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‘Geek culture’ inspired writer Cline

By Kristina Jackson

Writer Ernest Cline’s passion for John Hughes and Atari inspired his homage to 1980s pop culture, “Ready Player One.”

Cline discussed his path to writing the book, this year’s Kansas State Book Network common reading selection, Thursday at McCain Auditorium.

After loving Star Wars and John Hughes films as a kid, Cline has made a career of highlighting geek culture.

“I call them enthusiasts,” Cline said. “They love it so much they just have to share it with you.”

“Ready Player One” focuses on a teenager who gets deeply involved in a digital world while participating in a contest put on by a billionaire who loves the ‘80s.

The novel includes references from everything from Duran Duran to Atari games, mostly because they were passions of the author.

Cline said that seeing Star Wars for the first time when he was five helped him realize he wanted to be a writer. It also played a huge role in his first screenplay, “Fanboys,” which was released in 2009.

Cline’s mother had died recently when he found himself spending huge amounts of time on websites for the upcoming Star Wars prequel, “The Phantom Menace.” He realized he was using the excitement as a distraction when he began to worry that he could die before seeing the movie.

“I thought, ‘That’s what you want to stay alive for?’” Cline said. “But a serious fear gripped me.”

That worry sparked the idea for “Fanboys,” a film about a group of friends, including one who is dying of cancer, who take a road trip to the Skywalker Ranch – to break and view an advance copy of “The Phantom Menace.”

The project gained attention from Hollywood stars like Kevin Spacey, who served as a producer on the movie.

However, Cline ended up somewhat unsatisfied with the experience because of changes that were made to his story.

“If you want to protect what you write, don’t become a screenwriter,” he said.

So he started focusing on his novel.

The process was different for “Ready Player One,” but Cline still accessed his inner nerd for inspiration. Spending hours playing Pac Man or watching movies from the ‘80s was research that he was happy to do.

“It was just me geeking out over things I loved as a kid,” he said.

Cline also found himself fascinated by eccentric billionaires like Willy Wonka. He took the Golden Ticket contest and put his own take on it into the digital chase in “Ready Player One.”

“When I started thing about what clues an eccentric billionaire could leave behind, I started thinking ‘80s pop culture could be a way to write about all the things I love,” he said.

“There’s that old saying, write what you know and write what you love, and that’s what I did.”

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