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Dan Wells Talks About His Novel I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER Hitting the Big Screen, Plus a Series Giveaway!

Photo by Micah Demoux

Photo by Micah Demoux

Dan Wells writes in a variety of genres, from dark humor to science fiction to supernatural thriller. Born in Utah, he spent his early years reading and writing. He is the author of the Partials series and the John Cleaver series. He has been nominated for both the Hugo and the Campbell Award, and has won two Parsec Awards for his podcast Writing Excuses.

Dan chatted with me about I Am Not a Serial Killer making it to the big screen, and more.


Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the movie news! First, what inspired you to write the John Cleaver series? Will you tell us a bit about it, and its very unusual protagonist?

Dan Wells: Thanks! It’s pretty exciting. The John Cleaver books came from a pretty simple beginning: like most normal, well-adjusted people, I read about serial killers for fun. I’m fascinated by the dichotomy between evil and normality–that you could be totally normal 364 days out of the year, kill someone on the 365th, and then go back to being normal again for another year or two. What prompts that? How do you get to that point? I was particularly interested, at the time, in predictive behaviors: things like pyromania or animal cruelty or bedwetting, that a trained criminal profiler can use to figure out if someone has serial killer tendencies. I was talking to my writing group about this one night, and they suggested that this would be a great idea for a character–someone who has all the predictors but is trying not to live up to them. I loved the idea, and planned it out, and John Cleaver was born. I added a supernatural element to the book because I wanted to play up that contrast even further, showcasing John’s emotional inhumanity by pairing him against a villain who was literally inhuman, but could connect with humans on a deeper level than John ever could. The movie crew uses the mantra “This is a story about a boy who can’t love, fighting a monster who kills for love.” It’s a great one-sentence synopsis, and a good sign that they’re thinking about the story in the right way.

KC: Will the movie just cover the events in I Am Not a Serial Killer, or will it take events from subsequent books, as well?

DW: This movie will only cover the first book, but the contract includes the whole trilogy. If it’s a success, they’ll make all three.

KC: Production just started on the film. How involved will you be with filming?

DW: I’m actually on set with them right now in Virginia, Minnesota, a wonderful little town that looks exactly like I imagined Clayton in the books. I don’t have any official control over anything–I can’t force them to include something or cut something–but the director has become a good friend over the years, and involves me constantly in various decisions and discussions, and it’s been great. This evening they’re shooting a key scene with a phone conversation between John and the monster he’s hunting, and as they prepared for it the director and Max Records, the actor playing John, brought me in to help explain the emotions and undercurrents behind the dialogue. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re trying to find a cameo for me, somewhere, too, which will be a nice easter egg.

KC: There are some big names attached to the movie, Like Christopher Lloyd. What are your impressions and thoughts on the casting?

DW: The cast is incredible. John is being played by Max Records, best known from Where the Wild Things Are, and he brings a wonderful sense of isolation to the role. His John is surrounded by people but completely alone, and it’s exciting to watch him come to life so lifelessly. A lesser actor would play the role as inert and emotionless, just kind of there on the screen, but Max manages to be completely energized and still at the same time. It’s great. Christopher Lloyd, of course, is playing Mr. Crowley, the friendly neighbor who turns out to be an ancient shapeshifting monster, and he’s incredible. Crowley is a creature who preys on humans and then accidentally feel in love with one, and it opened his eyes and made him see the world in a way he never had before, and Lloyd really cracks that character open and shows the joy he finds in his wife, and in the world, and all the simple, human things that John doesn’t begin to understand. They play off each other perfectly. Crowley’s wife, one of the other key roles, is being played by Dee Noah, a wonderful actor from Minneapolis, and she’s really the soul of the movie in a lot of ways. You can watch her and completely understand why a monster would leave his life behind to be with her. She and Lloyd find the love story lurking behind the novel, and they bring it to life.

KC: Obviously you won’t want to reveal any spoilers, but is there a scene or part of the book that you’re particularly looking forward to seeing on the big screen?

DW: One of my favorite scenes has always been the Halloween dance, just because it’s so fun to read in front of an audience–it’s funny, it’s scary, it shows off the characters, and it’s earned a great place in my heart. That will be a fun one to see.

