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YA Wednesday: Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner

Steelheart200 EyeOfMinds200Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner are no strangers to best seller lists, and both have big things happening right now, including the release of their fantastic new books.  We loved them both-- Sanderson's Steelheart  was a September Best of the Month pick and Dashner's The Eye of Minds is on the list for October

Both novels are the first in a new series, and Sanderson's, first foray into writing young adult novels.  Steelheart is an amazing, futuristic, action packed story with comic book style heroes and villains, though it isn't a comic or graphic novel.  I wasn't sure this was a book for me, but I was totally wrong, and loved it.  I'm already a huge fan of Dashner's Maze Runner series so was super excited to read The Eye of Minds, the first book of his new Mortality Doctrine series.  Once again Dashner has created a world that you can't help but get immersed in--this time the hyper-techno world of a virtual reality game that has a very real killer.   

YA authors tend to be a close knit bunch, so it did not surprise me to learn that Sanderson and Dashner are not only colleagues but friends.  The photo here is a shot of them at this year's Comic-con where they sat down for us to have a chat about their new books:

Sanderson_Dashner_ComiconJames Dashner: Brandon, you’re perhaps best known for your adult books—Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and particularly for finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. However, recently you’ve undertaken several projects for younger readers. Why is that? How does it feel to be entering into the world of YA fiction? How does it differ from writing for an adult audience? How do you possibly think you can compete with your friend, James Dashner?

Brandon Sanderson: I've known this guy James Dashner for so long, and he was such an inspiration to me, and I thought, if this joker can do it, then I can too! The sci-fi/fantasy genre is what made a reader out of me, and it has a long history of crossing the line between YA and adult fiction. For example, you mentioned The Wheel of Time. In the early books, the main protagonists are all teenagers. Are these books YA? The publishers don't classify them that way. They’re shelved with the adult fantasy books. Books like that have influenced me in that some of the stories I tell fit into the mold that society says will package well as YA books. Other stories I tell—that are a thousand pages long—don’t seem to fit that mold. But I don’t sit down and say, “I’m writing for a teen audience now. I need to change my entire style.” Instead, I say, “This project and the way I’m writing it feels like it would work well for a teen audience.”

Brandon: The Eye of Minds is quite the edge-of-your-seat cyber adventure. How did you come up with the idea to write such a different type of book compared to the Maze Runner series?

James: Well, my good sir, first of all, thanks you for saying that. When I started brainstorming what I wanted to do next, I didn’t really think much about The Maze Runner books, or try too specifically to be different. I just wanted an engaging story, something that I’d love to write for several books. Two of my favorite movies ended up serving as an inspiration: The Matrix and Inception. Readers will see a lot of influence from those stories. In fact, I kept thinking a certain something would happen in The Matrix, and it surprised me when it never did. It happens in my book!

Brandon: Recently, privacy, online security, and online warfare have been featured prominently in the headlines. Did that influence your fiction at all? If not, do you think it’s a coincidence that those issues are cropping up right when you were inspired to write this particular book?

James: I think everything in the news influences me without my realizing it. It chills me to the bone when I think of what hackers can do to the stability of so many things that we take for granted. I’m also fascinated by the realm of virtual reality, and what happens when you can no longer tell the difference between what is real and what is not. But, mainly, really I just set out to write a great story.

James: In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that you come up with characters, worlds, and magic systems independently and then fit them together to create a book. How is that different when writing a YA book like Steelheart? Are certain worlds or magic systems more suitable for YA readers? And how in the world did you get so smart?

Brandon: Ha! I do a lot of talking about the process of writing. That makes it sound like I’m doing it more consciously than I am, but at this point I do most of it by instinct. I do take things like characters, settings, and magic systems—all these little fragments and pieces—and put them together into stories. Whether I’m writing YA or adult, this process doesn’t vary. Some of these elements feel better suited for a teen audience, so when everything starts coming together as it does when a book is forming for me, some stories naturally gravitate toward YA.

To me Steelheart is distinctive because it was one of those stories where all the elements came together at the same time. Once I got the idea—people gaining super powers but only evil people getting them—the story basically started to write itself in my head. It happened during a four-hour drive along the East Coast, where by the end of it, I basically had this entire story. I knew where it was going, and I was really excited to write it. That's rare for me, but sometimes it does happen where everything clicks right at the beginning.

Brandon: There’s a lot of great buzz surrounding next year’s release of the film version of The Maze Runner. As the author, you must have the world completely imagined in your head. How close do you think the movie will be to that vision? What are you most looking forward to seeing on the big screen? How do you feel your readers will respond to the transformation from page to movie screen?

James: Of all the things in my career so far, I have to admit this is the one I’m most excited about. I’ve been a movie buff all my life, and to see something I wrote being turned into one . . . It’s just surreal and hard to believe. It was scary at first to place something so close to you in the hands of someone else, but luckily for me, I’m in very, very good hands. I’ve been blown away by how much Director Wes Ball and the producers have captured the vision of the book. Also, at how true they’re being to the spirit and tone and story. I think my readers are going to love it. Personally, the scene I’m most excited to see is the one where Thomas gets stuck in the maze for the first time, with Alby and Minho.

James: Can you give us a sense of the world in which Steelheart takes place? Why do you think this world worked well for these particular characters?

Brandon: Technically, Steelheart is set in a post-apocalyptic world where super villains gained powers and took over. I wanted it to feel alien and familiar at the same time and to be very visual. So I wrote it to be kind of like an action movie in book form. One of my catchphrases that I use when talking about writing is "Err on the side of awesomeness." So I wanted the setting and feel of the book to be visually distinctive and awesome.

When I designed Steelheart, the emperor of Chicago, I wanted him to have the power of transmutation—he turns things into steel. The idea that, in a burst of power, he turned the entire city—and even part of the lake—into steel was fascinating to me. This renders a lot of things useless. When your streetlights and all their wiring have been turned into steel, everything short circuits and doesn’t work anymore. You can’t get into buildings because their doors and windows have been melded together. The whole city has become a shell—like the husk of a dead beetle—and people have built on top of it. It’s always perpetual twilight there, so we’ve got this cool feel of everything being steel at night.

Brandon: Same question for you! Tell us about The Eye of Minds!

James: It’s in the future, but I really don’t want people to think of this as dystopian. It’s not. The world is basically in fine shape. But virtual reality technology has gone through the roof and most people are obsessed with it. Like I said earlier, the line between what’s real and what’s not gets blurred, which sets the stage for some fun twists and mind-bendy stuff. I think my fans will have a good time with it.

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