than I was before, for one thing. I'm reading more, and reading content I typically wouldn't via apps. Unlike folks who love bebopping to bookmarked websites or cramming their RSS readers with countless feeds, I enjoy the packaged experience of consuming content through the iPad applications.

Pundits claim this practice is antithetical to the philosophy fueling the web -- that information need not be packaged and placed behind a branded "walled garden" (such as the NYT Editors' Choice app, or the SCI FI Wire app) to be enjoyed. I absolutely understand that, but I also dig the curated, convenient experience of tapping an icon, skimming headlines, and diving in deeper if I wish. Different strokes for different folks. The iPad has a great web browser, which permits users to go anywhere on the web they wish for more information.

I'm also spending more money in the iTunes marketplace than I ever did while using my iPhone. There's a few reasons for this:

  • Obtaining some iPad apps, such as Pages, costs cash.
  • Some free apps brilliantly sell content within the app (such as the comiXology Comics and Marvel Comics apps). I never would have read Ellis' 2004 Iron Man: Extremis storyline, had it not been for the iPad. It's excellent stuff.
  • I wanted to see how purchasing video content from the iTunes app worked. Snagged two Lady Gaga music videos. As with the other video content I've loaded on the device, these videos looked and sounded terrific. She's so pretty.

These recent purchases bring me to my suspicion about the iPad since its announcement, which is now confirmed by my ownership:

The iPad is built from the circuitboards up to get you to buy shit. Lots of shit. Music, books, videos, apps (and content within those apps), all via iTunes. Unlike the iPhone -- which has at least one true real-world "purpose," to make calls -- the iPad is savvily designed to be an impulse purchase portal. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it simply is, and folks who ignore Apple's brilliant business model do so at the peril of their bank account. Keep an eye on those purchases, peeps. Spending money doesn't hurt when you can't see it pass from your hand to the clerk's.

Parting thoughts? The iPad is wicked cool -- and for my lifestyle, wicked useful. Any quibbles I have with the device are so minor, they're not worth mentioning. The thing is very expensive, probably too expensive for most folks to purchase in good conscience. However, if you're interested in this fascinating and disruptive "middle ground" between a smartphone and laptop, have no qualms with embracing the iPad and iTunes marketplace as they are, and have the money to spend, I recommend it without reservation.

I'm holding the future in my hands, man. I can do anything.

--J.C.

Scott Sigler's THE STARTER Now Available For Pre-Order

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Podiobooks pioneer Scott Sigler asks: "What's 7-feet even, 360 pounds, and will run your bitch ass right over? None other than Quentin Barnes, starting quarterback of the Ionath Krakens."

The Krakens are the spacefaring football team seen is Scott's novel The Rookie (you can read an excerpt in this PDF), which debuted in print last year. And now The Starter, sequel to The Rookie, is available for pre-order. The book is a limited-edition hardcover, and -- if you pre-order via his site -- it'll be personally signed and numbered by Scott.

What's so special about The Starter? Scott sez:

  • It's crazy fun, combines crime/football/science fiction
  • It's Star Wars meets Any Given Sunday meets The Godfather
  • It's suitable for ages 12 and up
  • It's a great gift for football or scifi fans

The book will cost you $35.00 US, but if you use the code hutch at checkout, you'll save $3. Click here to pre-order The Starter.

--J.C.

The Three Albatrosses Of Podcast Fiction

You're probably aware that I've retired from podcasting, and may have read my cautionary thoughts to New Media creators regarding the dangers of relentlessly providing Free content without considering its long-term effects. Here's another post for New Media creators -- podcast novelists, specifically. I'm blessed to say that I have observed the ascent of the podcast fiction movement for the past five years, and directly contributed to it for the past four. I do not know how much influence and impact I've had on this model and community, though I have greatly benefited from it in creative, emotional and monetary ways. Contrary to the misinterpretations of a few pundits, I have a deep love for, and belief in, the Free and podiobook models, and insist they have personal, professional and creative worth. It is because of this love and belief -- and the great admiration for you creators, many of whom are personal friends -- that I write this post. To love a thing requires to love it for its beauty, and promise … and potential pitfalls.

Based on my longtime observations, I see three great albatrosses affecting the podcast fiction author space, which most creators do not wish to acknowledge. Ignoring these issues will compromise the long-term viability of the model and community so many have worked so hard to create.

The First Albatross is the deification of influential and successful podiobook First Movers such as Scott Sigler, Seth Harwood, Mur Lafferty, myself and others.  Based on the blogo- and podosphere reactions of my recent retirement announcement alone, it became clear that -- to creators -- my role in this movement represented more than what I personally perceived it to be. There was hand-wringing about the Free model, meticulous dissections of my announcement, respectful acknowledgment of my (and our) accomplishments, surly rhetoric, and indifference. I kinda dug the indifference, as it illustrated how small and isolated the podcast fiction community isn't merely perceived to be, but is.

