After I sold a book on how to draw manga, my publisher came back and asked if I had any ideas for a Minecraft book. For those who don’t have kids, Minecraft is a popular video game in which kids manipulate blocks to “craft” shelters and weapons while also fighting off monsters such as zombies and creepers. Trust me, it’s fun and creative.
This led me down an interesting path as a writer. For years I’d been into stuff deemed “geeky” (hence the manga book), so I was already kind of in this field, though I didn’t know there were fictional Minecraft books out there. But for years I’ve also been writing about social justice issues for MTV, so I’m used to writing for young people about things like equality, women’s rights and anti-bullying measures.
Taking a look at the already-published Minecraft novels to get my ideas flowing, it struck me how male-driven they were. As a female fan, it’s something I’m always aware of. I decided that in my pitch, there would need to be two main characters, a boy and a girl, so both young male and female readers could see themselves represented there. I also knew that I wanted my book to have adventure, but I didn’t want it to just be fight-the-zombie-attack-the-creeper-rah-rah-rah stuff with no heart to it. If people are going to really care about characters, they have to have heart. But of course you also can’t make it super sappy, because people wanting Minecraft adventure would be disappointed there’s not more action.
Time was of the essence, and I soon gave my agent a short synopsis. In my synopsis, an eleven-year-old Minecraft character named Stevie is feeling insecure about his building and fighting skills (for people unfamiliar with the game, these are important skills to have). While his insecurities have a specific Minecraft theme to them, all kids know what insecurity feels like. He finds a strange portal, goes into it, and steps out of a computer screen and into our world. The computer belongs to a sixth-grade girl named Maison, and she was the one who created the portal by building with mysterious blocks in her Minecraft game. Maison is adjusting to going to a new school—pretty universal kid stuff—and is dealing with bullies—unfortunately, also pretty universal kid stuff.
They become friends, but zombies and other Minecraft monsters break through the portal and attack Maison’s school. Stevie and Maison, two smart kids who feel like outsiders, have to use their skills in order to save the school.
The publisher wanted the book after reading my synopsis, and I quickly wrote the novel up. The result was Escape from the Overworld As I wrote, I included other little things I thought kids might appreciate. For example, both Stevie and Maison live in one-parent homes, and it’s not shown as weird or dramatic or bad. It’s shown as their normal life, because that’s the normal life for many kids.
Knowing that people would probably subconsciously think of a shop class teacher as male, I made Maison’s shop class teacher a woman, Ms. Reid, as my own way to subconsciously tackle that hidden bias people might have. The kids in the book often talk about issues of bullying and feeling felt out. But when I was writing, it was important for me to get this all to flow together so it felt natural and didn’t stall the plot of the book.
After the book came out, it was chosen for an anti-bullying, girl empowerment curriculum being used around the country, and Forbes did a spotlight on how I’m writing a Minecraft series with real life lessons. I’ve already turned in the sequel for the book, called Attack on the Overworld, which will be out later this year. In Attack on the Overworld, Cyberbullies break into the portal and wreck havoc on the Minecraft world. It causes a lot of action and more chapters with cliffhangers … but also opens dialogue about the realities of cyberbullying and what kids can do about it.
I haven’t written anything quite like this before, because I never saw myself writing about video games. But I’ve enjoyed video games since I was a kid, so it does show that interests can take shape in writing, and that no matter the subject matter you’re writing about, you can give it different layers of meaning.