Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Interview with Author Gene Doucette
8/23/2010 8:31:27 PM
LTS: Today, my featured author is Gene Doucette, a man of many talents! A novelist, a screenwriter, a playwright, a humorist, and judging from the title of one of his books ‘Beating Up Daddy: A Year in the Life of an Amateur Father’, he’s also a dad!
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers.
You call Cambridge, MA home, what else would you care to share? And what do you do when you’re not writing?
GD: I am indeed a father of two, both of whom are in college right now, which is amazing because I could swear I just graduated high school a couple of years ago. I am gainfully employed in the banking industry, which is about as far removed from writing as it could be. And that’s fine; the job is something I can do on automatic. I write in my head while I’m at work.
LTS: Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
GD: I have defined myself as a writer since I was old enough to understand there was such a thing. And yes, publishing was always a dream, but I keep moving the chains: now it’s “publishing a novel” and “doing this exclusively for a living.” I’m a produced playwright, a published humorist and a produced screenwriter, yet none of these things have satisfied me. Success is something I keep redefining.
LTS: Your new novel ‘Immortal’ is coming out soon. With the popularity of Vampires, I understand this book is NOT about those immortals. Can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Adam?
GD: Adam is easily the most interesting person I know. He’s been alive for nearly all of human history—all of written history, certainly—but he’s not invincible; he just doesn’t get old and he doesn’t get sick. In a very real sense, he’s just like everyone else but with a lot more life experience to draw from. And as one would expect from someone who’s managed to survive all this time, he’s very clever, and very funny. He makes for a great narrator.
LTS: Described as a ‘mash-up of science fiction, contemporary fantasy and historical fiction’, what was the inspiration behind this story?
GD: I’m not entirely certain how I ended up with a novel that fits that description. I sat down wanting to write a novel, and I’d been doing a lot of first-person writing already in my humor columns, so I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote first-person from someone else’s perspective. And since my recreational reading has trended toward non-fiction—history, science and sociology, mainly—this is what I ended up with. I accidentally waded into about four different pools.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open ‘Immortal’?
GD: You should expect to laugh. One of the cool things about having a narrator writing for a modern audience about events that took place long ago is that you’re not going to see the stilted prose that usually marks period writing. Which only makes sense; we’re talking about a storyteller who hung out with Homer. Adam knows how to adjust the tale for the crowd. In the same sense, he isn’t necessarily a fully reliable narrator. He may omit things for effect or employ vernacular that might be considered anachronistic if this were told in third-person. By the way, you should totally interview him next.
LTS: I’ll have to keep that in mind for the next interview! Now, the road to publication is difficult at the best of times. How did ‘Immortal’ become a print book?
GD: That’s a spectacular understatement. I finished the first draft of Immortal six years ago, and I did get an agent for it within six months. He was someone I had met in a chat room on AOL—this was back when we accessed the Internet with smoke signals—and kept in touch with. He LOVED Immortal. Loved it so much he signed me to a contract without thinking about how to sell it. That became a problem; the book straddles multiple genres but clearly doesn’t live in only one. Magical characters, yes. Magic, no. So the notes we kept getting back from publishers were of the “this is fantastic, we can’t sell it, sorry” variety. He eventually ran out of places to send it where it made sense for him to continue to represent me. So I don’t have an agent; I found a publisher for Immortal on my own.
LTS: I’m always pleased when a fellow writer lands a book deal. Can you share that moment when your agent told you he/she sold your story to Hamel Integrity Publishing?
GD: I didn’t have that moment, I’m afraid. What happened was, I signed up with a publisher who shall go unnamed. This was about two years ago. I only learned last summer—when they were supposed to release the book—that they were not reliable. And by “not reliable” I mean, “currently dissolved and facing lawsuits”. Fortunately, one person loosely connected with that klepto-publisher had a plan to form her own company, and she brought me aboard. (Immortal will be the second book published by Hamel Integrity Publishing.) Lucky, I guess, but the kind of good luck that comes after six years of bad luck.
LTS: I’d say it has little to do with luck and much more to do with your own hard work to see this become a reality. Now, I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
GD: I write what I can when I can. Having children and a full time job meant writing when I had the opportunity. Now that the kids are out of the house semi-regularly I’m finding I may be the least disciplined published writer on the planet. I’m involved in a film project right now that requires I produce a number of short script treatments somewhat quickly, and I’m still adjusting to the idea of a deadline.
