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The Confession of a Talismaniac

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I discovered the board game Talisman back in the 90’s, when it was just coming out with its 3rd edition. I had a bunch of friends – henceforth known as “pushers” – who initiated me into the ways of that game with its 2nd edition. We only played once or twice but that was enough to engender a deep and sometimes disturbing addiction.

I eventually got a hold of the 3rd Edition of Talisman, which most of my friends had never seen before. It wasn’t long before we were having regular games of it over at my house once a week – sometimes more often than that. We couldn’t get enough of it. It was like a drug that had grabbed hold of our brains and wouldn’t let go.

Two of the things that made this game so horrifyingly addictive – and still do – are that 1) it’s easy to learn and 2) it has expansions. The game is very accessible and appears to have infinite potential right from the start! For someone like me, that kind of game is nigh-impossible to resist. That’s especially true when you consider its D&D-like fantasy setting and the fact that you’re all playing characters who you can choose to move in any available direction when you roll the die and whose stats you’re trying to improve enough to make it to the final challenge at the center of the board. All qualities that sucked me in like a tornado.

And then of course you have the expansions – separate boards you can enter, whenever you like, to fight different kinds of monsters and earn rewards that help boost your stats in different ways. When the 3rd Edition came out they started making those expansions L-shaped so that they could fit together with the main board – with the exception of a 3-dimensional tower that you could put at the board’s center. That little innovation only served to make the game look that much cooler and, naturally, that much more addictive.

Now, in reality, while the game IS very replayable, after you’ve played a few times you pretty much know what’s going to happen. The players are going to try to build themselves up as fast as they can. The process will inevitably take at least a few hours and will continue until one of the players calculates he or she can’t possibly lose and decides to charge to the center and end the game.

I’ve just described almost every Talisman game I’ve ever played.

Of course, by the time my friends and I discovered that little fact, the game already had its hooks in us, and knowledge of the endless cycle we were now facing didn’t really matter. We still played in marathons that seemed to last days on end as late nights would bleed into early mornings. Then we discovered Drinking Talisman, and it was all downhill from there.

There were no real rules for Drinking Talisman – not the version we came up with, anyway. We’d take a drink whenever somebody won a combat… or was turned into a toad… or crossed into a different region… or pretty much whenever we felt like it. We would all begin chanting “TOAD! TOAD! TOAD!” whenever someone was possibly about to be Toaded – a chant that would only become louder and more elaborate the more inebriated we were. One night after nursing a particularly large bottle of Scotch for a while I started going and lying down in the next room between turns and, despite my drunken stupor, always managed somehow to figure out when it was time to come back and sit down to take my next turn. I’m told that, disturbingly, the only thing different about me on each occasion was that my hair had become wilder and more chaotic every time I returned to the table.

2nd Edition Talisman in play. Photo by Wikipedia contributor "Frecklefoot."

This kind of addiction doesn’t seem to fade. Even though I’ve moved twice – and the game has gone out of print twice – since falling prey to it, I’ve continued to play whenever I can convince my friends to do so. I still wander around online every now and then looking for fan-made add-ons to the game (I highly recommend the Talisman Island site for that, by the way). I try going cold turkey every now and then, but sooner or later I always find myself breaking out the game board in a cold sweat and caressing it lovingly until I can rope someone into playing. There is no hope for me.

The game is now in a revision of its 4th Edition and is currently available from Fantasy Flight Games. I have the original 4th Edition, but I haven’t had a chance to buy anything for the revised version as of yet. Fantasy Flight has already put out three expansions for it and there may be more on the horizon. As you can imagine, I’m chomping at the bit to get a hold of them. Especially if the revisions help with some of the afore-mentioned predictability issues I’ve come to know and loathe over the years.
In the mean time I’ll continue applying house rules and fan material as needed. And alcohol, when desired.

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And Now an Interview with J.C. Hutchins

November 11, 2009 Leave a comment

(The audio of this interview is available at the bottom of this post!)

JR: Welcome to the experience that is Jim – Yes, THAT Jim, the blog that is constantly stumbling over itself trying to figure out what it is.

JCH: I’m just glad I actually know who “that Jim” actually is now!

