Interview with Thriller Author JC Hutchins!
I was lucky enough to meet author JC Hutchins in college. He was the kind of friend that always listens, understood, nay, expanded my pop culture references, and didn't make fun of the fact that I used to drink Zima infused with Jolly Ranchers. Yes, really. Over the years, we've both tinkered with writing projects, e-mailing chapters to each other on occasion and offering encouragement during the soul-sucking querying process. And somehow, against every law of probability in the publishing universe, we both ended up with publishing contracts.
Meanwhile, I have watched in awe as JC's 7th Son podcast has grown into an internet phenomenon with legions of followers (Hello, loyal clone army.) I am very proud to say, "I knew him when." JC's new book, based on the podcasts, 7th Son: Descent, hit bookstore shelves last week. And I wanted to introduce him to you guys, so you will like him as much as I do, buy his books, and force his publisher to offer him ridiculous advances for forthcoming books.
OK, does every understand the plan? Good. On with the show.
MH: So, JC, tell us a bit about yourself- Your hometown, where you're living now, your newspaper background... college friendships with feisty, freakishly tall girls who changed the way you see the world...
JCH: I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. I was a very introverted, daydreaming, awkward blonde-haired boy with a chili-bowl haircut. I now live in South Florida ... and my hairline's receded just enough for me to quietly pine of that lush, chili-bowl mop.
I think what tugged me out of that snail shell was indeed journalism. I wrote for my high school paper, then went to college to study newspaper and magazine writing. When you're a reporter, you can't afford to be shy for long -- you'll blow many an interview if you don't follow up on your curiosity and instincts. I finally began to become comfortable with myself, and managed to find the beginnings of my writerly voice.
And yes indeed, while I was attending Western Kentucky University, I met a freakishly tall girl whose beauty was eclipsed only by her brilliance! She was a fantastic writer, a dogged reporter, and a wily movie-line-quotin' marvel. I think she went on to become a novelist. Something about vampires and librarians...?
(Editor's Note: I don't know about dogged reporter, but the rest of that stuff is totally true.)
MH: You went about getting published in an unconventional way. Could you describe your path to authorship for the nice readers?
JCH: My path to publication could be charitably described as "circuitous," though I prefer the term "ass backwards, in a good way." I began writing my high-tech thriller novel, 7th Son, back in 2002. Ignoring all common sense -- and industry norms -- I set out to write a story that rivaled Stephen King's The Stand in length and scope. Three years later, I presented this monstrous manuscript to agents and, predictably, received universal rejections. I thought the system would make an exception for me. I was wrong.
Ahem. So there I was, heartbroken and despairing at the realization that this book that I loved -- a book about human cloning, personal identity, nature versus nurture, government conspiracies and science run amuck -- this book I'd crafted to with commercial sensibilities in mind, would never, ever be published. But also during that year, I began listening to podcasts (think downloadable internet radio) and discovered a few authors who were recording and releasing their unpublished manuscripts as free serialized audiobooks. These dudes were getting buzz in the small-but-growing podcasting community.
I smelled an emerging trend and reckoned that if I couldn't sell 7th Son, I could be like these authors and share it. So I chopped up the manuscript into thirds and began recording the first act of that epic story as "Book One: Descent." If people liked the book, I reasoned, I could record the other acts (now books) -- and if they didn't, I wouldn't be committed to recording the full 1,200-page manuscript. Thanks to some savvy zero-budget marketing by me, and a whole heckuva lot of evangelism by my fans, my audience grew into the tens of thousands. I released the 7th Son trilogy from 2006 to 2007.
I leveraged that audience size and enthusiasm to snag an agent. Eventually, I connected with St. Martin's Press and we banged out a deal for Descent, the first novel in the series. It hit bookstore bookshelves last week, and is selling well. The trilogy has also been optioned by Warner Bros.; it is now in development with the producers of The Lord of the Rings saga.
MH:Your podcast is a huge internet phenomenon-
MH: Don't deny it.