This idealization of First Movers -- who are, in the end, humans who happen to be great writers (with the exception of myself; I've always called myself a no-good hack) -- is dangerous territory, particularly when it hails from other creators. First Movers deserve this title because they blazed the trail, and greatly benefited by sensing and catering to an emerging need. Podcast fiction's First Movers helped create the models, methods and precedents that the present-day thriving podcast author community (more than 300 strong, by my reckoning) now enjoy.

The problem I've observed is that despite the explosive growth in the number of creators, there is little innovation in the model or method by newcomers. New creative or promotional precedents are not being set. Many of today's podiobooks authors precisely follow First Mover steps and innovations, outright ignoring the reality that once these innovations occur, they are less likely to be seen as "new and fresh" in the eyes of audiences when they are repeated. This means nearly all creators are following well-tred paths ... and in the process, contribute nothing new to the experience or our community.

With few exceptions (horror novelist James Melzer being one), there is much First Mover mimicry occurring in this space.

The Second Albatross feeds off the first: The podcast fiction space is in danger of becoming irrelevant. The fishbowl teems with Johnny-Come-Latelies who simply preach to the converted (if they preach at all) -- i.e., to the audience First Movers and a few savvy newcomers slaved to create. No meaningful attempt is made to engage fresh blood beyond this audience ... an audience that has likely stagnated in size, and may be shrinking.

Ultimately, this means the responsibility to continually evangelize the podiobooks model to new audiences -- and present author-powered innovations to the existing community -- often falls upon the shoulders of First Movers (who are decreasing in number). We're five years into the podiobooks model; all podnovelists should have audiences far larger than they presently have. I've wondered if there's been a meaningful, resonant increase in brand-new listeners since 2007.

This is the failing of creators who do not evangelize the cause. Read this, and then breathe it: You are ethically obligated to promote the living shit out of your work, and reach beyond the community's self-created comfortable confines to do so. From my hard-line perspective, anything less than an absolute commitment to your own success undermines the very reasons you got into this game.

The Third Albatross is The Publication Anomaly. Based on a half-decade of observation, it appears that podcasting one's novel doesn't much impress Big Publishing. A publishing insider I know has told me that the Glory Days of publishers eying the podspace for new talent are over. This may or may not be true, but the goal of publication -- and bestseller success -- has been mythologized by podcast novelists to such a myopic degree that it runs the risk of blinding new creators to the very reasons why a blessed Less-Than-10 Podnovelists have been picked up by Big Publishing in the first place: Hard Fucking Work.

No, I really mean it. Hard. Fucking. Work. It's a level of commitment that would downright intimidate you, were you to walk a mile in these authors' shoes. Which is probably why so few creators put forth Hard Fucking Work.

The Hard Fucking Work ethic is perfectly (and proudly) represented by my actions, and particularly by those of my friend Scott Sigler. He is our community's Alpha Dog, our brilliant trailblazer, a living gold standard to which we all aspire ... and he deserves that praise, and much more. I'd take a bullet for the man, I admire him so. His great success breeds hope for creators -- he has certainly inspired, and continues to inspire, me -- but this success (and to a lesser degree, the successes of other mainstream published podionovelists) also creates unreasonable expectations, particularly among newcomers:

"All I have to do is X, and I'll be a published New York Times bestseller."

I know this mindset truly exists, for I have seen and heard it in the emails and comments of podcast novelist newcomers. Click the Record button, and you're on your way to fame and riches.

This is fantastical masturbatory bullshit, and yet the relative mainstream success of a blessed Less-Than-10 Podnovelists is a siren's song for the lazy creator. "Record, post, tweet" is their sole road map to success, and by doing this and nothing more, they saturate the space with content that has no clear, messaged differentiation than all the other content.

I fear the fate of podiobook authors achieving mainstream success is sealed, and -- with a few blessed exceptions -- has been sealed since 2007. You've met the players; they were the ones in the game long before you. Unless there is genuine, concerted effort from newcomers and veterans to not simply emulate the successful tactics of First Movers, but absolutely outclass and dethrone them with killer stories and trailblazing beyond-the-fishbowl promotion, there will be no more Big Publishing deals happening in our space. And yet, this can absolutely happen, should creators be talented and savvy.

Does this mean the podcast fiction movement is dead? Get your head checked if that's your takeaway. In my eyes, the podcast fiction movement (much like podcasting itself) has matured, and this maturation begets a host of new challenges -- a primary one being that this model isn't "new" anymore, which must force creators to make meaningful and innovative contributions to evangelism, content and business models. It also presents incredible opportunities for newcomers and seasoned vets who are hungry to bust ass, shake the tree, and outperform the established conventions and emblematic authors who best represent this model.

This is not the time for you as a creator to say, "Me too." That is the path to mediocrity and obscurity. This is time for you to say, "What's next?"...

...and then do something about it.

--J.C.

