How To Become A Better (And Future-Friendly) Storyteller

Note: This post originally appeared on the website WriterUnboxed. This is the first of several WU guest posts I'll reprint here on my site.

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I submit this for your consideration: Expand and improve your media vocabulary. It might positively impact your career now, and certainly will in the future.

I define "media vocabulary" as the various media one uses to tell resonant stories. Since most readers of this blog are authors, I reckon we're fluent in the vocabulary of text-based storytelling. But how many of us have more than a pedestrian consumer's knowledge of other media such as video, audio, photography, or graphic design? How many of us use those media in our stories?

Based on anecdotal and professional experience, I believe in my marrow that now is the time for talespinners to get savvy with several storytelling media. Within years, I expect we'll see an explosive rise of enhanced ebooks, app-based fiction and transmedia narratives that will leverage technologies and trends that have already become mainstream.

Fret not, hand-wringing wordherding purists: These multimedia, aka "transmedia" -- or as I sometimes call them, "mergemedia" -- stories will never replace a printed book or text-only ebook. But publishers will soon get into the enhanced narrative business in a big way, and will keenly quest for stories that organically incorporate disparate media into cohesive, resonant narratives.

And who better than you to deliver that very thing? You'll be a hot tamale, on the front lines of a business trend that'll reinvent the way audiences experience stories.

Few authors are prepared for this dramatic storytelling shift. I'm blessed to say I'm one of them. I recently co-wrote a novel that included tangible artifacts that came with the book -- real-life, convincing items such as IDs, business cards, family photos and more. These artifacts had clues hidden within them. When readers combined clues in the novel's text with clues in the artifacts, they could experience more of the story in other media: audio phone messages, fake character blogs, websites of locales mentioned in the book, and more. They learned aspects of the story my novel's hero never discovered -- including a beyond-the-book twist ending.

I've dabbled in video storytelling. I've written screenplays for an animated web series. I was Head Writer for an immersive transmedia online narrative that promoted a Discovery Channel show. I've recorded my own audio fiction, been a voice actor for more than a dozen other audio fiction projects, incorporated photography and graphic design into my stories ... and even crafted book promotions that invited my fans to become "patients" in my fictional insane asylum.

Am I exceptionally gifted in all of these media? Of course not. But I'm clever, creative and curious enough to know it's in the best interest of my career to bust beyond any self-inflicted Perception Prison and just be a "writer" or "novelist." I'm a multifaceted Storyteller. If I can't stellarly execute a particular multimedia storytelling element, I'll ask around until I find someone who can help realize it for me. That's what the Internet is for.

I understand, as you should, that different media convey different narrative information and evoke different emotional reactions. We, as storytellers, should absolutely leverage that to our advantage. Consider this:

  • A smartly-crafted paragraph about an elderly woman's house burning down
  • A photograph of her porcelain doll collection by the window, ablaze
  • Video of those doll's faces shattering from the intense heat
  • An audio recording of the woman wailing at her loss, with the roar of the inferno and sirens in the background

Now consider these related -- yet unique and equally emotionally resonant -- elements presented together in a cohesive, organically-constructed narrative, experienced on a hand-held device. An iPad. An iPhone. The next generation Kindle. A laptop. Doesn't matter.

What matters is this isn't a gimmick. This is, very likely, the future of storytelling.

By dipping your toes into media other than text -- be it writing for the screen or comic book, envisioning cool opportunities to take your story "beyond words" and into a medium that appeals to an entirely different sense (and evoke unique emotional reactions), or developing and deploying story-enhancing online destinations (such as a fictional company's website) -- you're expanding and improving your media vocabulary. This will expand and improve your storytelling skills, and will differentiate you from the thousands of other writers who merely put one word in front of the other.

Differentiation is good for business. As I wrote this post, I received an email from an independent game developer who wanted to hire me for some voice acting work. That opportunity never would've occurred had I not expanded my media vocabulary to include audio storytelling years ago. (I said yes to the offer. That's paid work, homes.)

Same goes for my transmedia novel work and the Discovery Channel gig. I created narratives using several media, became well-known for them, and was hired to participate in those projects. I can't guarantee that you’ll experience similar opportunities, but your chances are hella better when you get experimental and go beyond your creative comfort zone.

