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'Maze Runner' on 'right track'

James Dashner was reading from his latest book at the 15th Street Gallery in Salt Lake City when he paused and looked at his son in the front row.

"Bryson, close your ears," he said with his typical dry humor.

The Utah author of middle-grade fiction has admittedly ventured into some scarier, monster-filled territory with his latest work. His children, though, are apparently pretty excited about seeing Dad's name on this book cover — the ominous ivy-covered walls notwithstanding.

"They love to brag about it at school," Dashner said.

Dashner recently visited eight major U.S. cities to promote "The Maze Runner," published in October by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. The tour was a three-week flurry of airplanes, hotels, school visits and book signings that took him across the country.

Upon returning, Dashner reported that "The Maze Runner" is running on schedule.

"Yeah, it seems to be on the right track," he said.

Dashner, a returned LDS Church missionary and BYU graduate, is also author of "The 13th Reality" series, published by Utah-based Shadow Mountain, and "The Jimmy Fincher Saga," published by Cedar Fort of Springville, Utah. With the release of "The Maze Runner," along with the upcoming paperback publication of "The 13th Reality" by Simon & Schuster, the author's reach is expanding.

The October book tour featured stops in Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., Phoenix and Los Angeles. Along the way, he saw "Maze Runner" promotions everywhere from airports to Walmart.

"I was really shocked to see just how much Random House is promoting my book," he said.

In a recent Publisher's Weekly article, Joan DeMayo, senior vice president and director of children's sales and special market sales for Random House, called "The Maze Runner" the company's "make" book for the fall.

"We knew that we had something big here: a story that really does deliver, with a great jacket and a great author to work with," she said.

"The Maze Runner," the first book of a three-part series, follows a group of amnesiac teenagers trapped in a commune called "The Glade." They are surrounded by a seemingly unsolvable maze, guarded by half-metal, half-blubber killing machines called "Grievers."

Barnes and Noble is featuring "The Maze Runner" as part of its "Discover Great New Writers" program, meaning the book will be prominently displayed in stores around the country through January.

Despite the recent success, Dashner imposes his own reality check. He realizes he's still a new author on the national circuit.

"I think it will take a little time to build," he said. "But all the signs point to it doing as well as anyone hoped."

Now, Dashner has some writing to do. He is concurrently revising the third book of the "13th Reality" series and the sequel to the "Maze Runner," called "The Scorch Trials." The story lines are disparate, and Dashner avoids working on both books during the same day — or even the same week.

"It's a little hard," he said. "I just kind of work on one or the other."