Podcasting Earthcore: Scott Sigler Interview

by Vytautas Malesh

This interview was conducted online, and some minor edits have been made for spelling, punctuation, and clarity. At his request, I have retained his AIM screen name should you wish to contact him about his work (whereas I’ve changed mine because I’m a hermit). We spent some time talking about podcasting, Michigan living, and of course – EarthCore.

Vyeto: So lots of press is coming your way about the podcast format and I can’t lie, I do want to talk about that a bit today, but I’m hoping we can also talk about the story itself.

EarthCorePodcast: Ask away my friend

Vyeto: A bit about you first if you don’t mind. You grew up in Michigan, correct?

EarthCorePodcast: Yes

EarthCorePodcast: Cheboygan

Vyeto: Cheboygan! No kidding. You were out in the sticks! And now you’re in San Francisco?

EarthCorePodcast: Yes

Vyeto: Did you move straight there or gradually transition into city life?

EarthCorePodcast: Gradual. Cheboygan to Olivet College, which is even smaller than Cheboygan, then to Ann Arbor, then to San Francisco.

Vyeto: Your novel spans quite a few locations – I imagine that all that bouncing around was helpful in getting a feel for all that – from the big city to the rural west.

EarthCorePodcast: Yes. I moved to Washington state as a kid. I’ve made the drive from Midwest to West Coast nine times in my life, so you see just how big this country really is and you see a lot of story ideas everywhere you go

Vyeto: I noticed the vivid characterization of Utah, of all places, probably most clearly. You really seem to have a grip on the land and culture. Did you spend any time in the Land of the Mormons?

EarthCorePodcast: Not much. A few days when I drove through. It’s a beautiful state

Vyeto: So most of that comes from book and interview research then?

EarthCorePodcast: Yes. Utah has a fascinating history.

EarthCorePodcast: There’s a massive amount of data available and all the mining history is available as well, I drew heavily from that.

Vyeto: You really seem to have done your homework on the mining, and you mentioned in your interview with Austin Podcast something of the scope of your research. How much work did you put into that, and how much of that was your own personal interest versus what you did specifically for this project?

Vyeto: In other words, in the course of writing this book, how much time did you spend in the library, so to speak?

EarthCorePodcast: I couldn’t even count the hours. I spent two years writing the book. Research was a huge part. For example, I spent four days exploring the Mammoth Caves of Kentucky.

Vyeto: Did you take the tour?

EarthCorePodcast: I took every tour they had available, including the “Wild Cave” tour

Vyeto: Wow! I went on the “tourist” tour back in 96 – very thrilling.

EarthCorePodcast: there were places so narrow I had to take off my helmet and push it in front of me because the diameter of the helmet was larger than the height of the crawl spaces: You’re in there, rock against your back, rock against your stomach, basically wiggling your way through, you can’t even lift your head, so your face is in the mud.

Vyeto: Sounds grueling!

EarthCorePodcast: It was fantastic. I got stuck three times. And I’m 5-8, 150, not a lot there to get stuck to give you an idea how narrow this stuff was.

EarthCorePodcast: I don’t recommend it if you have claustrophobia …

Vyeto: I get claustrophobic in a phone booth.

EarthCorePodcast: Mammoth Caves is something everyone should see. It’s amazing.

Vyeto: I completely agree. I tried to draw a mini-map when I got done and realized I was completely spun around and lost – a very novel experience. Easy to see why you’d put this horrific adventure down underground, really.

EarthCorePodcast: And that experience is critical in describing what the EarthCore characters go through.

Vyeto: Heh, exactly!

EarthCorePodcast: It was vital in describing the scenery, and capturing the character’s emotions. I had started the book when I went, so I envisioned myself as the characters while I went through the caves. I even turned off my light and sat alone a few times, trying to understand what it would feel like to be trapped, doomed to die alone in the dark.

EarthCorePodcast: Or even worse …Stuck down there, with some unseen, slithering thing hunting you down.

Vyeto: I can’t help but notice a certain monster sort of personifies that “death in the darkness”…

EarthCorePodcast: Isolation is a key factor in writing horror. And there are few places more isolated than a cave three miles underground.

Vyeto: Even the fairly advanced technology presented in your novel is no help, I’ve noticed, though you had some really compelling devices: I was particularly drawn in by your X-ray tomography model, something which doesn’t even seem to be on the board today.

EarthCorePodcast: It’s not X-Ray, it’s GRP – Ground Penetrating Radar, combined with a few other technologies and then blown up to a level that our military probably already has

Vyeto: My mistake. Current Tomography is largely X-ray driven and dependent upon separate send/receive points, if I’m not mistaken, something which your characters have circumvented.

