Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Voices of New Media: Author & Podcaster Matthew Wayne Selznick

Matthew Wayne Selznick is a firm believer in doing things yourself…and, he practices what he preaches. He’s an author, podcaster, publisher and musician and the end result of all his creative endeavors can be found online at his website, www.mattselznick.com. I was first introduced to Matthew Wayne Selznick through Mur Lafferty’s podcast I Should Be Writing where he was discussing, among other things, his novel “Brave Men Run – A Novel of the Sovereign Era.” That’s where I started, so why don’t we?

“Brave Men Run – A Novel of the Sovereign Era” is, according to Selznick, “The Breakfast Club meets X-Men.” While it doesn’t have capes or Judd Nelson, it does have people with extraordinary powers and a cast of characters who are mostly in their teens. Its also one of the best written fictional accounts of what its like to be different in the biggest popularity contest there is, high school. Thanks to the writing in “Brave Men Run,” the main character, Nate Charters' experiences on the page read like they’re experiences off the page. They breathe and are full of a life spent reflecting on what it means to be different and who you are because of it. Matthew Wayne Selznick has managed to capture the essence of what it means to live an outsiders life just at the point where all of the things that made you different suddenly thrust you into the spotlight for better and for worse.

For “Brave Men Run – A Novel of the Sovereign Era”, Selznick has chosen to independently publish his work in several formats simultaneously and forgo the more traditional author/agent/publisher model. Along with the traditional print form of the novel, “Brave Men Run” was also released as an e-book, an audiobook and as a podcast novel read by the author himself. While the book, audiobook and e-book are for sale at Lulu.com and Payloadz.com respectively, the podcast novel version is available absolutely free of charge through Podiobooks.com…and if you like what you hear, you can always leave a donation for Matt at Podiobooks.com.

Similar to other authors who have chosen a podcast novel as a method to make their work available to a wider audience, Matthew Wayne Selznick has much more on his plate in the realm of podcasting. He’s also the host of Writers Talking, a live podcast where along with other authors, he discusses topics relating to the craft of writing. Even though Selznick is himself an author, he often times will ask the simple question which other interviewers tend to overlook. Through these questions he manages to get useful and oftentimes insightful answers as to the how’s and why’s of writing instead of just what happens after the author has written.

The Writers Talking podcast is hosted at Talkshoe.com, which allows not only the host and authors to take part in the discussion, but also any number of fans and listeners that sign in. After an in-depth interview segment, Selznick opens up the chat room and phone lines to anyone listening in with a question or comment. Talkshoe.com, in addition to hosting the podcast session, also compensates Writers Talking for each live listener and subscriber to the podcast. Matthew has chosen to donate 50% of any proceeds from his Writers Talking podcast, including donations, to 826 National, a group of nonprofit organizations that, in essence, help school age children learn the craft of writing.

In addition to Writers Talking, Matthew Wayne Selznick created and contributed to the first season of Five Minute Memoir. In a concept similar to that of NPR’s StoryCorps without the two party interview, contributors to Five Minute Memoir give listeners a look into the defining moments of their lives by retelling the stories that helped shape them into who they are today. From individual tales of people finding themselves employed as the low man on the totem pole in the vast Regan-era military machine to the very simple lesson of telling someone you love them while you still have the chance, Five Minute Memoir is some of the most compelling, moving and ultimately honest work ever shared with an audience.

If that weren’t enough, there’s also Scribtotum, Selznick’s personal blog, Sonitotum, Scribtotum’s companion podcast, and the DIY Endeavors podcast which features mostly musical tracks from independent artists who are trying to do music and the business of music their own way. On top of all of that, or perhaps because of it, Matthew Wayne Selznick endures a daily commute in excess of eighty miles each way to the offices of Mahalo.com, “the world's first human-powered search engine” where their “goal is to hand-write the top 20,000 search terms” on the internet. So not only does he do it all himself, he works for a company that does too.

