How can I get a signed copy of Variant?
If you’d like to get a signed copy of Variant, I’ve made arrangements with a local indie bookstore, The King’s English. They will always have signed copies stocked, and they will ship them if you’re out of state. (And, if you want a copy personalized, let them know and I’ll drop by there to get it done.)
The King’s English Bookshop
1511 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84105
For special requests, ask for Rachel Heath, their Childrens Books Manager.
Do you do school/library visits?
I love doing school and library visits. If you’re a local teacher (near Salt Lake City) you can usually contact me directly. For non-local, or bigger events, please contact my publicist at HarperTeen, Casey McIntyre. You can reach her at Casey.McIntyre@harpercollins.com.
How can I contact you, and do you answer emails?
You can email me through the Contact Me link on this website. I do receive and read every email sent to me through there, and I try to respond to them all, but I’m sometimes slow. If you have a more urgent question, I’m almost always on Twitter.
Is it true that your brother is Dan Wells, author of the I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER series?
Yes. He’s a way better writer than I am, and you should buy his books. (But I’m way more attractive, and you should buy my portrait.)
What inspired you to write Variant?
Variant was written almost on a dare. In the spring of 2009, during the height of the recession, I graduated with my MBA and I couldn’t find a job. I was living in student housing, so when I graduated they kicked me out and I ended up moving my wife and three kids back in with my parents, and then I continued to not find a job (and not be able to pay the bills). It was a very depressing time, and my brother, a full-time horror author, made me a proposal: he’d pay my way to the upcoming World Fantasy Convention and introduce me to agents and editors, if I had something ready to pitch (and that something would need to be sci-fi or fantasy).
The problem was that he made this proposal at the end of July, and the convention was in October–and I hadn’t written any sci-fi or fantasy since my first (terrible) book.
But, there was no time to lose. A couple days later I had to take my mom to a doctors appointment, and while I sat in the waiting room, I wrote a very rough outline of Variant. The only specific inspiration I can remember–because this all happened so fast–was that I wanted to write a book where there were no adults at all. So, with that premise, and 30 minutes worth of scribbled outlines, I set out to write the book.
I wrote the first draft in eleven days, and then revised like crazy until the convention, and after the convention, and after I got an agent, until it finally sold.
Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting?
Because I used to live there, and I love it. In my mind, I imagine Maxfield being set in the Zuni Mountains.
When will the sequel come out?
The sequel, titled Feedback, will be released Fall of 2012, probably in October. There will be only one sequel–it’s not a trilogy.
What’s the deal with that ending?
Trust me, I find cliffhangers as maddening as you do, though I like to think that this one is interesting enough that it benefits the book, not detracts from it.
(Behind The Scenes Trivia *no spoilers*: Originally, the book ended one chapter earlier, but many people–readers, editors, me–thought it was too ambiguous. In fact, some people actually thought there were missing pages. So, I added the cliffhanger chapter for the purpose of saying “This is the end of the book”.)
Don’t worry, though. Feedback starts immediately where Variant ends, and many of your questions will be answered in just the first few chapters (though new questions will also emerge).
Will Variant be in any foreign languages?
Yes! Below is the tentative release schedule:
October 18, 2011, HarperTeen
Fall 2012, J C Lattès – Editions du Masque
Fall 2012, Fischer Verlag GMBH
Summer/Fall 2012, CappelenDamm
January 2012, Wydawnictwo Amber
Fall 2012, Planeta Manuscrito
Summer 2012, Destino
Winter 2013, Sharp Point Press
Fall/Winter 2012, Artemis Yayinlari
How long have you been writing?
Unlike most of my author friends, I came to writing relatively late in life. I never wanted to be a writer as a kid–in fact, I hated both writing and reading in school. It wasn’t until I was in college that I fell in love with reading, and shortly after that I started to write. So, I’ve been writing for about 12 years now. I’ve written eight manuscripts, four of which have been published.
Is Variant really your debut novel?
Yes and no. I had three novels published in the local market, beginning in 2004. These books were available in some brick-and-mortar stores in the intermountain west (Utah, Idaho, Arizona, etc), and online. They are all long out of print, and the best seller of the three only ever sold a few thousand copies.
So, yes, I’ve had a lot of experience with book signings and contracts and writing workshops for many years, but Variant is my first nationally-published book.
How did things work out at the World Fantasy Convention?
Terribly. It was my first time pitching a book, and even though I knew how to give an elevator speech–in business school you take whole classes on that kind of thing–I was nervous and awkward and completely unsuccessful. Only one agent requested I send them the manuscript, and he didn’t get back to me until almost a year later, after the book had sold.
(Even so, I think conventions and conferences are invaluable, and even though this didn’t work out on the first try, I still highly recommend that aspiring authors go to them.)
How did you find your agent?
After the convention, my brother recommended me to his agent, Sara Crowe. I sent it to her, and she signed me a week later. And Sara is AWESOME, and I’m extremely lucky.
How did you sell Variant?
Variant went out on three rounds of submissions. The first time, Sara and I both knew it needed some revision, but it was early November and she wanted to get it out to editors before things slowed down for the holidays. Everyone on that first round rejected it, almost all for the same reason, and I revised to fix that problem.
