Just over a month ago, the awesome Jack At The Book Stop gave me the opportunity to interview via email one of the coolest dystopian authors ever: DAN WELLS! I was so excited, and my interview was featured on Jack’s blog this week as part of DYSTOPIA MONTH, which has taken place over June, covering some really great topics and subjects about the increasingly popular Dystopia genre. In case you missed it, here’s the interview! Be sure to go over to The Book Stop, too, to read all of the other amazing posts by bloggers, authors, and there were giveaways too.
An interview with Dan Wells
Dan Wells: The world and story of Partials came from a number of different places, and spent years spinning around in my head before finally smashing together into a single book.
1) First of all, I’d always wanted to write a dystopian novel, and this seemed like a great time to do it. We live in an age where the government’s reach and power are growing constantly–on both sides, this is not a partisan comment–and where individual rights and privacy are evaporating at a terrifying rate.
2) I’ve also always want to write a post-apocalyptic novel, which is mostly because I grew up in the 80s, with the Cold War constantly hanging over our heads, and I learned about the end of the world pretty much the same time (and from the same sources) that I learned about fairy tales. I grew up reading about the world ending in imaginable kind of way, and I love the desperate struggle to survive in the ruins of civilization. I chose a plague, specifically, because I’m kind of a science geek and it gave me a lot of toys (ie, fun ideas) to play with.
3) The third inspiration is Battlestar Galactica. I loved that show very dearly, and it’s easy to see that the Partials are my own version of the “artificial people” concept presented by the Cylons. BSG did some great things with that idea, but they didn’t do it the way I would have, so I decided why not? I’ll do it my way and see what happens. Interweaving the Partials with RM and the many secrets buried in the biology was incredibly fun.
4) Lastly, but maybe most importantly, this book was inspired by Hermione Granger. As fun as the Harry Potter books are, it bothered me that Hermione always solved the problems and Harry always got the credit. Why can’t the smart one and the chosen one be the same person? Why can’t the girl be the hero? Kira Walker is my own personal Hermione, every bit as smart and fiery and capable, and taking her proper place in center stage.
The main theme that ties all three books together is the idea that the world is ending, and everyone has their own ideas about how to save it; with the stakes this high, though, the solutions are often extreme, and the lengths one person is willing to go to might be completely villainous to somebody else. As I explored all the different ways this could play out, one of the obvious ones was dystopia: if the people in power have one plan, and the people with no power don’t agree with it, you end up with an intense dystopian struggle even though both sides are working toward the same basic goal. The second and third books in the series get away from the dystopia (in part) to explore other ideas, but that first book was proudly dystopian and incredibly fun to write.
Do you read dystopian fiction too?
I do, and I love it, though my favorites tend to be older books like 1984, FAHRENHEIT 451, and James Clavell’s A CHILDREN’S STORY. I’ve read some of the newer stuff, in particular the UGLIES series, and thought “Hey neat, they’re doing dystopias again! I want to play, too!”
Were you planning on Partials being a stand-alone novel at first, or was it always intended as the start of a series?
It was always intended as a trilogy, right from the beginning. Remember how I said one of the my inspirations was Battlestar Galactica? Every episode in the opening credits they’d explain how mysterious and insidious the Cylons were, and then they’d end with: “…and they have a plan.” Except it didn’t take long to realize that they didn’t really have a plan, and the resolution to the story arc is infamous for being weird and anticlimactic. I didn’t want to do that, so I worked very hard to build my entire story beforehand: I knew exactly who the bad guys were, and what they were doing, and why, and how the entire series was going to end, before I ever sat down to write a single page.
It’s a mix of both. I planned out the underlying structure of the Partials series in detail, like I said, but a lot of the stuff on top–the flesh that hangs on the skeleton–was made up on the spot. It’s like taking a road trip: I know where I’m going, and some key points to hit along the way, but how I get there is completely up to my whims of the day. Sometimes I’ll get excited and take a detour, or fill in some random bit of background info, which will inspire whole massive chunks of the story down the line. This combination of planning and spontaneity is what keeps writing fun and fresh, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
Did you always want to become an author?
I told my parents in second grade that I was going to be an author, and spent my whole life telling stories and writing poems and books and comics and everything else I could think of. It took a very long time and a lot of very hard work to be successful as a writer, but it’s my favorite thing in the world. If nobody bought my books and I never sold another manuscript, I’d still be writing every day because that’s what I love.
Finally, have you got any advice for aspiring young writers?
Allow yourself to write a bad book. Novel writing is the only art form I know of where people expect their very first effort to be brilliant and perfect, and that’s simply not the case. Your first book is not supposed to sell, any more than a potter’s first lumpy, misshapen pot is going to end up in a museum. Write because you love it, and treat each book as an opportunity to learn more and refine your skills, and eventually you’ll write something amazing. I wrote five books before my sixth one finally sold, and those five books were terrible. Don’t beat yourself up over that kind of stuff, it’s just part of the learning process.
Thanks so much to Dan Wells for answering my questions, and to Jack for being the messenger of the questions and for featuring the interview on his blog for Dystopia Month!