Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | |

Interview with Dan Wells


For those of you who don't know, Dan Wells is an up and coming author, whose book I Am Not a Serial Killer will be coming out in the US on March 30th, 2010 (at least that's when Amazon says it will, and we all know of their legendary reliability in that department). Our interview went as follows:

0. Not enough people utilize question zero. Anyway, this is the place that you tell us the story of who you are and how you got to where you are. Please be brief, and remember this is a family blog. I will allow you two swears.
My name is Dan Wells, and I've been writing since second grade, when I announced to my parents that I was going to be an author. Actually, I think I told them that I was already an author. I wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book about a maze, specifically written so you could never get out of the maze. There was a page in there that said "congratulations, you've escaped the maze!" but you could never actually get there; it was just there so you could see it as you were flipping back and forth to make you think there was actually a way out. So I've been unnecessarily cruel to my readers since the beginning, is I guess the message of that story.

Anyway, I grew up and went to college and took a creative writing class from Dave Wolverton where he told us that it was 100% possible to make a living as a writer, and I was sold. Brandon Sanderson was also in that class, and we started a writing group and started going to conventions together to meet editors. There was also a girl named Stephanie in the class, who wrote vampire books--and this was at the right university at the right time to maybe be Stephenie Meyer, but honestly I have no idea if it was or not. I never saw her name written down, so I don't know if she spelled it wrong or not.

 
1. As a new author, what was your experience like getting into the publishing world? Was it hard to get an agent, get a deal, etc?
Like I said, I went to conventions with Brandon (another good friend named Peter Ahlstrom), and we hunted for editors. We met a guy at the Tor party named Moshe Feder, who had only just become an acquiring editor for Tor, and we pitched him our books, and a year later after he read them he accepted Brandon's and rejected mine. Years later (and three or four books later) when our writing group was reading I Am Not a Serial Killer, I started sending it to other editors I knew, but Brandon went behind my back and emailed a copy to Moshe, correctly guessing that he would love it. Moshe called me the next day, eager to buy the book, and I immediately started looking for agents to help with negotiations and foreign sales and so on. It all went very smoothly from there.
 
2. What is one thing you learned about the industry that you didn't know before getting published?
It's an incredibly "nice" industry. Shop a screenplay in Hollywood, for example, and anyone you show it to is just as likely to steal it as accept it. That doesn't happen in publishing--authors and editors from completely different publishing houses will sit around and talk to each other for hours, sharing ideas and talking about upcoming projects, and nobody steals from anybody else. There's a lot of respect and, in a way, nobility about they way they do business. It's great.
 
3. One of the things I loved about your novel I Am Not a Serial Killer is your main character John. He's creepy and more than just a little awesome. Many authors write themselves into their first novels, either by accident or very sneakily. If you did that with John...what's wrong with you? Seriously, though, would you say that you have your own obsession with these type of characters?
Part of the reason I wrote this book was that I already knew a lot about serial killers. I study them in my spare time and I find them very fascinating, so in that sense John is a reflection of me. That's more or less where the similarities end, though; I'm not a sociopath, I don't dream about killing everyone I meet, and so on. I have found, however, that people who know me are far more disturbed by the book than most because they start to wonder if their normal friend Dan is actually a crazy person in disguise.
 
4. I (and many others judging by your shiny new Parsec award) am a fan of the podcast you do with Brandon Sanderson and the irrepressible Howard Taylor. How much would you say your podcast influences sales of your book/builds your audience?
Are you kidding? Howard has daily readership in the hundreds of thousands, and Brandon is writing the fricking Wheel of Time series--they're both incredibly big, very famous writers, and I'm riding their coattails for all I'm worth. I don't think we'll really see the "Writing Excuses" effect in my sales numbers until the US launch next April, but even now I'm sure I owe a lot of my visibility to the podcast.
 
5. Your podcast seems to have helped many would-be authors get over that writing hump and gain some confidence in their work. If you could give one piece of advice for people struggling to get that first novel written, what would it be?
Allow yourself to write a bad book. Your first book is usually your baby, especially for fantasy writers, and you want it to be epic and huge and perfect right out of the gate. That doesn't happen in real life. Just write it, learn from the experience, and move on; I wrote five books before I finally got this one published. Every book you write will make you a better writer, and every idea you use will create another ten in the back of your mind, so don't feel like you have to make THIS book the BEST book ever. Write a bad book, then write another, and eventually you'll be writing the awesome, epic books you've always wanted.
 
6. Back to your novel. John is a great character, and I was honestly shocked when I heard that this would be a trilogy. Props to you, my good sir, for being an author that can actually "end" a book. You finished everything up in that first book so tidily. Where does John go from here?
The arc of the first book, as spelled out in the cover copy, is essentially "John follows strict rules to keep himself from hurting anyone, and then a real killer turns up and he has to let his inner monster out in order to stop it." Book two follows very logically from that point: John has let his monster out, and now it's very hard to put it back again.
 
7. David Farland recently sent out an email praising your book, and mentioned how well it was doing, especially in Germany. What do you think has made other countries such a big fan of the book?
Each genre translates very differently into other cultures; England, for example, very rarely buys American fantasy, because they have an enormous and very successful fantasy scene of their own. Asia loves American fantasy but rarely buys American horror, because their culture is scared by different things than we are. I feel kind of lucky with this series because "I have a dark side I don't want anyone to find out about" is a very universal thing, and people are responding to it regardless of what culture they come from.
 
8. Through the interwebs, meaning blogging, social networks and microblogs like Twitter, it has become easier than ever to stalk...er, follow new authors. How do you feel these relatively new means of communication are affecting the publishing industry and the authors that use them?
When I first started using Twitter (and these principles apply to things like Facebook as well) I started by following all of the big names in publishing, like Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, to see what they did and how they used the medium. What I found is that the way they use Twitter is completely inapplicable to most authors, because we are not as famous as they are: people care about what Neil Gaiman has for breakfast because he's a rock star, and people care about EVERYTHING he does. If I posted what I had for breakfast, all my followers would get bored and leave. After a few weeks I went through and purged my twitter list of everyone I thought was boring, and I took a long look at who was left and why I found them interesting. Without exception, it was the people who used social media as a showcase for their talent instead of simply a news outlet--people like John Scalzi and Jim Gaffigan and Eric Snider. They use their media feeds to say "See how entertaining I am? You should totally buy my books/read my blog/etc." Gaffigan tweeted something about what he had for breakfast and I laughed about it ALL DAY. I can't say I'm as interesting as they are, but I'm trying to follow that model and use social media as a form of mini-entertainment.

9. Less of a question, more of a section for you to type up some shameless plugs.
We already mentioned the podcast, but please: if you haven't checked it out yet, please do: www.writingexcuses.com. Also, feel free to visit my website at www.fearfulsymmetry.net, where I post a semiregular blog. And, of course, follow me on twitter: @johncleaver.

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