My friend Gene Doucette has a new book out called Immortal. A combination of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, it’s hard to categorize neatly by genre, but he’s given me the opportunity to review the book and do an interview as well. As a bonus, you can find an excerpt below. I hope you’ll check it out, and, if you like it, you can order the book here:
Amazon.com says the following about Immortal:
I don’t know how old I am. My earliest memory is something along the lines of fire good, ice bad, so I think I predate written history, but I don’t know by how much. I like to brag that I’ve been there from the beginning, and while this may very well be true, I generally just say it to pick up girls.
Surviving sixty thousand years takes cunning and more than a little luck. But in the twenty-first century Adam confronts new dangers: someone has found out what he is, a demon is after him, and he has run out of places to hide. Worst of all, he has had entirely too much to drink.
IMMORTAL is a first person confessional, penned by a man who is immortal but not invincible. In an artful blending of sci-fi, adventure, fantasy and humour, Immortal introduces us to a world with vampires, demons and other magical creatures, yet a world without actual magic. It is a contemporary fantasy for non-fantasy readers and enthusiasts alike.
Here’s my brief chat with Gene:
Immortality is a popular subject for a lot of writers. What made you decide to investigate it with Immortal?
To be honest, I had no idea how popular it was until I started promoting it. Then every few days it was, “Have you read…” or “Did you see…” I usually nod and try to point out where Immortal is different. And it is quite different. (I think the one story it has the most in common with is The Man From Earth, and the two stories are not at all close.)
I imagine I was drawn to it for the same reason most people were: the idea of being alive for long enough to have experienced things the rest of us have to read about is interesting. Maybe it’s a fear of death manifesting itself creatively, I don’t know.
In what way is Immortal different from the other stories?
When I began writing I posited one basic assumption: maybe this is all there is. I don’t mean religiously (although it made sense for my main character Adam to be an atheist) so much as intellectually and socially. On the scale of Adam’s lifetime societies are extremely temporary and knowledge is largely localized. There is a limit to the number of higher truths one can become aware of. In other words, grasping Plato doesn’t change anything if you’re still stuck in Aristotle’s rational reality.
So there is no magic, or true gods, or unnamable higher powers. And Adam has not become so detached from the world that he’s drifting through it like Bowie’s character in The Man Who Fell To Earth. He experiences. He interacts. And he drinks too much. He is a living representation of the history of mankind, but that history is messy and violent and not particularly full of enlightenment.
But you’ve included vampires and demons in this world.
I did. And pixies and iffrits and dragons, and in the next book you’ll see satyrs and werewolves and a few other things. But I took these beings and put them into a world without magic, and a world where history unfolds the way it has in the real world, in our world, meaning these creatures can’t have been significant enough to have had a direct effect. These are beings on the margins.
Including extra-human creatures was a concession I found I had to make to tell the story. And I’ve found that as long as readers find Adam plausible—and so far they have—the beings he associates with occasionally are equally plausible.
One of Adam’s themes throughout the book is that people exaggerate things, and that while some of the legendary things or events may have existed or happened, they were not as epic as described. It’s not a leap to have your main character declare on one page that the French Revolution was just an after-the-fact rationalization of a street riot, and on another page point out that the proportion of vampires that are also evil killers is roughly the same as the proportion of humans that are also evil killers.
Is this book part of a series or a standalone?
It’s part of a series now. When I first wrote it back in… good lord, 2004? I wrote a story that answered most of the questions raised within the book, such that a second or third book would have been less necessary, let’s say. But in rewrites I realized I’d crammed far too much into the final portion of the novel and it was killing the pace. So I pulled out some things—the most significant being his history with a certain red-haired woman. And then I went and wrote a second book that still didn’t answer those questions. So it’s going to be at least three books long.
What other books have you written?
My other published work is in humor. In 1999 I put out a collection of my humor columns called Beating Up Daddy and in 2001 I released The Other Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: A Parody which is a collection of fake “chapters” I did on my old website for fun. I just released an anniversary edition of that with new chapters as an ebook. I also put out a second collection of humor columns called Vacations and Other Errors In Judgment as an ebook a year or so ago.
For novels, I wrote a book called Charlatan before Immortal. It was agented and shopped but didn’t get published. I turned it into a screenplay a few years back, and that screenplay has won a few awards but isn’t currently optioned. Which is a shame; I think it’s better than most thrillers out there right now. And while Immortal was being shopped I wrote a novel called Fixer for which a deal may be pending. Then there’s Hellenic Immortal, which is in process.
What made you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think I ever made that decision. It was something I expected to be doing with my life as far back as when I learned how to read.
Do you outline, do character sketches, etc. or let the story unfold as it comes?
I start at the beginning and do the best I can to get to the end. So no outlines or character sketches or anything like that. But all that means is that I hold everything in my head rather than jotting it down. It’s easier for me to make changes if it’s not committed to “paper” somewhere. And my characters reveal themselves to me at the same time as the reader, usually through dialogue. It’s not something I’d recommend to someone who isn’t really good at writing dialogue, to be honest. (If I am allowed one moment of egotism: I am very good at dialogue.) Character delineation through conversation was one of the first things I learned how to do well, as a playwright.
Intrigued? I know I was. So here’s an excerpt from Immortal chapter four, in which Adam ponders the nature of the only other immortal he’s ever encountered, a red-haired mystery woman he’s never spoken to and only seen in glimpses throughout history.
I ran through the possibilities again. Vampire was one that was most likely, as they are hypothetically just as immortal as me. Except I’d seen her in the daytime on more than one occasion. And, every vampire I ever met had black eyes. Possibly she was a vampire that didn’t need to hide from sunlight and had blue eyes, but thats a bit like saying something is a cat except it walks on hind legs and has no fur or whiskers.
I dont know any other sentient humanoids that have a get-out-of-death clause. Well other than me. And I don’t have porcelain skin and haunting eyes. So she might be like me, but was she the same thing as me?
What was she?
Mind you, I’d run through all this before thousands of times. I’ve taken suggestions, too. A succubus I used to hang out with insisted my red-haired mystery girl was death incarnate, meaning my endless search for her was actually a complex working-out of my immortality issues. (A note: succubi are notorious amateur psychologists and have been since well before Freud. In fact I have it on good authority that Freud stole his whole gig from a particularly talkative succubus he used to know. And if you don’t believe Freud knew a succubus, you haven’t read Freud.) I didn’t find the argument convincing. If I am to believe in some sort of anthropomorphic representation of mortality I should first develop a belief in some higher power, or at least in life-after-death.
I’m a pretty sad example of what one should do with eternal life. I’ve never reached any higher level of consciousness, I don’t have access to any great truths, and I’ve never borne witness to the divine or transcendent. Some of this is just bad luck. Like working in the fishing industry in Galilee and never once running into Jesus. But in my defense there were an awful lot of people back then claiming to be the son of God; I probably wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of the crowd. And since I don’t believe there is a God, I doubt we would have gotten along all that well anyway.
I probably wasnt always quite so atheistic. I don’t recall much of my early hunter-gatherer days, but I’m sure that back then I believed in lots of gods. And that the stars were pinholes in an enclosed firmament. There might even have been a giant turtle involved. And I distinctly recall a crude religious ceremony involving a mammoth skin and lots of face paint. But after centuries on the mortal coil I’ve come to realize that religion is for people who expect to die someday and really want to go to a better place when that happens. It doesn’t apply to me.
Now be sure and check out the rest of the blog tour, offering new features every day: http://genedoucette.me/immortal-blog-tour-2011/