How do you start down this path? I won't waste precious words, or your time, with a technical how-to. We're nowhere near ready for that. Instead, let me offer some thoughts on how to get your creative mind into the philosophy fueling my perspective. You’ve spent years crafting tales with words. You need to think beyond words.

Noodle on your work in progress, and then ask yourself questions such as:

  • Are there ways to incorporate narrative portals to, say, a website where more narrative information can be delivered in an unconventional way? (Such as a character's video blog.)
  • Can you leverage real-life everyday objects and conventional behavior in new and interesting ways? (Such as including a phone number in your story --which is actually a free Google Voice number you've registered -- for people to call and hear a message from the antagonist.)
  • Are there familiar items that can enhance your narrative by adding an element of "real world" credibility to your story? (Such as fake classified blueprints, viewable at a password-protected website -- a site mentioned in your story.)
  • Can you deliver a kind of real world interaction between your audience and characters? (Such as a blog written by your character, who responds to fans who comment on her posts.)

I'm scratching the surface here -- only your personal knowledge of your story and creative curiosity can determine if what you're presently writing can benefit from these "beyond the page" experience-based narrative tools. But my point should be clear: these narrative opportunities exist, and can be downright cheap (or free) to execute.

We storytellers now stand at the convergence of several world-changing trends: cheap tools to help us create multimedia story elements … increasingly available (and affordable) Internet access for consumers … portable digital devices that can talk to the Web and play that multimedia … and an always-on 24/7 resource (the Web) that can put us in touch with creators who can assist us, should we not have the skills to execute our projects on our own.

There's never been a better time in history to be a storyteller -- and there will likely never be a better time for you to become a first mover in what will soon become a prosperous storytelling space. If you're reading the same writing on the wall that I am, you'll want to start expanding and improving your media vocabulary.

You don't need to be an expert. You just need to be creative, and ask for help if you can't execute on your own.

Don't let the future of storytelling pass you by. It's already here.

--J.C.

On Being An "Aspiring Writer"

I spotted the words "aspiring writer" on a website today. My mood went south, as it always does when I encounter this flawed phrase. When I see aspiring writer, I don't think it's shorthand for meanings such as:

  • "Aspiring professional writer" -- meaning, the person is writing, but aims to someday be paid for her creative investment and output.
  • Or "aspring full-time pro writer" -- meaning, the person is writing, but aims to someday make a living wage from her wordherding.
  • Or "aspiring to complete a writing project" -- meaning, the person is writing, and aims to someday type The End or Fade To Black on her short story, novel or screenplay.

In my more literal view, the phrase means, "I am not writing, but am talking and dreaming about writing." Which might as well be, "I am masturbating." I am qualified to characterize this in such harsh terms because in my own life, I talked about writing fiction long before I actually wrote a word of it. These years of windbaggery added precisely zero words to my novel manuscripts or screenplays. I wasn't aspiring. I was wanking.

You're either writing, or you aren't. Unspoken qualifiers such as "being a writer means making money from one's words" or "being a writer means your entire income hails from writing" feel like strange constrictions to me, mental obstacles that young writers place before themselves to ... to ... I don't know what, precisely. Perhaps it's to:

  • Perpetuate some form of artistic self-loathing? (Oh, how writers love to hate their work.)
  • Ensure years of handwringing and self-doubt? (Writers are unhealthily preoccupied with the notion that they'll someday be discovered as no-talent hacks. They don't yet realize that the only writers who don't have that fear are, in fact, the no-talent hacks.)
  • Permit and maintain a level of mediocrity in the quality of their work? (Qualifiers such as "aspiring" permit such stagnation.)
  • Assign a tangible, rational goal to an intangible, downright spooky act? (Thereby justifying one's creative investment.)

Could be any, all, or none of these things. The only truth that I know is this: In my world, there are no aspiring writers. There are writers, and everyone else.

If you're writing, you're a writer. Own that fact. Be proud of it. Your pen is moving (or your fingers are typing), and that's a thousand times cooler and more committed than the douchebags who endlessly drone on about the books, poems, plays and movies they'll never write. You're not aspiring, because you're already doing the hard part.

Other aspects of the creative life -- such as making money from your words -- do indeed represent aspirational goals. Call yourself an "aspiring professional writer" if that is indeed your aim. But if you're writing, don't dare label yourself as an "aspiring writer." To do so undervalues what you're doing to you and others, and creates a disconnect between the challenging act you're already performing -- the very thing that makes writers writers -- and other aspects of the life.

