Today’s a day to celebrate, my friends — Tuesday, June 9, 2009 is the day J.C. Hutchins’ “Personal Effects: Dark Art” officially appears on the front tables and end-caps of bookstores all over North America.
Me, I’m celebrating for a few reasons.
First and foremost: J.C. Hutchins is a friend — and I don’t mean just an Internet-friend / see ya on Twitter and Facebook kind of friend, I mean my life is better for his being part of it — and I love to see my friends succeed.
Second: “Personal Effects: Dark Art” is a damn fine book. No, I’m not just saying that because “Hutch” is a buddy. I’d be doing my friend a disservice if I misrepresented my opinion of his work — I’m not his mother; I don’t put everything he does up on the refrigerator door with a gold star. Plus, what good would my own word be if I gave you anything other than my honest opinion? ‘Nuff said.
I had the privilege of reading a pre-release electronic version of “Personal Effects: Dark Art.” The tale could be shelved in the Mystery / Thriller section, but it gradually turns into… something else. J.C. Hutchins wrote the book, the concept and setting is co-designed by alternate marketing and gaming guru Jordan Weisman… the guy who brought you the “I Believe in Harvey Dent” campaign to promote “The Dark Knight” movie.
“Personal Effects: Dark Art” features art therapist Zach Taylor — he’s a young guy, probably not too long out of whatever schooling one must endure to become an art therapist, and Hutchins depicts Taylor’s relative inexperience and youth with a delicate and sympathetic touch. I got the feeling Zach Taylor wasn’t too far removed from being the one in the shrink’s couch.
Taylor works in a facility that’s not unlike an underground version of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum minus the green-haired clown: Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital, otherwise known as the Brink. This is an institute of mental health built into the side of an abandoned quarry — most of the place is actually underground. I’ve visited people in real-world psychiatric hospitals, folks. These places are not fun under the most sunny of circumstances. To build one with no windows takes a creative approach to healing that could only be found in fiction. Thankfully.
After a breakthrough with a patient gets Taylor some publicity, he’s given a new challenge: a blind serial killer. How do you use art to break through someone’s psychosis when the patient can’t even see the canvas? With the pressure on from antagonists in his personal and professional life, Taylor’s got to figure it out.
Naturally, there’s more to the plot of “Personal Effects: Dark Art,” but the idea of an art therapist trying to treat a blind killer several floors below the surface of the earth should be enough to get you going. I mean, seriously… you have to want to know more with a premise like that!
Characters That Live On and Off the Page
The mystery is compelling and thrilling and ultimately disturbing… but none of that stuff works unless you have characters you can care about. Zach Taylor is interesting enough, but Hutchins has taken care to surround him with supporting characters each deserving of their own books. His girlfriend is a hipster computer geek and video game columnist. His brother is a reckless emo-hippie who uses the cityscape as his own personal monkeybars like a skateboarder sans skateboard. Even minor characters like old family friends are defined with selective details that make reading “Personal Effects: Dark Art” an immersive experience I enjoyed a great deal.
An Alternate Reality Experience
Speaking of immersion… the novel is only part of the “Personal Effects: Dark Art” experience. While the text of the book stands on its own, Hutchins and Weisman have created a world that extends beyond the pages and tickles at the edges of our own. The book includes physical documents — “personal effects,” get it? — belonging to the characters. You can hold hospital admission papers, funeral cards, notes and other documents in your hands for a tactile element almost unique in fiction.
It goes beyond that. The book give you opportunities to explore. If a phone number is in the book, try calling it and see what happens. Visit the web sites the characters talk about. Dig around. There’s actually an entire secondary story happening in and around the events of “Personal Effects: Dark Art.” Let youself go far enough down the rabbit hole, and you may end up knowing more than the characters themselves.
Since I read a .pdf edition of the book, I haven’t had a chance to play with the “extra-literary” elements of “Personal Effects: Dark Art.” I’m looking forward to the book showing up in my post office box this week and really going to town.
I want to stress, though: you don’t need to do anything more than read the novel to enjoy “Personal Effects: Dark Art.” The extra stuff is just that — extra. “Personal Effects: Dark Art” is well worth the read, all on its own, and you should go buy it right now.
Like me, J.C. Hutchins’ roots are in the world of podcasting… specifically the subset of podcasters who have released their novels and short stories in podcast form. To help promote “Personal Effects: Dark Art,” Hutch recruited many of the “stars” of podcast fiction to record a little video testimonial — a “vlurb” — and I was honored and pleased to be part of that!
Check it out:
Featured in the video are the following authors in order of appearance:
- Philippa Ballantine — Chasing the Bard, Digital Magic, Weather Child
- Scott Sigler — New York Times bestselling author of: Infected, Contagious, Ancestor
- Seth Harwood — Author of: Jack Wakes Up, Jack Palms 2 & 3, Young Junius
- Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff — Author of: Number One with a Bullet, Shadow Falls, Diary of a Madman
- Christiana Ellis — Author of: Nina Kimberly the Merciless, Space Casey
- Matt Wallace — Parsec Award-winning author of The Next Fix, The Failed Cities Monologues
- James Melzer — Author of: The Zombie Chronicles – Escape
- Stephen Eley — Editor of Escape Pod, and publisher of the horror fiction podcast Pseudopod
- Mark Jeffrey — Author of: The Pocket and the Pendant, The Two Travelers
- Mur Lafferty — Author of: Playing for Keeps, the Heaven series, co-founder of Pseudopod
- Phil Rossi — Author of: Crescent, Tales from the Vault, Eden
- Matthew Wayne Selznick — Author of: Brave Men Run, Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights
Check out all of their work — they’re all incredible talents (even that last guy…) If you want to see more on-screen testimonial from some big-name authors, actors and horror luminaries, you can see a lot more vlurbs on J.C. Hutchins’ website.