LTS: I know exactly what you mean. Having been asked to write voice over scripts for a TV series and having the producer usually needing them right away, I can empathize. And still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
GD: I may be the definition of a pantser. When I wrote Immortal I knew only Adam, and a vague idea of where the book was going to end (ironically, an ending that has been edited out of the first book) but nothing else. I never drew up any outlines, and plotting happened as it happened. I also didn’t take any notes, so when I figured out where the plot was going to be going I kept it in my head. I have a problem where, once I write something down it becomes “real”, so if it’s a wrong direction to go I end up writing around it rather than changing it. If it’s all in my head it’s less substantial, and can be altered freely. Also, I can’t read my own handwriting.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
GD: I’m working on developing one or two. Back in the day my ritual was to sit down in my study with a cup of coffee, fire up the desktop computer, light a cigarette, and write until I couldn’t think of anything else to put down. Now, I have a laptop, I hardly smoke (and when I do I’m outside) and my study is purely hypothetical. My writing sessions have become much briefer, more intense, and more productive—because I’m a better first draft writer than I used to be.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
GD: When I’m blocked it usually means there’s something wrong. Either I’ve gone in a wrong direction and need to back up and rewrite to get back on course, or the story simply isn’t there. I cannot tell you how many things that began as good ideas ended up unfinished because the ideas didn’t carry through like I thought they would. But if I have a story that’s working and I’m not currently writing it, it’s not because I’m blocked; it’s because laundry needed to get done.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
GD: I don’t think I have a favorite, especially given how rarely I read fiction. I consider Neal Stephenson appointment reading, but I wouldn’t call him an influence unless you factor in “Oh my god I could never write like this how the hell does he do it?” as an influence. More positive influences have been Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman and Eric Garcia, and to a lesser extent Michael Chabon, Stephen King, and maybe Dave Barry. But I’ve never read anything and said, “I’d like to write something like this.”
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
GD: I had a play produced in college called Habeas Corpus. I wasn’t at all involved in it, by choice: I handed it off to a student director I trusted and then stage-managed a different production to keep myself busy, so I didn’t see any rehearsals or get any pre-curtain reactions. The show had a dead body onstage the entire time, and the play was essentially about how each of the characters approached the witnessing of this dead body on a personal level. At the end, one of these characters begins hitting the body with a baseball bat out of anger. Of course, none of these people had ever called the police or checked to see if the guy was actually dead, and after getting hit with the bat he started to bleed. The exit line was “dead bodies don’t bleed!”
So I wrote this to examine our own selfish subjectivity toward death… or something arty like that: it was college, that’s what we did. And really, I just thought it was a cool idea. But the impact on the audience was enormous. I had people who left the play and had to go on long walks by themselves for a while. My professor couldn’t talk to me after the show because he was too upset. What I learned was that the people and events that happen in my head are very, very real to everyone else.
LTS: That is absolutely profound and fascinating! What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
GD: If someone you trust tells you to do a rewrite, do the rewrite, and take your time. You can’t be impatient with the process. Also, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of small market publishers out there. Some are—as I learned—less than honest, but most of them know what they’re doing. Exhaust the niche markets before considering other options, like self-publishing.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
GD: I’m researching right now. The book is something called “When Asia Was the World” and it’s in my hands because I needed to better understand the period of Euro-Asian history between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Enlightenment. The book that came before it was called “Mysteries of the Middle Ages” and it served the same purpose. The next book will be something on Scotland, and after that I think I’ll find something fun.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years? Can we expect a sequel to ‘Immortal’ any time in the near future?
GD: The Immortal sequel is already written. It’s called Hellenic Immortal, and I’m sure you will see it in the next five years. The research I described above is so that I can start working on the third Immortal book. I have no idea when that will be done because I have no idea when I’ll be ready to start it; I just know it has to exist. Other than that, I also have a completed novel called Fixer that is going to be looking for a home after Immortal is published. Given my currently unagented status I thought it would be best at this point to wait until I had some sales to show an agent. Fixer is about a guy trying to stop a killer who lives five seconds in the future. It’s fun. I’m also sitting on an award-winning feature screenplay based on an earlier novel called Charlatan. The script is beyond ready, it just needs to be put into the right hands. I expect a lot to happen with that in the future.
LTS: Thank you for taking the time from your crazy busy schedule to share in your world of writing and to introduce us to your novel, Gene! I’m going to have to check Adam out and put ‘Immortal’ on my to-read list.
For more information about Gene Doucette and his many works including ‘Immortal’, check out: http://genedoucette.me/immortal for all things Immortal, http://genedoucette.me/about for a bio. Gene is also listed on GoodReads.
Follow Gene on Twitter at: .genedoucette
Where to buy the book: The publication dated for Immortal is 10-1-10, and will be obtainable through Amazon.
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