With a trilogy and two sequels, and movie adaptations still being released, author James Dashner has been a busy man. But with the fifth instalment of The Maze Runner, The Fever Code, he is ready to hang up his hat and try something a little more Stephen King. We talk to him as it comes out in paperback to say farewell to the novels and what comes next…
Beware, there are some spoilers ahead for the original trilogy…
The original Maze Runner trilogy lends itself to being told before the prequels, did you originally plan to write the prequels as well, as there is still a large air of mystery about their origins by the end of The Death Cure?
You know, actually yes, these prequels were planned for a very long time. It’s sort of a unique story in that I think I got in too deep for myself with all these characters having their memories erased, it’s very difficult to build the characters. There are so many mysteries and so many little hints about what had happened to them, I always thought it would be fun to go back without those restrictions of the memory loss to really dive in and show people in a bit more detail what happened to them before they went into the maze. So they were planned for a long time and it was really fun to write.
Was a part of writing The Fever Code to give yourself a chance to bring some of those characters back to life, if even for a short time?
I have a good time with my most passionate fans, some of those deaths scarred them for life. We like to make light of it, and joke about it sometimes. Writing the Fever Code some of those characters had been resurrected, brought to life again, it was really fun to have them all in one place, have more time with them and have more scenes with them. Things like showing why Chuck meant to much to Thomas, and things with Newt and his sister. It was really fun to write.
On that note: how dare you?
I know… [laughs] 9/10 of my interactions with my fans have something to do with Newt. And that’s pretty cool that that character could mean so much to someone, and I tell them if we were able to make them feel that kind of emotion that’s good, that’s what storytelling is all about.
You’ve been pretty brutal in the past with your character deaths, how did you arrive at who had to die and who got to survive?
That is a tough one. I don’t take it lightly, and my characters mean everything to me and feel very real to me, so when they die it’s hard on me too. Sometimes I narrow it down to two characters and agonise over which one is going to bite the dust. I don’t take it lightly, and The Maze Runner is a dark story in a dark world, and to stay true to that I had to show that not everybody is going to survive and live happily ever after.
Without giving away spoilers, we were always a little surprised by one of the last deaths in The Death Cure. Without giving too much away, could you explain why you did it?
Of all the deaths in the series that was one that I really hadn’t planned, for some reason. It just felt right. I felt that [they] was so messed up by everything. More than anyone else [they] believed in trying to find the cure no matter how harsh they had to get. And then seeing for [themselves] the things happening to [their] friends it was a way to get [them] some redemption, to get some peace, to make a sacrifice and die in peace instead of living the rest of their life in torment.
Your first prequel gave us a (mostly) new set of characters, was there a reason you started with the Sun flares instead of Thomas’ WICKED origins?
That’s a great question. Before The Maze Runner even came out we were talking about doing the prequels some day, it was really The Fever Code that I was imagining and then when it became time after The Death Cure my editor and my agent took me aside and said “We really think that people will love something completely different from this Maze storyline. It would be cool to show how all this happened in the first place.” It was fun to take a step back and make a novel with all new characters, but set in the same world that showed how everything got messed up in the first place, which is why I did The Kill Order but always wanting to do The Fever Code.
How was it to create the work with Mark and Trina and Alec, was it fun to leave the Maze Runner characters for a little while?
You know, it was actually very refreshing to do something like that. It’s always fun to develop new characters, you’re getting to develop people, getting to go in new directions with characters that are rigidly constructed. It was really fun to me to have a one-book story that had a solid ending to it.
In The Fever Code and The Kill Order we see the characters from the original trilogy in a new context, was it fun to be able to write these characters before they were hardened by the maze?
Yes. My editor and I spent a long time strategizing about The Fever Code, sometimes with prequels you kind of get excited about it but then you lose your interest because you already know what’s going to happen and it’s not that great. We wanted it to be new and fresh. We wanted some surprises that were new from the original trilogy, and we worked really hard figuring out some things. That was one of the things that made that easier. The characters didn’t have their memories, they hadn’t been through the maze yet, so hopefully that worked for everything.