I assure you: perform enough of the former (the act of writing) and you'll achieve the latter (the goal of getting paid or published, for instance). Your success may be wildly different than you ever imagined, as may your path to achieving it. But it will happen if you continue to put words on the page, and remain committed to improving your craft.

You don't need permission to write ... and you mustn't make money to call yourself a writer.

Writers write. That's it.

Those who don't, merely aspire.

--J.C.

Welcome to America.

Spilling store-bought coffee on your Ralph Lauren button-down while sitting in your air conditioned late model car and eying a pretty lady walking down an absolutely safe street. It's a nightmare world in which we live.

Annnnnnd Here's The Pitch...

I'm no stranger to the marketing pitch -- I've lost count of the pitches I've written and sent over the years promoting my fiction ... and I've lost count of the pitches I've received as a journalist (10+ years ago) and more recently as a new media creator and interviewer. A few months ago, I griped online about an email pitch I'd received. The pitch was for a pretty cool (and Free) online service. The rub: The CEO sending the email made no effort to personalize the pitch letter, or even include my name. These are both elementary no-no's in publicity -- online marketing especially.

The rules for pitching are simple, and every marketeer should know them:

  • Know the name of the person you're pitching, and include it in your salutation.
  • i.e., do not say "Dear Blogger." (Many pitches I receive start like this.)
  • Customize your lede paragraph in at least one way, to illustrate you know the pitchee's work. (Or create the illusion that you do.)
  • I also suggest customizing at least one other paragraph in the pitch (preferably in the last third of the pitch) with a reference to the pitchee's work, but this isn't mission-critical.

That's it. And yet, this appears to be nuclear physics for 90 percent of the marketers conducting online outreach. My recent online gripes captured this spirit of disgust, and my firend Michael Andersen chimed in by sending me the email below. I nearly cried laughing. This is your "what not to wear" when it comes to pitches, although it's written 1000 times better than most of the pitch-crap I receive.

Enjoy.

--J.C.

Michael's Pitch Letter

Dear MR HUTCHINS,

Can I call you JC?  JC, this is Michael Andersen from ARGNet (www.argn.com), a fabulously successful website that plumbs the depths of internet badassery. We're looking for a few good men (and women) with a penchant for prose and a knackering for narrative, and your work at JCHUTCHINS.NET has attracted our attention.  You, my friend, have a way with words, so I'm going to make you an exclusive offer, for your eyes only.

Do you want to be filthy rich?

Let's be crystal clear: I'm not talking appetizers with your dinner at Red Lobster rich...I'm talking monogrammed bathrobe, private yacht, reality television show obscenely wealthy.  The kind of money that only comes to people who invent Wacky Wall Walkers and Pop Rocks. Well, JC, I have a foolproof plan to get you Scrooge McDucking it in your own personal money bin. Your website, JCHUTCHINS.NET, consistently brings in thousands of visitors a month. Why, in September 2010 alone, your site brought in 5,418 unique visitors: visitors just itching to show their support for you. But how, you might ask?

Affiliate Marketing. We have stuff that needs to be sold. You have people interested in buying stuff. For all the stuff you help us sell, you'll get a generous cut.  But wait, there's more -- if you recruit readers to sell for you, you'll get a cut of their profits too! We'll even help you sell your own stuff, launching profits into the stratosphere! Use your gift of gab for good, and you'll never have to work again.

Yours,

--Michael Andersen Successful American Businessman

DISCLAIMER: This email contains confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you may be in violation of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act and any disclosure will be prosecuted to the full extent allowed by law. This email will self-destruct in twenty seconds. If you or someone you know experiences any adverse side effects as a result of this email's self-destruction, contact a medical professional immediately. Taylor Swift 4Ever.

Follow-Up: Winter Is Coming.

If you were dazzled by my recent Game of Thrones scent-based transmedia experience -- and were curious to learn where that unusual rabbit hole might lead us -- you'll be interested to read this email I received today from HBO:

Dear JC,

Thank you so much for sharing the Game of Thrones scent experience with your audience. We wanted to let you know that fans can now take the next step in this unique sensory journey by visiting TheMaestersPath.com.

