NORTH SALT LAKE — Dan Wells writes books that sell around the world. He’s particularly popular in Germany, Argentina and Mexico, in addition to the USA. England thinks he’s pretty cool too.
His signature book, “I Am Not a Serial Killer,” the first one he got someone to publish, has been made into a movie.
But sit down with the successful author at the home he shares in North Salt Lake with his wife, Dawn, and their six children — and the place where he spins his fictional tales in a converted bedroom on the main level — and the first story he wants to tell you is one that is absolutely true:
Eight years ago, he was at a gas station in Orem when the man at the next pump started pitching him about the multilevel-marketing business he was a part of. (Not a hard scenario to imagine — this was Utah County).
“You can work from home, call your own shots, set your own hours and have other people make money for you while you sleep,” went the standard MLM pitch. “You’ll have your dream job.”
To which Dan replied, “Already got it.”
Some kids want to grow up and play shortstop for the Yankees, or be an astronaut who lands on the moon, or live in the White House. All Dan Wells ever dreamed of, from as far back as he can remember, was being a writer.
It helped that his parents, Robert and Patty, treated the library like it was a shrine. The Sprague Library in Sugar House was just around the corner from where Dan, his brother, Robison, (also a published author) and his sister, Allison, grew up.
Their parents continually stocked the kids’ bookshelves at home, Dan recalls, “with stuff they thought would interest us. Some of it super didn’t, but others I read until the cover fell off.”
When he was 11, the floodgates opened when Dan was given the green light, as it were, to cross 21st South, the main street that stood between his house and the library, on his own.
After that, “I was there almost every day.”
He tore through everything, starting with science fiction and fantasy, and once those shelves were exhausted, on to poetry and the classics.
Out of this emerged a young man who turned in so many compositions his English teacher finally said, “Stop! I can’t read them all.”
Dan further honed his craft at BYU, where he wrote for the student sci-fi magazine, The Leading Edge, and met any number of mentors, including Dave Wolverton and Linda Adams, and aspiring writers and editors who would go on to become professionals just like himself — Brandon Sanderson, Ethan Sproat, Stacy Whitman and Anne Sowards among them.
After college, he worked at a variety of pay-the-bills jobs while on his own time he wrote “five novels of garbage before novel No. 6 was good enough to sell.”
The American rights to that book, “I Am Not a Serial Killer,” were picked up by Moshe Feder at Tor Books for an advance on royalties of $7,000. Dan persuaded Sara Crowe, the top young adult agent in the business, to represent him with Tor. That partnership soon resulted in selling German rights to “Serial Killer” for a sum that far exceeded the American deal — a $60,000 advance for the first book with $60,000 each for two sequel books to follow.
“That’s quittin’ money,” is what Brandon Sanderson advised his friend. Dan was quick to agree. In late 2008, just before meeting the man at the gas station, he turned in his two-weeks notice and hasn’t worked for anyone but himself ever since.
Every year, the bookshelf containing his own books grows, and in multiple languages. “Serial Killer” remains the book he’s most known for — a notoriety enhanced by the release of the movie version this past summer (available on Netflix) — and is still his top seller in Germany. But his Partials series is his top seller in America, and of late all of his books have found a receptive audience in Latin America — Argentina and Mexico especially.
You can check out all his titles at thedanwells.com. He also is part of a popular podcast called “Writing Excuses” (“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart”) that he does with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler and Mary Robinette Kowal.
Through it all, Dan, who will turn 40 in March, marvels that the life he wished for as a little kid he actually got.
“Even years later,” he says, “it’s still weird to me that anyone can make a living doing this. I sit in my office, usually in my pajamas, and just tell stories to people, and they pay for it, and that’s bizarre, and it’s awesome.”