"My name is Lia Haddock and I am an investigative reporter with APR."
The fictional podcast Limetown, which launched in 2015, began very simply, with a reporter talking into a microphone, trying to piece together an unsolved mystery, like the true crime podcasts like Serial that have become so common. Lia Haddock was a radio reporter making a documentary about Limetown, a research facility where all 327 people – including Lia's uncle Emile – vanished in 2004.
The story of Limetown quickly became something much stranger and much more complicated, a science fiction tale of conspiracies, rival corporations, cutting-edge technology, and more. The creepy tale from Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie drew comparisons to The X-Files before the season ended with a shocking cliffhanger. I'm not the only person I know who can remember where they were when they listened to that final episode and those last few minutes.
This fall after a very long hiatus, Limetown returned. The long-awaited Season 2 of the podcast debuted, with the final episode coming out today. Simon & Schuster published the novel Limetown, a prequel to the podcast written by Cote Smith. If that weren't enough, a Limetown TV show is filming now, starring Jessica Biel as Haddock and co-starring Stanley Tucci and Marlee Matlin.
The second season has a different feel and a different lead character and has managed to expand the mythology of Limetown in really interesting ways. The novel did something similar. Smith, who wrote the novel with the help of creators Akers and Bronkie, tells two stories, one of teenager Lia Haddock, and another of her uncle Emile as a young man. The novel manages to reference a lot of the characters we met in the first season while also deepening our understanding of them and getting a sense of the larger conspiracies in play, which come to the fore in the second season of the podcast.
Limetown creators Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie and novelist Cote Smith spoke with SYFY WIRE and answered a few spoiler-free questions about the podcast, the book, the TV show, and what's next.
Where did the story of Limetown begin?
Akers: There's unfortunately no good solid answer to this. It was a series of events that just sort of built into what it became. One step was realizing everyone on the subway train around me was wearing headphones listening to something (this was fall 2013). Another step was realizing fiction could really work in the podcasting space, and why weren't more people doing it?
When Skip and I talked about it, we couldn't come up with a solid answer. So we just threw ourselves into the idea of developing a podcast narrative series. A big step forward in this was Skip reading World War Z, which in turn led to The Good War, which all amounted to the idea that oral history – specifically oral history where people were telling really small, intimate stories of their lives that then led to a larger understanding of a much larger event in history – would be perfect for the form. But what was the story they were telling?
Again, wish there was a better answer. Not sure where it came from, or what I was doing when it happened, but it was just me calling Skip and saying, "A town disappeared." Skip asked, "Why?" I said, "I don't know."
So we just started talking about it, and building, and building, and building. Eventually we got to Limetown.
Where did the idea of a Limetown novel come from?
Bronkie: The novel came to us naturally as we concluded the first season of the podcast, because we were eager to build out the world. There are so many things you can do in novel form that you can't do in a podcast or a TV show. Interior monologue, for one, which is fantastically important in Limetown because of Emile Haddock and his unique condition.
This is going to sound ridiculous, but Limetown in our minds is a very grounded critique of the world we're living in now, warped by our infatuation with social media and smartphones. To pull that off in any real way, you just need to focus on people, give them depth, complexity. Make them human. You can certainly do that in a podcast and TV show, but there is still no better medium for that than the novel.
How difficult was it to figure out what the novel should be about in a way that would fit in with the show but not repeat or contradict anything?
Akers: It was as difficult as any entirely new story ever is, which is very. We always like to think about how each and every piece of this Limetown puzzle we're building can live on its own while also supporting what already exists. It's a tricky game to play, but it just makes it more interesting for us as creators, as well as – hopefully – for the audience.
Cote, where do you come into all this?
Smith: In terms of the book, I was with them since the beginning. I wrote a couple of chapters for the book proposal, and after that, we sketched a rough outline of what the book might do. Though the story began to deviate from that outline almost immediately once I started writing.
What did Zack and Skip give you as far as background information, and what was the process of working on the book like?
Smith: Before I starting writing the book, Zack, Skip, and I had an extensive conversation about the world of Limetown, what they envisioned going forward, for the podcast and possibly for the television show, which was still just a dream at the time. That conversation helped me think about what themes the novel should focus on, as well as the tone of the writing. But once I started writing, they gave me free rein to do my own thing. I would send them a couple of chapters every now and then, as well as to our editor, Emily Graff, and we would all talk afterward about the direction the story was taking, and things to think about going forward.
You're coming off writing the novel Hurt People, which is a great book, and you have a lot of literary credentials and a lot of people probably see this as an odd second book. What made you interested?
Smith: In short, Zack and Skip made me interested. I wouldn't have signed on without them. When we first talked on the phone, I could tell immediately that we had similar taste and sensibilities, both in the types of stories that we like and how we see the world. A longer answer might be that after spending eight years writing a "literary novel", I was looking to do something different. So I was very excited once this opportunity came along, because it felt fresh and new. The funny thing is that I still wrote the novel in the same "literary" fashion I would any other project; this book just happens to have a character with an extraordinary ability.
Was there anything that Cote did in the novel that affected what you did in the second season of the podcast or how you thought about the characters?
Akers: Oh, without a doubt, yes. The podcast was a radio documentary Lia wanted you to hear, meaning she controlled the story, and what you learned about her. Because of that, we got some insight into who she was and some background, but not in great detail. Skip and I had done some work developing Lia outside of the podcast for the TV show, and we gave a few characteristics/markers for her that we knew we wanted him to work with. But who Cote created in the book was his own spin, and it definitely informed how we think about and write for Lia.
As for Emile, he was pretty much a blank slate. We had some information on background, and obviously we knew of his ability, but Cote created that character from scratch otherwise. And the beautiful, complicated character he built is absolutely how we are building him out in the podcast and the TV show.
Cote did the hard work of building these characters and living with them extemporaneously in novel form, which has given us so much insight into who they are.
As you mentioned, there is a Limetown TV show coming out next year. How has the process of working on the show been similar to working on the novel, both in terms of taking this material and finding a new way to approach it and working with others?
Akers: It's a pretty drastic difference, actually, and that has everything to do with working with Cote specifically. We spoke with Cote at length several times about what the story was, and who we needed to follow, but so much of that was just Cote's brilliant mind cranking in a sandbox we'd built for him. Television is finding the story with a LOT of different people, and constantly reworking it based on a thousand different factors you can never anticipate. It's a lot of fun, but it's challenging as hell.
Do you have an endgame in mind? When you started, did you know, this is how it will end, this is a lot of the ground you want to cover?
Akers: Yes. Mostly.
So is the TV show an adaptation of Season 1? Both seasons? More? Something else entirely?
Akers: It will be an adaptation of Season 1 of the podcast. You can look forward to getting to know Lia, who is just as twisted up and complicated as Limetown. It's been a lot of fun finding her character, especially when you have someone as talented as Jessica Biel on board. Her insight and passion for the project overall has been really invaluable.
So what's next? More seasons of the podcast? Another novel? A comic strip? A theme park ride? What's your plan?
Akers: After the TV show, a vacation! Then, we'll see.