Minecraft, Manga, and the hardest English test ever, with Danica Davidson
Posted August 1, 2016on:
Danica Davidson wrote her first novel at age seven, and hasn’t stopped. With a writing career that spans media, mid-grade fiction, non-fiction, book and tv reviews, and even how-to books, if there is a story out there to be told Danica knows how to tell it and how to talk about it. She’s published reviews and articles at Booklist, Anime Insider, iF magazine, Otaku USA, and Graphic Novel Reporter; talked about pop culture at CNN and MTV; and worked on the English adaptations of manga series such as Millennium Prime Minister and Bride’s Story. Her newest projects include a series of Minecrafter adventure novels for young readers, and a Barbie graphic novel.
There’s saying you’re going to do it all, and then actually going out and doing it all. Danica does it all, and she let me pick her brain on how in the world she got involved with so many amazing projects and how she puts all of her geeky loves together to one incredible career that includes novel writing, pop culture, and graphic novels. She’s a writer, not an artist, and if that’s confusing, head over to Smack Dab in the Middle for a great article on how a storyteller who isn’t an artist creates graphic novels. The more I learn about Danica, the more impressed I am, and I think you will be too. Learn more about her work at her website or her Amazon page, and feel free to say hi to her on twitter, @DanicaDavidson.
Little Red Reviewer: Some of your most recent Minecrafter books for mid-grade readers include Down Into the Nether, The Rise of Herobrine, and Attack on the Overworld. How did you get started with writing stories that take place in the Minecrafter world? How is writing stories for younger readers different than writing for an adult audience?
Danica Davidson: It was all a very fun and surprising turn of events. After I’d sold my first book, Manga Art for Beginners, an editor at the same publisher asked if I had any book ideas involving Minecraft. There was some talk of doing a nonfiction book, but I ended up pitching a children’s book. It started as a single book, and now it is a series in this order: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither.
I use a different “voice” in my writing depending on the audience. For kids’ writing, it’s a different vocabulary and style. It’s much more “pure” and unfiltered than adult writing. Kids tell it like it is. I’ve been writing ever since I was little, so I go back and read stuff I wrote when I was eleven to tap back into that exact voice.
LRR: The Minecraft videogame is an open world that doesn’t have a narrative, leaving tie-in novels open wide for whatever narrative the author wishes. What narratives and story ideas do you use in your Minecrafter novels? What themes have you found are the best fit for the Minecrafter world?
DD: I like to mix adventure and real world stuff. In the fist book we meet Stevie, an eleven-year-old boy in the Minecraft world who accidentally discovers a portal to Earth. When he’s there, he meets Maison, a bullied girl who’s feeling alone. They become friends, but because they don’t close the portal, they allow monsters to slip out to Earth. So they’re going to have to work together to stop the monsters and save people.
In the next book, cyberbullies hack into Minecraft and create eternal night, unleashing hordes of monsters. If you play Minecraft, you know that monsters just live at night, so keeping it night is like keeping them around forever. Stevie and Maison have to figure out a way to stop the cyberbullies and the monsters.
It’s all fantastical stuff, but it also gives an opportunity to talk about cyberbullying, or how it feels to be friendless. I end my chapters with cliffhangers, but I also want to put in some deeper stuff for people to think about after they’re done reading! These are themes that have worked for me.
LRR: You also write a lot of non-fiction, including articles that have been published by MTV, The Onion, Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Ms., and more. That is a lot of writing! How is writing non-fiction and reviews different than writing fiction? Is one easier than the other? Do you find you need to be in a certain frame of mind to write fiction, and a different frame of mind to write non-fiction?
DD: Thank you! These days I’m concentrating more on fiction than nonfiction, which has always been the goal. Sometimes writing fiction is harder in the sense that you have to come up with it all on your own. If you’re writing a review or a news story, you’re writing about something that already exists. However, it’s much more rewarding to write fiction, I think. For a while I covered breaking news for MTV, and writing the news is incredibly depressing and I found that it was putting me into an unpleasant mind set. I was also getting very frustrated with online news journalism in general and how it’s becoming more about clickbait and less about news.
Writing fiction does require more concentration for me than writing a nonfiction article. For nonfiction articles, I just sit down and go through the details that need to be said. I don’t usually brainstorm beforehand. Writing fiction takes brainstorming and plenty of revising. But it can be so cathartic and fun writing fiction, which I haven’t really experienced with nonfiction articles.