Giving Your All, And Still Coming Up Short

This turd plopped into my inbox today:

I read the first 10 chapters of 7th Son online and ordered the book. I was under the impression that the online release was not the complete novel. When the book arrived from Amazon, I dug in, disappointed to find that the print novel was the same content as released online. Probably my oversight, but it seems a wasted purchase.

If we're defining "wasted purchase" as participating in the centuries-old practice of monetarily supporting the artists who create the content we consume, then yes -- the dude wasted every penny.

Free-flinging New Media creators, it's time we had a talk. Get your head around this. Nothing you do -- no matter how much time, effort and money you spend on creating pitch-perfect, delicious Free content -- will ever fully please your audience. They shall never be sated, mostly because people like us created precedents years ago that trained Free-fed audiences to be ravenous. They will consume until there is nothing left to consume, and they'll demand More.

(Even when you clearly explain that there will be no More, and why, they'll grouse about the inequity of your decision. I do not understand how, after receiving hundreds of hours of content for Free, a person can legitimately characterize my recent decision to leave podcasting as unreasonable or unfair.)

In today's case, my emailer wanted More content than what he could get for Free -- and he had Free access to the entire novel. There was no compelling reason for him to support my work simply for the sake of supporting it. There had to be More. Even when you give away the cow, people still bitch about the milk.

At least the dude bought a copy of my book. When you're in this Free racket, there's no accountability or obligation for fans to monetarily support your work. Of course, creators fully know these risks when they got into the Free game. There's no creative rape happening here, no victimization. Everyone involved is a consenting adult.

But back to More, and people wanting it. At first glance, this is an embarrassment of riches. What's wrong with people expecting more from creators -- especially creators who give away their content? It's Free, right? It's a weekly bite-sized confection for the ears, munch-munch-disposable, an easy delete from the hard drive. Yet ravenous fans fundamentally underestimate the time and effort that is required to create the content they consume. They can't help this. They undervalue creative work because they do not create; they consume. They're not initiated.

Time for a schooling. Did you know that a 30-minute episode of my podcast fiction requires more than 20 hours to write, edit, record, produce and post? Did you know even more hours are spent promoting that content? Presented in these terms, spending 20 hours busting ass for zero pay is crazy talk. New Media creators have only themselves to blame for this; we often bet the farm on ephemeral goals such as audience size, eventual mainstream publication, and bestseller lists -- and completely ignore the risks and tangible real-world costs of time, effort and money required to meaningfully play in this space.

Make no mistake: If you want to become a meaningful leader in this space -- and indeed, any space -- it ain't a hobby. It's a fucking lifestyle. (Which is why there are hundreds of podcast novelists, yet less than 10 who've actually secured those coveted New York publication deals.)

More, More, More. Audiences demand it -- and creators do too. There is a great misconception in the podcast creator community -- particularly in the podcast fiction space -- that creators must produce and release more content, and must do so consistently and immediately. The rationale: If they quit sprinting on this Free-fueled treadmill, they'll vanish into obscurity. Or in the less business-oriented vernacular so many New Media creators use: People won't like you anymore.

This is crazy-making bullshit.

Many of the novelists who consistently produce Free content often do so because they release "trunked" content -- meaning, content that's served time in a dusty drawer -- or because their financial circumstances permit them to be full-time content creators. (Or both.) These creators are rare. The rest of us heap those creative responsibilities upon the commitments of a 40-plus-hour work week and family obligations.  Unchecked, this can lead to a disconnect between being faithful to yourself as a creator, and running the risk of becoming a cafeteria slop-slinger. It is very difficult to effectively scale when you're a one-person show.

Further, life on this treadmill can confuse short-term creative validation with long-term career goals. It also nearly always prioritizes praise over profits. Grinning at the emails from happy Free-fed fans is delightful ... until the rent's due. If your ambition is to merrily swim in the overcrowded Free fishbowl and nothing more, keep producing More for Free. If you aim to make a living wage with your words, you must be far more strategic in how you spend your creative time, and how you distribute your creative content -- and for fuck's sake, do something about getting published, or getting paid. Anything less is crowdsourced masturbation.

Also understand that unless you are a truly great writer, running the Free rat-race in an effort to desperately feed your audience will eventually compromise the quality of your work. Sure, you're entertaining your peeps, but you're cranking out shit. Don't crank out shit.

And don't give away any more than you wish to give. You are not a hostage to your audience. The only thing you owe your audience is quality Free content released on a schedule that is dictated by your terms. If those terms transform into hanging up your Free hat and moving on to other important aspects of your career, you can do that. I did, and I assure you, life goes on.

With few exceptions, creators cannot sustainably dedicate their creative lives to performing heroic tasks for Free to please strangers. This can quickly lead to consensual enslavement, not artistic empowerment. That's no way to live.

And sometimes, as in the case of the email I received today, you cannot give any more than you already have. This is because you've freely provided everything there is. There is no More.

--J.C.