Author Spotlight: Interview with James Dashner (Part I)
Drum roll, please… The long-awaited interview with The Maze Runner‘s bestselling author, James Dashner, is here! We talked about Dashner back in October about his Maze Runner trilogy, including the final book The Death Cure and the upcoming prequel, as well as movies, favorite kids’ books, Dashner’s take on Harry Potter, and a handful of nerdy stuff. In fact, since our interview with him lasted over an hour, it’s so long we’ve broken it into two big posts. We’re huge fans of The Maze Runner trilogy, so this was pretty exciting (we’ll post a review at some point too). Ruby and I had a ball chatting with him, and we’re grateful that we were given the opportunity to pick his brain!
(Please forgive the posting delay: life got busy, but a big reason was that we were sworn to secrecy about The Maze Runner prequel, The Kill Order, that’s being released August 14, 2012!)
One word of warning: while there are no big spoilers involving book three in this interview, readers who haven’t read The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials yet might want to step carefully. Check it out and ENJOY!
If you’ve already finished Part I, read Part II here.
It feels bittersweet. There’s some sadness for it to be over, but I’m also just so thrilled that people finally get to read some of these scenes that have been in my head for so long and to see how it ends. The fact that we’re probably going to do a prequel now [The Kill Order] has got me really even more excited, because to me the prequel becomes the most exciting [book] once you know how it all ends, and I just think it’ll be very interesting to go back and see firsthand the stuff that happened before The Maze Runner. So it’s sort of a mixed bag of feelings, I guess, but mostly excitement.
Jenny: As far as these books go, did you plan a three-book series?
I envisioned it as a trilogy.
Ruby: In your books there’s a trend throughout the whole series in which Thomas always gets singled out and separated from the rest of the group. Is there a reason behind that for his development as a character or for the story as a whole?
I’ll say this: I think even from The Maze Runner we know that Thomas and Theresa are special. They were singled out to be more involved than everyone else in the stuff that happened before the maze and leading up to the maze. Throughout the process they are looking for what is called a “final candidate”. To me the whole concept of the “final candidate” shows that there is a side of WICKED [that doesn’t] want to be completely cruel and evil; they’re at least trying to narrow [the candidates] down to one person for what [WICKED] wants to do in the end. But in my mind, WICKED had always thought that Thomas and Theresa—and then in group B, their two counterparts—would probably [be the final candidate], and so they did plan some of the trials and variables to single them out, to capture some of their patterns, to try to finalize what they’re doing. I just thought Thomas was special and predicted to be what they would need. Probably one of my favorite things in The Scorch Trials is when [Thomas] gets shot with the gun. That was not something WICKED foresaw, and they were not willing to let Thomas die, so they broke against their normal protocol and swooped in to try to save him.
Jenny: I really liked that part, because it showed fallibility in the system–this ultimate system that’s consistently plotting every little detail, even they can get it wrong, because they’re just a bunch of people too.
Cool, I’m glad you got that out of it.
Ruby: Alright, so you talked before about how the initial idea for the books coming from experimenting on kids and teens. How did you come with the Grievers and the Changing? What’s the significance behind the Changing?
Y’know, I wanted something terrifying out in the maze, and I did not want it to be something that already exists: I didn’t want trolls or robots or unicorns or werewolves, vampires, whatever. I wanted it to be my own creation, something original, and I just thought, okay, wouldn’t it be cool if it was part animal, part machine. One specific thing I built into [the Grievers] was I didn’t want them to have a face or a head, because it’s purely a creation, a killing machine. It has no soul, no eyes you can look into, so it really made it seem more terrifying to me that you can’t even look it in the face. So part animal, part machine, and then I thought, all these terrifying instruments popping out of its disgusting skin—okay, I’m sick in the head, maybe… that’s why my neighbors are scared of me. [Laughs]
And the changing itself just has so many layers to it, and it really has to do with the variables. They’re trying to stimulate reactions in [the candidates’] brain patterns to study their reactions, and there are so many levels to the fear of getting stung, the process of the changing, the serum that they’re injected with, having their memories wiped but having some of their memories come back, the doubts they feel, whether or not they’re planted memories or real memories… There are just several levels to it, and I thought it was a great addition to the variables.
