This week Dan Wells, author of The Devil’s Only Friend, the first novel in the second JOHN CLEAVER trilogy, stops by to answer some questions about demons, mortuary science, and writing for young adults — or, as he calls it, writing. It’s a terrific book (as were all three entries in the first trilogy, here are my reviews), and Dan has some interesting things to say about it. We’ll be giving away a copy of The Devil’s Only Friend to one random commenter with a U.S. address.
Terry Weyna: What persuaded you to return to John Wayne Cleaver’s story of demon-hunting now, several years after you completed the first trilogy about Cleaver, written The Hollow City, and completed the PARTIALS trilogy?
Dan Wells: I always knew there was room for a new series about John Cleaver, but I never felt that it was necessary until a couple of years ago. John has a nice character arc in the first trilogy — it flows, it moves us, and then it concludes. Yay. But the more I learned and read about survivor’s guilt and similar scenarios the more intrigued I became about writing a post-tragic story: what happens when you finally learn how to love, and then everything you love is taken away from you? How do you cope? How do you move on?
The demons that John faces are all the more frightening for their history, which we are just starting to learn in The Devil’s Only Friend. Are they based on any particular religion or folklore, or do they spring purely from your imagination?
The demons in this series are completely made up, and in fact even the word “demon” is inaccurate, and the characters know it. In The Devil’s Only Friend they refer to them as Withered, and we learn a bit more about where they come from and what ties them together.
Mortuary science continues to play a role in John’s life even though he is no longer working with his mother in a funeral home. You write about this science with what seems a deep knowledge. How did you come by this knowledge? Through research, or have you actually worked in a mortuary? Will this background continue to be important in John’s work against the demons?
All of my mortuary stuff is based on research, and most of it second-hand. I tried to visit some actual mortuaries to see how they work, but none of them were interested :) But I’m proud to say that I’ve heard from some morticians who really like the books, and I’ve inspired at least two readers to go into mortuary science themselves, which is pretty cool.
One of my favorite characters in The Devil’s Only Friend is Elijah Sexton, who is also the narrator of Next of Kin, a novella that complements the novel. Elijah is a sympathetic figure — a demon who repents his demonic past, and tries to make up for it in a small way. Are you making a broader statement about the nature of forgiveness? Can someone like Elijah be forgiven, either by humans or by God? What are the limits of forgiveness?
I’m glad you like Elijah; he’s one of my favorite characters in the series. And I do think that he deserves forgiveness — he’s really just a reflection of John, caught in a crappy situation and doing his best to help people instead of hurt them. In a lot of ways he goes even farther than John, and I think it’s important for John to have that example at this point in his life. But I don’t think the world at large would ever forgive Elijah, and I think that fact makes just as much of an impression on John, so it’s hard to tell where we’re going from here.
Your writing is thoroughly enjoyable for adults, yet you specifically target the Young Adult market. Why do you aim for those particular shelves in the bookstore? What is different about your writing when you’re writing for adults (as you did in The Hollow City) instead of for young adults?
I get this question a lot, and I love it, because I don’t actually consider the JOHN CLEAVER books to be YA. I don’t write them as YA, and they’re not really marketed that way, either, though some bookstores shelve it there. The truth is that I don’t write for a specific audience, just for myself, and then publishers and bookstores label it. So I guess my answer is: nothing’s different but the age of the protagonist, and people’s perceptions.
I confess that this question is the one I most want the answer to: when will we see the next JOHN CLEAVER novel?
I’ve finished it, and my editor is busily polishing it up as we speak. It should be out in exactly one year.
Finally, we’re developing a tradition at Fantasy Literature of asking authors for a recipe for their favorite drink. It can be hot or cold, contain alcohol or not; just tell us what you love.
I learned this trick living in Mexico: next time you make hot chocolate, put some cayenne pepper in it. Not too much–you don’t want it to be spicy, you just want to wake it up a little. The Aztecs invented hot chocolate, so trust their original recipe and you won’t be disappointed.
Thank you for spending time with me.
Readers, comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Devil’s Only Friend. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did. (Sorry, U.S. addresses only.)