Having humans be the real monsters is so common in post-apocalyptic stories that it’s moved past being a trope and is now a cliché. Which is why Gene Doucette avoided it like the plague when writing his “cozy apocalypse” novel, The Apocalypse Seven (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Doucette explains what inspired and influenced this story, and why he decided to buck convention.
Photo Credit: © Leanne’s Studio Of Photography
To start, what is The Apocalypse Seven about, and when and where does it take place?
It’s about seven strangers who wake up to discover that they’ve evidently slept through the apocalypse. It takes place in the Boston area — Cambridge, primarily.
As to when it takes place… I’m not going to answer that.
Mysterious… So, where did you get the idea for The Apocalypse Seven, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote it?
Well? It began with “I think I’d like to write a post-apocalyptic story.” Later it became, “wouldn’t it be funny if this guy just flat-out missed the apocalypse?” Then I worked out how that could have happened and I started writing.
It’s difficult for me to say what did or did not change as I wrote it, because — as you can see — I didn’t start off with very much. Everything else, from the other six characters to the events leading up to them meeting each other, to the climax of the book, I came up with while writing the first draft.
Is there a reason there’s 7 survivors and not 5 or 9 or 37? Are you a big fan of The Magnificent Seven?
It seemed like a good number, story-wise. I assembled this group, loosely, on the framework of a D&D party (one ranger, one paladin, one wizard, one thief, etc.), which was an easy way to make sure everyone had complementary survival skills. That took me up to seven. And these are all point-of-view characters, meaning I write sections of the novel from each of their individual perspectives. It’s hard to do that with more than seven.
In a similar vein, is there a reason you set it in Cambridge as opposed to New York or Paris or West Orange, New Jersey?
I live in Cambridge; this was very much a case of “write what you know.” Also, to go back to the question about how I came up with the idea, it’s definitely also the case that I have walked around where my characters also walk, and I have said to myself, “I wonder what this would look like if there was literally nobody else around?” (This ended up being a lot easier to envision at the height of the pandemic, when there was nobody else around quite often, but by then I’d already finished the book.)
The Apocalypse Seven is, as you said, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. But are there any other genres at work in this story?
I’m not the best when it comes to genre fealty, so probably. I mean, it’s definitely also a first-contact story in its way, and there are some horror elements.
So then what do you think makes The Apocalypse Seven different from other post-apocalyptic sci-fi stories, be it Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or The Walking Dead or even that sitcom The Last Man On Earth?
One of the things that’s definitely different — at least for the first two examples — is that I really wanted to write something where human beings basically got along with one another and worked together to survive as a group. I wasn’t interested in another, “but humans are the real monsters” perspective. We’ve been calling it a cozy apocalypse story, which I think is perfect.
It doesn’t sound like those things influenced The Apocalypse Seven. Well, except negatively.
Last Man On Earth is probably the most similar in spirit, but I only watched a few episodes of it. I also never read The Road, and I gave up on The Walking Dead pretty early. If I’m being honest, I have actually ingested (in whatever media) very few post-apocalypse stories.
Which makes this next question possibly moot, but I’ll ask anyway: Are there any movies, TV shows, or games that you consider to be a big influence on The Apocalypse Seven?
Lucifer’s Hammer and The Stand both come to mind as potential influences, but I read both of them ages ago, and remembered being somewhat nonplussed by the latter. World War Z, maybe, except now I’m worried that I’m just naming genre-appropriate books I definitely read.
I think rounding oneself out as a writer means continuously adding to your toolkit, which is something I’ve been doing for a while. By now I know how to tell a story effectively and well in a lot of different ways — by figuring out how other writers did it, and by practicing it myself. So it may be the case that I employed some different techniques in The Apocalypse Seven, but they all came from the same toolkit.
Now, in the previous interview we did about The Spaceship Next Door, you said it had been influenced by Douglas Adams, and that, “I’ve always leaned in with my sense of humor, meaning I learned a long time ago it’s something I can control, but not eliminate entirely.” Does The Apocalypse Seven have a sense of humor as well?
It does have humor, but I don’t know how much of it is observational. As I said earlier, I was sort of aiming for “cozy apocalypse,” and humor is very much a component of that. I would say this is tonally somewhat similar to The Spaceship Next Door, which was my goal. I would also say it’s not as funny, because there are fewer opportunities.
So who do you see as being the biggest influences on the humor in The Apocalypse Seven?
Much harder to answer. I can’t really cite Adams again here, because even though I just said The Apocalypse Seven is tonally similar to The Spaceship Next Door, there’s one key difference: the absence of an omniscient narrative voice. There are several points in Spaceship in which I employ an omniscient narrator — that is, third-person narration not from a character who exists in the books. But The Apocalypse Seven is written only from the close third-person perspective of the seven point-of-view characters. There’s still observational humor, but it’s slightly more restrained.
As for what did influence the humor instead… I’m certain there are other works of fiction out there that are playing with the same toys I am, but I can’t think of any I’d cite as direct influences. I’m just making this part up as I go.
Now, you’ve written some stand-alone novels and some that are part of a series. What is The Apocalypse Seven?
It was always intended as a stand-alone. I think I’d enjoy revisiting the characters if there was an interest in it, but the story is self-contained. And if we’re just talking about the story, it’s like that because I envisioned it that way. If you’re asking why I envisioned it that way…at this point I’m developing projects thinking, as I do this, how they’re going to be published. I’d rather self-publish series, and I’d prefer bringing a stand-alone book to a publisher, so when I was talking to the publisher about a new project, that project was always going to be a stand-alone.
Both Hollywood and the video game industry love post-apocalyptic stories. Do you think The Apocalypse Seven could work as a movie, show, or game?
In a world where I get everything I want, this would be an 8 to 10 episode limited series on a streaming service. I think the gradual development of the mystery at the heart of it, the seven different POVs, and their various individual and collective mini-triumphs naturally lends itself to episodic storytelling.
And if that was going to happen, who would you want them to cast as the 7 castaways, uh, I mean survivors?
I’m not going to even try. I will say that since the characters are multicultural, the adaptation should honor that.
Also, since you’re a screenwriter as well as a novelist, would you want to write the script?
I could start it right now if someone was interested. It wouldn’t even take me that long.
I mentioned The Spaceship Next Door earlier, and our interview about it. In that Q&A, I asked you if the follow-up to that novel, The Frequency Of Aliens, was going to be republished the way Spaceship had been, and you said, “It isn’t that we’ve made plans to do so or not to do so; we just haven’t had the conversation yet. So, not yes-or-no; just ask-me-again-later.” So since it’s later…?
We’ve not yet found a balance between their level of interest in re-releasing The Frequency Of Aliens as a reprint and my interest in parting with the rights. I’m not going to say this will never happen, but not soon.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Apocalypse Seven, which of your other books would you suggest they read next and why that one?
After that depends very much on what they’re in the mood for. The Immortal series is six full novels and six novellas in a different genre (fantasy) and a different narrative type (first person) but it’s also very fun and very funny. The Fixer books are more serious, and straddle sci-fi and fantasy, as does the stand-alone Unfiction.
I’m also in the middle of a much more serious hard sci-fi series called Tandemstar. It’s only two books in, with book three to come by the end of this year. And if you’re a fan of short stories, you’ll find me showing up in a couple of “best-of” collections this year, and a magazine or two. Finally, I’m starting a serial story for a new Amazon program that does not (as of this writing) exist yet, but will soon. That story is called Invasion Nation, and it’s going to be quite similar to both Apocalypse and Spaceship.