On the second round, we could tell we were getting close. Editors sent back big emails talking about everything they loved, but that it just wasn’t ready yet. One of those editors was Erica Sussman at HarperTeen. She said that if I made some changes, she’d be willing to look at it again.
So, I did a major revision, re-writing the final third almost from scratch and entirely removing the second-biggest character. We sent it out on submission a third time, and got four offers within a week, and decided to go with Erica at Harper. (And Erica is AWESOME.)
What are you working on next?
I have a three book deal with Harper, so there is a third, as-yet-undetermined book waiting to be written. I have a super awesome idea, but I’m not going to tell you what it is, other than to say it will be a similar genre to Variant. (Meaning: modern-day, real-world, with a sci-fi twist.)
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
If you watch my blog, I give writing advice once in a while, so it’s worth looking at that. But here are three big things:
1. WRITE. When I first decided I wanted to write, I talked to my brother about my story idea, and he gave me the best writing advice I’ve ever received. He said “Everybody says one day they’re going to write a book. Everyone says one day they’re going to sit down and write the Great American Novel. The difference between writers and everyone else is that writers actually do it.”
I know this seems really basic, but I’ve met a TON of aspiring authors who don’t really put in the long hours, or who are afraid to start until they have a perfect outline, or who are stuck revising the same first book over and over and never move on.
So, my first advice is: write a book, and then write another one, and then write another one and keep going.
2. NETWORK. Go to conventions and conferences. Join author blogs, and comment on other authors’ blogs. Get on Twitter and interact with authors and aspiring authors. Join or organize a writing group.
I didn’t go to my first conference until my second book was published, and I think I learned more in those three days than I had in the past two years. And I wasn’t learning just from the classes, but from the conversations. Sitting down with others and talking shop is SO valuable.
If you’ve ever had to look for a job you know how beneficial it is to know someone–to have a person who knows the hiring manager recommend you. The same is true in writing. Of all my writing friends who have agents, I’d bet at least 75% of them got their agents through some kind of networking: meeting the agent at a conference, or having another author refer you to their agent.
3. REVISE. Writing is hard work, and when you type “The End” you want to be done, but that’s just where the real work starts. I have come to both love and really value revising, though it took me many years to get to that point. The three books I published in the regional press are very important to me, and I’m proud of them, but I also cringe at them. They could have been so much better if I’d quit being lazy and revised and revised and revised.
Will you read and blurb my book?
I would LOVE to read your book and I definitely invite you to send it to me! Unfortunately, I don’t always have time to read ARCs—even ones I really want to—and I also don’t make any guarantees about blurbing every book I read.
You live in Utah–are you one of those Mormon YA writers?
Yep. For those who don’t know, in the last three or four years there has been a massive surge of Utah YA authors in the national market: James Dashner was one of the first authors I ever met–he came to one of my booksignings back when both of us were completely unknown. Ally Condie is a critique partner of mine. Brodi Ashton lives two blocks away. J. Scott Savage is in my writing group. Shannon Hale went to my high school. Dan Wells is my brother (obviously). And there are loads of other locals making waves: Jessica Day George, Elana Johnson, Brandon Mull, Bree Despain, Sara Zarr and many more. (My personal opinion on why this happened all of a sudden: I think it grew slowly until we hit a critical mass where there were enough published authors that they were able to successfully help aspiring authors improve and reach the next step. The writing community here is fantastic and open and helpful, and I really think it’s this community–this network, to emphasize that again–that led to so many locals doing well.)
What are your favorite books?
They change so much that I can’t really make a long list. But, the top two are easy.
#1: Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, is my all time favorite book, because it’s just so incredibly good. It’s also the book that made me want to write for kids.
#2: Huckleberry Finn, because it’s the book that really got me reading–it’s the book that showed me that, yes, maybe all those books I was supposed to read in high school (and didn’t) actually were worth something.
As for others, I read a ton of non-fiction–probably a ratio of five non-fiction for every fiction. My favorites of 2011 were Incognito: The Secret Life of the Brain and Everything is Obvious, Once You Know The Answer.
What are your favorite movies?
In no particular order:
On The Waterfront
It’s a Wonderful Life
The Bourne Trilogy
The Manchurian Candidate
Where did you go to school? Did you get an English degree?
I did my undergrad at the University of Utah, getting a BS in political science and a minor in history. (I wanted to major in history, but it required that I take 15 hours of a language, and I didn’t want to. Poli-sci let me take most of the same classes, and not learn a language.) (To be clear: I’d love to know a foreign language. I just didn’t want to have to take those classes.)
Upon discovering that a poli-sci degree is worth pretty much nothing in the real world, I eventually went back to school, getting a fulltime MBA in marketing at Brigham Young University.
So, no English degree. I never even took a creative writing class until AFTER I’d sold my first book. It set me back in some ways–I had to learn a lot of the rules of writing the hard way–but I’m also glad to have been able to take classes in non-writing-related fields. I wrote two books based on ideas from my poli-sci classes.
I hear you’re a crazy recluse. True?
I was diagnosed in 2011 with a severe panic disorder, which quickly morphed into agoraphobia. I’m now on meds (which kinda help) and I’m in cognitive-behavioral therapy (which kinda helps). I still enjoy doing book events and meeting people, I just have to prepare myself better and plan ahead.