J.C., Hutchins´ pen name and alter ego, pipes a peppy greeting into a microphone hooked up to his Mac computer.
¨Hey, guys!¨ he begins, barefoot, dressed in a schleppy ensemble of yellow T-shirt meets khaki shorts. He´s talking to an online audience of more than 20,000 science-fiction enthusiasts (a number based on the downloads of individual audio files).
Podcasting has, of course, democratized the haute culture world, allowing amateurs to hit the airwaves, shipping their prose, ramblings, music, and movies into cyberspace. It´s all free for playback on personal computers and portable players like Apple´s iPod.
After a grueling year of shopping his first novel to agents, Hutchins opted to podcast.
There´s a list of a few dozen agents on a dry erase board on the wall above his Mac. Most of the names are marked by big red X´s, indicating rejection. Just one has a green smiley face next to it -- she´s the agent who requested a manuscript only to never respond again.
Hutchins, 32, isn´t sure why he´s left those names scrawled up there for two years. Maybe it keeps him humble as he sits near the pinnacle of the burgeoning podcast book world, with thousands listening to his 7th Son trilogy. Five years ago, Hutchins cast aside a budding journalism career to work on a novel. The idea for 7th Son had started germinating in Hutchins´ head in 2000. As a feature writer for the Palm Beach Post, he had gone to interview West Palm Beach-based comic book publisher Tim Mitchell, who convinced the cub reporter to create a comic book. It seemed like a good idea. Among his many internships, Hutchins had put in time at Wizard Magazine, which covers the comic book world. The average Joe might fantasize about meeting actors such as Angelina Jolie, Hutchins says, but for him, getting to know chubby comic creators was a dream come true. He´s a self-confessed closet geek. Of course, a real, honest-to-goodness supergeek would dive into animated debates about whether Batman could beat Superman in a no-holds-barred grappling match. Hutchins just likes to listen in.
In his spare time, Hutchins came up with a zombie comic tale. Then he dreamed up a superhero team of clones who shared the memory of a World War II veteran.
He ultimately discovered that the comic book format wasn´t for him, though it got him thinking in terms of stories. He decided to use written text for his next one. The clone concept stuck around, but Hutchins couldn´t decide why the genetic brethren would come together. Then -- like a thunderbolt -- it hit him. The men are searching for their progenitor, who has lost his sanity. ¨That idea sat in my head for about a year, like a one-man marching band,¨ Hutchins says, ¨and I felt like I had to write this story.¨
Meanwhile, his mojo was being wasted on the daily newspaper grind. He´d need all the energy he could muster to crank out the novel. So he quit the job.
Hutchins´ former editors at the Palm Beach Post don´t remember hearing about the book. ¨Write after work is what I would have told him,¨ says Dan Neal, special-sections editor for the paper´s features department. ¨That´s a pretty big gamble to leave a fat and happy job to write a book.¨
Writing 7th Son took more than two years, twice as long as Hutchins had anticipated.
Eleanor Brown, Hutchins´ live-in girlfriend and a middle school English teacher, read all 1,300 pages as it progressed. ¨She [Brown] was invaluable, especially in the beginning,¨ Hutchins says, remembering the insecurities that dogged him. ¨Is what I´m writing not crap? Somebody tell me I´m not crazy. There´s a part of your mind that says: You´re gonna be a star -- it´s brilliant -- your girlfriend tells you so.¨
Brown helped trim the tome to a slightly more palatable 1,000 pages. Still, it´s three times longer than most literary agents recommend that a first-time author undertake. Ultimately, Hutchins organized it into three parts.
After months of pitching agents, though, Hutchins came to the dispiriting conclusion that 7th Son would never get published. In early 2006, he decided to podcast his prose. ¨I thought he was giving his work away for free,¨ Brown says.
But Hutchins found a mentor in Evo Terra, coauthor of Podcasting for Dummies and a founder of Podiobooks.com, a website that distributes more than 100 podcast titles. ¨Most authors want to write words and fight with their editors,¨ Terra says via phone from his home state, Arizona. ¨They don´t want to deal with daunting back-end stuff like bandwidth. We say, forget all your options -- here´s what you need so people can listen to it.¨