Hi! I’m Dan Wells, and I write books. I mostly play around in horror and science fiction, but I’ve dabbled in fantasy, steampunk, thriller, humor, historical, and one time I wrote a novella about a Mormon Pioneer superhero who fights zombies. So I kind of cover everything. I lived in Germany for the past couple of years, and am now back in the states, in Utah. I have 5.5 children, and collect board games with obsessive zeal. My favorite movie is Jaws, I have Darth Vader’s autograph, and I will eat ramen at literally any opportunity.
Your next novel, The Devil’s Only Friend, is published by Tor in June 2015. It’s the fourth to feature John Wayne Cleaver. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader? And what can fans expect from the new book?
John Cleaver is a teenage sociopath who’s worried that he’s turning into a serial killer, so he sets rules to keep himself from hurting anyone; then a supernatural monster comes to his home town and starts picking people off, and he has to break all of his own rules in order to stop it. I like to tell people it’s like a teenage Dexter in an X-Files episode (though if the person in question is younger than 20, “Criminal Minds meets Supernatural” usually gets a better reaction). This is the fourth book in the series, but I wrote it as if it were the first book of it’s very own trilogy, so readers can jump right in on this one without feeling lost. For fans of the original series, I’ll say this: The Devil’s Only Friend picks up one year after the end of book three, with John working for an FBI kill team that hunts monsters.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And from where to you draw your inspirations in general?
Like all normal, well-adjusted people, I read about serial killers for fun. I find them fascinating. One day, driving home from my writing group, I was going on and on in the back seat about predictive behaviors: things you can look at in a child and predict, with varying degrees of accuracy, that they might grow up to become a killer. My friend Brandon suggested that this would be a cool basis for a character — someone who has every predictor of serial killer behavior, but is trying to avoid it — and I thought it sounded awesome. It took me a year to figure out what kind of story to tell about that character, but once I had it I wrote the book in six weeks.
I think most of my inspiration comes like this: a cool idea, that at some point suggests a compelling character or situation or conflict. I love to follow science and psychology blogs, and I read voraciously, always looking for more ideas, and when one hits I write it down and play with it and see what I can do.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My parents were both avid readers, and I grew up surrounded by genre fiction: my father read us The Hobbit when we kids, and I remember grabbing John Carter of Mars off his bookshelf when I was about ten or so. We watched original Star Trek at my grandparents house, and I was watching Doctor Who so long ago I remember the transition from 4 to 5. I had an amazing sixth grade teacher who assigned us Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey. Genre fiction’s been a part of my life since as long as I can remember.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Are you kidding? This is my dream job. I told my parents in second grade I was going to be an author, and I’ve been working toward this ever since. It’s a weird industry to be in, sometimes volatile and sometimes overly politicized and sometimes grueling, but I love every minute of it. If I wasn’t a professional writer I’d be doing this in my spare time anyway, so getting paid for it is pretty much the best thing I can imagine.
Do you have any specific working, writing, and researching practices?
I have an office in my basement, completely devoid of decoration, and I do all my work in there. I know some authors love to work in coffee shops and games stores and crowded, lively palces, but I’m at my best alone with nothing.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was you first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
In second grade we read Where the Wild Things Are, and our teacher had us pick one of the monsters and write a story about them. I picked the sea monster Max rides past on his boat, and wrote three or four pages that were, I quickly realized, not a story but the first chapter of an epic fantasy novel. I went home and told my parents I was going to be an author, and sat down and wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book about a maze that was impossible to escape from. I wish I still had either of those pieces.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
That depends entirely on which genre you’re talking about. In the world of Grown Up Genre Fiction, I’m kind of a minor player, known mostly for my podcast Writing Excuses. In English-speaking YA I’m a NYT bestseller who gets daily fan mail thanking me for writing about a teen girl scientist. In Germany and France I’m near the top of the thriller market, and in Argentina last month I had a 2,000-person signing, and in Japan — the third or fourth largest fiction market in the world — I have yet to sell a single book. Everywhere is different, and I’m just having fun being a part of it.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
In chronological order:
I’m currently working on the second book of my YA cyberpunk series, Mirador.
In September we’re doing our third Writing Excuses retreat, this time on a cruise ship.
In October I’m debuting a play that I wrote and am producing, based on my self-published novel A Night of Blacker Darkness. We’ll have shows in both Tennessee and Utah.
In February I’m launching the first book in my YA cyberpunk series, Mirador. The book is called Bluescreen, and it’s about a group of teenage girl gamers who get caught up in a digital drug war.
One year from now, in June, I’m launching the sequel to The Devil’s Only Friend, tentatively titled Six Crooked Highways.
At some point I’ll be launching a standalone SF called Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition. I don’t know when this is coming out, because I just barely signed the contracts for it 🙂
I’m also working on a co-author project with my brother, and trying to find a way to fit another Privateer Press book into this schedule. We’ll see.
What are you reading at the moment?
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a scoutmaster, working with a group of 11-year-olds. I’ll actually be on a camp with them when this interview goes live.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
My wife and I are having baby number six in September. It’s a girl, which will give us three of each. We haven’t decided on a name yet, but there are a few strong frontrunners.
The Devil’s Only Friend is published by Tor Books, and is out now. Tor also publishes the first three John Cleaver novels: I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster and I Don’t Want to Kill You; as well as a stand-alone thriller, Hollow City. Dan Wells is also the author of the Partials Sequence, published by Harper Collins.
Author photo (top) by Micah Demoux, 2012