Minecraft Novelist Shapes Young Attention Spans
Most parents want their children to read books that challenge them while teaching valuable lessons. It’s why many moms and dads stifle inner groans when they see their kids march directly to the section of the library or bookstore that contains “novelizations” of their favorite cartoon or video game. But what if parents and kids can both get what they want? Favorite characters come alive and parents can trust that the kids are reading something worthwhile. That’s the goal of Danica Davidson, whose second Minecraft book, Attack on the Overworld, is scheduled for release next week. It’s a sequel to her first Minecraft book, Escape from the Overworld. Both books introduce important lessons involving family, bullying, and friendship even as the characters have Minecraftian adventures, like battling zombies with diamond swords. Below the news, we’ll let Davidson tell the rest of the tale.
First, the News
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You managed to take a video game that features blocky little characters and make them come alive with nuanced, noncartoonish emotions. How have young people reacted?
Thank you! Young people have reacted really well. I get the sweetest fan letters from kids or parents who read the first book to their children. Part of the fun with Minecraft is that you can make it become whatever you want it to be. So even though the characters look blocky, I wanted to make them like real kids, with real kid emotions. (My characters just have a do a few extra things, too, like fight zombies!)
Why is Minecraft so addictive to young people (and even some older ones?)
I think it’s because it’s all different kinds of video games (and forms of entertainment) rolled into one. You like fighting monsters? There you go. Is building Legos your thing? Well, the blocks are infinite here. Are you a teacher who likes to find innovative ways to teach? Minecraft has been shown to teach everything from math to history! So you can make it whatever you want it to be. You can also play with friends, which is how I normally like to play video games.
Is there an opportunity for writers to riff on characters from pop culture? It’s done all the time in fan fiction, but how can that translate into sales?
I’m doing this through a publisher, so that helps. I don’t know how it’s done with self-publishing, but if you have a publisher, they can do all the legalese for you. But I do know some people have self-published Minecraft books.
A lot of times for big franchises—anything from the newest animated movie to TV shows—there will be merchandise that goes with it, including books. Think Star Wars, My Little Pony, Frozen, etc. Sometimes the publishers are very strict and want you to write something a certain way. Because these are unofficial books, I get more room to put in my own voice and make these books my own, even though I’m playing in the Minecraft sandbox.
How did you develop a relationship with Sky Pony Press?
I spend a lot of time networking online, and through that I met an editor who began working at Skyhorse, of which Sky Pony Press is an imprint. She knew I’ve done a lot of work with manga, including editing manga, reviewing manga, and writing the English adaptation for manga for publication. Manga are Japanese comics, so think Sailor Moon and Yu-Gi-Oh. When Skyhorse decided they wanted to do a manga art book, she reached out to me. I put together a proposal and sent it in. I wasn’t the only person vying for authorship of this book, but I was the one who got it. I think they liked the thoroughness of my proposal, my history with manga and the fact I understood it really well. That book is called Manga Art for Beginners and is due out this March.
After I sold that, she asked me if I had any ideas for Minecraft books, because they were also selling Minecraft chapter books for young readers and she knew I was pitching novels with my agent. I was given a short amount of time to come up with a pitch for them to consider, and they liked my pitch. I’d been wanting to do stuff with manga for years, but the Minecraft stuff came out of the success with the manga book.
What’s the secret to communicating with a younger readership? Or, at least keeping their attention for more than five minutes?
When I was a kid, I wrote stories for kids. I would write about what I was going through or some fantasy adventure I’d come up with, but it always came out of my voice. And I’d share these stories with the other kids at school.
As I got older, that voice just never went away. I can still tap into it. I can also write for older readers, and I want to publish books for all different age ranges, including adults. I don’t think about, “This audience has a short attention span and I have to cater to that.” I think that’s not appreciating how smart kids are. Stuff that happened to me as a kid still feels real now, and I go for that realness.