JCH: I must, lest my crimson cheeks spontaneously combust!
MH: Stop blushing. Exactly how many people have joined your clone army? How does it feel to have such devoted fans? And are any of them interested in dual membership in a clan of vampire librarians? Just thought I'd ask.
JCH:It's hard to say exactly how many listeners 7th Son has had over the years. The first episodes of the 2006 version of Descent have been downloaded more than 50,000 times, so at least that many people have been exposed to the story in some form. The series has had more than 5 million episodic downloads, and still generates around 100,000 episodic downloads each month. I have an online street team called "The Ministry of Propaganda" that's at least 240 members strong, and have about 1,800 folks on my mailing list.
How does that feel? Stupefying and humbling. I never thought this book would find an audience, much less the kind of audience it now has. Numbers aside, my fans are amazing. They evangelize my work to friends, family and strangers ... they cheer me on, and provide invaluable feedback on my work ... and now that Descent is in print, they're supporting the print novel. It's nothing short of miraculous.
We've built a pretty remarkable community around this book, and its characters. Here's an example of how much love and passion exists for 7th Son: One fan purchased 100 copies of my novel. One hundred copies! I don't know what 100 of anything looks like! He did it to support the book, and me as an author. Try to wrap your head around that. And try to think of the last time you heard a Stephen King or Dan Brown fan do something like that.
These folks love my book ... and I love them right back.
MH: Could we talk about some of the guest stars you've scooped up for the podcast? How did that happen? Exactly what sort of bribe would be involved for me to get Nathan Fillion's cell phone number?
JCH: Yes! During the release of the 7th Son trilogy, I invited several celebrities to appear in brief cameos in the podcast. I invited them to read "previously on 7th Son" recaps, and in exchange for their time and effort, they could promote anything they wished.
Yep, the very handsome and dashing Nathan Fillion -- star of the sci-fi show Firefly, and now Castle -- read a recap, as did Battlestar Galactica's Richard Hatch, Firefly's Ron Glass, Farscape's Gigi Edgely, and others. I knew my listeners were hardcore sci-fi fans, and tried to dazzle them week after week with these celebrity cameos. I also had bestselling sci-fi novelists, comic book writers and movie directors come aboard to read recaps. It was a blast.
And no. You can't have Nathan Fillion's phone number. You'll have to do what every other sefl-respecting, smitten, squeeing fangirl does: stalk him.
(Editor's note: I have no problem with that.)
MH: And there are already sequels in the works for 7th Son, right?
JCH: The sequels -- which were originally Acts Two and Three of my original book -- are released as free serialized audiobooks in 2006 and 2007. However, these books have not yet been picked up by my publisher. The company is being appropriately prudent and taking a "wait and see" approach regarding the release of 7th Son: Descent. If Descent does well, the sequels will earn the right to get the print treatment. If Descent is a sales disappointment, things get messy for me.
Did I mention that it's available for sale in bookstores and online?
MH: You have to go about writing in a different way than most authors since most of us are working ahead, writing stuff that won't be published for years. Could you describe how you're working "in the now?"
JCH: Since I have an engaged online fan community that hungers for Hutchins-crafted content, I'm often working on fiction or non-fiction stuff for them to consume. I've written a podcast-exclusive novella and short story anthology to keep my peeps well-fed, and will sometimes release interviews with creative types -- like the one I did with you!
I'm releasing serialized audio fiction via my site right now -- a new recording of 7th Son: Descent's "print edition" manuscript, serialized PDFs of the full novel, and even songs "written and performed" by a character from the book ... all for free. The full text of the novel is also being serialized for free at BoingBoing.net, one of the Top 5 most-popular blogs in the world. I want longtime fans and newcomers to be entertained, and to be empowered to make an informed purchasing decision. Giving it away also ensures 7th Son will be exposed to people who would never have heard of the book, and will generate sales that never would have occurred otherwise.