JR: I’m still figuring it out, really! (laughs) So, first off, I guess for anyone who might not be fully familiar, tell us a bit about the whole 7th Son thing.

JCH: Sure!  I started writing 7th Son way back in 2002.  I began writing a book that I knew was going to be big.  I’m highly influenced by Stephen King – I love the guy and I love his work – and my favorite novel of his is The Stand. That’s not to say that he hasn’t written great books since then, but that’s one of the books that I really love because the stakes are pretty much at their highest in a book like that.  I love high stakes fiction.

JR: Oh yeah!

JCH: And, so I kind of set out to write a story that kind of rivaled his The Stand in length and scope the best I could.  And, you know, have the whole end of the world kind of thing hanging in the balance with my story as well.  And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.  And I finished writing a 1200 page manuscript in 2004, so it took me two years.  Actually it was longer than that, but I then spent the next year, 2005, editing it down to 1200 pages and then sending it out to literary agents because this is how the publishing business works.  You can’t really submit your manuscripts to publishers and editors if you are a nobody.  You need a champion.  You need a middle man.  You need an agent.

JR: Oh yeah.

JCH: And so that’s what I did.  And I received universal rejections because the publishing industry – deservedly so – would not make an exception for a nobody author who had written a 1200 page book that couldn’t be sold.  Because of its length alone.  (chuckles)  So I was kind of heartbroken but during that time I was also listening to podcasting and came across the work of Scott Sigler, who was one of the very first podcast novelists, and he was releasing his unpublished manuscript online in free, audio podcast format, serialized week to week.  And by the end of 2005 I was like, “Well, you know, if I can’t sell this book I might as well share it.”  And that’s when I started recording 7th Son and releasing it on the internet.  The book is a high-tech thriller that takes place in present day and it’s about human cloning, genetics, nature vs nurture, the nature of human identity and a villain apparently hell-bent on global chaos and destruction.

JR: Excellent!  (laughs)  If I may briefly quote here from one of the gentlemen on the back, from Patrick Lussier, “Breakneck storytelling at its absolute best.  Characters – dark, duplicitous, and fascinating – stalk through a rich techscape that’s so real, so plausible, it compels and haunts.”  The “techscape” word really is something I latched onto in my little hindbrain.  What did you do as far as sculpting the world – how did you decide you wanted to start to create that “techscape” as they’re calling it?

JCH: Yeah!  Well, first off, I mean like that is the coolest quote in the world, from Patrick Lussier, one of the coolest guys.  And I have the good fortune of saying I personally know him and have personally met him.  He’s the director of My Bloody Valentine 3-D, White Noise 2, Dracula 2000 – I mean some of my favorite genre pictures he’s done –  edited the Scream trilogy – OMG!  The guy’s just freaking amazing and the nicest man you’d ever meet!  Anyway, he picked up on that – you’ve picked up on that, and that’s something I certainly wanted to build into the 7th Son universe – was that I wanted to make the surface of the 7th Son universe as absolutely pedestrian and normal and as well-rooted in reality as WE are rooted in reality.  But also kind of build just beneath the surface a 60 (at LEAST 60) year legacy of conspiracy theories and clandestine technologies and government arrangements with other countries and stuff that simply is not publicly available and CANNOT be publicly available because it is protected under a super-secret – beyond top secret – classification called Code Phantom.  In the world of 7th Son, only ten people on the planet have access to what is called Code Phantom Clearance and the kind of super secrets that fall under that security clearance.  And really what all this was is I wanted to build a plausible history and mythology that could support the core conceit of my novel, which was not only that human cloning exists but that it has existed for at least 15 years and that in addition to that the ability to record human memories – which is, to me, the key ingredient in a great human cloning story – that that has also existed for 15 years.  And how could a government create a program like that?  And how could it fund it?  And how could that exist without people knowing about it?  And who would want that technology?  And who would be willing to do anything to obtain that technology?  All that stuff.  And that’s kind of like the superstructure or the foundation of this building all kind of funneling up to the core premise which is human cloning isn’t near – it’s already here! (laughs)

JR: Ah, yes!  And we actually heard that quote – we saw that quote in that wonderful promotion that you did where you “hacked” everybody’s blogs.

JCH: Yeah!  That was great!

