Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday Spotlight this week on author Gene Doucette! Gene is the best-selling author of the fantasy series Immortal and The Immortal Chronicles, and sci-fi thrillers Fixer and Unfiction. He is also a humorist, award-winning screenwriter and playwright. He lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife.
Gene will be at our 65 James Street store on Friday, September 7, from 6:00 – 8:00 PM, celebrating his latest release, The Spaceship Next Door.
Thank you so much for joining us on our Friday Spotlight, Gene! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
You can introduce me as Gene or Gene Doucette. Mr. Doucette just confuses me.
I’m a local (I live in Cambridge) and have been writing in some way, shape or form since before we had an Internet. Novels are where I’ve found the greatest success, but I also logged time as a playwright, screenwriter, humor columnist and essayist. All of my novels have been self-published, the most successful of which is The Spaceship Next Door, which was picked up by HMH/Adams.
What was the inspiration for The Spaceship Next Door? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
There wasn’t any one inspirational source; it was all in pieces in my head. I just didn’t put the pieces together, until one day I did.
I’ve said (elsewhere) that I got the initial idea—a spaceship lands somewhere and then doesn’t do anything—while reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. This is true, but if you read Neal’s book, you’re probably wondering how that connection makes any sense. The inspiration was structural, not textual: the catalyzing event for the story happens at the very beginning of the book, and everything that comes after is a working out of the consequences. His thing was the moon being destroyed. Mine is a spaceship landing.
Once I got that far, I needed a place to land the ship. As it happens, I already owned a fictional town in Massachusetts. Sorrow Falls was invented for a play (never finished) in 1991. I revisited it in a novel (never finished) in 2006. Those two efforts fleshed out the town nicely before I even got to work on Spaceship.
Once I had “a spaceship lands in Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts, and then doesn’t do anything,” I banged out the first chapter. Then I created Annie Collins in chapter two, and she took the story the rest of the way.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out The Spaceship Next Door? How did you overcome that challenge?
It’s pretty hard to put my finger on any real challenges, because I was doing this all myself and I’d cleared the necessary hurdles ahead of time.
Before the first edition of The Spaceship Next Door was released, I’d already worked out what I needed to do to self-publish something—I’d been doing it with novellas for more than a year. I had a cover designer, accounts with all of the distribution channels I would need, and I had the finished book. I didn’t hire an editor, or use beta readers. The first people to read the book aside from myself were the first people to buy a copy. Once the book’s sales took off, I used the proceeds to pay for an audio narrator, and that edition really took off.
So maybe the biggest challenge came later. When I received an offer from John Joseph Adams Books, I had to take a step back and recognize that if I wanted Spaceship to get to where I thought it should be, I was going to need to partner with a publisher who could get it into bookstores. That step back was challenging.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
Annie Collins, obviously. I loved writing for her and miss not being able to do so all the time.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I tell everyone I write science fiction and fantasy, and while that’s essentially accurate, I don’t really see a huge difference between the genres because my approach is the same.
I like writing about the “real world,” but with one or two tiny changes. In science fiction, that can be a spaceship landing somewhere, or an out-of-control computer simulation, or a character who can see five seconds into the future. In fantasy, maybe it’s just a character who’s been alive for sixty-thousand years, but otherwise shares nearly the same (non-magical) world the rest of us do. Basically, I’m interested in exploring our existing reality, but with one changed variable. It’s escapism, sure—I imagine that’s at least a part of what draws readers to the genre—but it can also be illuminating.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
It was the perfect place to land a spaceship.
As I said, I invented Sorrow Falls as far back as 1991, and I based it on towns in Western Massachusetts. I did that because I was raised in this state, and went to high school in Northfield. (Northfield Mount Hermon.) That kind of on-the-ground familiarity helped make Sorrow Falls—which I would argue is as important a character to the story as Annie Collins, if not more important—feel solid. It was a much better choice than the usual ‘corn field in the Midwest’, which is where we expect all of our alien spaceships to land.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
That depends on what they’re looking for. The Spaceship Next Door is available everywhere in print and ebook. The audiobook is exclusive to Audible right now.
My other novels—including The Frequency of Aliens, which is the sequel to The Spaceship Next Door—are available in all formats, with a diminished “everywhere.” The ebooks are as widely available as ebooks can be, and the audiobooks are also exclusive to Audible, but print copies are slightly harder to come by, because the self-published books are print-on-demand. The usual online sellers can get copies, but bookstore distribution is less common.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I’m pretty easy to find online. I have a website at www.genedoucette.me, author pages on Facebook and Amazon, and I’m on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. Google me. If you get the guy who did the embroidery for Elvis Presley’s jumpsuits, you’ve got the wrong Gene Doucette. Otherwise, you’ve probably found me.
Thank you so much for a great interview, Gene! We’re looking forward to having you at our 65 James Street store on Friday, September 7, from 6:00 – 8:00 PM.