James Dashner jumps into a new reality

Interview • The best-selling YA author talks about "The Eye of Minds" and the forthcoming "Maze Runner" film.
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Accountant-turned-author James Dashner is launching a new fantasy series. "The Eye of Minds," the first installment in "The Mortality Doctrine" series, goes on sale Tuesday, Oct. 8. Billed as " 'The Matrix' meets 'Inception,' " the young-adult novel follows a teen gamer enlisted to pursue a deadly hacker in a virtual world called the VirtNet.

Dashner, 40, a Georgia native and current Utah resident, has sold 2.4 million copies of his "The Maze Runner" series, with the film version of "The Maze Runner" set for a Valentine's Day release. His other series include "The 13th Reality" and "The Infinity Ring."

The author will kick off a 13-city book tour with a reading and signing in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. But first, he answered questions from The Tribune's Catherine Reese Newton and her teenage son, Adam, via email.

The last time you spoke with The Salt Lake Tribune (in 2011), you had just finished the "Maze Runner" trilogy — or so we thought. [Dashner released a prequel the next year.] When you set out to write a series, do you always hold out the possibility of revisiting that universe via a sequel or prequel?

I guess I've learned to never say never because ultimately I like giving my readers what they want if it's possible. As long as it makes sense. With "Maze Runner," I had thrown out the idea for a prequel from the very beginning, and we decided to move forward with it when the series took off. It was a lot of fun to write and has become the favorite of some. However, I can pretty much guarantee there won't be a sequel to the series. That would be a major stretch based on how it ended.

How do you come up with the worlds you depict in your fiction?

That's really hard for me to answer (don't worry, I'll try!). I'm not one of those authors who spends weeks or months developing background and building the world and characters. A lot of it develops organically inside my head. I have a spark of an idea, write a very simple outline, spend a little time thinking through my characters, and then I trust my instincts to fill in the blanks as I dive into the actual writing process.

Who's your favorite character to write about, and why?

Minho was my favorite in "The Maze Runner," and Michael, the main character in "The Eye of Minds," is my current favorite. I can identify with both of them, but they have characteristics I only wish I had.

Would you, personally, use the VirtNet? Would you be a hacker?

I'd pretty much give up one of my children to have and use the VirtNet (I hope they don't read this). OK, maybe not (maybe). But a virtual reality world that's indistinguishable from the real world in which you can literally do anything, be anything, go anywhere? That would be incredible. Dangerous, but incredible. As for being a hacker, I'm not sure I have the smarts for that. My dad was a computer programmer, though, and served as an inspiration for the main characters.

Tell us about your involvement with the forthcoming "Maze Runner" film.

I've been very happy that 20th Century Fox has invited me to be so involved. I gave feedback on the script, I visited the set twice, and I've been in constant contact with the producers and director. I feel very good about the direction the film has gone, and all I can say is that so far it looks incredible. And it stays completely true to the tone and spirit and plot of the book.

Authors nowadays seem to have so much more interaction with, and immediate feedback from, their audience than ever before. Has reader feedback ever led you to see your characters in a different light or sparked an unexpected plot twist?

I can't think of any specific examples, but I know they've sparked ideas. I try to ride the fine line between making my readers happy and making myself happy with what I write. But I absolutely love staying connected with my fans, especially on Twitter (@jamesdashner). It's just so quick and easy and fun.

There are some intense, even brutal situations in "The Eye of Minds." Is the series targeted for an older audience, and can readers expect it to become more intense?

Officially, the book is listed as for readers age 12 and up. I think "The Maze Runner" is a good litmus test. It's about on the same level in terms of intensity, suspense and violence. I don't really think about age all too much when I write — I just try to create something that I'd personally love to read, and I'm an adult. Each book might ratchet up the intensity a bit — we shall see! —

Meet James Dashner

James Dashner will read from and sign "The Eye of Minds," the first book in a new series for young-adult readers. Local young-adult author Sara Zarr also will be featured at the event.

When • Tuesday, Oct. 8, 7 p.m.

Where • Rowland Hall, 843 Lincoln St., Salt Lake City

Note • Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of "The Eye of Minds" from The King's English. Information: 801-484-9100 or www.kingsenglish.com/event/james-dashner-eye-minds