Interview with Cathy’s Book Co-Author Sean Stewart

Below is an interview that Michael Andersen conducted with Sean Stewart regarding the release of the Cathy’s Book app for the iPhone.  In addition to co-authoring the transmedia storytelling experiment Cathy’s Book, Stewart worked on ARGs including The Beast, i love bees, Last Call Poker and Year Zero.

MA: How did you and Jordan come up with the idea for Cathy’s Book?

SS: It was Jordan’s idea (things often are).  After the Beast we were talking about how fun it was, but how frustrating it was, too, that it was over: even if someone heard about how cool it was, they couldn’t DO it.  “Hey!  You’re a book guy,” Jordan said.  “We should do a book using the same kind of techniques!”

So we did.

We came up with the broad outlines of the story together.  We figured YA was a good place to start, and, to be honest, having written a fair number of somewhat dark sf/f novels, I wanted to write a book I thought my teenage daughters might like.  (They have a cameo in the first novel which Sharp Eyed Readers may spot…)

MA: How would you compare the writing process you used for Cathy’s Book, as opposed to what you used for traditional novels like Perfect Circle or full-blown ARGs like The Beast?

SS: We determined that the thing HAD to work as a book, first and foremost; if you never did any of the ancillary material, you still had to have an enjoyable, satisfying experience.  So I wrote Cathy’s story, if you will, much as I would a regular book.

We used the extra material to fill out the life of Cathy’s love-interest, Victor.  Readers looking through the extra evidence can eventually work out almost every detail of the Many Lives of Victor, from gold camp ragamuffin to WWI flying ace to mobster, and so forth.

Trying to fit together the various pieces of evidence was much more like the storytelling method of The Beast.  Over time, we also changed how we did that.  Cathy’s Book, like the Beast, has a ton of little pieces of stuff for players to link together.  In Cathy’s Key and Cathy’s Ring we moved increasingly to building “interactive arcs,” so that a reader might, for instance, send an email and go through a 3 or 4-step investigation to arrive at a satisfying endpoint.

MA: What was your favorite out-of-book element in the trilogy?

SS: Actually, I think my favorite thing we did was to build a gallery for readers to post their art…and then put some of those pictures in the printed books.  There is something very beautiful to me about closing that circle:  the books invite you into Cathy’s life beyond the page, and then, eventually, circle around until your life is part of her printed world.  That for me is a lovely version of The Dance – that cooperative give-and-take between artist and audience that is seems so clearly to be part of what the next evolution of art will be.

MA: The books had phone numbers you can call.  Do you ever check the voicemail messages?  Any favorites, if you did?

SS: Oh, absolutely we checked the messages.  It’s astonishing.  There are THOUSANDS of them, and an incredible number are girls saying, “Oh, Cathy!  What a bummer!  Let me tell you about MY rotten boyfriend…”  And they share their stories with her, as girlfriends will.


MA: When you started the trilogy, you and Jordan were at 42 Entertainment.  Now, you’ve co-founded Fourth Wall Studios and Jordan has co-founded Smith & Tinker.  What role (if any) have the respective companies played in the development of the Cathy’s Book trilogy?

As of now, Cathy is mostly it’s own thing (although of course Jordan and I are constantly inspired by the people we work with every day.)  The decision to make the “extra elements” less confusing, and have them LEAD somewhere, is obviously me trying to learn some of the lessons Elan has tried to teach me over the years; Cathy Brigg, who does the drawings (and sings the songs!) for the Cathy universe works for Smith and Tinker, etc.

We’re a merry band of gypsies, generally, and love to talk and plot and scheme and invent together, inside our respective companies and sometimes beyond….

MA: Why did you and Jordan choose to translate the series into an iPhone app?

SS: The credit for that, honestly, goes to our talented and creative publishers.  From the very beginning they have grasped that Cathy is not just a novelty, but something of a Face of Things To Come.  It was their idea to do an iPhone App, one which Jordan and I enthusiastically supported.

Once the decision was made, how did you reimagine the books for the iPhone’s screen?

SS: Again, the credit there really goes to the App team – Peter Costanzo, Jaimee Callaway, and Rick Joyce at Perseus Books Group, Tane Ross (a very talented animator), the terrific folks at Expanded Books, and Laura Flanagan, the insanely talented actor who read the audiobooks.

MA: Cathy Brigg did some incredible art for the series.  Did she come back and help with the translation into an app?

SS: You bet.  Cathy’s work is a huge part of what makes these things special.  on a personal note, working with her to create the illustrations has been perhaps the most enjoyable part of working on the series.

MA: With books like Level26, The Amanda Project, Skeleton Key and 39 Clues coming out, it seems as though the publishing industry has embraced the notion of multimedia novels.  What do you expect to see in the future?

SS: The idea of defining a kind of art by the industrial process used to manufacture a hardcopy of it is, in general, going to go away.  Not fast, not completely, not all at once:  but my children’s children will name art by character or world or story, not with words like “book” or “movie” or “album.”

In other words, “Cathy” will still be in vogue in 20 years… but the word “book” will seem quaint, and might even give the impression that even Jordan and I had, after all, missed the very point of what we were doing…

MA: Now that Cathy Vickers’ story has been told, are you planning on writing another book, transmedia or otherwise?

SS: We actually have a harder-edged “interactive book” proposal in front of some publishers write now.

As for traditional novels, I would LOVE to write one again… but at the moment I am awfully damn busy with Fourth Wall Studios.

Look, you could argue that storytelling has only gone through five big revolutions:

 *   campfire stories
 *   the invention of theater
 *   the invention of the printing press and rise of the novel
 *   the motion picture camera and cinema
 *   THIS, whatever the hell you want to call it.  The multi-platform many-to-many art that the internet enables.

I am incredibly aware of my stupendous good fortune in lucking into a ground floor suite in Revolution #5.  It would seem ungrateful to turn my back on it just now.

That said, there are things you can do in a novel that you can’t do any other way.  I have this vague dream that when I get old I will go back to writing Printed Novels for those few remaining cronies, all of us with shaking hands and long attention spans, who still remember with loving nostalgia that New Book smell…

But right now it’s back to What’s Next?

Thanks, as always, for caring.  In some ways, the ARGN community is the group that inspires me every single day, even though nearly a decade has passed since we first saw one another, blurrily, through the  cloth screen between 2142 and the present.


  1. PinkCloud

    thanks Michael and Sean for this great interview!

  2. Eview

    What a great interview. I loved the book – and would love to love the iPhone app too except that it’s not available in Australia. I imagine the app would equate to exploring a universe with the tap of a finger. If there are any plans for releasing the app down south, please let it be soon 🙂