Author Interview

SETH HARWOOD: THE ORIGINAL PALMS DADDY

By K. Robert Einarson


KEVIN: So tell us a little about Seth Harwood.

SETH: OK. So, here’s the deal on me: I’ve been writing fiction for about 10 years now. I started out after college, wrote a few bad novels from 95 to 98 (I mean baaaad) and then I started writing short stories. I wrote short stories from 98 until about 2005, when I started Jack Wakes Up. In that time I took a lot of creative writing classes in Boston, Montana, and then at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I earned my MFA in 2002. I’ve now published about a dozen of those stories in various literary journals, mostly print and not online. (There’s a list of my published stories on my site.) For a long time I thought this would be how I’d get noticed, but after about 10 published stories, hundreds of rejections and no agent willing to come within a mile of my collection, I began to lose hope. At the same time, my attempts at writing a literary novel weren’t going so well. Basically, I didn’t know what I wanted to write. So instead of following all literary influences, I decided to try following some of the other things I like: movies like Pulp Fiction, Scarface, Ghost Dog, and shows like the Sopranos. I started writing Jack Wakes Up and had a ball with it. I gave myself a deadline, finished the first draft before that, and then ended up spending the better part of 6 months revising it. When I first pitched to agents, I thought I’d hit gold: right off the bat, two wanted to see the whole thing right away. Then, when they got it, things didn’t work out. Eventually I stopped sending it out. After a while, I actually shelved the project and started working on something else.

Then, about a year ago, I submitted a story to an online publication, Storyglossia. It was accepted and with it online, more people started reading my work than had ever before. I struck up a relationship with the editor and found out he had 2000 visitors a day and my story was consistently in the top 5 of stories hit.

KEVIN: So you were finally seeing some success. What did you do next?

SETH: I figured I’d better get a website and start putting up my work. Around this time, a friend suggested that I podcast it.

I didn’t even know what podcasting was, but he introduced me to Scott Sigler, and Scott helped me work through the technical issues. Pretty soon I could tell that podcasting was a way to reach a wider audience than just putting my stories up in print form. Creating the podcasts and figuring out how to make a website, took a little while, but by late July of 06, I’d started podcasting Jack Wakes Up. I chose it because Scott was doing Sci Fi and I figured I’d have a better chance of getting an audience with my novel then with the stories. And I wanted to do the novel. Truth is, it was probably the most fun I’d had writing something and it seemed like a natural fit to serialization. So I started podcasting, Scott and a few others put up promos for me on their sites, and I was off! By the time I finished podcasting JWU, I had close to 1,000 listeners, and I was getting real fan mail for the first time in my writing career!

KEVIN: What do you like about podcasting?

SETH: The great thing about podcasting is these listeners started writing in, contacting me to say they liked what I was doing, and that was great! For the first time I had finally found an audience. I mean the goal of podcasting was to develop an audience, something I could say in a cover letter, like “I’ve podcasted this book to over 1,000 listeners.” I figured agents would love that. Built-in audience and sales, right? No, they have no idea what podcasting is and still don’t get what I’m doing. But the thing was, podcasting JWU gave me some big advantages.

1. A way to feel like I was ready to move on from it: while I was podcasting, I went over final edits, and came to feel like I was done with the book, that it was “out there.”

2. A way to read it through carefully and actually look at those edits

3. Exposure to a great audience: for the first time people I wasn’t related to were excited about what I was doing and following my work. People started to write in and get involved, when my laptop was stolen, almost 50 people wrote in with donations. I can’t really tell you how great that felt. It basically helped me to get over that awful time. Also, people wanted more from me: to know more, to read more, to hear more of my work. As a writer, it’s been great having that demand for what I create.

4. I’m building a real audience, growing my name recognition and the “branding” of Seth Harwood. I know a lot of my listeners would buy a book that I published. They’ve written in and told me so. I’ve seen Scott Sigler take his listeners and get them into a campaign that sent his second book to #7 on Amazon.com the first day it came out. He sold 4,000 copies in the first week alone, with no marketing budget, no money spent, and a tiny, unheard of publisher. In each of my episodes, I’ve started talking about what I’m up to and asking my readers for help with things. For JP2, I’ve had listeners design the cover, add voices, make a pdf of Jack Wakes Up, and help me redesign my website. It’s really cool. And a lot of them want to do voices, which will help make JP2 an actually interactive experience. That should be exciting.

5. Podcasting has been a great entry into promotions. This goes with 4, but basically by joining the podcast community, I’ve gotten to know a lot of other folks who’re doing it and since there’s not so many of us, just yet, we can all help each other. And people really are helpful. When I started my pitch to promote JP2, I was able to get a lot of people interested in having me on for an interview. It’s really helped me build momentum.

KEVIN: So are you going to be focusing only on podcasting your work?

SETH: No. I see it as a way to promote myself and to make a direct relationship with my audience. They write in all the time and I can write back. I’m getting to hear from people all over the world, literally. I’m getting my work out. But my goal is still to publish, to write books and have them out in stores, online or brick and mortar. I want to get a real contract and make money from this (have I yet? No. Do I mind? Not really. I teach English and composition part-time at two Bay Area colleges and that pays the bills). Will I stop podcasting when I’ve done this? No. I still see it as a great way to interact with an audience. I’ve gotten more listeners by doing this from my home, for free, than I could’ve on any big nationwide book tour. Easily.

So for me, for right now, it’s great. I want to keep growing, and podcasting has helped.

With the success of JWU, and when I realized how much fun I had writing it, I decided to write another Jack Palms book. Again, something I really enjoyed. I’m podcasting part I of THIS IS LIFE this summer, and then I’ll start Part II in the fall.

KEVIN: Do you see podcasting as a more of an episodic audiobook or a way to give a dramatic interpretation of your work. If it is a dramatic interpretation, how do you vary the written version and dramatic version. Is it just sound effects or are you making it more like an old radio serial?

SETH: I think there's a fine line between the podcast novel as episodic serial and straight book. But then I guess it's not so different from a crime series of books. That is, at the end of a season of Sopranos, they don't wrap up everything. In a book in a crime writer's series, not everything gets wrapped up at the end, but pretty much all of it does. I think the fact that I'm podcasting is pushing me more toward the Sopranos kind of model. That is, at the end of JP2 part I, which is roughly as long as JWU, everything isn't fully wrapped up. And I like that. It gives people a reason to come back for more, something else they'll want to listen to. But by the end of Part II will I have a complete book? (where everything, mostly, gets wrapped up) I hope so. It'll be a long one, but I'm ok with that.

I think podcasting is really a serial audiobook. It's kind of like what Dickens did and some of the old time pulp crime writers. I don't intend to model it as an old-time radio show, but I started using listener voices b/c it was a lot of work for me to come up with all the various voices. Now that I'm using listeners... it's still a lot of work to cut and splice them in. Not sure where I'll go in the future with this.

I've added a few sound effects, but I don't plan on adding a ton more. It's definitely not a straight audiobook, though. (Although if you listen to most of them now, the actors doing the reading will use various voices.)

KEVIN: Does that effect how you write the book?

SETH: Not so much. The only way I vary the written and podcast version is to drop a few "he said" and "she said"s here and there, especially when it's obvious b/c I'm using someone else's voice. It doesn't effect how I write the book. I write with short chapters and usually with a lot of dialogue. That's how I write. Especially for a crime audience.

Check out the review of Jack Wakes Up following this interview and visit www.sethharwood.com to catch up on the latest news about Seth and Jack Palms.


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