Interview 2014 – J.C. Hutchins

After the release of his novel in France, Personal Effects: Dark Art, an interview with J.C. Hutchins.

My review (in French) of: Chambre 507

Ritual question to start my interviews, can you define you in three words, just three?   

Child at heart. 🙂

You are a true jack-of-all-trades, working through various media. How would you define your work?

I’ve written several conventional novels, but I also work in a field called “transmedia storytelling” — sometimes called cross-media storytelling. At its simplest, transmedia uses multiple media in unconventional ways to deliver immersive, cohesive narratives. My work in this field usually merges familiar storytelling techniques and media with innovative elements such as online interaction, telephony, live events and more.

I’m often recruited by marketing or entertainment companies to help conceive the stories for these immersive projects, and then help write them.

You mentioned being a jack of all trades. That’s very important in this field! It’s necessary to know the strengths of different storytelling media, so you know how to apply them to multimedia stories. For instance: complex expositions are best-left to text, but text can never capture a moment as exquisitely as a photograph. And photos can’t deliver the urgency of video or audio. Knowing what media to use when is an important part of conceiving and creating transmedia experiences.

What are the main differences between writing a novel and writing a story that will be put in pictures?

This goes back to the topic of knowing the strengths of each medium — and their weaknesses! Writing a novel permits the author (and reader) to explore the internal side of stories and characters. Novels allow us to peek inside characters’ minds and learn their pasts, quirks and personalities through flashbacks or internal thoughts. In a novel, a character can glance at a bottle of beer, and suddenly — kapow! — we’re in his mind, learning about his personal story, his childhood, his complex thoughts about how this beer bottle reminds him of his abusive drunken mother, and how that relationship has impacted his romantic life as an adult. Even though she’s been dead for 20 years, Mom still haunts his daily life. That sort of thing.

In contrast, writing a story that unfolds in a visual medium (with no complementary text) cannot depend on that convenient peek inside characters’ minds, or other details provided by an omniscient narrator. Instead, these stories must express that information visually. The best films and TV shows do this with visual symbolism, something that can be very tricky to do elegantly. For instance, when a woman bites into an apple in a movie, the scene isn’t about her relieving her hunger. Her actions are evoking a myth that’s very familiar to many of us — and tells us something about her, or where the story is going.

These respective media have their respective strengths, and all are wonderful art forms in which to tell stories. As novelist Stephen King once said, “Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They’re both delicious, but taste completely different.”

      Original cover                              French cover

In this novel, you leave a great deal of interpretation to the reader, as to make him doubt continuously. Was it a goal in itself?

Absolutely. The first line of the novel is, “If by some miracle I survive my twenties, I am certain I’ll look back on today and think, ‘This was the day I began to lose my mind.'” That’s a sign that the protagonist’s view of the upcoming events may not be completely trustworthy — or at the very least, that the upcoming events might be so strange and unusual, they may not be believed by a rational person.

When I worked on Personal Effects: Dark Art, one of my goals was to create plot twists and scary moments that could be interpreted as either natural or supernatural phenomena. Is the protagonist witnessing dreadful supernatural events, or misinterpreting moments with perfectly rational causes? That uncertainty was intended to create a sense of paranoia in the story’s characters, and hopefully in the reader.

You get incredibly well to create an atmosphere of fear in this novel. Not easy to create such an atmosphere just with words, right?

Thank you for saying so! I tried very hard to make Personal Effects a frightening book — not a horror novel. I’m honored that you felt I succeeded!

Yes, creating an atmosphere of fear and dread can be very hard in a text-only narrative. You don’t have “spooky lighting” and scary music to lean on, like you do in cinema!

I find a lot of value in settings. I try to make my stories’ settings memorable, with histories and personalities all their own — just like any other character in a story. In Personal Effects, the location of Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital has a terrible history, one that seems to breathe with dread. The fact that the mental hospital resides underground in an abandoned rock quarry suggests just how isolated and surreal the place can become. If a location like that can believably exist within a novel, what other terrible things might lurk in the pages?

Also, I enjoy “the descent” — ripping a character away from his normal life, and thrusting him into an experience he can’t easily understand or believe. This happens to the protagonist in Personal Effects: he starts the story as a skeptic, but soon encounters people and sees things he can’t explain with a skeptic’s mind. That descent — and the inevitable questioning of reality and sanity that accompanies it — really helps contribute to a feeling of fear.

With the beginning of the novel and exchanges between art therapist and patient suspected of murder, one can draw a parallel with The Silence of the Lambs. Did you voluntarily have fun playing on this combination?

Yes. I consider those scenes in Personal Effects to be my personal salute to The Silence of the Lambs — a kind of “thank you” for the great story it represents. Both the Thomas Harris novel and Jonathan Demme film made a huge impact on me as a storyteller. Another Harris novel that deeply affected and inspired me was Red Dragon, the first novel in the Hannibal Lecter book series.

A few words about your past accomplishments and future projects?

I’ve helped craft some fun, award-winning transmedia narratives for companies like 20th Century Fox, A&E, Cinemax, Discovery, FOX Broadcasting and Infiniti. I’m also known for 7th Son, my trilogy of technothriller novels.

My current creative endeavor has returned me to my prose fiction roots. It’s called The 33. It’s an episodic short story series with recurring characters, told over TV season-like arcs. Some of The 33‘s adventures are told over multiple episodes, while others unfold as one-shot stories.

Readers and novelists have hailed it as “damn good,” “a twisted adventure,” and “packed with great writing.” I’m thrilled so many people are enjoying it.

You innovate tremendously in your individual projects. The future of literature must pass through a different way of seeing things, in your opinion?

Yes and no. To be clear, there will always be stories best-told through a single medium. Novels and movies will never, ever go away. But taking a “transmedia approach” to creating stories is certainly worthwhile, and worth considering for storytellers.

Once you realize that nearly every form of communication around us — your phone, a billboard, a mailed letter, a t-shirt, a “tweet” — can be used to contribute to a connected, immersive narrative, that really opens up how we perceive, and experience, storytelling. That’s exciting to me.

This blog is made ​​of words and sounds. Is music involved in your creative process?

Yes, I love listening to music when I write. I find music with lyrics distracting, so I often listen to classical music and film & TV soundtracks.

You have the choice between give us your final word or talk about your favorite dessert …

I will happily tell you about my favorite dessert! Since many of your readers are French, they will probably be unimpressed by my choice, but I love crêpes!

My girlfriend and I lived in Paris for several months last summer. While we were there, I had crêpes for the first time in my life. (Unfortunately, there aren’t many crêperies in the United States.) I fell in love with them! I certainly enjoy crêpes with meats, vegetables and cheeses … but it’s the dessert crêpes that I enjoy the most.

I have had a few crêpes here in the U.S. since I returned from that wonderful trip, but they can’t compare with the excellent crêpes I had while living in Paris. Oh, how I wish to return to France, if only for the crêpes!

Catégories :Interviews littéraires

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  1. Récapitulatif des interviews 2014 | EmOtionS – Blog littéraire et musical

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