Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How I got here, Part 1: The Birth of Jimmy Fincher

My story began on November 26th, 1972 in a small town west of Atlanta called Austell. There, on a frigid night, the humid air biting like razor-tipped icicles....

Wait. Maybe that's starting too far back along the old Dashner Dude timeline. After all, I couldn't even speak or utilize the toilet facilities back then, let alone write stories. Let's jump ahead about twenty-five years.

Toward the end of my college days at BYU, where for some inexplicable reason I studied accounting, I had a sudden and overwhelming urge to write stories. I'd always loved to read, obsessively, and had dabbled in writing here and there. But in 1998, the bug bit me like a constipated hornet on crack. I started writing with a fever, and after a few gosh-diddly-awful short stories popped out, I stumbled upon the tale of a kid named Jimmy Fincher.

At first, the story was a horrible attempt at Mark Twain meets R.L. Stine, with this dorky southern kid running around the woods with no clue that an evil door lay nearby, under which was something that would change the world forever. Problem: I didn't know what lay under the door, and I kept stalling with more and more of the ridiculous (not in a good way) antics of poor Jimmy Fincher.

I finally gave up and sat down to write a simple outline. This turned into a five book map (later it would be sheared down to four), and I could finally write a somewhat coherent story. I did just that, though it took me a couple of years because it was a very on-and-off-again sort of thing. And let me be the first to admit this to the world: it wasn't very well written. It was, after all, my very first book, and I still had a lot to learn. But I loved the story. I loved it with a passion, and I wanted others to read it.

It was the summer of 2001. I had never been to a writing conference or seminar. I had never met another author (unless you count my accounting professors, who wrote mind-numbing discourses on the world-changing potential of Balance Sheet ratios and got published in academic periodicals which were probably used as toilet paper more often than reading material). I was, simply put, an idiot when it came to the world of publishing.

I sent absolutely horrendous query letters to the very biggest publishers and agents I found on a list somewhere, then waited patiently while they, one by one, sent back little cards that had the words "Dear Author", "regrettably", "unfortunately" and other such niceties. I was shocked and mortified.

Okay, not really. I was smart enough to realize my chances of getting published were about as good as the Falcons winning the Super Bowl.

Once my options ran out, I was one hair short of being done with my illustrious author career. But then I did one last thing on a whim. I sent it to three small publishers: Deseret Book, Covenant and Cedar Fort. All three of them were almost exclusively religion-oriented publishers (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a.k.a. LDS Church a.k.a. Mormons a.k.a. Stephenie Meyer's Church). The first two sent me back nice letters saying thanks, like your story, but it's, uh, a fantasy kid's book, take a hike, psyche.

Then I opened the one from Cedar Fort, and the very first, tiny little spark of a writing future ignited in my heart when I read the letter. Lee Nelson, their acquisitions editor, said he'd taken the manuscript home to his eleven-year-old son, who proceeded to read it in one sitting and loved it. I spoke with Chad Daybell, their Managing Editor, on the phone, and he expressed interest as well. I was elated, ecstatic, bombasticallydiscombombulatedly slap-happy cheeky thrilled.

But then it all crashed and burned when I heard The Catch. The inevitable, evil, blood-thirsty Catch that always creeps into our hopes and dreams, laying waste to everything in its path.

If they were to publish it, they wanted me to help pay for some things.

Now, although this ended up not being as horrible as it sounds, I want it to sound horrible enough that you have a sick tummy until my next post, where the story will continue.

(The picture above is an illustration by Michael Phipps from my fourth book, WAR OF THE BLACK CURTAIN.)

14 comments:

Sarah Kiesche said...

I don't care what you say boy, but I still love that first book! I gobbled it up and wanted more and the only other book that induced such a frenzy for me was good ole' HP!

So uh, if I write a book...um, and it kind of does the same thing ala: uses something from our family as its base, would that be copying your style? I'm nowhere near as witty as you are, but I have this...thing...sitting on my laptop that keeps developing and I worry that the use of family background and names and such is too similar to your writing style.

Check your email, I have a personal question for you!

Janette Rallison said...

I'm waiting with baited breath to hear the rest of the story as I'm pretty sure it involves a vampire, wizard, magical ring, or at least a cult-like group of zombie, dancing accountants, right?

James Dashner said...

Sarah, you're too nice, even for a sister. As for your story being similar to mine, hogwash. I know you well enough that I'm certain your story will be full of Sarah wit and creativity and will probably ruin my author career. Thanks a lot.

Janette, you forgot one thing. There will most certainly be a whacked-out author lady from Arizona who stalks mutant accountant-author hybrids and slaughters them in their sleep to save the world.

By the way, since I like to brag about people who comment on my blog, Janette is a major big kahuna author. One of her books has sold HUNDREDS of thousands of copies. That's big time and it's why so many of us hate her, I mean, love her to death.

Annie Bailey said...

Hi James,

Loved the post! Nice hanger at the end! I can't wait to see how it all turned out. I just set up my own blog at www.anniebailey.com. Stop by if you have a chance.

James Dashner said...

You guys seriously need to go listen to Annie Bailey's singing demos on her website. She has an awesome voice.

~paulette said...

hi...
name's paulette, and i got your blog-site from my out of state writer's group. (I think you had lunch with them this last week... the one's from Tooele.) Anyway, i just wanted to thank you for putting this up and sharing your story. I look forward to reading along...

laters

Annie Bailey said...

Aw shucks. I'm blushing! Glad you liked them!

Michelle said...

James you got a blog so cool. Reading about others writing stories gives me hope and inspiration. It was so nice to meet you on Sat. I'm still on a high and am actually going to send out querys. I think you inspired me but I'll take the stanse that I'm just insane.
Michelle

James Dashner said...

Michelle, that sounds about right. I inspired you, and now you are insane. Story of my life.

Annette Lyon said...

"Constipated hornet on crack . . ."

See, you're the one and only person on the planet who could have come up with that. This is why kids love your books; you're just a hair away from insane, which allows you to come up whacked-out adventures.

Luisa Perkins said...

Stephenie Meyer's church. Giggle.

Vivien Chai said...

Wow. I feel like such a stalker. About two days ago, I bought your book, The Maze Runner (I was literally hovering over it), and I've been clawing out my agenda, writing the publish date for sequel (I like to be up-to-date with everything. No, I'm serious, I've got everything planned out). Anyways, I'd just like to say that you're an inspiration to me; it's a wonder why you're not drinking champaign with a duke, discussing whose shoes are shinier.

zakluv_145 said...

Did the Jimmy Fincher Saga ever become a movie? I have read that series so many times its stuck in my brain forever! I would love to see it in action to see if i portrayed the characters correctly!

Julie Belnap said...

Hm... this is interesting. Nice little jokes here and there.

By the way, I'm not going to stop until I get my hands on your elusive first books. many people say that they love them, but no one can find them. I'm going to find them.

That, and my mom has become a bigger fangirl than I. she's been reading it to all of my cousins, and it just sounds epic...