I’m often asked when I decided to be a writer. That’s a difficult question to answer, because as far back as I can remember I was telling stories or writing them down. Sometime in elementary school I realized this was something I could do as a career, and I’ve faced both encouragement and rejections because of this decision.
You’ll notice all kids gravitate toward their interests, whether it’s artistic (like writing or drawing) or a desire to learn more about subjects (for instance, being drawn to scientific experiments and discovery).
Sometimes these interests will come and go, and sometimes they last a lifetime. Telling stories was just something that came naturally to me. I do remember being three-years-old and dictating stories to my parents (or following my mother around asking her how to spell each word in a story I was writing – it was very time-consuming).
I got into making my own picture books at age six, and wrote my first (bad) attempt at a novel at age seven. After school, I’d come home to think up stories and write them down. When I was in middle school I began regularly writing novels and I would bring them into school with me and pass them out to students.
I’ve always been grateful to my parents and others who have encouraged my writing. Because, to be honest, a lot of people have not. Teachers tended to either love or hate that I wrote. Some thought I was precocious and liked the stories; others decided I thought out of the box too much and would get annoyed when I scribbled stories instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing. I used to draw cartoony pictures with my stories, but after multiple teachers shamed me for not drawing realistically, I unfortunately gave it up.
I do remember a high school counselor groaning when I said I wanted to be a writer; I remember many, many parents of friends or schoolmates telling me it was never going to happen. When I first started submitting shorter works to magazines and newspapers, I got dozens and then hundreds of rejections to back up their opinion.
When I was in high school, in the midst of many, many rejections, I started to get short nonfiction articles of mine published in newspapers and small magazines. The bigger magazines I submitted to all rejected me. As I got more articles published, I’d send them to bigger places. Now that I was showing editors were willing to hire me and pay me money to write, the bigger outlets started to show more interest. I began writing for Anime Insider, then got into Booklist and Publishers Weekly. From there I got into MTV, CNN, The Onion and Women’s Health.
But what I still really wanted to do was my first love, and that was tell stories in a fictional format. I got my first book deal when I sold a book on how to draw manga art, and after that the publisher came back and asked if I had any ideas for Minecraft pitches.
Minecraft, as many parents and teachers know, is a video game that lets you build — and build and build and build. Kids use it to make their own liveable houses . . . or even to make giant structures like castles or monuments. They can fight monsters (called mobs) in the game whenever it gets dark out, or they can just set the game to a mode where they’re safe from attack. Millions of kids use Minecraft as a way to be creative and have fun at the same time.
I sent in a pitch where Stevie, an 11-year-old character living in the Minecraft world, finds a portal to our world and meets an 11-year-old girl named Maison. That pitch has turned into a series of books for ages 7 through 12. The first book, Escape from the Overworld, was released in January 2015. The sequel, Attack on the Overworld, came out in October. The next book in the series, The Rise of Herobrine, will be released in the next few months.
These are action/adventure novels for kids, and that inspired me to end most of the chapters with cliffhangers to keep up the excitement meter. But I also thought it could be really helpful and nice to include real, empowering messages to kids in the books. And that’s why I decided to take on the issues of cyberbullying and girl empowerment.
In Attack on the Overworld, cyberbullies break into the Minecraft game and turn it into eternal night, letting the monsters loose. The main characters Stevie and Maison are the only ones who can stop the attack. By mixing together a real issue (cyberbullying) with fantasy and action, I hope to keep the readers turning the pages but also have them feel comfortable talking about cyberbullying with parents, teachers and peers afterward. The book talks about how cyberbullying is a real issue and should be taken seriously; it delves a bit into the psychology of why the cyberbullies decided to bully in the first place and what pulls them out of this space; it also encourages kids to know it’s okay to talk to an adult if they see anything hurtful online.
I was drawn to this in part because of how much cyberbullying I see online, either aimed toward myself or others. I thought this could be a good way to get kids to talk about cyberbullying by using a creative lens.
Because the Minecraft novels all seemed very boy-oriented when I started on this series (I see that’s changed somewhat since then) I thought it would also be very important to have both a boy and a girl lead my series. And I wanted the girl to be on equal footing with the boy, not put in a sidekick scenario or as someone who needs to be rescued by him.
Because of these elements, my books are being included in the curriculum of Saving Our Cinderellas, an anti-bullying, girl empowerment program put on by the nonprofit Saving Our Daughters. The nonprofit was recently honored by Glamour Magazine and Investigation Discovery’s Inspire a Difference, which awards people and organizations helping women and girls’ rights.
I also like to talk at schools and libraries. I show the kids the writing I’ve done over the years, the edits between a first draft and a finished book, and how I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I also encourage them to follow their passions, whatever they are. I remember how much it hurt me when I was a kid and adults scoffed at my writing and drawings. I remember how much it meant to me when my parents and other adults and kids said they liked my writing and that I ought to keep it up and never silence my voice. Those words of encouragement have kept me going through the years. Hard work and support from friends and loved ones can go a long way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DANICA DAVIDSON is the author of the children’s novels Escape from the Overworld and Attack on the Overworld, and the soon-to-be released The Rise of Herobrine and Manga Art For Beginners, both of which are available for pre-order. She has also written for MTV, CNN, The Onion, Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Along with a small group of MTV writers, she was given a Webby honor for Best Youth Writing. Visit her website at www.danicadavidson.com and follow her on her Twitter @DanicaDavidson.