EarthCorePodcast: Yep. It’s a different concept, all sonic based; but it’s the same thing as the X-Ray, based on triangulation of send/receive points but it’s the “discount” model: Cheaper/better/faster. How could people utilize a three-dimensional mapping technology while getting around in the caves? The character Angus Kool figures out a way to do that, which becomes a critical plot element.

Vyeto: There’s an inherent danger, I find, in “near-future” science fiction, as opposed to a sort of Aasimovian far-future – namely the danger of being wrong. Do you worry about this at all, or exercise confidence in the hypothetical? That your readers will cut you some slack for writing in good faith?

EarthCorePodcast: I think readers cut some slack. My writing is pure entertainment.

Vyeto: Speaking of entertainment, I enjoyed my visit to Earthcore.biz

EarthCorePodcast: Cool.

Vyeto: Old Barbara Kovacich sounds pretty PO’d ;-).

EarthCorePodcast: I have a vision of my work, in which I’ll extend the normal reading experience into interactivity

Vyeto: Very cool!

EarthCorePodcast: Not like an “interactive novel,” but today there’s no reason I can’t let the reader experience what the characters experience as far as research, discovery, “big reveals,” etc. My novel “Infection” (unpublished) takes that to a new level.

Vyeto: It seems the internet really provides an outlet for that – of course, a reader could go traipse around the mountains were they so inclined, but allowing them to go to websites mentioned in the book is a really nice touch.

EarthCorePodcast: And lets you experience exactly what the character is experiencing.

Vyeto: Do tell!

EarthCorePodcast: The character discovers key information by searching online and I set up a website for it, so if the reader says, “gee, I wonder if this website is for real,” and they go check it out, they see EXACTLY what the character sees.

Vyeto: Outstanding! When can we expect to see Infection? What can you tell us about it?

EarthCorePodcast: I can’t say much, I’m paranoid of my ideas being stolen, but Infection needs a traditional publisher. Ancestor will be the next podcast novel.

Vyeto: I understand – I won’t pry. Are we going to see Infection as another podcast perhaps? Or are you going the Dead Tree route?

EarthCorePodcast: I love to kill trees. Podcasting is great, but I’m all for wiping out forests to get my stuff on shelves.

Vyeto: Absolutely. Was Earthcore originally slated for paper release (through ipublish) or some other format?

EarthCorePodcast: Yes. Let me get you a link: http://www.scottsigler.net/earthcore/. Look near the bottom: The History of EarthCore

EarthCorePodcast: EC was slated for nationwide release in May of 2002. The post 9-11 recession got my project canned, and haven’t been on the board since

Vyeto: Exactly. Thus falleth the Dot-bomb.

EarthCorePodcast: Yep.

EarthCorePodcast: But I have to do another podcast novel.

Vyeto: So do you think we’ll ever see Earthcore in paper? Or are you relegating it to
Podcast forever?

EarthCorePodcast: I have 7,500 people listening to EarthCore right now, and it’s growing every week

Vyeto: So I’ve noticed! You’re really creating a buzz with this.

EarthCorePodcast: I hope so.

Vyeto: Do you think the Podcast can hang on as it’s own media enterprise? Or is it more a tool for drumming up interest – a sampler or appetizer, if you will?

EarthCorePodcast: What I need is some traditional print media to run with the story, because I don’t think publishers understand online activity, podcasting, or “buzz” for fiction. I planned to reach 10,000 subscribers and figured the print media would pay attention. Doesn’t look like that will happen, which is inexplicable

Vyeto: That they won’t pay attention or that you won’t reach 10,000?

EarthCorePodcast: A typical first-time novelist releases 5,000 copies: if those copies sell out, it’s a big success. I’ve already got 7,500 “readers” so EarthCore is a pre-proven commodity. I’ve market-tested the story and people love it

Vyeto: But they’re still not giving you attention?

EarthCorePodcast: they don’t get it. I don’t think they even know it exists. The ones that do, they don’t understand podcasting, or they think it’s a passing fancy. If I had a non-fiction book with 7,500 listeners, I’d already have multiple offers.

Vyeto: It is new and untested. To quote Lothar of the Hill People: “It’s a good idea son, but it’s a new idea. Therefore: We fear it.”

EarthCorePodcast: ha

EarthCorePodcast: They don’t even understand it’s there

EarthCorePodcast: I mean in their defense, podcasting is only a few months old

Vyeto: Have you had much contact with Cory Doctorow (of boingboing.net), by any chance?

EarthCorePodcast: Just a little. Cory mentioned EC on his blog, which brought me like 1,000 subscribers. Do you know him?

Vyeto: A nice rush – he’d be a good person to talk to I imagine. I met him when he lectured here at Wayne State a few months ago.

Vyeto: Fascinating speaker. Lots of great ideas.