The final instalment of the original trilogy, The Death Cure, hits cinemas next year, what can you tell us about it?
I’m very, very happy with it. I feel like there are some ripple effects from all the little changes between books and movies, the movie will feel like the tone and spirit of the book with the big city stuff. The ending is very true to the books. The deaths are very true to the book. I don’t know if people would get more angry about it if we changed it or didn’t change it! It’s very emotional, it’s done very well. I think my readers are going to absolutely love it and see it over and over, to be honest. So we’ll see!
Do you think there is any scope for making the prequels into films?
I don’t know. I think right now Fox are focusing on the main trilogy, and when that is over they’ll look at the direction, whether that’s movies or television, or what they want to do with that. Something will happen.
One of the things missing from the movies is the developed language of the Gladers, it was a really great example of how language and words come into being – how did you come up with it?
Originally my intent was to have their language have a little bit of a different flavour to it, it’s in the future, they’re isolated so it would make sense to me for them to have words that we didn’t use. So that was the original intent, was just to give their language a different flavour. There was also a different side to it, they live in a very harsh environment, they would say some very harsh things, but I wanted these books to be accessible to all ages to middle schools. If you have too much bad language, they’re hard to get them into the schools, so it actually serves two purposes. It’s been a fun thing. I’ve been very pleased with how my readers have embraced it.
The other difference as well being the explanation for their names?
I don’t know why… I think the movies didn’t really have time to go into it. But it was fun to do it with the books, and the first and foremost reason for that was that to me it is very dehumanising to take away somebody’s name. They didn’t even let them keep their names, and it was fun to take them from various real people.
The part in The Fever Code when he is repeating and repeating and repeating his name is one of the most powerful moments in the book because he’s trying so hard to keep hold of himself.
That’s exactly what I was going for, so thank you for saying that.
Have fans ever asked plot questions you haven’t thought about people?
Oh yeah, it’s funny, when I’m touring and doing events, they’re so smart, and they think about things in so much detail that they’ll catch me out. I’ll either have forgotten or something I’ve ever really thought about, usually I try and cover myself or make a joke or it. I think writers can’t really think of everything. It makes it fun.
How do you keep track of all the different things you’ve said?
I always keep a file of notes and such, but before I wrote The Fever Code I went back and read the original trilogy and took really detailed notes. Things I thought would be relavant or important in The Fever Code I wrote it down. It was kind of funny to go back and research your own book but I did that in detail.
Were there things that you had forgotten about?
Yeah. I reread the books slowly, and all kinds of little details that I had forgotten or would have been fun to reference in The Fever Code, it was kind of funny that I was reading my books and taking all these notes. But yeah, little things, even things like hair colour.
Having reread the books do you have a favourite moment from any one in particular?
I’ve always loved the character of Chuck. He has a very tragic story. He means a lot to Thomas and I think his death is something that has always stuck with Thomas, and I think it helped inspire him and encouraged him to see everything through to the end. So those moments in The Fever Code, and the scene where Chuck says goodbye to Thomas means a lot to me.
Last year you mentioned that this was it for the Maze Runner series, since then, have you changed your mind or is this still goodbye?
Right now this is definitely goodbye. I think I would really be pushing it to try and do new books, the only thing I could do would be to write the book from a different perspective of the same events. It’s possible, but it’s way down the road. Even with The Fever Code even though it’s a prequel it’s just the perfect way to end the series. I would have to have a lot of time pass before I ever visited that again. I have lots of other stuff up my sleeve.
How is the horror trilogy coming along? Have you unleashed your inner Stephen King?
We’re getting very close over the next week or two to announce something about that. I’ve written my first novel for the adult market, and it is very inspired by Stephen King, so we’ll be seeing something about that soon!
The Fever Code is available in paperback now in all good book shops. Find out more at mazerunnerbooks.com. Get all the latest sci-fi news with every issue of SciFiNow.