Matthew Wayne Selznick is very much about doing it yourself and “DIY” plays a large part in all of his creative outings. At the top of his homepage, just under the welcome message, there’s a section called “Living The DIY Ethic” and if you look off on the sidebar, you can follow a link to what might just be the most telling thing about Matthew Wayne Selznick, his beliefs. As they’re listed, they are:

Each is followed by a short explanation to put them in context, but the titles are pretty much self-explanatory. So what does it all mean? Judging solely from his work, his words and his actions relating to both, Matthew Wayne Selznick is something of a visionary who doesn’t believe that just because something is the way it is, it has to stay that way. He has taken it upon himself to be one of the first to blaze a trail through the way things have been done to the way things could be done…and for that, we’re all better off.

FYI - If you find yourself interested in Matthew Wayne Selznick, this is really an opportune time to find out more about him. He has recently announced that for the remainder of 2007, he is taking a hiatus from podcasting in order to publish his follow-up to “Brave Men Run – A Novel of the Sovereign Era,” entitled “Pilgrimage - The Dawn of the Sovereign Era.” This will be another multi-format release, but this time with a twist since the podcast novel version of “Pilgrimage” will be a full cast audio drama, a first for Selznick. His hiatus gives you a few solid months to listen to “Brave Men Run – A Novel of the Sovereign Era” and all of the archived episodes of Writers Talking, Five Minute Memoir, Sonitotum and DIY Endeavors. So take your time, listen to a great book, some great interviews and some amazing stories…and by the time you’re done, Matthew Wayne Selznick will be back with “Pilgrimage” and more of his great work

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Voices of New Media: J.C. Hutchins - Author of 7th Son

The President of the United States is dead. He was murdered in the morning sunlight by a four-year-old boy…
J.C. Hutchins

…And so begins 7th Son, one of the most entertaining, action packed and well written series you’ll never find in a book store…at least not yet. 7th Son is the brainchild of author J.C. Hutchins. The reason you won’t find it in a book store is because the author has decided to release the trilogy as a series of episodic podcasts available through his website, www.jchutchins.net, and through Podiobooks.com. Originally conceived and written as a single story, the author has split the tale into three pieces: Decent, Deceit and Destruction. Each of those pieces is split into several episodes containing a chapter or two of the story as a whole, and what a story it is.

Seven seeming strangers are abducted and forced work together in a beyond top-secret government installation to try and save the world from the evil plans set in motion by the shadowy John Alpha. As the seven begin to work together, they start to realize they may be closer to him than they think, but also that time is running out for them, and the rest of the civilized world. They have to find John Alpha and stop him. The story takes you, as the listener, all over the globe in the search for John Alpha and introduces you to seven of the most similar yet amazingly unique characters an audio drama has ever seen. 7th Son is full of nonstop action and plot twists from its opening minutes and never lets up through its last episodes. In this work of epic scale, Hutchins manages to bring together the best aspects of the thriller genre and mix it together with a political conspiracy liberally seasoned with mad scientist pulp. If it were in print, it would be a book you simply couldn’t put down.

You may be thinking that since this is a podcast and not a big-budget audio production, how good could it be? Well, as I’ve said before, I love audiobooks and I devour them. I’ve probably listened to hundreds of titles so far and 7th Son ranks as one of the best I’ve heard. J.C. Hutchins, in addition to writing the work, is the voice talent for the 7th Son podcast. As the reader, he seems to effortlessly manage the difficult task of giving all his characters their own unique voice and not just reading the words he wrote from the page. The podcast is excellently produced by Shawn Bishop of The Dividing Line Broadcast Network, has musical chapter cues and even features its own theme music written by Celldweller. So that chalks up to being entertaining, well written, well read and sounding great. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The podcast and Podiobook versions of J.C. Hutchins novels have thousands of subscribed listeners, figuratively tuning in to each new episode release. Thanks to its own popularity and the seemingly ceaseless promotion by its creator, 7th Son has been featured both in print and on the web at venues such as Boing Boing, Mac User and the New Times. While that may be impressive, J.C. Hutchins has not only been covered by several New Media outlets, but also by such Old Media mainstays as The New York Times. In addition to that, the peers of the 7th Son podcast have given it their own brand of recognition and praise, as it has twice been nominated for a Parsec Award and twice won at the Podcast Peer Awards.