The Maester's Path is an interactive journey into the world of Game of Thrones, where players can vie to become "maesters," the healers, teachers and advisers of this world.  Maesters wear chains as a symbol of their learning, each link representing one discipline. Players at TheMaestersPath.com earn "links" in their chains by completing a series of online challenges. In fact, the clues to answering the first of those challenges were hidden within the scent recipes you received.

The experience begins at TheMaestersPath.com -- we hope you and your readers may find it interesting.

Thanks,

The HBO Marketing Team

I visited the site -- it's incredible -- and savvily conquered the first online challenge. You can too, by checking out the photos at my original post about the GoT box, and then heading over to TheMaestersPath.com. Your keen eyes and curiosity will be rewarded!

I wish HBO the best of luck with its GoT campaign and series!

--J.C.

Pre-Order Melzer's "Escape" And Hit The Mother Lode!

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My friend and fellow author James Melzer debuted some terrific news today, and I wanted to share it with you fine peeps. Melzer is the author of Escape: A Zombie Chronicles Novel, the first book in a trilogy that combines zombies and government conspiracies. It'll be in bookstores later this year.

To whet your appetite for that novel, Melzer is rewarding folks who pre-order Escape by sending them an exclusive excerpt of the novel months before it's released ... and he's sending pre-order customers The Mother Load, a massively awesome horror/suspense short story anthology Melzer commissioned for this promotion.

is an eBook collection of never-before published stories from six great authors, including Mur LaffertyS.G. BrowneDavid MoodyWayne SimmonsMatt Wallace, and Jeremy C. Shipp. It's available to anyone who pre-orders Escape starting today -- Friday, February 25, 2011 -- and right up until Escape's release on December 6, 2011.

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Wanna support Melzer? Awesome. Here's the rules:

The only way folks can get their hands on this eBook collection is by pre-ordering Escape at any of the following online retailers: Amazon (Print Edition)Amazon (Kindle Edition)Amazon UKAmazon CanadaBorders.com, and Indigo Canada.

People must forward their purchase receipts to EscapeNovel@Gmail.com. Within 24 hours, they'll receive a .zip file containing The Mother Load anthology in .mobi, .epub and PDF formats for their eReaders. An exclusive text excerpt of Escape is included in this file.

Learn more about Escape at Melzer's website. Here are some great things two great writers are saying about Melzer's work:

"This is the 1984 of zombie novels" -- Scott Sigler, New York Times Bestselling author of Ancestor and Contagious

“Just when you think you know where it’s going, Melzer kicks you in the balls and turns everything on its head. Escape will take you to the edge and leave you wanting more.” -- David Moody, author of Hater, Autumn, and Dog Blood

So what are you waiting for? Support my friend and fellow author James Melzer by pre-ordering a copy of Escape today! With that anthology and excerpt of the book that'll soon arrive in your inbox as reward, you'll feel like you've hit the mother lode!

--J.C.

Winter Is Coming. (A Transmedia Fiction Experience with J.C.)

This afternoon, a package from HBO arrived at my doorstep. Curious, I grabbed my vidcam and documented what quickly became not only an awesome "unboxing" video, but an amazing -- and remarkably unconventional -- narrative journey. Ride shotgun with me as you get an unfiltered, as-it-happens look at this amazing HBO package as I experience it ... and learn a little about the world of HBO's upcoming fantasy series Game Of Thrones (based on the terrific novel series by George R.R. Martin) along the way.

For viewers who want a closer look at the images seen briefly in the videos, check the gallery below for larger versions.

And do be careful out there. Winter is coming.

--J.C

Click the image thumbnails below to view detail shots of the HBO package. (Click your browser's "back" button to return to this page, and the gallery.)

Podcast: Interview with Scott Roche and Zachary Ricks of Flying Island Press

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Today, J.C. speaks with Scott Roche and Zachary Ricks, two of the founding members of Flying Island Press, a digital publishing company that releases compelling genre fiction in electronic formats. Scott and Zachary chat at length about their company's business model and philosophy, the entrepreneurial spirit, and how they distribute anthology-style fiction magazines in formats for the Kindle, the iPad and iPhone, and other electronic readers -- and in audio format.

Links mentioned in this episode:

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.

What's The ULTIMATE Revenge Movie?

(Probably not the ultimate revenge movie.)
(Probably not the ultimate revenge movie.)

