Maze Runner author tells story of success to Fayetteville students

Posted: October 26, 2017 at 1:08 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Jon Gil, a junior at the Fayetteville High School, places his arm around author James Dashner on Wednesday as they stand with library aids in the library at the high school. Dashner spoke to the freshman class and a creative writing class at the school as part of the True Lit: Fayetteville Literary Festival.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Perseverance and moving forward after rejection are the keys to success, James Dashner told Fayetteville High School freshman Wednesday.

Dashner, author of the Maze Runner young adult book series, told students he's received about 40 rejection letters over his writing career, and receiving them never got easier.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Author James Dashner speaks Wednesday to the Fayetteville High School freshman class in the Performing Arts Cent...

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For more information about the True Lit Fayetteville Literacy Festival, visit www.truelitfest.com.

Source: Staff Report

He chose to study accounting in college despite his love of books and telling stories since he was young so he would "have a backup plan until my dreams came true," Dashner said.

He scratched his storytelling itch by scheduling times to write during lunch breaks, in the evenings and on weekends when he was an accountant. He received rejection letter after rejection letter when sending out his first novel for publication.

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"But guess what I didn't do," Dashner told students. "I didn't give up."

Dashner spoke to high school students as part of the Jim Blair Author and Lecture Series presented by the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation.

His presentation was part of True Lit: Fayetteville Literacy Festival, which continues through Sunday.

Jennifer Holm, author of Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise and the Babymouse series also addressed sixth-graders Tuesday morning and fourth-graders today as part of the festival.

Dashner told more than 700 freshmen he kept writing. He wrote a second book, the Maze Runner, which also received rejection letters. Another of his books, The 13th Reality, did get published, but Maze Runner stuck in the back of his mind.

Three years after finishing the first draft, he rewrote it, and it was accepted by Random House, which gave him just enough money to quit his accounting job and write full time, he said. Then 20th Century Fox "swooped in" to make it a movie. The third movie in the trilogy is scheduled to be released in January.

The book is now in 45 languages, Dashner said.

The author asked students what they wanted to be when they grow up. Answers ranged from a psychiatrist to dancer to registered nurse to storm chaser.

No one just becomes what their profession is, Dashner told them.

"You have to practice, you have to work hard, and you guys can do anything and change the world," he said.

Dashner also visited with 17 juniors and seniors in a creative writing class.

There, he spoke in more detail about his writing process, focusing on the importance of brainstorming and character development.

Brainstorming allows ideas to be generated, and characters are a vessel carrying those ideas through the story, and good characters connect with readers, investing them into the story, Dashner said.

"Powerful storytelling does powerful things to you," he said, explaining that's why good storytelling is so valued in society.

Amy Matthews, a creative writing teacher, said it's inspiring for her students to be able to meet notable authors. Lois Lowry, author of The Giver and Number the Stars, spoke two years ago, and Louis Sachar, author of Holes, spoke last year.

"So often authors and the books we read seem so untouchable...and then you bring an author in and you realize, this is just a regular person," Matthews said, explaining that encourages students they, too, can become published authors.

It was awesome to hear Dashner speak, said Josie Lawson, senior.

"I didn't feel crazy to want to write to make money," she said after Dashner visited with the creative writing students.

"It helped me realize this was a legitimate thing I could do with my life," senior Olivia Caldwell echoed.

"He was just like you're going to get rejected but you have to accept it," Lawson said.

"That's just an important like lesson in general," Caldwell added.

NW News on 10/26/2017