KC: I have to ask…how did you celebrate when you got the news that I Am Not a Serial Killer was going to be made into a movie?

DW: We’ve been working on this for six years, but when the money finally showed up in January of 2014 it was a huge deal. I want to say that I threw a big party, but really all we did was buckle down and start working even harder on making the movie happen. Billy and one of the producers flew to my house, and we talked for days about how this would work or that would work, who to cast and how to do the effects, and all of these technical questions we hadn’t been able to answer yet. Now that it’s finally happening, it’s like we’re on a treadmill just trying to get everything down before we fall off.

KC: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

DW: I want to make sure to name drop our incredible effects team, Toby Froud and William Todd Jones, who are doing a phenomenal job of designing the monster and bringing him to life. We’re doing most of the monster bits with practical effects, glimpsed only in shadows and reflections, and they’ve found a visual look that’s so unique and ancient and marvelous. You’re going to love it.


GIVEAWAY (US and Canada Only): Win 3 Books in the JOHN CLEAVER Series by Dan Wells!

Good news, readers! Tor Books is promoting the upcoming release of Dan Wells’ new John Cleaver novel The Devil’s Only Friend…and they are offering SF Signal readers a chance to win a paperback set of the first 3 books books the John Cleaver series!

That’s right, 1 lucky SF Signal reader will win all of the following:

Here’s more information about each book and how you can win:

I Am Not A Serial Killer

John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat—and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

Dan Wells’s debut novel is the first volume of a trilogy that will keep you awake and then haunt your dreams.

Mr. Monster

I killed a demon. I don’t know if it was really, technically a demon, but I do know that he was some kind of monster, with fangs and claws and the whole bit, and he killed a lot of people. So I killed him. I think it was the right thing to do. At least the killing stopped.

Well, it stopped for a while.

In I Am Not a Serial Killer, John Wayne Cleaver saved his town from a murderer even more appalling than the serial killers he obsessively studies.

But it turns out even demons have friends, and the disappearance of one has brought another to Clayton County. Soon there are new victims for John to work on at the mortuary and a new mystery to solve. But John has tasted death, and the dark nature he used as a weapon—the terrifying persona he calls “Mr. Monster”—might now be using him.

No one in Clayton is safe unless John can vanquish two nightmarish adversaries: the unknown demon he must hunt and the inner demon he can never escape.

In this sequel to his brilliant debut, Dan Wells ups the ante with a thriller that is just as gripping and even more intense. He apologizes in advance for the nightmares.

I Don’t Want to Kill You

Dan Wells introduced us to John Wayne Cleaver in the chilling novels I Am Not a Serial Killer and Mr. Monster. In I Don’t Want to Kill You, Cleaver faces his toughest challenge yet.

John Wayne Cleaver has called a demon—literally called it on the phone—and challenged it to a fight. He’s faced two monsters already, barely escaping with his life, and now he’s done running; he’s taking the fight to them. As he wades through the town’s darkest secrets, searching for any sign of who the demon might be, one thing becomes all too clear: in a game of cat and mouse with a supernatural killer, you are always the mouse.

In I Am Not a Serial Killer we watched a budding sociopath break every rule he had to save his town from evil. In Mr. Monster we held our breath as he fought madly with himself, struggling to stay in control. Now John Wayne Cleaver has mastered his twisted talents and embraced his role as a killer of killers. I Don’t Want to Kill You brings his story to a thundering climax of suspicion, mayhem, and death.

It’s time to punish the guilty.

And in a town full of secrets, everyone is guilty of something

And here’s how you can enter for a chance to win:

  1. Send an email to contest at sfsignal dot com. (That’s us).
  2. In the subject line, enter “John Cleaver Series
  3. In the body of the email, please provide a mailing address so the prize can be sent as soon as possible. (The winning address is used only to mail the prize. All other address info will be purged once the giveaway ends.)
  4. Geographic restrictions: This giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada
  5. The giveaway will end Friday, March 13th 2015 (9:00 PM U.S. Central time). The 1 winner will be selected at random, notified, and announced shortly thereafter.

Good luck!

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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