I've spent the past few months chipping away at a few screenplays. One script -- a supernatural balls-to-the-wall actioner with a magma-hot hook -- is presently getting a polish by me and a co-writer (whose name I cannot yet divulge). Another screenplay started with a very strong concept, but competing obligations prevented another co-writer from dedicating appropriate creative bandwidth to the project. It's on ice for the time being.

Which happily frees my queue to pursue a third story, which I've been noodling on for nearly a year. The hook of this script prominently features themes with which 7th Son and Personal Effects fans are familiar: identity, sanity, and sanctity (both of the human body and mind). It also levels both barrels at many consumption- and brand-obsessed First World cultures.

I dare not share more about the concept, other than to say that this "near future" world I've created is one you've never seen, and the culture specifically will make your head spin like a top. Spin in a That's some cool shit kind of way.

I believe the very best sci-fi stories resonate because they successfully incorporate subgenres into their tales. Blade Runner's noir elements help make that unfamiliar world more accessible to a viewer. Consider Serenity's Western elements; they help deliver similar results. I contend that using mainstream-friendly subgenres helps make sci-fi feel palatable to wider audiences. It helps the story feel less sci-fi-ish, which I believe is a good thing.

I've been thinking hard about which subgenre to inject into my latest story ... and today, I turned my wicked eye toward the revenge movie. I love revenge flicks, as a third act filled with whup-ass is guaranteed. In addition, the subgenre plays nice with the loose outline I created for this story.

Unforgiven is my personal favorite revenge flick, but I knew I needed more reference material for creative inspiration. So I turned to YOU on Twitter and Facebook and asked:

What's the *very best* revenge movie you've seen? You can only pick one. Go!

And you sure as hell did. Here are your recommendations. There are some hella great flicks here. Fill up that Netflix queue, peeps.

  • Wes Platt recommends: El Mariachi
  • Tanya N. Kutasz: The Italian Job (the remake)
  • DC Perry, Brand Gamblin, Tony Southcotte, Jessika Oxford: Oldboy
  • Jared Axelrod: The Limey
  • Ted Wade, Adam Lefever, Ted Wade, Michelle Ristuccia: The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Tony Mast: Braveheart
  • Kevin Smokler: 9 to 5
  • Zach Ricks: Man on Fire
  • Scott Roche, Vivid Muse: Leon - The Professional
  • Johnny Ho, Jane Doh, Eliza Sea: Lady Vengeance
  • Tee Morris, Amber: The Sting
  • Neil Colquhoun: Jaws
  • C.C. Chapman: Hard Candy
  • Mary Rajotte: Heathers
  • Allen Sale: Theater of Blood
  • Seth, Karl Schild: Payback
  • Christiana Ellis, Duncan, Michael Falkner, Matthew Wayne Selznick, Tim Adamec: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
  • Martyn Casserly, Edward G. Talbot, Leandro Pezzente: The Princess Bride
  • Trisha Leigh: Lucky Number Slevin
  • Richard Green, Avery Tingle, Aaron Baldwin, Void Munashii: Kill Bill
  • Stuart Robertson, Billy Flynn: The Crow
  • Clinton: Aliens
  • Thomas Janci: Revenger's Tragedy
  • Douglas Hagler: Ransom
  • Josh Rosenfield: The Prestige
  • Adam Loyal: Dirty Work
  • J.R. Blackwell: Titus
  • James Auger: Memento
  • Gary Giovanetti: Death Race (the remake)
  • Robert Smith: Mad Max
  • Howard Dinatale: Get Carter (the original)
  • Dave Minkus: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Gregory Gunther: Taken
  • Carlene Worthington: Repo

I've seen a lot of these ... and there's a lot I haven't seen, or even heard of. The Count of Monte Cristo is absolutely the quintessential revenge story (I loved reading it way back in high school, and should revisit it), and the countless recommendations for Oldboy have my curiosity majorly piqued. Thanks to everyone who recommended their favorites.

I hope you'll check out some of these cool revenge flicks too. And if you'd like to recommend your ULTIMATE revenge flick pick, sound off in the comments!

--J.C.

Market Your Mojo: Jan. 3

Got something to sell, share or tell the world about? Promote it! Tell me -- and fellow readers -- about your killer product, service or work here in the comments. The rules:

  • Your comment must be 50 words or less.
  • Your comment must be rated PG-13.
  • Your product, service or work must be rated R or younger.

