A Q&A with Dan Wells!

Last week marked the release of Ruins, the final book in the Partial Sequence by Dan Wells. As this series is easily my favorite of the post-apocalyptic genre, I was positively thrilled when Wells agreed to answer a few questions on my blog (which, by the way, I think is one of the coolest things ever). If you’ve read my review of Partials and Fragments, you know I admire this author for the many things he does brilliantly in his novels. From world building to great characters to amazing plots, he can do no wrong. Now, join me in a geek-out as we learn more about inspiration behind this series!

Q&A with Dan Wells:


What was the inspiration behind the Partial series?

There are so many inspirations for this series, but I’ll narrow it down to three:

1) I love post-apocalyptic stories, and I wanted to tell one. I grew up in the Cold War, when we were certain that the world would end in a nuclear salvo, but I was more interested in writing a plague-based apocalypse because of how personal it is: it doesn’t destroy our cities or our structures, just the people. We’re all gone, but our stuff remains behind, and the few survivors would be living not in some barren wasteland, but in the ruins of our homes, with our clothes in the closets and our pictures on the wall. There’s something so evocative about that, I had to write it.

2) I love Battlestar Galactica, and particularly the human-like Cylons in the new series, and I every time I watched an episode I’d think about new stories to tell about them, and new ways to play with the idea of humanity, and what it means to be human, and how very subtle differences can divide us in vast, irreconcilable ways. My Partials are a hundred miles away from the Cylons, in terms of where they come from and how they work and what makes them different and what makes them the same, but that core idea of the artificial almost-human alien was a big inspiration.

3) I love Hermione Granger, but it always bugged me that she would find all the answers and solve all the puzzles and then stand to the side while Harry got the credit. I created Kira as the fiery, super-smart heroine because I wanted to give Hermione a chance to be the star.

Who was your favorite character to write about and why?

I love them all. I love writing Kira because her heart goes so much faster than her head, and she rails against injustice no matter what the consequences might be. I love writing Marcus because I see so much of myself in him, and I love writing Samm because he wants everything Kira wants but for such different reasons, an he goes about it in different ways. I love writing Afa because he was such a good-hearted, complex challenge, and I love writing Haru because he’s a complete douchebag who’s right way more often than we want him to be. More than anybody else, though, I love writing Heron. She’s so far removed from human thought and emotion, and so ready to do whatever it takes to survive, and so ripe for incredibly dark humor. Every scene she’s in was so much fun to work on.

Did you have any struggles while writing the series?

The single biggest struggle in this series was the time frame, which was incredibly short. I had just a few short months to outline, write, and revise each book before it had to be turned in and off to the printer, and I ended up with long hours and sleepless nights on all three just to get it done. We got better with each book, though, and everyone at Harper was amazing to work with, which made it easier. Still, though. At one point the deadlines were so tight we had to do two simultaneous edits, each focusing on a different thing, and then shuffle them together for a final proofread. It all turned out great in the end, but if I ever have to do that again it will be too soon. The next series I’m doing with Harper we pushed back a few months, just to give us more breathing room :)

What do your writing habits look like?

I have an office in my home, with a door I can lock to keep out the kids; it has bare walls, and a mostly bare table, and if I had to work in those conditions for a real office job I’d hate it, but for my purposes at home it’s exactly what I need. I have my laptop open to several different outline and planning documents, and then I write everything on my tablet and bluetooth keyboard. I spend a few hours each morning doing Internet stuff like twitter and facebook and awesome interviews like this, and then I’ll review everything I wrote the day before, and then I write for four or five hours–usually 2500 words a day on an average.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Allow yourself to write a bad book. Aspiring authors tend to think they’re first book has to be perfect, because they’re going to publish it and make a zillion dollars, but that’s not how art works. A painter doesn’t get his first painting hung in a museum, and a sculptor doesn’t get her first statue into an expensive gallery, and we authors need to remember that our first works are just like theirs: they’re practice, not designed to sell but designed to teach us how to write. Finish your first book, warts and all, and then your second will be better, and your third will be better than that, and so on until your writing is awesome. I wrote five books before finally selling my sixth, and now I’ve published eight, but if I’d insisted on perfection I’d still be revising that first one, over and over, all alone in a room somewhere.

What are you working on next?

Lots of things! Here are the main ones:

1) I have finished a manuscript I’ve been working on for about three years, tentatively titled Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition. It’s a corporate satire about a health and beauty company that destroys the world, and I love it beyond measure. We’re still working on selling this one, but I hope you’ll be able to read it soon.