EarthCorePodcast: I’ll email him and see if he has any ideas. I’ve contacted several small publishes, and haven’t even got a response. It’s amazing to me.: In a business where most projects fail, here is a project with publicity and a reader base already built-in

Vyeto: Amazing to me as well – have you considered paid subscription pod cast? Money talks, after all.

EarthCorePodcast: That’s why I think they just don’t understand the concept. Yes, Ancestor will be subscription based. Once Ancestor is up as a podcast, EarthCore will be available in print and audio-cd

Vyeto: I’d like to wish you luck with that, but if the raves over EarthCore are any indication you’re not going to need it!

EarthCorePodcast: I’m thinking $10 for Ancestor, one-time fee. I may wind up giving the publishing houses the big fat finger and do this myself. There are advantages to being first-to-market

Vyeto: I don’t mind calling you a pioneer in that case – it sounds like you’re really about to test the boundaries of this media model.

EarthCorePodcast: Going to give it a try.

EarthCorePodcast: The numbers need to play out, because my goal is to write full-time

EarthCorePodcast: but say I get 5,000 subscribers at $10 a pop

EarthCorePodcast: that’s before costs

EarthCorePodcast: but I could see that happening

EarthCorePodcast: with the Web, it’s a numbers game

EarthCorePodcast: there are some 100 million Americans online

Vyeto: EBay has proven that for all of us, I think.

EarthCorePodcast: yes

EarthCorePodcast: EBay is the perfect model

EarthCorePodcast: I don’t need to be a super-star on the cover of People

EarthCorePodcast: I just need to find 1 in 1,000 people who like my work

Vyeto: Well, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I’ve seen some of the rabidity in
your fan base! “Earthcrack” are they calling it?

EarthCorePodcast: that would be a market of 100,000 people

EarthCorePodcast: Yeah that’s the best. that justifies the entire experience for me, and that’s the greatest validation for what I want to be as a writer. I’m all about entertaining the reader. I work my ass off to make a story that’s linear, where you don’t even see me whipping up your willing suspense of disbelief. All my novels start with normal people doing normal things. I get you into the character and gradually, sneakily, bring up certain plot points. If I do it right, you don’t even notice. You “know” what’s going to happen, you know something unusual will occur or you wouldn’t be into the story in the first place

Vyeto: Not to mention these normal people doing normal things in normal locations – did I mention I can see the Earthcore office from my kitchen window (in Detroit)?

EarthCorePodcast: Exactly! Space stations and super-secret underground lairs are great, but there is nothing as good as being able to see where the characters are. Those touches make a book “real”. As soon as you can visualize a character in a certain place, or doing a certain thing, that you have done or seen, the character becomes “real”. And then I kill him.

Vyeto: Absolutely. Some outstanding characterization as well – some of your characters flirt with Archetypality, but you keep them fresh – no easy task! The salty miner, the corporate villain, the femme fatale, even the happy hooker – all remarkably alive, and as you’ve mentioned before – not one “main” character, but a body of them working in concert to construct a whole story.

EarthCorePodcast: That’s a trademark of all my stories. A person is judged by their interactions with others; Your friends know you by the way you act with them, and act with other people. Character interaction is where the printed word comes alive.

Vyeto: Speaking of interaction, I understand you’re very involved with your fans.

EarthCorePodcast: That’s the one aspect of podcasting that’s completely different from the printed world. I posted my IM names, Skype names and email right on the podcast blog. People have been contacting me left and right. They get a kick out of being able to hit the author in real-time

Vyeto: I won’t even describe my 10-year ordeal of trying to contact Ray Bradbury.

EarthCorePodcast: Ha! Exactly. And that’s part of the process I embrace. If my writing motivated someone to take five minutes out of their day and write an email, I’m flattered, and I’m going to respond. I view myself as a blue-collar worker: I’m creating a product that will entertain people. If you’re not entertained, I have failed. I don’t have a message to spread, or a philosophy, nor do I want to show you what a “great writer” I am. I want to tell a story that hooks you. My philosophy revolves around dead trees — if you drop $20 of your hard-earned money, and you take 10 hours out of your busy life to read something I wrote, it had better be damn good.

Vyeto: I think you’re doing an admirable job. Before I let you get back to your day, how about telling our readers where to go to get into what you’re doing?

EarthCorePodcast: www.scottsigler.net/earthcore to read all about the story.

EarthCorePodcast: if you know your podcasting and want to directly subscribe: http://feeds.feedburner.com/earthcore

EarthCorePodcast: And be on the lookout for Podcast Novel #2, “Ancestor” launching in August

Vyeto: We’ll be lining up to “read” it! Thanks for your time Scott!

EarthCorePodcast: you’re welcome

EarthCorePodcast: thanks for the interview

Vyeto: My pleasure.

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