All clear? Good. Promote away.

--J.C.

Blast From The Past: Notes For "EvacSys"

I was scribbling in a beat-to-shit legal pad this evening on a new screenplay project, flipped the page, and was stunned to see words already on that page, scanned below. I then grinned like a fool.

Longtime 7th Son trilogy fans may recall Book Three: Destruction's elaborate action sequence aboard EvacSys, an underground bullet train designed to whisk United Nations leaders away from the Secretariat building during a terrorist attack.

The notebook page I discovered tonight chronicles the first brainstorm session I had about EvacSys. Unlike most of my fiction ideas, the concept for EvacSys changed very little from these proto-notes to the finished story. I can remember exactly where I was when I jotted these notes.

I was so delighted by this, I simply had to share it. I hope you enjoy it.

--J.C.

Transient

Convergence

They say life is imperfect. For a long while now, I've disagreed. This convergence right here -- me writing this hours (or days!) ago, and you reading it at this very moment -- represents absolute perfection, at least to me. The craziest and most unlikely of events brought us here, to this itty-bitty place, together ... a place that doesn't even exist in any tangible, traditionally meaningful way. What remarkable lives we tiny needles have led, to meet here, in this strange little haystack.

Open your mind to the billion-trillion ways our lives might not have intersected, and you just might weep from the humbling awe of it all. I have. Because instead of being in those theres, you're here. It could've happened countless different ways -- and perhaps should've -- but didn't. Our respective tempests intersected in this teapot, and make no mistake: it was a perfect storm that delivered us here. We're right where we're supposed to be.

I refer not to God or fate -- though you're welcome to imprint that meaning upon my words if you wish -- but to cause and effect. Decisions made by you, me, our families and friends and lovers and 6 billion others. Butterflies in China, hurricanes in Florida, that sort of thing.

By my reckoning, there is perfection in these impossible odds ... even when these convergences present heartbreak or other challenges. Earlier today, I reminded myself of this, as life-changing news was re-confirmed to me by a doctor on the other side of a telephone.

I can count on two hands the number of people who, until this little miraculous moment that's brought us together, knew this secret about me.

I am a diabetic.

I've known this since 2006, though I did nothing to treat this incurable disease -- and in fact actively engaged in unhealthy activity that likely worsened my condition since my initial diagnosis. The deeply-rooted, irrational, cowardly and misguided reasons for this self-destructive avoidance are mine to examine and rectify. I respectfully contend that there's not much value in sharing them here.

However, I also respectfully contend that you might find value in what brought me to this re-diagnosis, and how I'm dealing with it.

A few months back, I went to the dentist for the first time in 20 years, and explained the incapacitating pain I experienced on the left side of my face when I chewed food. X-rays revealed an impacted lower wisdom tooth. The only way to eliminate the pain was to yank that sucker out of my head. The doctor suggested I have my other wisdom teeth also removed.

I smiled, saluted, promised to take care of it, and learned to chew food on the right side of my mouth, because...

...three weeks later, I moved from Fort Lauderdale to my new home near Denver. The financial, and health insurance, dust settled mere weeks ago. I visited a local oral surgeon, presented my situation, and when he asked if I was a diabetic, I paused.

Lying would've been easy. I'd been lying to myself for nearly a half-decade. But lying to others is a lousy thing to do.

I'm glad I fessed up. The surgeon explained that blood sugar levels (which diabetes affects, among a frickin' Who's Who of other bodily things) are in fact required to be within certain limits during and after the surgery, due mostly to the anesthesia and other drug cocktail-y stuff used in the procedure. The health of someone with abnormally high blood sugar like me would be at risk.

I'm a heavy cigarette smoker. And so, I was also told that after this surgery, I couldn't smoke for several days -- lest I risk "sucking" special (and necessary) blood clots out of the fresh holes in my head. Dry socket, it's called. I was told it's excruciating. That's all I needed to know.

And did I mention I live a sedentary life? I've recently lost some weight by eating less fast food, but this First World wordherding homebody hates breaking a sweat.

For want of a nail. Or in this case, a tooth.