2) New John Cleaver books! My first trilogy, before Partials, was a supernatural thriller about a teenage sociopath who fights demons. I’ve just signed a deal to write three more in that same series, and it’s been great to get back to that character again.

3) An all-new YA science fiction series called Mirador, about a teenage hacker in a cyberpunk Los Angeles. It’s got high-tech mysteries and scary criminals and steamy romance. The first book is called Bluescreen, and it comes out in Fall of 2015.


Thanks again Dan Wells for taking the time to answer all of my questions. I loved learning more about the process of creating the Partials series, but was most inspired by your advice to writers – it described me to a T (which was a little freaky, by the way) and was exactly the advice I needed to push forward with my own projects. I am really looking forward to reading all of your upcoming books!

 I hope you all enjoyed this Q&A as much as I did. If you haven’t picked up the Partials Sequence yet you are sorely missing out – it is amazing!

 by Niki Hawkes


Coming Soon: Ruins by Dan Wells

RuinsTitle: Ruins

Author: Dan Wells

Series: Partials #3

Genre: Teen Fantasy / Dystopian

Release Date: March 11, 2014

The OverviewAs the clock ticks closer and closer to the final Partial expiration date, humans and Partials stand on the brink of war. Caught in the middle, thousands of miles apart, are Samm and Kira: Samm, who is trapped on the far side of the continent beyond the vast toxic wasteland of the American Midwest; and Kira, now in the hands of Dr. Morgan, who is hell-bent on saving what’s left of the Partials, even if she has to destroy Kira to do it. The only hope lies in the hands of the scattered people of both races who seek a way to prevent the rapidly escalating conflict. But in their midst appears a mysterious figure, neither human nor Partial, with solemn warnings of the new apocalypse-one that none of them may be able to avert.

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Hosted by Breaking the Spine:

The first book in this series, Partials, was by far the best YA I read in 2012 (and trust me, it had some stiff competition). I loved the characters, the story, the world-building, the pacing – everything! The second book was every bit as good, and now I am dying to find out what happens next! This series is responsible for reinvigorating my love of dystopians and I recommend it as often as I can. If you loved Hunger Games, Divergent, and Legend, this is the perfect series to try next!

 What book are you waiting on?


Your Pick for Nik! – April’s Review: Fragments by Dan Wells

FragmentsTitle: Fragments

Author: Dan Wells

Series: Partials #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: Kira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence–it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?


The Review:

I am so excited to report that Fragments was every bit as good as Partials. In fact, some of the elements were even stronger. The plot was dynamic and suspenseful, the world building was thorough and epic, and the plot advancement has left me staggering a bit. All this wrapped into a beautifully written package. I liked this one so much I can’t imagine the final book in the trilogy being anything less than spectacular. At this point, the only thing I don’t like is that I will have to wait at least a year to find out what happens next.

Story: There were so many good elements of storytelling in this book! It’s like the author sat down with every scene and thought “how can I make this better?” But asking the question is only half the battle.  Not only do you have to know what elements make for a great story, you also have to have the creativity to make it your own. Because Wells has these skills in abundance, we end up with a clever plot that surprised me at every turn. Many elements didn’t go the way I expected them to… they were better. And oddly, it’s not the main arc of the story but rather minor details in a scene that held the most surprise for me. Something about his careful attention to even the most minor story elements kept me incredibly invested in the story and eager for more.

I’ve heard a lot of dystopian readers comment that they like books like Matched and Delirium, but missed that “edge” regarding corrupt government, harsh living conditions, and basic need for survival that made Hunger Games so hard-core. Well, this book has all of those things in abundance! It’s definitely not a “fluffy” book, focusing more on events and story than relationships.

Writing: I often criticize writers for having too many viewpoint characters in a story. Not only does it give your reader permission to lose attention but it also makes it difficult to  get emotionally involved with any one character. After reading Fragments, I think I know why Wells was able to pull it off when so many others could not. First of all, almost the entire first book was written in Kira’s perspective which allowed readers to become fully  grounded in one story. Second of all, although the perspective changes a lot in this book, each viewpoint character was working towards the same overall goal. Finally, each perspective switch usually provided the reader plot-advancing information essential for moving forward with the overall arc of the story.

