When Joe DeRouen takes a break from shaping the minds of America’s youth as an educator, he is crafting new worlds as a novelist. Though he has multiple projects currently being juggled, two that are demanding the most of his attention are Memories of a Ghost and Odds and Endings.
Nicholas Yanes: What were some stories you read as a kid that you loved and that you still enjoy re-reading?
Joe DeRouen: Does age 18 count as a kid? Because I first read Replay by Ken Grimwood at 18, and have re-read it at least a dozen times since. It’s about a man who dies, wakes up in college, and lives his life again, and again, and again. It’s my all-time favorite novel, and one that has definitely inspired my own writing.
Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to become a professional writer?
DeRouen: I think I always knew, even before I knew that such a “job” existed. I always enjoyed stories. As a kid, most of those stories were through drawings and paintings, but as I grew older I realized that my talents lay much more in the written word and chose to nourish that. I started out writing for magazines, wrote my first novel (Small Things) in 2004, and finally published it in 2012.
Yanes: You have a background as an educator. How do you think this experience has helped you become a better writer?
DeRouen: I mostly teach high school, and it’s certainly helped me better depict young characters. Teenagers aren’t the hapless, self-absorbed humans that bad sitcoms make them out to be. They care about issues, they care about politics, and they care about the world at large. They live nuanced lives, just like the rest of us.
Yanes: A book that is currently dominating your attention is Memories of a Ghost. What was the inspiration for this novel?
DeRouen: Imagine the sheer horror of waking up in a strange place with no idea what your name is or who you are. That’s what happens to Claire Summers, and she’s just as freaked out by it as you or I would be. Add in ghosts and other things that go bump in the night, and her story quickly turns into a nightmare.
Yanes: With renewed attention to how women are depicted in narratives, what steps did you take to make sure that Claire Summers – the main character of Memories of a Ghost – was such a fresh and unique person?
DeRouen: At the beginning of the novel, Claire Summers is a blank canvas. She has amnesia, and must figure out who she is, what happened to her, why she can do the things she can do, and where she fits into the world. She’s no one’s princess waiting to be rescued, that’s for sure.
Yanes: Another one of your books that has a lot of buzz around it is Odds and Endings: Fictions Short and Otherwise. What was the inspiration behind this collection? Was there a story that was a specific catalyst for this manuscript?
DeRouen: I’ve always enjoyed both reading and writing short stories, and decided I wanted to put together a collection. Of the 13 stories in the book, only a handful of them were previously published. Most of the stories, including a novella, were written especially for the project.
Yanes: As a collection of short stories, how did you make sure the stories had a coherent feel to them, but still stood out?
DeRouen: The thirteen tales in the collection encompass a wide variety of genres; fantasy, horror, science fiction, humor, and even romance. I will add that, though each story in unique, there is an “Easter egg” that ties most of them together. It’s been fun for me to occasionally receive an email or text from someone who put the pieces of the puzzle together!
Yanes: A story in Odds and Endings is “Besides Myself,” which has been recently optioned. What is this short about? And, is there a specific moment in it that you can’t wait to see acted out on screen?
DeRouen: “Beside Myself” is about a physics experiment that literally blows up and teleports thousands of people from our own universe into another, similar alternate universe. Alternate universe stories have been done before, of course, but I wanted to do this one from the perspective of ordinary people coming to terms with not being alone in the universe and, in many cases, no longer being a unique individual. Almost all the science aspects in the story come to you from newspaper and magazine articles and television newscasts, while the characters deal with the repercussions of that science.
In the TV series, the newspaper reporter Acacia Hale is changed to a television reporter, and takes on a much bigger role than she did in the short story. I can’t wait to see her in the flesh, nor can I wait to see the first person meeting their duplicate on the screen. The utter confusion in coming face-to-face with yourself and realizing your life has changed forever.
Working with Joel Eisenberg and Council Tree Productions on this project has been amazing. He’s pushed me to do things I never thought I could do, such as write a script, something I’d never done before. I’m very passionate about the project and have a lot of confidence in the story, and think that it’s going to wind up making an amazing TV series.
Yanes: When people finish reading your books, what do you hope that they take away from it?
DeRouen: Hope and wonder. That no matter how awful things seem, no matter how many losses are suffered, at the end of the day there is still hope to be had. And wonder because there is much, much more to our world than is seen in our day-to-day lives, and I do my best to capture that.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
DeRouen: I’m finally writing the third and final book in the Small Things trilogy. It should hopefully be finished this year and available to read in early 2018. I’m also working on a sequel to Memories of a Ghost as well as a small screen mini-series adaptation of that novel. Stay tuned!