First and foremost, I would like to wish
Dan Wells a Happy, Happy Birthday!
Dreaming of Books Hop
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Book Nerd Interview
I was born in 1977, on March 4th—the only day of the year that’s also a sentence, so I may have been predestined to be a writer. (Okay, I admit, any day in March is technically a sentence, but March 4th is the only non-numeric sentence. So there.) My parents were avid readers and SF/Fantasy fans, and they began my education early: I saw Star Wars in the theater when I was four months old, my dad read me The Hobbit when I was six, and I’ve been hooked on everything like it ever since. In second grade I announced to my parents that I was going to be a writer, and promptly wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book about a maze that was literally impossible to escape—no matter which options you chose, you just kept going around in circles. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then.
I grew up in the US, in the state of Utah, and spent my childhood reading, writing, and learning everything I could. I thought for a time I was going to be a poet, and I still have a strong love of poetry. I’d like to think that, some day in the far-flung future, I’ll retire and teach British poetry in a college somewhere; I’ll find a way to combine John Keats, Emily Bronte, and A.A. Milne into a cohesive curriculum. I imagine that I will do so while wearing a tweed suit, ideally with elbow patches. My assistants will be a pair of hunting dogs named Cecil and Percy.
We had a library just a few blocks from my house—the Sprague Library in Sugarhouse, a place very dear to my heart—though one of the intervening streets was a very busy one that we were forbidden to cross without our parents. When I was finally old enough to go the library on my own I went almost every day, devouring book after book until the librarians knew me by name. Here I discovered Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, Madeline L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, and Fred Saberhagen. As I grew older I turned to other genres—not because I’d outgrown the fantasy section, but because I’d read the whole thing and needed something new. I read science fiction. I read historical fiction. I read historical non-fiction and true crime. In high school I discovered “classic literature” and the likes of Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain. Hungry for more I started reading non-English works outside of class, and began a lifelong love of French and Russian literature through the works of Victor Hugo and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Oddly enough, I never really read a lot of horror, but you can still see, looking at the list above, how I ended up as a horror writer. The brilliant misanthropy of Crime and Punishment and The Secret Agent; the devastating obsession of Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo; the terrifying human potential of The Heart of Darkness; the hopeless grandeur of The Hunchback of Notre Dame; these fired my mind unlike anything I’d ever read before. I thought I was going to be a high fantasy writer, but everything I wrote had a dark undercurrent lurking in the background, begging to get out, and with each book I wrote I tested that darkness a little further. Eventually a friend (Brandon Sanderson who deserves full credit for this) called me on it and told me to just give in and write a horror book. Without a really solid grounding in modern horror I turned to the next closest thing I had: true crime, and my sidebar obsession with serial killers. It was like coming home—I don’t know how else to explain it. I’d been writing books and short stories for years, with varying degrees of success, but the instant I sat down to write about John Cleaver, teenage sociopath, I knew I’d finally found what I wanted to do.
Meanwhile, believe it or not, I had a life outside of books. I lived in Mexico for two years, and traveled to Germany for a few weeks. I got married and had four kids. I worked as a marketing and advertising writer in a string of local corporations, hawking everything from shampoo to fitness machines to humanitarian sponsorships. I volunteered on a small press SF magazine (The Leading Edge); I started a game review website (www.timewastersguide.com); I helped start a weekly writing group (formerly “Here There Be Dragons,” now known as “Rats with Swords”). In my spare time, such as it is, I am an absolutely rabid gamer—an entire room of our house is filled with tabletop miniatures, collectible card games, and my vast collection of board games.
I've always thought of myself as I writer--I told my parents in second grade that I was going to be an author--and I think it's because I've always been a reader. My parents read to us, they read to themselves; I can hardly even picture my Mom without a book in her hand. It's take much before hearing stories turns into creating stories, and then I was hooked for life.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I used to do a lot of theater--school stuff, community stuff, singing and dancing and acting. I actually miss it a lot, but I don't have time right now to get back into it.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
Make sure you know why you're doing it. If you're in it for money, or for recognition, it's easy to get disappointed. If you're writing because you love it, none of that other stuff is going to bother you. I actually got quite discouraged a few years ago while I was still trying to get published, and thought about giving up, but I realized that if I wasn't writing professionally I'd still be doing it as a hobby--it's a part of my life, and I'll keep doing it no matter what happens because the writing itself is what makes me happy.
Do you ever come up with anything so wild that you scare yourself, that leaves you wondering where that came from?
Before PARTIALS I published a series of horror novels about a teenage sociopath who stalks monsters. The third book in that series, called I DON'T WANT TO KILL YOU, really freaked my out when I drew up the initial outline. There is some weird, freaky stuff in my head.
How many books have you written?
I have written ten novels, and if I can stick to my schedule, this year I'll finish two more. Several of those will remain unpublished, because they're horrible, but I like to think that each one gets better.
What was your inspiration for Partials?
