James Dashner is having a busy summer, with two new books coming out in the next month. First up: Random House will release Dashner’s The Kill Order, a prequel to his popular Maze Runner trilogy, for teen readers. And two weeks later, Scholastic will publish Dashner’s A Mutiny in Time, the debut of a new multi-platform, middle-grade series. In the Infinity Ring books, best friends travel through time, putting broken moments of history back on the correct track. Much like the 39 Clues series, different authors are signed on for each installment; Dashner has created the overall story arc, and is writing the first and last books in the series. Here, Bookshelf talks to Dashner about his books, his inspiration, and his possible acting debut.
How did you get involved with the Infinity Ring project?
David Levithan at Scholastic contacted my agent, Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich, and said they had this idea and was I interested in being the architect of the series. It was an absolute no-brainer. I had seen the huge success of The 39 Clues, and the fact that Scholastic wanted me to architect something similar was a huge opportunity. Plus, I love history and the opportunity to write a book with Christopher Columbus as a character is just awesome.
How did the project develop from there?
When I signed on, Scholastic just had a one-paragraph idea to kick off the series, explaining that it was dealing with these breaks throughout time. When I did the outline, I had a list of what I thought the breaks should be. Originally, I called the large events in time that shouldn’t have happened the “Great Schisms.” We all decided that “Great Breaks” was more memorable and easier to say.
Scholastic chose amazing authors, and so far it’s all been positive. As for the other drafts, I’ve seen what’s been done so far and it looks great. I gave a little input, but we’re trying really hard to give as much freedom as possible to the other authors so they can work their magic.
How is writing dystopia for middle-graders different than for a YA audience?
I really love middle-grade. Middle-grade books have a little more of a magical, light-hearted feel. You can be a little bit more quirky, you can have a little more humor. It doesn’t get so dark and deep.
You’re also slated to write the final and seventh book in the series. Are you nervous about being the one who has to wrap it all up?
That will be a big task. Until you write the last book in a series, you always have a little bit of freedom to say, “Well, that can get wrapped up later,” but I will have to tie up every loose end. It will be a challenge, but I’m excited. Scholastic is doing these books pretty quickly – they are coming out every three or four months – so I’ll probably write it next spring. I’m hoping that somehow I can get my hero Abraham Lincoln thrown in there somewhere.
Have you played the Infinity Ring game as well?
I’ve seen a few demos, and it’s pretty awesome. It’s way beyond the 39 Clues game. It has more an Xbox type game feel, with 3-D — and kids can interact with historical figures. It’s amazing.
What are you hoping fans get from the series?
My number one goal is always for my readers to be entertained, and feel a little bit more immersed in the story because of the video game and the maps that come with the books. Definitely one of our goals is to capture reluctant readers. I don’t think anything’s more rewarding than hearing that you’ve helped someone gain a love of reading.
The Kill Order, which is set in the Maze Runner universe, is also about to come out. Why did you decide to write a prequel to the trilogy?
A lot of the ideas for the trilogy came right at the beginning; I knew it would be three books and I sort of knew how the books would be divided. And even on that first brainstorming night, I knew that I would write a prequel someday. More than anything I might ever write, it just leant itself to a prequel. So much of the Maze Runner story revolves around unfolding the mystery and why the characters are going through all these things. I thought it would be a lot of fun for my readers to see firsthand these things that they’ve been hearing about in little bits and pieces throughout the trilogy.
I think there are some readers who will be disappointed at the beginning to find out it’s not about Thomas, the protagonist from the trilogy. But my agent, my editor [Krista Marino] and I thought my fans would be much more rewarded with an action-packed view of how the world got so messed up. In the end I think they are getting a much more exciting, richer book because I am writing about an earlier time period.
The Maze Runner books are very cinematic. Do movies inspire your work and writing process?
Movies and television are easily my number one inspiration for writing. If I am having writer’s block or I’m just not feeling it, I’ll go see a movie in the middle of the day or I’ll watch a couple of TV shows on iTunes. It really gets me back into the creative mode.
When you go to see a movie, you see an entire story arc in a couple hours. You see character development, you see dialogue, you see how themes are worked into the story. I think cinematically. To me, the story unfolds like a movie, and then I try to convert that to the written word. And of course we have our fingers crossed on a Maze Runner movie.
How’s that project going?
It is in development at 20th Century Fox, but it is not going to be out in 2013, even though that’s what it says on IMDB. I don’t really hear that much, but they have a script and basically they are just interviewing directors. I really think it’s going to happen, but Hollywood is a slow go sometimes.
Is that a project you would want to be involved in?
I would run over my own grandmother to be involved in it. When we sold the Maze Runner rights, it was very early on in my career, so I didn’t have any negotiating power. So contractually I don’t have any say, but if the director wants me involved, that would be really awesome. We will just have to see what happens.
Would you like to be in the movie?
I’d run over your grandmother for a cameo. I have no pretensions of having a major part, but I would love just something where my face appears and my friends and family can see it.
What else are you working on right now?
It’s going to be crazy to have two books coming out two weeks apart. This fall, I’ll be doing a lot of touring, a lot of events, so I am gearing up for it.
I have a new YA series with Random House that will be announced probably in a month or two. The first book is already done and it will come out next fall. We’re keeping tight-lipped about it, but it probably has the coolest twist ending I will ever write.
When the Infinity Ring is done, I would like to explore doing a new middle-grade series that’s all my own. Down the road a bit, I would like to write a couple of stand-alone adult novels, especially in the horror genre. I’ve got lots of things up my sleeve.
The Kill Order by James Dashner. Delacorte, $17.99 Aug. ISBN 978-0-385-742887
A Mutiny in Time: Infinity Ring Book 1 by James Dashner. Scholastic, $12.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-545-38696-8