‘We never truly let go of our childhood’
For The Herald
Before becoming a best-selling author, James Dashner used to be an accountant. Luckily for him and his many fans, he traded numbers for letters, and started writing. Nowadays, he travels the world thanks to the huge success of his Maze Runner saga and shares the ever-changing podium of young-adult literature amid huge sensations like The Hunger Games and Divergent (to level even more the score, Maze Runner will feature its own movie on September).
Despite his tight schedule, Dashner found some time to sit down with the Herald this week, after arriving at Buenos Aires for the Book Fair. In broad strokes, he is a full grown-up, who hasn’t given up on the callings of his inner child. A necessary virtue to survive the rough terrain of the editorial world — better yet, a necessary trait to survive oblivion, perhaps the roughest terrain a writer faces.
How would you describe the architectural process of your stories?
It always starts with a very concise idea and then I let it brew a little bit. Next I’ll do maybe two or three pages of just brainstorming, but at that point I’m usually so excited to start writing that I just write the first draft and I never let myself edit while doing it. It’s just straight-through, because all I care about is the creative process and it usually takes me about two or three months. Afterwards, I spend as much time in the edition process as I spent in the first draft, but there’s no concrete way to know when you’re done. This may sound dumb but, for me, it’s when I start to feel like I’m just sick of it. That triggers in me the following idea: “ok, you’re too close to this book — two months ago you were in love with this book, it’s time to let it go.”
Most of your protagonists are teenagers. Also, when canvassing the “young adults” section, one can find this as a common thread. Do you feel it’s necessary to use young characters to engage the readers?
I don’t know if it’s necessary, but I think that teenagers really want to relate to the main character. And it’s such an added bonus to have a character that’s so similar to them. What’s really blowing me away is that so many adults are falling in love with these young-adult books. It shows that we never truly let go of our childhood. When you’re a teenager, to me anyway, it’s, by far, the most magical time for reading. It’s cool to be able to go back to that; reading The Hunger Games made me feel like a teenager again. I think that’s why they’re so popular.
For some analysts, Lord of the Flies served as an allegory for civilization and power-struggle. Knowing the influence this book had on Maze Runner, what analysis can you make of your book?
I purposely wanted to do something the opposite of what happens in Lord of the Flies. Because, in that story, they start working against each other and hating each other and killing each other. I feel like the human spirit would not do that. I purposely wanted the Maze Runner to be the opposite, where they get more determined to escape and they work together and they make sure they have laws and they don’t crumble as a society. I wanted to show that’s how I see the human spirit.
Every writer puts a little piece of himself in the characters he creates, whether it’s a similarity or an opposing contrast. Could you describe this fragmentation in the different Maze Runner characters?
That’s absolutely true. In every character I have to pull something out of my experience to create it. I think Thomas — the protagonist — is most like me because we’re in his head the whole time, so I can’t help but really pour myself into him. I feel like he’s a much braver version of me, but the way he thinks is the way I think. On the other hand, Chuck — Thomas’ sort of younger side-kick — also reminds me of myself as a kid, with his innocence and his desire to have a big brother. Minho — leader of the “runners” — is my favourite character because I think he is pretty much the only one in the whole series that you never doubt. He’s fiercely loyal, he is a smart–aleck but there’s a lot to learn from him. Also, Minho’s sense of humour relates to something I would say in those situations. Finally, Alby — the closest to an overall leader in Maze Runner — has this gruff side that I really try to channel when I’m in a bad mood or when people are annoying me.
What do you think will be your legacy as a writer?
I used to think “someday I’m gonna write an important book that’s just life-changing.” What really hit me is that, so far, when I write a book my main goal is to entertain. I want my readers to just have fun reading, but it has blown me away the impact it has had on people. My fandom has made lifetime friends. Doing what I love to do has impacted people way more than what I’ve could’ve imagined. I feel that I don’t have to write some award-winning Pulitzer price profound work.
Where and when
Tomorrow, 6pm to 7.30pm.
Open interview at the Book Fair with Leonel Teti.
Venue: Sala Jorge Luis Borges
Book signing at 7.30pm
Venue : V&R Editoras Stand
Sunday, 6pm. Book signing
Venue: Ateneo Grand Splendid. Santa Fé 1860