As if all of that weren’t enough, J.C. Hutchins’ 7th Son has taken on a bit of a life of its own at the author’s website. The podcast novel has spawned both the Ministry of Propaganda and the Beta Clone Army of fans. The Ministry of Propaganda is the equivalent of a Street Team for the novels. In a fun twist on the traditional Street Team, members are issued promotional challenges by Natasha, the voice of the Ministry of Propaganda. By completing these challenges, they then have the opportunity to win actual 7th Son swag and some have even won the opportunity to appear on the 7th Son podcast and relate “The Story So Far…” In doing so, they find themselves in rather distinguished company as this feature of the podcast has been read by actors and authors with names like Nathan Fillion, Richard Hatch, Ron Glass, Alan Dean Foster, Nick Sagan and Kevin J. Anderson just to name a few. The Beta Clone Army is made up of fans who have thrown their support behind J.C. Hutchins by pointing their browsers over to Geeklabel.com and purchasing a 7th Son themed shirt…especially the particularly fashionable Beta Clone # shirt where fans are issued their own unique Beta Clone ID number. The new Beta Clones can then submit a picture of themselves wearing the shirt and have the image posted on the Beta Clone Army webpage, and often times named in the podcast itself.

So that’s 7th Son, a brilliant little idea that has found a devoted audience through unconventional means. J.C. Hutchins has the amazing gifts of being able to write a great story and find it a market in any way, and in as may ways as possible. If you’re a fan of a great story, I can’t recommend the 7th Son trilogy enough. The same goes for if you’re looking for a great podcast or just something to take up space on your iPod and kill a half and hour here and there. The series is worth a listen and J.C. Hutchins is worth keeping an eye on because it won’t be long before you’re picking up his next novel in the bookstore of your choice.

PS – If you were wondering how I knew so much about the Beta Clone Army…I’m Beta Clone #185.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Voices of New Media: Author & Podcaster Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty is a force of nature. How else could you characterize a woman who manages to write, host and produce several simultaneous podcasts, write freelance pieces for all manner of publications, write original short stories, write novels of original fiction, hold down a full time job and find the time to be a wife and mother? That list alone is enough to make me tired, much less do it...but Mur Lafferty does all of it, and does it well.

I first found Mur through www.podiobooks.com where I stumbled upon her podcast novel Lessons from a Geek Fu Master. Forty essays later, I felt compelled to look up more information about the person who had just implied that the Food Network’s own Alton Brown was bent on world domination, clued me into to what a “Geekgasm” was and let me listen in on what can best described as the hardest decision a gamer ever had to make…City of Heroes or World of Warcraft. So after a Google search, I managed to find Geek Fu Action Grip, one in what I would soon learn was a veritable plethora of Mur Lafferty related sites on the web. Geek Fu could best be described as Mur’s personal podcast and blog, although in her most recent episodes of what has come to be called the Geek Fu Morning Show, she has been sharing the podcasting duties with one of her best friends and LuLu.TV co-worker Jason Adams. LuLu.TV would be her afore mentioned full time job, where she and Adams also co-host a videocast by the name of This Day In Alternate History. Geek Fu Action Grip was also where the experiment that would become Heaven was initially podcast.

Heaven is another of Mur Lafferty’s several podcasts. It started out as an experimental idea to see if a story she had about the afterlife could be done as a serialized podcast. That idea lasted twelve episodes, turned into a twelve episode second season called Hell, a twelve episode third season called Earth…and there are plans for two additional seasons of which season four is currently being written. Heaven, the series, follows two Earthly friends, Kate and Daniel, in their travels through and adventures in the afterlife. As the series continues, the characters of Kate and Daniel become more and more real through excellent writing and as a listener you are able to easily slip into their universe thanks to the wonderful audio production on Mur’s part. Similar to my experience with Lessons from a Geek Fu Master, I went looking for more by this talented writer and, again, wasn’t disappointed.

