Author of post-apocalyptic The Maze Runner series (which is currently being made into a movie trilogy), The Mortality Doctrine series, and The Jimmy Fincher Saga, James Dashner is easily this YALLFest’s biggest draw. He’s presenting the festival’s Opening Keynote with Sarah Zarr, and — this is just a guess — will attract some of the longest lines at the book signings.
City Paper: Whom would you consider your strongest influences as a storyteller?
James Dashner: A tie between Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I read them like a crazy person during my teens and twenties, the time when I was really developing as a writer. That’s why my books always have a creepy element to them.
CP: Dystopian fiction is, as we all know, a popular genre right now. But what in particular about it appeals to you? Do you ever see yourself writing more “realistic” fiction?
JD: I honestly think people love good stories and good characters, and the setting behind all of that doesn’t matter as much as people think. Fantasy comes and goes, dystopia, vampires, whatever. But a good story is a good story. What appeals to me about dark futures is that it feels otherworldly, but it has that added effect of, “Oh, man, this could actually happen.”
CP: Reading The Maze Runner, I couldn’t help but think of Lord of the Flies — which I then read was a strong inspiration for your book.
JD: Oh, yes, Lord of the Flies was a huge influence. I loved that book and movie when I was in high school. I purposefully made my book, in some ways, an anti-version, feeling that the human spirit doesn’t die when survival is on the line.
CP: Why do you think there’s so much more contemporary literature aimed at young girls as opposed to young boys (although this seems to me to be changing, slowly)?
JD: It seems very wrong to say it, but it’s always seemed to me like girls enjoy reading more than boys. But I honestly don’t know if that’s true. I try to never think about it. In every possible way, I write my books with the intent that the gender of my readers is meaningless.
CP: Did you ever think you’d have a major movie based on something you wrote?
JD: I’ve always dreamed of a movie, even before I wrote my first full novel. Movies are my first love, and seeing it happen — especially one that I feel so good about — is easily the highlight of my career. I’m a very lucky dude, and I never take it for granted. I’m very thankful to all my readers for making this life possible.