In the following email interview about his new novel The Temps (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Andrew DeYoung calls it a dystopian apocalyptic coming-of-age story…but then says he was inspired to write something about people’s post-college years. We’ve contacted the proper authorities.
Photo Credit: Sarah DeYoung
To begin, what is The Temps about, and when and where does it take place?
The Temps is about a group of temp workers who get stuck at the office of the mega-corporation they work for during a global apocalypse. There are a few hundred survivors, but the book is told primarily through the eyes of four characters — Jacob, Lauren, Swati, and Dominic — who each have questions about what really happened outside, what it means, and what the mysterious Delphi Enterprises or its reclusive CEO might have had to do with it.
Where did you get the original idea for The Temps?
I’ve long wanted to write about the post-college years, the early years of adulthood when it’s hard to know what you want to do with your life. For me, those years were ones of disillusionment and confusion, and it sometimes even felt to me like the world was ending. So I wanted to write an apocalyptic novel about people in their 20s. And it just made sense to set it in an office, with temp workers, since so much of my early adult years were spent working crappy jobs in offices. As soon as I came up with the idea, I knew I had a premise where I could talk about a lot of the ideas I wanted to talk about, while also making sure the book was fun, with a lot of action and plot twists.
And how often have people said to you, “Oh, so it’s like that movie The Belko Experiment?”
This is the first time, actually. I wasn’t aware of The Belko Experiment when I started writing The Temps, but I became aware of it maybe halfway through the first draft. And I still haven’t seen it. My understanding with that one is that the office workers are locked in and told they have to kill each other; in my book, the temps are mostly getting along inside the office, while all the scary stuff is happening outside. So it’s a little different. But I did end up taking some inspiration from The Belko Experiment by adding a rumor to my book that the company management might be running an experiment on the survivors. It’s a little nod to the movie that I added in after I became aware of it.
The Temps sounds like it’s a dystopian thriller. Is that how you’d describe it?
Yes, a lot of people are saying it’s dystopian…and I agree. Much of the book centers on speculation about what the company, Delphi Enterprises, actually does, and many of the details that emerge are dystopian in nature.
It’s also an apocalyptic novel. Dystopian and apocalyptic sometimes overlap, but the distinction I draw is that dystopian books are about the way society is ordered, while apocalyptic books are about the end of the world. The Temps has both: dystopian with the corporate satire, apocalyptic with the global catastrophe happening outside.
A couple more genres I’d add are office comedy (like the TV show The Office, or the movie Office Space), and coming of age novel. It’s a mix of a lot of things.
Now, unless I’m mistaken, The Temps is your second novel after The Exo Project…
Yes, though The Temps is my first adult novel; The Exo Project was YA.
Gotcha. So then, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Temps but not on The Exo Project, or anything else you’ve written?
There are definitely a few new surprising influences I discovered while writing The Temps. One that I didn’t expect was Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a book about a suburban family dealing with the various absurdities of modern life — and then fleeing from an “airborne toxic event” that poisons the air. Another one would be Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying Of Lot 49, with its paranoia (paranoia is a major theme of The Temps) and its mysterious figures and organizations. One final influence I’d mention is Dave Eggers’ The Circle, which was a story about a young employee of a tech company that might be bringing about utopia…or might be evil.
How about non-literary influences; do you think The Temps was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Oh, definitely! One big one is Dawn Of The Dead, both the George Romero version and the later Zack Snyder remake. In those movies, a group of survivors hide out from zombies inside a shopping mall, setting up both zombie action and a satirization of capitalism and consumerism. My book is a lot like Dawn Of The Dead, but set in an office complex instead of a mall.
Another one is the TV show Lost. I was a big Lost watcher back in the day. Of course, people have their criticisms about how that series ended and resolved (or didn’t resolve!) its mysteries. But either way, it’s an influence on The Temps. The office in my book is a bit like a desert island, the survivors are stranded there, and there turns out to be a big mystery at the heart of the “island.”
