ASHLAND – The line of eager fanboys and fangirls wrapped around the outside of Ashland Public Library Friday.
First in line were Ashlanders Jim Shepherd and Frank Swonger, who waited about an hour before the library doors opened to make sure they would be able to meet Ernest Cline during the author’s book signing.
Cline, an Ashland native, is the author of “Ready Player One.” The novel was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg and set to premiere March 29. Cline is also known for writing the screenplay for the 2009 movie “Fanboys.”
Shepherd said he has has read “Ready Player One” several times, and Swonger loved listening to the audiobook version as read by Wil Wheaton.
“It’s cool to hear all the pop culture stuff from your youth,” Swonger said. “I’m also a big ‘Fanboys’ fan as well.”
Also in line were Jack Dovey, a former Sunday School teacher of Cline’s from Garber Brethren Church, and Lora Markham, one of Cline’s classmates from the Ashland High School Class of 1990. Both collected not only signatures but also hugs from Cline.
Hayley Bursley, the library’s support services manager, said she had been working to get Cline to visit the library since about 2014.
“At that time I was overseeing the teen programming. I’d heard rumblings about the movie, and knew the teens were interested in having him here for a signing,” Bursley said. “He always got back to me and he wanted to come, and it finally just worked out with him doing another event in Ohio.”
Bursley said she was excited to be able to bring Cline to Ashland for all his local fans, but especially for kids.
“I think it’s important to show kids what they can do and how far reading and books can take them,” she said.
Prior to the book signing, Cline sat down with the Ashland Source for a quick interview.
Q. What was life like for you growing up here in Ashland, and how did that influence your work?
At the time I felt really isolated, like I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I remember really responding to the movie ‘Footloose,’ because I felt like Ashland was like Beaumont in that movie.
The outside world kind of only reached me, it felt like, through movies and the radio and television. It was before the internet … And I remember we never got MTV here in the ’80s because I think all the churches threatened to boycott the cable company if they carried MTV because, like, music videos were so profane.
So Ashland felt like kind of a Puritanical town when I grew up. But I also loved growing up here, and this is where I developed my interest in movies. I would live at the Ashland Square Cinema. That’s where I saw my first movie, and I think I saw Star Wars for the first time there as well.
It was a nice place to grow up, and it had an awesome library where I would kind of live. I would get in trouble a lot at school, and they used to give Saturday detentions. So I would have to go into school on Saturdays and sit in the cafeteria, but I never cared because I would always come into the library on the Friday before and get a book, like a Stephen King novel or something, to read. And then once the library started carrying video tapes, it was like, ‘Oh my God.’
All of that ended up influencing “Ready Player One.” We used to have an arcade here in Ashland, Ashland Arcade, that closed down. There was another one out in Bailey Lakes too that was called Happy Time Pizza, and it was one of my favorite places growing up, so I put it in “Ready Player One.”
Q. How did you come up with the idea of setting this novel in the future and using virtual reality but then mixing in all this ’80s pop culture?
I think the initial idea came from, ‘What if Willy Wonka had been a video game designer instead of a candy maker? And what if he held his contest inside of his video game creation?’
When I had that idea, I got really excited, and then I thought about what kind of clues and puzzles this eccentric video game designer would leave behind to find a worthy successor to take over his company. I thought they could do with all the stuff he loved– his favorite rock band, his favorite video game, his favorite movies.
It was my first time writing a novel, and by weaving all this pop culture stuff into the story it was a way for me to celebrate the things I love while I was writing the book and also keep myself interested as I was writing it.
Q. What did you think when you found out Steven Spielberg was going to be directing this movie?
They told me he was reading the script, and that really blew my mind, but then it depressed me. I thought there was no way that it was ever going to work out.
I thought he would read it and decide not to do it and I’d have to spend the rest of my life imaging what it would have been like if Steven Spielberg had directed my movie.
It was like two of the longest weeks of my life, where the longer it went on, the less certain I was that he would end up doing it. But then he did, and that was three years ago.
Since then we’ve gone through pre-production and filming and post-production and special effects. I just got to see the movie a few weeks ago and I still can’t get over it.
Q. What did you think of the movie?
I was blown away by it. I’m biased and I’ve lost all perspective, but it’s my favorite Stephen Spielberg movie, and his movies are some of my favorite movies in the entire world.
He made all the Indiana Jones Movies and he made E.T. and Jaws, and this is my favorite because I got to work on it with him.
Ever since I’ve seen it, now I’m just really excited for everybody else to see it. I think it’s amazing, and it’s an uncynical adventure. They don’t make too many movies like this anymore, so it feels kind of like a classic ’80s movie like “Back to the Future” or “The Goonies.”
Q. You were writing about virtual reality before it even seemed like a possibility for most of us. Do you feel like you’ve influenced that world?
I know that I have, because the people that built the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have told me that they hand out a copy of “Ready Player One” to all their new employees as inspiration and they had me come twice and do book signings for everybody at Oculus Rift. My book was published right at the same time they started Oculus Rift.
A lot of people in the tech world in Silicon Valley they hand out my book as something to get people excited about technology and virtual reality and where all of the internet and social media can go. It’s pretty crazy.
It’s what every science fiction novelist would want. You kind of write about what you imagine and then it inspires people to actually make that come true. It’s pretty incredible. I feel really lucky.
Q. What advice do you have for kids out there who want to be authors?
I feel like I’m a testament to what happens if you celebrate the things you love.
There’s a lot of people who expend energy criticizing things or tearing things down. I’ve always been someone who is passionate about the things I love and focused on the things I want to celebrate and share with other people.
By doing that, it’s like building a bonfire or a searchlight that’s attracted other people to the book.
My advice is to lead with you love. Don’t try to appeal to a mass audience, but just try to write something that is the kind of book you would want to read.