Sci-fi writer embraces new media in his novels

Stephani Stacy

J.C. Hutchins left WKU 10 years ago with the goal of becoming a magazine writer, but his life evolved the same way as his career as a science-fiction writer: unpredictably.

Hutchins visited WKU last week to give several lectures about his career as a multimedia writer.

So far he has published two science-fiction thrillers, “Personal Effects: Dark Art” and “7th Son: Descent,” which was first released as a podcast series.

Hutchins called “Personal Effects: Dark Art,” an interactive experience for the reader. The front half of the book is filled with tangible clues which the reader can use to solve the mystery: documents on faded yellow paper, a driver’s license, even a credit card.

Hutchins said his book is unique in that it transcends the gap between generations – those who grew up with only print media, and those who don’t remember a time without the Internet.

“People who are more online-savvy had a great time unearthing the extra information about the story. And the people who didn’t were like, ‘These are some nice little props, but I’m just going to read the book,'” Hutchins said.

Hutchins attended WKU from 1994 to 2000 and majored in print journalism. As a folk studies minor, he said he was constantly reminded, as a social observer, not to judge those being observed.

“That’s what folk studies taught me: never to judge, to be very observant and to soak up stories,” Hutchins said.

English professor Mary Ellen Miller said Hutchins was very imaginative.

“He has natural talent and a commitment to that talent, which are two things you need for success,” Miller said.

Hutchins said that he had trouble finding a publisher for “7th Son: Descent” at first. He decided if he couldn’t sell the book, he would share it, having noticed an emerging trend of frustrated authors releasing their novels as podcasts.

He said the first episode of “7th Son” podcast series has been downloaded more than 50,000 times. He said he felt these statistics validate the choice to podcast rather than print his work.

Erika Brady, a folk studies professor who had Hutchins in class, said she didn’t really know how creative he was when he was her student, but it doesn’t surprise her.

“It takes a tremendous amount of work and ingenuity and a certain amount of luck,” she said. “Chris has made his own luck.”

Hutchins said he enjoys working with all kinds of new media. For example, he has taped fake newscasts to enhance the reality of his fiction.

“I helped create a slightly different, alternative reality that is so familiar to us that we can believe in it,” Hutchins said.

Hutchins attributes his success as a “transmedia storyteller” – what he calls his current occupation – to following up on his curiosity, something that he said he would advise all WKU students to do, regardless of their chosen field.

“Taking action on idle curiosity can bring a meaningful experience to your life,” Hutchins said.