To eat like a normal person again, I realized I'd have to:

  • Get my blood sugar to a surgery-appropriate level, which meant I had to...
  • ...re-diagnose my diabetes, and diligently treat it with medication...
  • ...and change my diet to lower my blood sugar levels...
  • ...and exercise, which also reduces blood sugar levels...
  • ...and quit smoking, for a great many reasons, including a "dry socket" deterrent.

Much like the circumstances that brought you and I together here, that bullet list represents a truly perfect storm. A storm filled with disruptive Change. A storm designed to frighten the laziness, ignorance and avoidance right out of my marrow, and shove me on a life path I should've been on all along.

And that's exactly what I'm doing. Easy, it ain't gonna be. But believe me when I earnestly say that I've survived far worse.

I wish I was motivated purely by desire and not a hearty dose of desperation ... but so often, so many of us require crises to rediscover our mettle.

You're a creative and intelligent person, so you know just as well as I that this will make me a better, stronger, smarter person. A healthier person. A person who'll live longer, and who won't live with the silent -- and occasionally paralyzing -- guilt of willful self-delusion and -destruction.

And now, on to the reason why I'm sharing this sliver of my life with you. Would you be surprised to know that it has nigh-nothing to do with me -- and nearly everything to do with you? Tis true.

Because we know -- you and me, we two needles in this strange little haystack -- we know that you're sitting on something that is impacting your life in a similarly-spirited way. It may not be a disease, or smoking, or gobbling Smartfood when you should be doing cardio. It may have absolutely nothing to do with the body. But it's there, and it's a thing that's been lurking, and occupying far too much of your mind and emotions, for far too long.

It needs to be acknowledged. It needs to be thoughtfully examined. And it needs to be treated, in the most positive and appropriate way possible.

You don't need a crisis flashpoint like mine to motivate you. You merely require a moment of clarity and courage to look into the mirror of Self, be more honest with your heart than you've been in years, and love yourself enough to make those meaningful changes in your life. Easy, it ain't gonna be. But you've survived far worse.

This moment of clarity and courage need not be epic. Nor must the steps you take to improve your life. They must simply be a series of perfect storms.

Thankfully, those are everywhere. Like the one we just shared.

--J.C.

Podcast: "Stories Of Our Journeys" Interviews J.C.

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In March 2010, my friend Lorelle VanFossen contacted me about a new project she and  Kym Huynh (of ) were creating: , an interview series dedicated to sharing a meaningful moment in a lifetime -- or a journey through that lifetime. Lorelle asked me if Kym could interview me for the program.

I was torn. Mere weeks prior, I'd learned that 7th Son's sequels would not be published by St. Martin's Press. I had announced I was leaving the Free podcast fiction space to pursue other creative opportunities. Was this the best time to chat about my writing career, and the professional decisions I'd made? I almost said no...

...and then remembered the deep respect I had for Lorelle, and that I absolutely trusted her. I agreed to the interview. It is now live, and included here in my podcast feed.

Now, months later, I remain delighted by this interview. Kym's questions were thoughtful and thorough, and so were my answers. It was a perfectly-timed convergence of his curiosity, and my willingness to honestly share my experiences, both good and bad.

If there's one interview of me you should hear -- to get the full story of my creative drive, my love of storytelling, my decision to join and leave the Free podcast fiction community, the promise and pitfalls of mainstream publishing and more -- this is it. I have never given such a forthright interview before this one, and doubt I ever will again.

I hope you find value and enjoyment in this recording, and earnestly encourage you to subscribe to .

--J.C.

Podcast: Interview with Christof Laputka, creator of "The Leviathan Chronicles"

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Today, J.C. chats with Christof Laputka, the visionary creator behind the The Leviathan Chronicles podcast fiction experience.

Christof took audio fiction to new heights (or depths, as Leviathan tells the story of warring factions of underwater immortals) with the first season of his stellarly-produced series. Says J.C.: It's the best-sounding podcast fiction experience available on the web, period.

Now, Christof and Leviathan is back with two special edition episodes, which are for sale. J.C. and Christof speak frankly about monetizing podcast fiction, the real-world challenges of creating such an ambitious project, and the creative philosophies fueling the series.

Plus, J.C. and Christof reveal exclusive clips from the two special edition stories!

Update: Please forgive J.C. for the abrupt ending of the episode; the last 10 seconds of the conversation are cut off. The only thing missing from the conversation is J.C. and Christof saying goodbye.