LRR: My husband and I both enjoy manga, but we have very different tastes. One series that we both love is Bride’s Story, by Kaoru Mori. You were involved with the editing process that helped bring this beautiful story to western readers. Can you tell us more about your involvement in this project? Any advice for manga lovers who are interested in getting involved in the publishing end of things?
DD: I’ve worked in different aspects of the manga world since I was twenty. I started out writing freelance articles for places like Anime Insider and Booklist, then built it up so that I wrote about manga for Publishers Weekly, MTV, The Onion, CNN and other places. I wanted to get into manga adaptation, which is where you rewrite the translated Japanese into colloquial English. When Japanese is translated into English, it can sound very stiff and literal. People aren’t going to buy manga if it sounds that way, and oftentimes translators are not writers. In those cases, “adapters” are hired.
I worked for a while adapting titles for the publisher Digital Manga Publishing, including the first two books in their Millennium Prime Minister series. It was a freelance gig that then went in-house, so I was looking for another publishing company to do the same work with. I wrote to Yen Press, which is the graphic novel branch of Hachette. They weren’t hiring adapters, but they needed someone to proofread. They gave me the hardest English test I’ve ever taken (I was told most English mayors fail it!), but after I passed, I got the job. I get overnighted manga pages before they go to print, and I look over them to make sure everything reads right, the names are spelled right, the Japanese words are explained, etc. I’m better at proofreading other people’s stuff than my own. It’s not as creative as adapting, but it’s an important part of the process.
I worked on some of the volumes of A Bride’s Story, plus Soul Eater, Kobato, Pandora Hearts. The most recent ones I’ve worked on are Grim Reaper Plus Four Girlfriends (it’s pretty quirky) and Dimension W.
For me, all of this started by writing about manga on a freelance basis. I would send samples of my writing to other publications, and sometimes they would write back, and sometimes they wouldn’t. But I’d keep at it and I built it up. That would be my advice for people wanting to get into the manga field. Show what you’ve got and keep up at it.
LRR: And speaking of manga, you wrote the how-to book Manga Art for Beginners. A “How-To” book is probably the hardest kind of non-fiction to write. What can you tell us about your inspiration for, and you process of writing this book?
DD: My love of manga is what brought this about. An editor who was aware of my work in manga contacted me about possibly doing a manga how-to-draw book. I was pitching a YA series with my agent at the time and we jumped on this opportunity.
First, I wrote a book proposal on what it would cover. I wanted to do a book that was very detailed on how to draw characters. So it starts with basics, like how to draw faces and bodies, then goes into popular character types in manga, like ninjas, magical girls, butlers, shrine maidens, etc. Then I met up with Melanie Westin, an artist who came recommended to me, and she did some sample drawings. We passed this along to the publisher through my agent, and they soon came back and said they wanted the book!
Melanie drew to what I’d written out, using twelve or so steps per character so you can really see how it’s done. I wrote the introduction and conclusion, plus the writing for each character type and the writing with each drawing step. Once all of Melanie’s great drawings were in, I combined them with my writing and turned them into the publisher.
LRR: You’ve published a ton of reviews of graphic novels, manga, and anime. What titles do you most recommend to anime and manga newbies?
DD: Oh, geez, I get asked that a lot, but it’s hard to say. Anime and manga cover every genre out there, so this is kind of like asking me, “What titles do you most recommend to someone who’s never read a novel?” I’d want to know what kind of stories that person already likes. Some titles I’ve referred to people (depending on what they like) include Descendants of Darkness, Death Note, Kyo Kara Maoh, Princess Tutu, Elfen Lied, Shiki . . . I’m pretty eclectic in what I watch. (None of these are titles for small kids, though!)
And if you like Bride’s Story, I definitely recommend you check out Kaoru Mori’s other manga, especially Emma! That’s my favorite title of hers.
LRR: You describe your completed YA novel as “mythology meets high school”. Are you able to give us any more details?
DD: This is something that my agent is pitching now. I wrote this before I wrote any of my Minecrafter or manga books, and I hope to someday see it in bookstores!
In the meantime, I have my manga and Minecrafter books, which are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target and other bookstores. The last two books in the Minecrafter series are coming out in the fall, but they’re available for pre-order. On top of that, I have a Barbie comic book coming out called Puppy Party, where Barbie and her sisters help find the local shelter dogs a home, and it’s available for pre-order. I hope you enjoy!
LRR: Thanks Danica!