And what about June Carter Cat? What influence did your cat have on The Temps?
Mostly a negative influence…by sitting on my keyboard while I was trying to write.
No, actually, she’s usually not too terribly distracting while I’m writing. If anything, she helps keep me warm by sitting on my lap while I’m at my desk, which keeps me at the keyboard. In fact, I generally recommend a cat if you’re trying to get some writing done. They help make a cozy office.
Now, it sounds like The Temps is a stand-alone novel. But you never know. So…what is it?
As you say, you never know, but I do think that The Temps will be a stand-alone novel. The reason I say that is — and hopefully without giving too much away — that the action moves away from the office by the end of the book. One of the main things that excited me about writing The Temps in the first place was this combination of office / workplace satire and apocalypse. So if the office isn’t a part of the story anymore, then I’ve lost the corporate satire, and I’ll have to find a different thing to draw me in. So far, I haven’t yet had that spark that makes me think, Oh, I have to write that.
But who knows, right? I think of someone like Stephen King, who went decades between The Shining and the sequel, Doctor Sleep. If a sequel idea comes along, you have to write it.
Normally this would be the point where I’d ask if your think your book would work as a movie, a TV show, or a game. But The Temps is already being made into a TV show. Is there anything you can tell us about it?
I can’t tell you much. And not because I’m being cagey or secretive; it’s because I really don’t know much. The movie / TV development process is a little mysterious to me, and the best thing I can do is to sit back and leave it up to the professionals.
What I can say that the book was optioned by a great production company, with people who want to make it happen and make it really great. But I also know, from other author friends and from keeping an eye on entertainment news, that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in movie and TV development. Things can take a long time, or fall apart in unexpected ways. So I’m just trying to be patient, hoping the book will indeed eventually make its way to the screen. It would be a dream come true.
They won’t, but if the producers asked you for suggestions about who to cast as Jacob, Lauren, Swati, and Dominic, who would you suggest and why them?
The characters in The Temps are mostly in their early- to mid-20s, so for the sake of realism, I think we’d have to focus on young, up-and-coming actors.
For Jacob, I think about someone like Fred Hechinger, who was in The White Lotus. Jacob needs a bit of nerdy energy, so I think that works.
For Lauren, I’ve been really impressed with Olivia Scott Welch in the Amazon series Panic as well as in the Netflix Fear Street movies. She looks a little bit like how I picture Lauren in my head, and I think she’s a really great actor.
For Swati, maybe Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. She’s in Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever. She’s only 19, so she might be a little young for the early-20s Swati, but then again TV development takes a while so she might end up being the exact right age by the time a TV show is ready to shoot.
And Dominic could be played by Camron Jones — he was also in Panic — or maybe Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas in Stranger Things.
It’s definitely fun to think about this stuff.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Temps, what similarly dystopian and maybe even claustrophobic novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
A claustrophobic novel I really enjoyed recently was Rumaan Alam’s Leave The World Behind, which told the story of a family who is on vacation while some sort of global political crisis takes place. It’s claustrophobic because almost all the action of the novel takes place in the house the family is renting, and they really have no clue what’s happening outside, because the power goes out and all communications start failing. In fact, I’ve read the book and I’m still not completely clear on what disastrous event took place. This bothers some readers, but I liked it because I was left speculating just like the characters in the novel were.
One more recommendation, this one more dystopian and less claustrophobic: Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City. This is a weird book that is hard to describe: it involves a washed-up child actor, a tiger on the loose, a type of extremely rare and valuable vase, a virtual world a bit like Second Life, an astronaut stranded in orbit, and a lot of pot smoking. I was puzzled by this book when I first read it, but I’ve come back to it a couple times and I like it a little more each time I read it.
Both of these novels are a little less plot-driven than mine, but both pick up on some specific vibes from my book that people might enjoy.