Jenny: Okay, so changing subjects a little bit, let’s talk names. Everyone has a historic names: Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton… with Theresa Agnes, I was guessing Mother Theresa. Is that right?
Jenny: Cool! So what’s the significance of all the names?
The thing with the names is there really is no significance to them. The reason it’s important is that I wanted to show the creators, the people who started this process, they thought that by almost dehumanizing [the candidates], by taking away their real names and giving them nicknames, it would create a separation between them, make it seem less real that you’re doing this to kids. What name they were given doesn’t have anything to do with their personality or the plans for them. People always ask me who Minho was named after. Well, I purposely did that: because the story is set pretty far in the future, I wanted to have at least one or two names that we don’t know, so it’s someone who doesn’t exist yet.
Ruby: Yeah, I tried Google-ing that and I came up with a lot of South Korean pop stars!
I wanted to have an Asian name in there, so that’s where it came from.
Ruby: Moving on to book two, in The Scorch Trials, Thomas and the two groups are put through some really bad trials, worse than what was happening in the maze. How did you get the ideas for the trials—the extreme weather, the crazy Cranks, and the betrayals?
It was so fun! Book two, in many ways, was my favorite, in one sense because I didn’t have the pressure of wrapping everything up which I knew would have in book three. In book two I had this freedom of using my creativity for the trials and for variables, and the Scorch itself is something that I thought, “Okay, I really wanna show the worst-case scenario of what the Flares did to the Earth.” The whole world is not like that, but the place where they do the trials is completely devastated wasteland, and I love the imagery of that. The storms—you know, anytime you have something like that, it wreaks havoc on the weather, so I just imagined this desert where horrific lighting storms would spring up, and some of the man-made variables like the flying metal balls in the tunnel that everyone always talks about [Laughs], I love this concept of technology that we don’t even comprehend yet. I mean, if I showed you an iPhone ten years ago, it would seem like magic, even just ten years ago, I think. And I think there are substances and creations that fifty to a hundred years from now, this concept of anti-gravity liquid metal that can do things like that… I don’t know how it came to me, it just seemed cool.
The main variable [in The Scorch Trials], and in some ways the harshest variable in book two, is the whole thing that Theresa does to make Thomas feel betrayed. That was really one of the few things that was set up and planned, really made Thomas feel a swing of emotions, climaxing in feeling completely betrayed by someone who was his best friend. That was a lot of fun to plan and an interesting effect of that—this was something my editor talked about for a long time—was that I wanted Thomas to forgive her, but I knew they could never be the same again. If someone does that to you, it changes you, and I think both of them changed forever from that point on, which is why they could never quite heal their friendship. Anyway, I was answering a lot of different questions there.
Ruby: Well on that same subject, if the candidates didn’t have the tattoos on the backs of their necks, if they didn’t know that Thomas was the one to be killed, Theresa was the betrayer, and Minho was the leader, do you think they would have still reacted the same way that they did?
Wow, good question. I love the concept of leading the witness, sort of like the movie Inception—y’know, planting an idea in someone’s head influencing their behavior. One of the little things I did is in the beginning we’re told Minho is the leader, and I love the dynamic of later on putting doubt into everyone’s heads because Thomas sees a sign that says he’s the real leader. Is that going to cause conflict or division? I really tried to think through things that would trigger either new reactions or new emotions.
[…] Also, you know when they called Newt “the glue”—I was trying to having little things in book two that you would have Aha! moments in book three that you could look back on. I really tried hard to have some of that throughout all three books. That’s why I’m so excited about the prequel. I would never want someone to read the prequel first, but after you’ve read the trilogy and the prequel, I think it would be so fun to read the trilogy again if you’re a die-hard fan. There are little things like the memory dreams that Thomas has, they have so much more meaning if you go back and read them again. They’re actually full of pretty cool information that you probably didn’t catch the first time.
Jenny: Yeah, every time I have a favorite series, I go back and like re-read them. Harry Potter is a good example: finish the series and then go back and everything makes sense now! If I had all the information I could’ve figured it out, but it all kind of lines up.