Sites mentioned in this episode:

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.

Podcast: Interview with Author/Composer Alex White, of "The Gearheart"

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This week, J.C. brings you a conversation with Alex White, author of the adventure podiobook The Gearheart, and the forthcoming The Gearheart: Maiden Flight of the Avenger.

Alex is not only a writer; he's a music composer, and has created soundtracks for his audio fiction. J.C., a superfan of film scores, deep geeks with Alex on orchestral composition, the similarities of crafting stories in prose and music formats, and more.

Support Alex and future releases of his free audiofiction by purchasing a copy of the soundtrack to The Gearheart: Maiden Flight of the Avenger!

Sites mentioned in the conversation:

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.

Podcast: Interview with C.C. Chapman, co-author of "Content Rules"

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Today, J.C. chats with C.C. Chapman, co-author (with Ann Handley) of the book Content Rules, an invaluable resource that provides insights, success stories and tangible steps for companies and independent creators to use content (such as blogs, podcasts, webinars and more) to market their products in authentic and meaningful ways. Much like C.C. himself, the conversation is lively and fun -- and because J.C. is driving, goes into unexpected and (hopefully) interesting places. At every turn, C.C. delivers incredible insights not just about Content Rules, but also intriguing marketing advice for independent creators.

J.C.'s review of Content Rules is here.

Sites mentioned in the conversation:

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.

J.C. Cameos In "Eclipse Phase: Continuity" RPG Adventure

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I'm very proud to announce that my voice makes a cameo appearance in the new RPG adventure Continuity, which takes place in the wickedly cool Eclipse Phase universe. The Eclipse Phase universe is a product of the creator-owned gaming collective Posthuman Studios LLC. I'll share more about my role in Continuity -- and reveal another familiar podfic talent involved with the project -- in a moment. First, some spiffy information about the Eclipse Phase RPG 'verse. If you like my fiction, this righteously spooky shit is right up your alley. From the Eclipse Phase site:

Eclipse Phase is a pen & paper roleplaying game of post-apocalyptic transhuman conspiracy and horror. Players take part in a cross-faction secret network dubbed Firewall that is dedicated to counteracting "existential risks" -- threats to the existence of transhumanity, whether they be biowar plagues, self-replicating nanoswarms, nuclear proliferation, terrorists with WMDs, net-breaking computer attacks, rogue AIs, alien encounters, or anything else that could drive an already decimated transhumanity to extinction.

That sounds like the coolest thing since the invention of the D20, if you ask me. Continuity is a one-shot scenario set in the 'verse. What happens in Continuity?

Your characters, who are researchers on the remote space outpost Kepler, check in for a backup -- and awaken in new bodies to discover two weeks of their lives are missing. They have limited time to find out what happened to their previous selves, and deal with a looming threat.

I've read the adventure, and know what's in store for players. "Looming threat" doesn't begin to describe the madness that unfolds. The campaign, masterfully written by Marc Huete (and produced by a team of brilliant game designers and graphic artists, including Adam Jury -- with whom I've worked in the past) promises to be a suspense-packed mindfuck.

One supremely cool element about Continuity is that the adventure features multimedia elements embedded in the PDF which GMs purchase. With the click of a GM's mouse button, players can actually hear scene-setting narration and reports from the Kepler's A.I. network named "Hans" ... which is played by me.

Indeed, I play a more-than-panicked A.I., and channel my trembling-voiced inner Kilroy2.0 to deliver the goods. More important, fellow novelist and podcast fiction veteran Mur Lafferty also lends her voice to the project, providing (as always) stellarly-delivered narration for the players.

The universe is compelling, as is the Continuity PDF product. Incredibly, this multimedia-enhanced adventure is available for a mere $5 (!!!) over at DriveThruRPG.com. Check it out here, and consider snagging the 5,000-word short story An Infinite Horizon, which is also set in the Eclipse Phase universe, for a criminally-low 99 cents. (Disclosure: Those are affiliate links.)

If you'd rather learn more about Eclipse Phase before pulling the trigger, visit EclipsePhase.com. I hope you do support this independent, creator-owned RPG property, and snag a copy of Continuity. You score a smidgen of Hutchins and Lafferty audio goodness, and more than a heaping teaspoon of slick, suspense-filled sci-fi adventure. Below are a few images to further whet your appetite.

--J.C.

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