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After years of work in the field of finance, and under the heavy spell of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and William Golding's Lord of the Flies, James Dashner sat down to try his hand at writing his own book.
Today, years later, the first and second books of his Maze Runner series share the same company on The New York Times' best-seller list.
The story has been optioned for film by 20th Century Fox, but that's not nearly as exciting for Dashner as finishing the third installment in his planned trilogy, The Death Cure, due out next month. The book continues the tale of Thomas, who since the second installment, Scorch Trials, has been held in solitary confinement for scientific trials for a cure to "the Flare."
More than 1 million readers, including "30 Rock" television star Elizabeth Banks, count themselves fans. The humble South Jordan resident, family man and father of four takes it all in stride, even if there's a hint of mischief shining through his phone voice when asked about his next big book.
"The best I can do is a little tease," Dashner said. "I have two new projects that will be announced this fall."
Three books over one story is a feat few writers achieve. How does it feel to complete a trilogy?
It's bittersweet. I'm excited for my readers, who want to see how the series ends, but it also makes me sad to think I'll never write about these characters again, or this world I built.
Two of the most famous young-adult novelists who've also penned trilogies, C.S. Lewis with the Narnia Chronicles and Philip Pullman with His Dark Materials, are renowned for writing philosophical and religious allegory into the context of their narratives. What do you hope young readers take away from your books? At times your books impart a utilitarian message, or even a subtext that a certain amount of suffering and hardship is necessary for progress.
I absolutely did not intend any kind of religious allegory or anything of that sort, but some themes and elements naturally crept in. There was one theme built in on purpose, though. It's the phrase "wicked is good." I love the concept of nothing being purely good or purely evil. I really wanted readers to question whether they could get desperate enough to do certain things. I wanted the lines blurred just enough so they might ask whether the ends ever justify the means.
It's an old concept. There's an old wives' tale of a village where everyone thrives, but only because they keep one child forever locked in a closet. It's a timeless moral dilemma. If you can hurt a few people, but save millions, that's not an easy black-and-white message. But really, I wrote these books to entertain people.
The device of your first book, a maze in which the walls move every night, and in which those who venture inside run the risk of getting stung, sounds an awful lot like the stock market. How much influence did your previous profession in finance provide for your books?
A lot of my books have riddles, codes and mysteries readers must solve. That comes from the analytical side of my brain. But really, other than instilling the discipline needed to write for a living and meet deadline, my finance background didn't influence the books that much.
With the world falling apart and transforming all at once, why are readers drawn to the dystopian genre right now?
I don't know if it's that kids really think the world is heading toward dystopia, so much as the after-effect of a huge surge in speculative and fantasy fiction. To me, dystopian novels just add a level of possibility, and that's fascinating to children and adults. It's really creepy to know, or feel, that it could happen. Dystopian novels take speculative fiction a step further. They're realistic, and yet speculative. Ultimately, though, dystopia is just a setting for a good story.
What do you make of complaints that your books are too violent?
I see those as compliments. My books are officially listed for ages 12 and up, and I feel that's where they belong. It certainly doesn't bother me if people complain about that, but in my opinion they're not excessive.
Justin Cronin, author of the vampire novel The Passage, commented that he wrote it after his daughter worried his other novels were boring. Do your children mold or influence the way you write?
My oldest is 11. He read the Maze Runner books and gave me his overall stamp of approval. But now that he and his friends are getting older, I'm going to have them read the manuscripts before I submit them to my publisher. I want to see if my voice is too "old-mannish."
What is your theory about why Utah is such a hotbed of young-adult, "YA," writing talent?
Everyone asks that. I don't know. It has nothing to do with the Mormon faith, but it might have something to do with the number of kids here. It's one of those "chicken or egg" puzzles.
You moved to Utah from your home in Georgia. Was that a big transition?
Actually, it was my LDS mission to Japan that was the bigger change. Coming out to Utah, you realize it's the same country, little bit different culture. Japan to me felt like a different world. I had this sense of wonder I've never forgotten. I think it helps me write characters, to describe what they feel when they experience something otherworldly.
P Author of The Maze Runner presents his trilogy's final installment, The Death Cure.
When • Tuesday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m.
Where • The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Info • Free. Call 484-9100 or visit kingsenglish.com or jamesdashner.com for more information.