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

Aug 14, 2009 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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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.

Hutchings and Weisman's new interactive novel, Personal Effects: Dark Art, follows art therapist Zach Taylor as he struggles to evaluate a blind psychic serial killer. The novel unfolds in traditional chapter form, as well as via a series of "personal effects" that belong to the characters — including business cards, photos and legal documents, which are included in a pouch attached to the book's cover.

"The intent of this is to make the reader more than just a passive ingester of the entertainment, but to become an active participant in the story," Hutchins tells NPR's David Greene. "The idea was to fundamentally blur those lines between fiction and reality."

Further blurring those lines? Additional phone numbers and Web sites — including a blog created by the main character's girlfriend — that allow readers to gather more clues about the story.

Hutchins is credited with writing the novel, while Weisman was responsible for assembling all the extra content.

Weisman likens the experience of exploring the book and its additional offerings to finding a stranger's wallet on the street: "You want to return it to the person who lost it, but you feel kind of dirty just looking through it, because there's nothing more voyeuristic than looking through someone's pockets or their wallet," he explains.

"All of the sudden these characters aren't remote. These characters are much more real now because they are in your world. You're holding the contents of their wallet in your hand. You can call them on the phone; you can e-mail them and get responses," says Weisman. "It makes the story much more immediate."

Because the protagonist is an art therapist, he's not as interested in solving crime as he is in helping his patient. The sleuthing, says Hutchins, is left up to the readers, who are encouraged to gather clues from the book's additional sources.

"The reading of the book is a vicarious experience. And then there's a subtle transition into a first person-experience, where you're now going to take on the detective role yourself and solve things that Zachary Taylor didn't solve," he says.

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