Mur Lafferty’s other podcast and blog, yes there’s another one, can be found at www.ishouldbewriting.com and is appropriately enough entitled, I Should Be Writing. It is, according to Mur at the beginning of every podcast, a “Podcast for want to be fiction writers by a want to be fiction writer.” While she is clearly a fiction writer, given the success of the Heaven series, Mur bases her “want to be” status on a professional standard of sales and revenue per word. This podcast has been running since 2005 and has booked over seventy episodes, including special edition daily shows and interviews. With I Should Be Writing, the listener is invited on an all access trip through the issues a writer faces as she tries to write, secure an agent and publish her first novel. Split into three sections, I Should Be Writing first gives us Mur’s personal progress on writing and the other issues she has as a result. The second section of the podcast deals with a topic related to writing, both in general and as a career choice. Topics from villains to query letters are regularly discussed in an easy to understand and un-intimidating way that allows the information offered up to be accessible to the widest possible audience. The third section is set aside for listener questions and comments received via voicemail and email.

With regard to her listeners, Mur Lafferty has taken accessibility to a place to where few people in the public eye dare to go. Anyone familiar with writer, director and actor Kevin Smith knows that his web-presence is nothing short of astounding given his visibility. However, it may very well be dwarfed by Lafferty’s presence on the web. After every podcast of I Should Be Writing, Geek Fu and the Heaven series, not to mention posted everywhere on all of her websites, Mur’s email address, voicemail number and website addresses are freely made available and listeners are encouraged to leave feedback, which they do and which is often addressed on I Should Be Writing itself or via an email from Mur. As a recent, and semi-frequent, submitter of these emails, I can personally vouch for this gifted and patient author’s willingness to help those in need.

While Geek Fu Action Grip, Heaven, Hell, Earth and I Should Be Writing immediately seem as if they would be more than enough to fill anyone’s plate, Mur Lafferty has also found the time for a few other projects. One was to publish a book by the name of Tricks of the Podcasting Masters with Rob Walch that is readily available on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. Highlighting “tricks” and methods revealed through several interviews, both Lafferty and Walch convey podcasting professional’s advice to those interested in podcasting. Then there are the submission to no less than nine different publications including Knights of the Dinner Table, PC Gamer and SciFi Magazine. Oh, and even before all that there are the numerous contributions to several roll-playing game titles by Zeitgeist, Hogshead and White Wolf Publishing.

How one person can do so much and stay sane, much less coherent enough to continuously push out new and engaging material is well beyond my ability to comprehend, but Mur Lafferty does…and having listened extensively to all of the podcasts mentioned here, she does so amazingly. From her engrossing fiction in Heaven to her warm and honest advice in I Should Be Writing, Mur Lafferty proves herself as one of the brightest voices in new media today. My sincerest hope is that old media, ala the current print and entertainment powerhouses, can move beyond their current paradigms and recognize a voice that represents the future instead of just being afraid of it. If anyone deserves the recognition, it’s Mur Lafferty.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Podcasting 101 - Why aren't you listening?

OK kids, as you may or may not know Onthepod.net was originally conceived as a place for music reviews…heck it even says so right underneath the title. If you’ve been visiting for a while, you know that I've occasionally ventured away from my iPod to the Movies or even those barbaric book things. However, as I’m sure you'll be surprised to learn, because Onthepod.net is rather small, record labels don’t send me free music to review. The good news is that I’m a junkie when it comes to anything I consider to be good music but the bad news is that I’ve only got so much disposable income to play with. I will admit to trying to find a more cost effective manner in which to procure new music, but as my willingness to fund the Russian mob’s music download sites has waned and the though of paying the RIAA $222,000 for the privilege of reviewing their artists now seems like less of a perk than it once did, I find myself with less and less new music to listen to and, in turn, review. Not to mention there just hasn’t been a whole lot of new music released lately that I even like.