JR: This very one that people may be staring at, at the moment, included (where I got to do my slightly hamfisted Kilroy2.0 impersonation).  That’s one of the really most innovative things, I think, also about this whole thing – is the way that you’re promoting it.  And that is not just through podcastery but also through this various-blog-hacking stuff.  And the music as well!

JCH: Yeah!

JR: Actually, something that I thought was just a brilliant idea was when you took music written by one of the characters in the book.  Essentially, you decided to put out songs – actual MP3 files of songs that this guy, John Smith, had written.  And I’m just curious – how did you come up with that?

JCH: It just popped in my head!  I like to play “What If?”  It all starts with, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”  And that’s how all of my fiction starts and that’s how all of my promotion ideas start.  And a lot of my promotion is a form of storytelling in its own way.  There’s usually obviously a participatory element, but whenever I can build a mythology into what we’re doing as a community to support 7th Son, I do it.  For instance, the 7th Son Ministry of Propaganda, which is basically an online street team.  I mean, at the beating heart of it, it’s a street team, and there’s nothing really unusual about that.  That’s been going on for years.  But what I did was that the Ministry of Propaganda is being led by a Russian woman named Natasha who is imperious and doesn’t ask you for your help, she COMMANDS you to help!  And so, kind of building a mythology around Natasha, I think, helps people playfully buy into this fake history and have more fun with the experience!  And that’s really what this is all about.  It’s that, yes, I would LOVE if you supported 7th Son by spreading the word, but if it’s a fun experience then you’re 1000 times more likely to do it.

JR: Oh yeah.  And I’ve got to say that I think your stuff has the most awesome extras I’ve ever seen of any author, pretty much!

JCH: Well, you know, in kind of getting it back into the John Smith songs, one of the things I did was I was just kind of sitting there, and *POOF!*  Wouldn’t it be cool if John Smith actually recorded and released some of the song titles that he mentions in 7th Son: Descent?  And these titles are actually mentioned in the text of the book, which was written years and years ago.  And I thought, “Well, yeah, that would be cool.  What would I need to do to do that?”  Well, I’d need to find a musician to collaborate with who could take my notes about the ideas that I had for these song titles and some mythology and history about John Smith and have him write and perform the songs.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I reached out to a dear friend, Matthew Wayne Selznick, who is also a podcast novelist.  Fantastic lyricist and performer, period!  I’ve heard him play acoustic Folk live and it was SO freaking cool!

JR: Yeah, it’s really good stuff!

JCH: Yeah!  And that’s kind of what I did.  And so the whole kind of goal was to, again, create art and create an experience that not only entertains the listener but also kind of draws them into the 7th Son world in an unconventional way.  In a way that enhances their pre-existing knowledge of the book if they’ve already read the book or informs them on what to kind of experience as John as a character if they purchase and read the book.  And it’s also kind of cool because you can actually compare the song list of the EP we recorded and the names of the songs in the book and be able to say, “I have actually listened to that song!”  And how cool is that?

JR: Oh, that’s great.

JCH: I’m releasing those songs on my web site in weekly installments.

JR: Yeah and actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to – after this interview – play one of those songs.  I see we’re almost out of time, here, so I just wanted to go ahead and ask the last question, which I’ve actually shamelessly stolen from another podcast called The Game’s the Thing, because they do awesome work.  And that question is what one fact about you might your fans not know?

JCH: My favorite piece of apparel – that I wear regularly – is my robot boxers.

JR: Ooh! (laughs) So, actual boxers with robots on them?

JCH: Robots.  Robots are awesome.

JR: Robots.

JCH: Robots are awesome.  And whenever I wear these boxers I feel twice as awesome as I would on my best day.

JR: Well, they ARE our future masters so it is good to make sure we pay the proper obeisance to them.

JCH: That’s right!  You know, I’m always smelling emerging trends and I figured I’d get on this train pretty quick.

JR: Well, that’s great! (chuckles) J.C. Hutchins, thank you very much for coming and talking about this.  I really appreciate it!

JCH: Jim, it was my pleasure.  Thank you so much!

Song – Winter Love by John Smith
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Personal Branding (Yeeee… Ha?)

November 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Howdy, partners.