I'm also currently committed to promoting 7th Son: Descent to anyone who will listen, which pulls me away from writing. In addition to firmly believing that creators are ethically obligated to promote their work, I must vociferously champion this book because it was brought back from the dead ... it shouldn't be in print. The very fact that it is, is ultra-special. I dare not jeopardize the sequels' fate by half-assing my promotion.
It took me seven years to get here. I've got one shot. You can bet that I'm putting my back into it.
MH: Do you consider yourself a sci-fi writer, a horror writer, or "shut the hell up and stop trying to define me by genre" writer?
JCH: I consider myself a thriller writer. I've written novels -- 7th Son and a another book titled Personal Effects: Dark Art -- that can be easily chucked into the sci-fi and horror genres, respectively. But I don't think either novel is firmly steeped in these genres. I try to write fiction that has mainstream sensibilities, that doesn't deep geek on sci-fi elements, and doesn't gross you out with gore.
In fact, there's a lot of genre-blurring in my work, which folks really seem to like. I incorporate investigative procedural elements into my books, a little bit of fright, a little bit of science, a little bit of romance, and a LOT of cliffhangers and thrills. I want you turning those pages, man.
I write books I'd like to read. I'm blessed to say others seem to want to read them, too.
MH: A good number of the people who read this blog are paranormal romance fans, and, also, women. What's in your books for the ladies?
JCH: Some of 7th Son's biggest fans are women, actually. My male readers are always commenting about the plot twists and violence -- and make no mistake, there's plenty of both in my work, R-rated stuff. But my female readers seem to dig the characters and the story's subtext.
In the end, 7th Son: Descent is about seven men who are kidnapped on the same day, and brought to a secret government facility where they learn that they are human clones -- unwitting participants in a government-sanctioned experiment. Not only do they have identical flesh ... they also have identical childhood memories. Worse still, they've been brought together to stop a chaos-hungry psychopath who happens to be the very man they were cloned from.
These clones -- the story's good guys -- reel from these revelations, and each one reacts in a different way. The priest has a crisis of faith, the "everyman" frets over the fact that his life has been a lie, and so on. My female readers seem to really dig how I represented these internal conflicts, and how realistic those reactions seemed to be. And yes, they also enjoy the cliffhangers and the action and suspense.
I honestly didn't think women would gravitate to this book -- especially considering its all-male cast and lack of romance. But they have, and they're some of my biggest supporters.
They might also think I'm cute, or have a sexy "audiobook" voice. But that's probably wishful thinking on my part.
No, wait. That's definitely wishful thinking on my part.
(Editor's Note: JC is, in fact, adorable, and has a very nice voice... except when he's doing his impersonation of this creepy PE teacher he knew in college. And according to this photo, there are like, an extra half-dozen, of him now.)
MH: And now I must ask the question required in all writing blog interviews: Plotter or Pantser?
JCH:I was a Pantser for about half of 7th Son, and became a proto-Plotter for the second half. I'd plot about three chapters ahead, hit the end of my outline, and then plot another three chapters or so. Rinse, repeat.
These days, I'm mostly a Plotter. My daydreamy chili-bowl-haircut inner child bristles at this formality and structure, but I've found that it makes the actual writing process go more quickly for me. There seems to be an efficiency in front-loading a lot of the twists and turns ... but I always give myself plenty of wiggle room for on-the-fly creative decisions.
MH: What's next for you?
JCH: It's promote, promote, promote 7th Son: Descent until 2010. Then I nap. Then I start working on The 33, a free serialized podcast fiction project -- it's another genre-blending thriller: tech, paranormal, magic, action -- and start plotting out another high-tech thriller novel. I also have two screenplay treatments I need to polish for my film agent. I have lots of ideas, and I'm hyena hungry to do this for a living. And the only way to do it, is to do it.
MH:How can people find all this Hutchy goodness online? Please list blogs, websites, amazon links, etc.
JCH: Your awesome readers can find links to my free serialized fiction -- including 7th Son: Descent -- and links to purchase the book at my site, JCHutchins.net.