So with that little diatribe out of the way, I can continue on to the point. As my previous non-Twittered post states, the well ran dry and I was left with not a lot to listen to. As such, I found myself revisiting one of my own older posts that ran along the lines of Podcasting. What is podcasting you ask? Well podcasting is more of an idea than a physical thing. The idea being that if you’ve got something to say, a microphone, a computer and an internet connection you can reach as many people with your words as will listen. It puts the power in the hands of an individual with an idea and takes it away from the major broadcasters who believe that said idea doesn’t fit into their format. Technically, I guess that a podcast is a thing too, in that at the end of the day you have an audio file that you can post and others can download and listen to at their leisure. If you haven’t guessed, I’m a convert…and I’m not the only one.

As a self-admitted liberal geek, I listen to a lot of National Public Radio. As it turns out, NPR has fully embraced the idea of podcasting their broadcast shows in order to have them reach a wider audience. Want an example? Well, you’re going to get one anyway so you might as well just go with it. Lets say you, like myself, like to listen to NPR on Saturdays. You start your mornings with Car Talk and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and listen all the way through A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday night. Up North, you used to listen to Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know but your new local Charlotte NPR affiliate doesn’t carry it. What do you do? You can now hop online or into iTunes and subscribe to the Whad’Ya Know podcast which will let you download an hour of the show, usually a day after it airs every weekend. Want to know the best part, other than you can now listen to it whenever and wherever you want? It’s FREE, 100% abso-stinking-lutely free! Keep in mind that this example is for a more mainstream show that’s already “out there” in the public consciousness, not to mention that all the other NPR shows I mentioned are also available as free podcasts. So you say NPR is to mainstream, too right or too left leaning for your particular political persuasion? That’s fine, because there’s so much more that’s available if you just look. Political, entertainment, social commentary, educational; it’s all out there just waiting for you to find it.

As I must have mentioned about a million times here at On the pod.net, I love audiobooks. In the past, I’ve always pimped Audible.com as a great source for them…and it is, but it’s a subscription service that you have to pay for. I recently found a link through a post on either Gizmodo or Lifehacker (or both actually) that led me to www.podiobooks.com. Podiobooks.com offers novel length works, and short stories for that matter, by lesser-known or unknown authors in a serialized podcast format. If you find a story you like, you can subscribe to it in iTunes or your own favorite feedcatcher. If the story is new, you’ll get a new podcast episode ever time one is release. If the story you pick has been completed, you can choose to download the entire thing at once or episode by episode. You, again, also have the opportunity to listen at your leisure and it’s completely free.

I just want to go on record as saying, I Love This Site!

Podiobooks.com does ask, and quite fairly so I might add, that if you like what you’re hearing you consider making a small monetary donation, though I’m sure a large donation wouldn’t be thrown out of bed. Podiobooks does get something for the trouble of hosting the book on their website, but the author gets the majority of any donation you may make. It’s really a win, win situation in that you don’t have to drop $50.00 on an audio book you may or may not like, and if you do like it you can shoot the author a little something, at the very least an email, to let them know you liked what you heard.

I've managed to gleefully work my way through several of the available titles in recent weeks and can report that just as in music, there are some outstanding undiscovered writers in the literary world. Two names that just scream out to be mentioned are Mur Lafferty and J.C. Hutchins, both of whom have several titles available on www.podiobooks.com. Mur Lafferty has written a continuing series by the name of Heaven. There are three seasons of Heaven out now (Heaven, Hell & Earth) with a fourth on the way. J.C. Hutchins has penned a trilogy entitled 7th Son and is currently in the process of wrapping up his podcast of the final volume, Destruction. His previous two books being Descent and Deceit. I was so impressed with their work that I’m planning a few special pieces in the near future to talk about them specifically, so keep checking back.

So if you’ve been wondering what’s new On the pod, after a bit of searching, it ends up being podcasts and Podiobooks by some really talented writers. I urge you to check out www.podiobooks.com, www.murlafferty.com and www.jchutchins.net just to get a taste of what’s available to you out there. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.