I expect some of y’all are curious about the art o’ Personal Brandin’.  Step on up to the fire-pit and grab a hot iron, if you think you’re ready.  It takes a brave one to do it, but once everybody sees that there emblem on you, the folks’ll flock to you like a flight o’ rabid condors!  It’ll only be a few seconds before you pass out from the pain, so come on!  Who’s first?

Okay, okay, tempted as I am to finish this whole article in character, I’ll drop the accent and get a tad more serious.

I’ve taken a few tentative steps into the wading end of personal branding and will probably need to try sinking or swimming very soon.  Something I’ve been learning is that writers – writers of pretty much anything – need to advertise not only their work, but THEMSELVES.  What that essentially means is that they have to find ways to make themselves memorable to their readership.

Mur Lafferty (author of “Heaven” and “Playing for Keeps”) talks about this fairly frequently on her podcast.  J.C. Hutchins is doing it all over the place – remember him, by the way?  The guy whose Kilroy2.0 character “hacked” this blog and a bunch of others on October 27th to promote the release of “7th Son?”  If you do, then he’s evidently getting it right.

I’m still working on it.  I really need to get in gear, though, since I may very well have a creative project to promote sometime next year (more on that if and when it comes to fruition).  I recently came across an article by the inimitable Miss Destructo that discusses the creation of a personal identity and an accompanying press kit.  All I can say is that when the time comes for me to put a press kit together, I’ll be referencing it heavily!  It also shows that there are clearly a lot of steps I have yet to take in defining my own “brand.”

But, that said, here’s some of what I’ve done so far.  Hopefully it’ll be helpful for someone out there who might just be getting started.

Who is this OtherDoc guy, anyway?

I use the handle “otherdoc” for things like instant messaging services, bulletin boards and various online community sites – basically anywhere that you’re encouraged to go by a cool pseudonym instead of your real name.  I’ve been using it ever since the late 90’s, when I needed to give my then-local ISP a user ID.  “Doc” was already taken, so I went with “otherdoc” instead – and it stuck.  And no, I’m not a real doctor in any sense of the word.  The “doc” aspect was a throwback to my fascination with both Doctor Who and Doc Holliday.  Merge the two and you get a cantankerous smart-alec trying to use his wits to make the universe a better place – which is kind of how I’d like to describe myself – well, an idealized version of myself, anyway.  The “other” aspect, while initially just a way to stand out, has come to represent that sort of “alien” vibe I’m told I tend to give off (if you’ve met me, you probably know what I’m talking about).  It also works nicely as a way for my humility to come out and prod me every now and then, reminding me that I’m not necessarily the idealized “Doc” composite to which I aspire – I’m the OTHER “Doc.”

Regardless of its origin, using the same handle wherever I go means that people will hopefully recognize me no matter what site I’m on.  If you’re picking a handle out for yourself that you’d like to use in a similar way, choose something that you won’t mind being remembered as because you’ll be stuck with it for a long time.

What’s with the eye?

So, you might have noticed that picture of my left eye that appears on my web site, as album art for this blog’s audio files and on virtually every web site and communication service to which I subscribe that allows the use of a personal icon.  Honestly, like my net handle, I stumbled onto the use of that, too.  I had a web camera at one time and tried to get silly and artistic with it.  That photo, showing my left eye in the light and my right eye in shadow, was probably the best of all the ones I took (which probably gives you a good idea of just how pathetic I am at photography).  I’ve used it – or at least the right-most part of it on those occasions when I have to use an icon that’s completely square – as another way people can recognize me.  If they won’t always know me by my face, then by thunder they’ll know me by my eye!

In other words, faces can be forgotten, but if you have some kind of logo – even if it’s just an extreme close-up on one particular feature – people are more likely to remember it.  Maybe not at first, but if you get it out there enough, they will!

Like I said, these are just a couple of small steps.  There’s a lot more for me to do to get where I’ll need to be.  In the mean time, I’d be curious to hear what you folks out there in the digital ether have been doing as a way of branding yourselves?  What do you do to shout your identity to the world?  Don’t be shy – mosey on over to the blog’s comments area and throw down some responses.  We’ll keep the fire-pit ready and the irons hot!

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Music by Kevin MacLeod