I grew up in the Cold War, when every morning we woke up wondering if the world would end, so I've always wanted to write a good post-apocalyptic book. I was actually right in the middle of writing an apocalyptic novel--one that takes place during the end of the world, rather than after--when HarperTeen came to me and asked if I had any good YA to sell them. The apocalypse book wasn't a good fit, so I took some of the same ideas (genetics, plague, human arrogance, power and control, etc.) and spun them off in a different direction. In some ways PARTIALS is a spiritual sequel to a book I haven't finished writing yet, which is kind of a funny situation, but there you go.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Kira?
What surprised me most was how easy it was to turn strengths into flaws. I wanted to make Kira as strong as possible: smart, brave, resourceful, and willing to stand up to any kind of oppression and right any wrongs she came across. Those are all good qualities, but taken to the extreme they made her a little reckless, a little short-tempered, and more than a little conflicted as she tries to sort out exactly where she should target her passion. It made her a much more interesting character. On the flip side, I found by the end that a lot of her flaws can also be turned into strengths, which is fun to play around with as I write the second book.
If you could introduce Kira to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
This is going to sound very self-serving, but I'd love to introduce Kira to John Cleaver, the hero (of sorts) from my serial killer series. I kind of think they'd murder each other within hours.
Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
There are three books in the PARTIALS sequence, and I'm in the middle of writing the second one now. There were all carefully planned from the start--I wanted to have a lot of mysteries, and a lot of conspiracies, and I was determined to make them make sense. I didn't want readers to get halfway through and realize that I didn't actually know what I was doing. Before I wrote anything I sat down and figure out exactly how it was going to end, and why, and then worked my way backward to the start of book one. It's going to be a great, epic story once it's all told.
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
I read very few reviews of my own work. I used to, and they really started to bug me, so I just gave up completely. If somebody posts a really positive one on twitter I'll skim it to see if I should retweet it, but other than that I avoid them altogether.
Any recent appearances that you would like to share with us about/any upcoming ones?
I'm going to be part of HarperTeen's DARK DAYS tour in March, April, and July, which is a really cool tour where they take a handful of YA authors and send them around the country together. You can find the schedule on my website, or on Harper's, and I'm really excited for it. It's going to be great.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
Anything about politics. That and religion are the fastest ways to start an argument, and I find it's just better to smile and nod and move on to something else.
What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
"What do you want for your birthday?" I'm not saying I have a good answer, I just think it would be funny if people asked it.
What is your most memorable travel experience?
I used to live in Mexico, and spent some times in the Tarahumara mountains, and the best way to travel up there was to ride the trains--passengers trains when you could find them, but also freight trains. There's a huge logging industry up there, so long trains of empty flatbeds would head up into the mountains to pick up lumber, and we could hop on those and ride them anywhere. It's gorgeous country, and riding in a flatbed is possibly the best way to experience it.
If you could be any mythology creature, what would you be?
A sphinx, because I could totally see myself asking jerky riddles and then doling out rewards and punishments to people who answered them. Mythological creatures are all kind of toying with humanity anyway, so why not go all the way?
What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
Seven years ago my wife had a miscarriage that almost killed her; she started bleeding internally, passed out, and I had to call 911 to rush her into surgery. She was losing so much blood so quickly that they didn't have time to warm up the blood bags from storage, so she started going into hypothermia as they wheeled her into the operating room. When that door closed I honestly didn't know if I'd ever see her again. She's fine now, and we have five kids--two before this experience and three after--but there's more than a little of that terror, and the things I learned from it, in PARTIALS.
How do you feel about the horror boom of the 80’s and early 90’s?
Horror goes in cycles, more so than any other genre--sometimes it's super popular, and sometimes people just don't care. Part of this is the seesaw between books and movies: Stephen King was huge in the seventies, which sparked a boom of slasher films in the 80s, which sparked a resurgence of horror literature in the 90s, and then a huge wave of zombie stuff in the 00s. I'd like to think that we're due for another popular hunger for horror books, and the authors are certainly there for it: people like Jonathan Maberry and Sarah Pinborough and Stieg Larsson and on and on and on. Even the really popular YA books today, like TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES, are kind of proto-horror that, I hope, will encourage people to dip a little deeper into the genre. It's a very good time to be a horror reader.
If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional. with whom would it be?
Johannes Gutenberg's best friend. I want to be there for the very first printed page in human history; that would be an almost religious experience for me.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite horror book and why?
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, by Victor Hugo. It's a beautiful book, epic and poetic and terribly, horrifically tragic for every single character. That's the book that taught me how a sad ending is not a bad one--done right, a story that's sad for the characters can be cathartic and even uplifting for the person reading it.
Where can your readers stalk you?
I keep a blog at www.fearfulsymmetry.net, which I try to update twice a week: one post about writing and one post about boardgames, which is my biggest hobby. I'm also on Facebook, and on Twitter as @johncleaver, and of course I love to meet readers at conventions and signings and other events. If you can make it to any of the events I announce online, please come say hi.
The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.
Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws have pushed what's left of humanity to the brink of civil war, and she's not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will find that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them—connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there.
Dan Wells, acclaimed author of I Am Not a Serial Killer, takes readers on a pulsepounding journey into a world where the very concept of what it means to be human is in question—one where our humanity is both our greatest liability and our only hope for survival.
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