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Interview: March 2, 2017

In an increasingly-technology driven world, lots of themes and ideas we thought we totally understood are taking on new meanings. For example, did you know you can technically be considered an athlete if you're a professional video game player? Author Dan Wells explores these and other concepts in his action-packed Mirador series, which began last year with BLUESCREEN. In celebration of the release of ONES AND ZEROES, the second book in the series, interviewed Dan Wells, author of the New York Times bestselling Partials Sequence and the John Cleaver series. This action packed series will have you on the edge of your seat and leave you wondering about the future of technology. In our interview, you'll learn about what inspired this fantastic series! First of all, I absolutely loved ONES AND ZEROES. It really made me take a look at my life and how the Internet might be affecting it. I think it has a lot of potential to create a large impact in teenagers’ lives. Were you inspired by a specific event in your life to write this novel and/or series?

Dan Wells: The Mirador series, as a whole, was inspired by an article I read while living in Germany; it was an email about a new visa policy, saying that video game players were now eligible for athletic visas, the same as a swimmer or a basketball player. That blew my mind, so I started researching professional gamers and the world of eSports, and specifically the ways in which the real world and the virtual world are starting to blend. ONES AND ZEROES, to follow up on that, was inspired in part by the many articles and manifestos declaring Internet access to be a basic human right, just like water and food. The virtual world and the real world really are blending, and faster than we can keep up.

TRC: In ONES AND ZEROES, everyone seems to rely on technology to get things done, whether it be by using “nulis” or “djinnis.” Do you think that this is where our society is headed?

DW: My original concept for the djinni --- not what it can do, but how people think about it --- was based on the plastic pen. It occurred to me that I had never used a plastic pen until it ran out of ink; I would lose them or find another one. We live in a society where technology that didn't even exist 100 years ago is so ubiquitous that it's literally easier to buy a new one than keep track of the ones we have. I don't think that nulis or drones will replace human labor to the degree it does in the books (or at least not as quickly), but I definitely think we'll start relying on them for everything. We already rely on computers for so much more than we ever thought possible. It's only going to get deeper.

TRC: In your novel, Internet service is completely monopolized by megacorps such as Korean company KT Sigan. I understand that "sigan" translates to "time" in Korean. Was there a message that you were trying to convey by using this name for the company?

DW: It was a deliberate choice, but more for the aesthetics of it than the message. Time is arguably the single most valuable resource we have, and everything we do, and every choice we make, uses up a portion of that resource that we will never get it back. We need to make sure we're spending it wisely.

TRC: Marisa and her friends are involved in the virtual reality gaming scene. The game they play, Overworld, seems pretty complex. How did you come up with the idea for this game? If this game was out right now, would you be playing it?

DW: Overworld is a combination of some of my favorite video games, all mashed up into one: most notably, League of Legends, Counter Strike and a now-canceled MMO called City of Heroes. I love video games, and I play them all the time (including Overwatch, which I hadn't even heard of until after BLUESCREEN was published. Sigh), but I'm not really a team-oriented player so Overworld might not be for me. I play MMOs for hours, for example, without ever joining a party or playing group content. I'm in it for the solo experience. 

TRC: All of the Cherry Dogs (Marisa and her friends' Overworld team) have distinct personalities. Are there any characters that you based off of people you know or have values similar to your own?

DW: In some ways all five Cherry Dogs are me, or my friends, or my kids; we all have the bossy side that comes out when it's time to get things done, so we recognize ourselves in Sahara; we all have the crazy, "screw it, I can make my own choices" side, pushing us to let our passions rule our reason, so we recognize ourselves in Anja. One of the characters most like me is Fang, who's loud and gregarious online but meek and painfully introverted in real life. I think that's probably more of us than we'd like to admit.

TRC: Although the ending of ONES AND ZEROES was definitely satisfying, Marisa still has not found out more about her past. Can we expect more on that in the series' third installation?

DW: Holy crap yes. It doesn't answer everything --- I'd like to come back to the series again someday --- but it answers a lot. You're going to love it.

TRC: You used some technical language to describe computer science in your books. Are you personally familiar with programming? Were you trying to encourage people to join fields in computer science by writing the Mirador series?

DW: I don't consider the book didactic --- I'm not trying to push any particular ideas or careers --- but if people read it and get excited about programming I absolutely hope they'll look into it further. It's arguably the single most valuable skill a person can study today, and yet most high schools don't even teach it outside of one minor elective class here and there. I actually pushed really hard to get a programming class in my high school back in the early 90s, and took a lot of after-hours courses and summer courses and things like that; obviously I didn't stick with it, because as soon as I found out people would pay me to tell stories I jumped in with feet and never looked back. But look around the room you're in right now: probably half the stuff in it uses programming. Whatever device you're reading this interview on uses programming. It's the centerpiece of our entire civilization at this point, and the more you know about it the better.

TRC: Mirador is your second science fiction young adult series (Partials being your first one). What inspired you to keep writing for this genre?

DW: It's a great genre that I love writing in, and perhaps even more than that it's a great group of readers that I love writing for. YA readers --- both teens and adults --- are excited and passionate and full of energy, and I love being a part of that community. I'll be writing YA for as long as I possibly can.

TRC: You have a podcast that you share with multiple authors called "Writing Excuses." How did that get started?

DW: Writing Excuses is a weekly podcast in which I and three other writers (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler) talk about how we write and why we write and give all the good advice we can to people who want to try their hand at writing. It started 8 or 9 years ago more or less on a whim: Brandon's brother, my good friend Jordan, took a college class in online media and suggested that we start a podcast, because they were pretty easy to put together. That turned out to be a good idea, because now 8 years later we've won a bunch of awards, have more than 50,000 listeners and even created our own yearly writing conference. The podcast is totally free, so if you're at all interested in writing, either for fun or as a career, check it out. I recommend you start in season ten, but the whole archive is online and you can really start anywhere you want.

TRC: What young adult books and/or authors have had the most impact on your life?

DW: I am a reader today in part because of A.A. Milne and his Christopher Robin poems, which were just so dang fun to read and recite that I knew I wanted to spend my life with words. On top of that I could add authors like Fred Saberhagen, Robin McKinley, Madeline L'Engle, Anne McCaffrey, JRR Tolkien and more --- some of whom maybe aren't technically YA but I read them as a kid so I'm going to count them anyway :). As you can see from the list, I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction, and they will always be my first love.