Joe DeRouen is a dynamic, accomplished author in the horror and contemporary fantasy genres. His novels include “Small Things” and “Memories of a Ghost”. He’s currently working on adapting one of his short stories into a TV series and writing sequels to two of his novels. I was pleased to have the chance to interview Joe about his books, characters, inspirations, and more.
What inspired you to write “Small Things”, your first novel?
I had just read an article about where people were and what they were doing when they first heard that JFK had been shot or men had landed on the moon, and it occurred to me that, as momentous as those events were, personal triumphs or tragedies may stick with a person even more so. Then I imagined that a 15-year-old boy would always remember where he was and how he felt when he first learned that his best friend had been murdered, and it snowballed from there.
How did you decide on its title?
The entire novel is really about small things, the little things in life that can make a big difference. The novel explores that both metaphorically and quite literally.
You also wrote its sequel, “Threads”. In what way was writing the sequel different than the original novel?
“Threads” is set about 30 years in the novel’s future and involves time travel, so I had to juggle a lot more characters. I think it worked out pretty well.
Can you tell us anything about the third book in the trilogy?
Just that I'm hard at work on it right now and it will weave together all the "threads" left hanging in “Threads”. Also, we'll finally find out what happened to Ben, something readers have been clamoring for since “Threads” was released.
Do you have a favorite story from your collection of short stories, “Odds and Endings: Fiction Short and Otherwise”?
Probably “The Kitten Tree”, which (I believe) manages to be both creepy and ultimately heartwarming at the same time. Another is “Beside Myself”, which is about a breach between two alternate universes. That one is currently being shopped as a potential television series by Council Tree Productions.
What inspired your other novel “Memories of a Ghost”?
“Memories of a Ghost” is about a young pregnant woman who wakes up in her doctor's office with no clue who she is and how she got there, but with an overwhelming feeling that someone wants her dead. I imagined the abject terror one would feel upon seemingly just springing into existence with no idea who or where you were and took it from there.
Is there any one character you've created who is most like you?
Shawn and Tanner, from “Small Things”, are both me, just different parts of me. Probably every character contains a little bit of me, but those two have the most.
Is there any character you've created that you wish you were more like?
Any of the ones with magical abilities. I'd love to be able to time travel and speak to ghosts, among other things!
What have been the biggest rewards and challenges of being an author?
The biggest challenge, of course, is making a living. Unless you're Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, being an author probably isn't the surest route to fame and fortune. The biggest reward of being an author is, for me, my readers. There's nothing better than getting a random email from someone you don't know telling you how much they enjoyed your story!
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
Hope. That even in the darkest times, when all seems lost, there's hope.
What has surprised you the most about publishing your books?
The support from other writers. Independent publishing is difficult, but there's enough room for everyone. If one of us succeeds, it brings more attention to all of us.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Probably when I was fourteen. Before that, I wanted to draw comic books! I realized, however, that my talents lie more in the written word than in artwork.
How have your other passions informed your work?
I collect Mego 8" action figures from my childhood, and a central character in “Small Things” is Galahad, from the "Super Knights" collection. How can an action figure be a character in a novel? You'll have to read it to find out! I'm also on the school board for Arkansas Arts Academy where my son attends school. I have great respect for teachers and all they do and have periodically included schools and teachers in my fiction.
What’s your favorite compliment from a fan?
Someone from my home town of Carthage, Illinois (where “Small Things” is set) said the book gave her nightmares and that she was nervous driving around Carthage at night. Others have cried at the end of my books. Both are great compliments.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. In the news, in other books, movies, television, and even in dreams.
Do you remember the first time you truly loved a book?
Douglas Adams' “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”, which I read in junior high school. Adams was a comedic genius and I sorely miss him. I'm thankful that I got to meet him and shake his hand at a book signing in the 1980's! Also, Ken Grimwood's “Replay”, which I read in high school. It's an amazing novel about a man in his forties who dies and wakes up again, younger and in college. This cycle continues over and over as he "replays" his life, dies, and starts over. It's a fascinating concept. I often re-read both books.
What are you reading now?
I'm re-reading my own book, “Odds and Endings”. I re-read my own stuff every once in a while, to see if something there sparks new ideas that I haven't fully explored before. After that, I plan to read Blott, a young adult fantasy novel by Daniel Parsons.
What was the last time you read a book that you just had to recommend to others?
Daryl Gregory's “Spoonbenders”, a story set in the 80's about a family of psychics who may or may not be grifters. Like all of Gregory's books, it's completely different and hard to describe, but definitely worth the read.
Who are your favorite writers?
Rod Serling, the creator of “The Twilight Zone”, will always be my favorite. Ken Grimwood, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Daryl Gregory, and Stephen King are all near the top of the list as well. I also really enjoy A. Lee Martinez, Christopher Moore, Brooke Johnson, CJ Rutherford, Patricia Rose, and Heather Osborne.
Who are your mentors and heroes?
I'm not sure I have a mentor, but Rod Serling has always been my hero. Several of the short stories in “Odds and Endings” could have been “Twilight Zone” stories!
Which comforts do you like to have to hand when writing?
Music and a cold glass of water, and maybe some cashews or plantain chips. And Facebook, of course, so I can procrastinate!
What do you wish someone had told you before you became a writer?
That it's a lot harder than it looks, but very much worth the struggle.
What do you most want to achieve with your writing?
Fame and fortune, of course, but beyond that, I'm happy knowing that I've entertained my readers and hopefully made them feel and think.
When are you most happy?
When I'm inspired to write. When, instead of looking for the ideas, the ideas come to me. There's no better feeling.
What are your favorite things to watch, read, and listen to?
I watch old episodes of “The Twilight Zone” as well as current TV shows such as “The Leftovers” and “Preacher”. HBO's new anthology “Room 104” has also caught my attention. Movie-wise, I enjoy a lot of genre stuff, like “The War for the Planet of the Apes” and the Marvel super hero movies. “Baby Driver”, which isn't the sort of movie I usually like, is probably my favorite film of the year.
Insofar as music goes, I have pretty eclectic tastes. I enjoy modern folk, pop, rock, classical, a little bit of everything. Some of my favorites include Cheryl Wheeler, John Gorka, Brent Bourgeois, Colbie Caillet, Ingrid Michaelson, Cliff Eberhardt, The Wreckers, Aerosmith, and Katie Herzig. If I'm writing in a certain time period, I enjoy listening to music from that time period. It helps set the mood for what I'm trying to write.
Do you have any other projects you'd like to share with fans?
I mentioned it before, but Joel Eisenberg of Council Tree Productions is currently shopping my alternate reality short story, “Beside Myself”, as a TV series. I'm also hard at work on the third and final book in the “Small Things” Trilogy, a sequel to “Memories of a Ghost”, and another stand-alone book.