Jenny: I’m sorry, you must hate that comparison—it’s the book that every book is ever compared to!
No, no, quite the opposite! I’m one of the biggest Harry Potter fans in history. I always tell people—and this is not false modesty—Harry Potter is so rich and so full of depth and so amazing and so real, it’s one of the authors or books that I read where I’m like, I sincerely absolutely know I could never create something like that. It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime amazing creation. A thousand years from now I think people will be reading Harry Potter and still be amazed by it. I love it.
Jenny: Totally side-tracking here, but what’d you think of the epilogue to book seven? It’s been a bit controversial.
It almost made me like J.K. Rowling more. There’s a sweetness about it—these characters meant so much to her that she just wanted to show everyone that they all live happily ever after! [laughs] And you know, that’s okay with me. And I thought the movie was brilliant. I don’t know if you liked the last movie.
[Edited out 20 minutes of completely off-topic—but awesome!--film discussion. We're happy to post it later if requested!]
Jenny: So are you going to be in line to get the DVD or Blu-ray when it comes out?
Yeah, I am a big Harry Potter fan. I wish it had been around when it came out! Because as magical as it is to me, can you imagine… I mean, were you a kid when it came out?
Jenny: I was in the seventh or eighth grade when I started reading them. I actually avoided them like the plague! Even now, if something becomes really popular, I separate myself from it. I don’t’ know what it is! […] I think it’s just a false ego.
No, I think we all have a little bit of that in us.
Jenny: My mom one Christmas got me the first three books because I really loved to read—I used to get in trouble, my parents would threaten to take my books away because I reading instead of doing my homework or because I was reading under my desk at school. I was so bored one day, I’d read everything on my bookcase multiple times, and I’d avoided Harry Potter! I didn’t want to do it. But I was so bored that I thought, fine, I’ll read this book, whatever. And I distinctly remember reading the first three, and I remember as soon as I finished the last page of the third one, I put it back on the shelf and started reading the first one again immediately.
Oh, wow! So you experienced the magic of it as a kid.
I’m 38, I’m an old man… but seriously, some of the most magical moments of reading happen between the ages of eleven, twelve, and seventeen. I mean, there’s just something different about it; I think your brain when you’re that young, there’s a tiny part of it that believes it’s real. Like A Wrinkle in Time and The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, all these things I read when I was that age, there’s still a part of it that feels real to me. Reading is awesome, no doubt.
Ruby: Yeah, I unfortunately read all of those in my twenties.
Lord of the Rings is a chore to read […] I did plow through it when I was in middle school, and I remember even then thinking it was a chore. But the story itself still resonated with me. And I love those movies—I absolutely worship the movies. Counting down to the Hobbit movie!
Jenny: What do you think about Orlando Bloom getting stuck in there—we’re getting totally off track, I’m sorry! [Laughter]
No, we’re here to have fun! You mean how they just made an excuse to have him in there?
Ruby: So all the girls could swoon?
Jenny: Yeah, I don’t really get the Orlando Bloom appeal.
I’m not attracted to him at all. [Laughs]
Ruby: When we saw it, all the younger girls in the audience would swoon when he came on-screen, and the older women would wait until Aragorn came on.
Seriously? Oh my gosh, my all time favorite character–books, movies, television–is specifically Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. If I’ve ever had a man crush… [Laughs] He’s just so perfectly cast, and I love him in Lord of the Rings.
Ruby: He lived and breathed the roll: he spoke Elvish to Liv Tyler off set and used carried around a sword…
And somehow he’s in the Hobbit movies too, right? This is how morbid I am: I was so scared that Ian McKellan would die before they could film them. [laughs] I’m like, Sir Ian McKellan, you have to at least live long enough to film the Hobbit movies, and then you can die if you want. [Laughs]
Jenny: This is why you’re the favorite neighbor!
Yes, yes, exactly.
——————————— End Part I ———————————
Images from Our Time in Juvie, www.georgiacenterforthebook.org, and jamesdashner.blogspot.com
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