A Dark Journey Into A Killer's 'Personal Effects' Have you ever wished you could e-mail or telephone a character from a book you're reading? A new "multiplatform transmedia experience" by authors J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman offers readers the opportunity to do just that.
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A Dark Journey Into A Killer's 'Personal Effects'

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A Dark Journey Into A Killer's 'Personal Effects'

A Dark Journey Into A Killer's 'Personal Effects'

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

So how often can you call up a character from a book you're reading?

(Soundbite of voicemail)

Unidentified Man: Hey, this is Zach Taylor. I'm sorry I've been so hard to get a hold of lately. This Martin Grace case is haunting me in unexpected ways.

(Soundbite of beep)

GREENE: That is the voicemail of Zach Taylor, the protagonist in a psycho thriller novel called "Personal Effects: Dark Art." The novel follows the case of a blind psychic serial killer. But when you open the cover, you find that there's a lot more than just a book inside. You've got case files, birth certificates, insurance cards, even the killer's state ID card.

It all comes with the book, along with phone numbers to call and Web sites you can visit. And this is all part of an effort to take the reader inside the case and much deeper into the lives of its characters.

Joining me now to talk about this book are the two men behind it. J.C. Hutchins is with us from member station WLRN in Miami, Florida. J.C., how are you?

Mr. J.C. HUTCHINS (Co-Author, "Personal Effects: Dark Art"): Hey there. I'm doing great. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: A pleasure. And also Jordan Weisman is joining us from WFYI in Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to you, Jordan.

Mr. JORDAN WEISMAN (Co-Author, "Personal Effects: Dark Art"): Good morning.

GREENE: You know, I opened the book here and in the front cover there's a pouch. And I mean, the stuff that comes along with it, I mean, like, it's, you know, death certificates and ID cards and stuff with phone numbers. I mean, it just piques your curiosity immediately. What is the point? What are you going for with giving us all these extra accoutrements?

Mr. WEISMAN: Well, the concept was to take a story and use the same communication technologies that we interact with our real lives to interact with fiction. And kind of recalling that period, a situation where you pick up a wallet on the street and you want to do the good thing - you want to return it to the person who lost it, but you feel kind of dirty just looking through it.

There's nothing more voyeuristic than looking through someone's pockets or through their wallet. And I wanted to capture that…

GREENE: Well, as one your readers, thank you for making me seem voyeuristic. I really appreciate that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: I felt like sort of a weirdo.

Mr. WEISMAN: Well, there's a lot of energy in that feeling, right? 'Cause all of a sudden these characters aren't remote, right? These characters are much more real now 'cause they're in your world. You're holding the contents of their wallet in your hand. You can call them on the phone, you can email them and get responses. You know, you're in the same world they are and it makes the story much more immediate.

GREENE: J.C. Hutchins, you did the writing - and let's stick to the words for just a moment - a passage sort of struck me on page 41. We're in the mental hospital. Zach Taylor is sort of treating someone who's a prisoner. In fact, kind of set the scene for us if you can. Introduce us to the characters.

Mr. HUTCHINS: Well, Zach Taylor is a young and optimistic art therapist working at Brinkvale Psychiatric - this hopeless mental institution in New York State. The building wasn't built up like most buildings were - it was built down into an abandoned brownstone quarry.

And here Zach Taylor is meeting, probably for the first time, Martin Grace, his psychosomatically blind patient who is a suspected serial killer.

GREENE: And Martin Grace actually speaks to Zach Taylor. And I think we have and actor reading some of what the patient tells the therapist here.

Unidentified Man: I can't see you, Mr. Taylor, but I already know you, Martin Grace said. I smelled the stink of fear when you opened that door. Just look at you and your youth and your oh-so-comfortable clothes, your baggy jeans, your button-down shirt, hanging over an undoubtedly very trendy t-shirt and your old windup watch - an heirloom from a dead relative?

GREENE: Okay. So that's Martin Grace, the patient sort of freaking out the therapist, Zach Taylor. I'm sort of feeling "Silence of the Lambs" here. I mean, Clarice talking to Hannibal Lecter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUTCHINS: Well, it was certainly an inspiration, no doubt. I think that the fundamental difference that we wanted to bring to Martin was that unlike Hannibal Lecter and "Silence of the Lambs," who is giving Clarice a lot of helpful information about the case that she's working on, Martin Grace doesn't want help at all.

So he is, you know, doing everything he can to shove Zach Taylor away. In that particular scene, I mean, Zach Taylor comes away kind of reeling and completely at a loss.

GREENE: And Jordan, you actually take the world well beyond this story. I mean, I was fascinated. You know, there are a lot of Web sites and blogs that you can go to. Did you guys feel like that gives readers something more? I mean, adds to the experience?

Mr. WEISMAN: I think it does. Because the reading of the book is a vicarious experience. And then there's a subtle transition into a first-person experience, into where you're now going to take on the detective role yourself and solve things that our protagonist, Zachary Taylor, didn't solve.

His goal is not to solve the crime; his goal is to help his patient. If the reader wants to push forward beyond the book, into all of this trans-media content, they can solve the crime.

GREENE: So can you guys tell me how to solve it? You want to just point me to…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: …the silver bullet here? I need to figure out how to solve this thing. Thank you guys for talking about this.

Mr. WEISMAN: Oh, it's pleasure.

Mr. HUTCHINS: Thank you.

GREENE: We've been talking to J.C. Hutchins, who's joining us from member station WLRN in Miami, and his co-author, Jordan Weisman, who was with us from WFYI in Indianapolis. And their new book is "Personal Effects: Dark Art." Just read it with the lights on.

You can also peruse some of the personal effects included in Hutchins' and Weisman's novel, and read an excerpt at the new NPR.org, where you can also explore more dark tales through our Crime in the City series.

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