I applaud Wells for creating a suspenseful, nail-biting novel without introducing even an ounce of false tension. He’s so good at bringing the action to life and making me feel the heat of the moment that I literally held my breath through certain passages. I found it so absorbing that I completely forgot to take notes for this post until almost halfway through the book (as I did with the first one). This goes along with great pacing of the story, which I highlighted in my review of Partials but won’t delve too much into here. Suffice to say it was very well done.

Characterization:  I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I thought certain elements of this book were better than the first one. All of those elements have to do with characterization. Where the first book contain characters that were mostly vehicles to get from one event to the next, this one expanded on those characters giving them much richer personalities and internal conflicts. It delved me deeper into the story, if possible, and made me a lot more emotionally invested. Wells achieved a lot of this through excellent dialogue. There were a number of great verbal exchanges and conversations that reinforce personality without ever feeling forced. If I could to capture even a fraction of those exchanges in my own writing, I would be one happy camper. On another note, this is probably one of the slowest developing love stories I’ve ever read in a teen book, and you know what? I’m loving it, because it feels incredibly organic.

World Building: Wells has obviously done a lot of research on what a post-apocalyptic America would look like, and believe me, he doesn’t tone it down much to make it easier on his characters. His word choice and skill with description create strong images that are almost poetic. It’s beautiful and subtle and quietly brings the world to life. I really don’t have much to say other than it was done well enough that I never had to go reread passages to get a clearer picture. 

Overall, I am tickled that Fragments was chosen as April’s selection because I may not have picked it up so quickly otherwise. As book 1 was easily my favorite teen read of 2012, I can say that this one will be a strong contender for my favorite this year too. I love that I don’t have anything critical or negative to say about this book, I absolutely loved it!

Recommendations: While a lot of the dystopian and novels are geared towards the female audience, this is one I would feel confident recommending to men and women. If you mentioned that you are a Hunger Games fan, this is the first book I would show you.

by Niki Hawkes

Other books you might like:

Your Pick for Nik! – April’s Selection!

a9Thank you all for your votes!

This month’s winner is… Fragments by Dan Wells!

It was a really close one this month, as Fragments just barely edged out Darkest Minds (which will be included in next month’s nominations). I am so passionate about the first book that I can’t imagine the second one being any less spectacular. Great choice this month, people!

A thorough review and discussion for this book will take place on April 26th, so there’s plenty of time to pick it up if you want to participate. For more information on the Your Pick for Nik! book club,  click here

**Don’t forget to tune in Friday March 29th for the review and discussion of March’s Selection: Hounded by Kevin Hearne.**

“If you think reading is boring, you’re doing it wrong.”

Niki’s Book Recommendations

If you liked: The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins


Then you might also like:

42Title: Partials

Author: Dan Wells

Series: Partials #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

This is my top recommend for books similar to HG. It has an excellent fast-paced plot, interesting characters, and compelling conflicts. It is also written beautifully, landing itself as my favorite book of 2013! Read full review

divergentTitle: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth

Series: Divergent #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

What I loved most about the HG (aside from how well it was written) was the unique concept behind it. Divergent also had a highly original plot that actually kept me up into the night (I hardly ever sacrifice sleep for books anymore). Read full review

aTitle: Delirium

Author: Lauren Oliver

Series: Delirium#1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Although this dystopian novel focuses more on the romanic element, the overall arc of the plot and general writing style are quite similar to the Hunger Games.

a1Title: Uglies

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Series: Uglies #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

This series was one of the first dystopian books on the market, and no doubt an inspiration to many writers. I loved the idea, I loved the world, and I loved the characters. This is a must-read classic for any dystopian lover. Read full review

a2Title: Matched

Author: Ally Condie

Series: Matched #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Like Delirium, matched is more focused on the romantic aspect of the story rather than fast-paced action, but it’s still an excellent dystopian novel in its own right. Its kind of a cool mix between Fahrenheit 451 and the HG. Definitely geared more towards women.

a1Title: Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Series: N/A

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Ship Breaker reminded me a lot of the HG because it had a similar overall feel to the story.  It sounds weird, but it made me somehow nostalgic of Suzanne Collin’s work, and was such a good story I remember it vividly several years later. It definitely made me want to read some of his other fantasy novels.

Well, there you have it! My top picks for books like Hunger Games. Let me know if I’m missing any really good ones! :)

November’s Your Pick for Nik!: Partials by Dan Wells (5/5 stars!)

partialsTitle: Partials

Author: Dan Wells

Series: Partials #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.

Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws have pushed what’s left of humanity to the brink of civil war, and she’s not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will find that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them—connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there.


The Review:

I have to say that “Partials” blew away all of my expectations and I couldn’t be more thrilled that it was November’s “Your Pick for Nik!”. I haven’t enjoyed a teen book so much since the “Hunger Games”. Incredibly fast-paced and creative, I guarantee you’ll have a difficult time putting this one down!

Writing: The writing was by far my favorite element of this book. Breaking the mold of your typical teen books (especially the many dealing with postapocalyptic settings) Wells managed to deliver one surprise after another throughout the story. It’s this lack of predictability that has moved this book into my top 10 favorite teen books. Don’t get me wrong, I love the genre, but after a while they do all tend to sound alike. “Partials” was so profoundly different that I’m still reeling from it a few weeks later. Wells was incredibly creative and resourceful in his plot-development, and I stand in awe at his originality. Even the scientific aspects dealing with the RM virus deserve some praise – it was written easily enough to follow for us more, uh, literary folks while still coming across as legitimate knowledge from the author (kudos to him for doing his research). In any case, I was convinced he knew what he was talking about.

Another thing I appreciate about the writing was the fact that there was not a single drop of false tension throughout the entire book. False tension is created when an author withholds stupid information to try to add suspense. Wells was actually quite forthcoming, giving the reader all the information he could up front using Kira’s perspective to shape what he wanted us to know. It was refreshing, and made the parts with actual tension that much more intense – you know something serious is going on. In contrast, when things got too intense, he always managed to relieve the tension with a well-placed bit of humor – incorporating it in a clever and non-awkward manner. I even laughed aloud a few times.

Finally, there was a supreme lack of “fluff” in this book. Every scene either worked to advance the plot or reveal character. This is a major part of why the story was so fast-paced, and this leads me to my next observations:

Pacing: I don’t know about you, but when I read, my mind tends to wander every so often and I find myself having to go back and reread several paragraphs or even pages at a time. I didn’t do that once in this entire book. In fact, I was so into the story that I found it difficult to stop and take notes for this post. It’s not the type of book you analyze, it’s the type you just enjoy! It is one of the best-paced books I’ve read in ages, and it makes me even more eager for the second book, “Fragments“, as it’s bound to be just as good. This is where I also draw my greatest comparison to the “Hunger Games” trilogy, specifically “Mockingjay.” It had all of the same elements of Collins’ final book, but didn’t have shocking events just for “shock’s” sake. In any case, Wells definitely figured out how to keep an audience engaged, and I dare you to read it without becoming riveted!

Characters: I actually don’t think the characters were the strongest elements of the story. Most of the characters, save Kira and Samm, were written in a rather flat manner, seeming to be to the vehicles by which we are led to our next events rather than people we were supposed to get connected to. A means to an end, if you will. Not to say they weren’t likable. In fact, for flat characters they were really well-developed. I think Wells did this on purpose to draw the reader’s focus to the events and provided a bit distance from the violence (I guess it’s supposed to make us a little im-“Partial”).

Since the book is written in first-person, the reader really only finds out what Kira thinks of the characters, rather than as the author would describe them. It was done quite well, but I believe this is why it lacked a bit of physical description. I, for one, would have appreciated a few more drop-in reminders. We really only get to know them through their dialog, and they don’t really develop beyond that. All that said, the format the author chose for his characters worked brilliantly within the context, and I didn’t feel the lack because Kira was such a strong lead. She was a living contrast of teenage girl and soldier, managing to be otherworldly and relatable at the same time.

World Building: The best thing I can say about the world building is that I felt like I was there. The imagery was amazing, using beautifully descriptive passages such as, “…last to fall were the buildings, distant and solemn, the gravestones for an entire world” (147).  In addition to this lovely descriptive voice we actually found out more about this world through the attitudes and lifestyles of the people. They are living in a world of extremes where danger lurks around every corner. I loved that the environment was almost a character in its own right.

Overall, “Partials” is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I think it has the potential to be the next big hit of the genre! Give it a try – you won’t be disappointed!

Other Books You Might Like:

by Niki Hawkes

Now Let’s Discuss!

I had a lot of fun composing this review, but I’m most looking forward to hearing what YOU think. Do you agree or disagree with my assessments and why? What elements of the book worked for you? Did you find the story compelling? Did any of you enjoy the book as much as I did?