Join Delilah S. Dawson for a talk about her new Minecraft novel!
Pour a cup of tea, grab a weighted blanket, and warn your pet that it’s time to curl up with a new book because Minecraft: Mob Squad by Delilah S. Dawson just hit the shelves! Mob Squad takes us on an epic adventure with a group of besties and the mobs they meet along the way in their quest to save the village of Cornucopia! I was fortunate enough to sit down with Dawson and talk about the book, her writing process, and most importantly, root vegetables.
Mob Squad follows a group of best friends and their adopted mobs on an epic adventure. Are the titular characters inspired by any of your real-life friends or pets?
Definitely! Mal is partially inspired by my daughter Rhys, who is competent and cool and clever and fiercely loves her friends. Chug is partially inspired by my son Rex, who is tough and brave and funny and adores animals. Several people in my family have ADHD, and I'm impressed by how deeply they focus on their current obsessions, so that inspired Tok's drive to create. With Lenna, I wanted to write a neurodivergent character whose family doesn't understand her, because that's definitely how I felt growing up. My son loves pigs so much that I absolutely had to include a pig. We have a dog named Merle, but he is old and sleepy and not nearly as bouncy and adventurous as Poppy. And our cats Cliff and Pam definitely keep the creepers away.
Speaking of mobs, was there any specific reasoning when you were deciding on which type of mob would join the squad?
The book is set up so that our characters get to meet mobs they've never heard of before, so I had to select which creatures they would find familiar and which ones they would discover on their own – and leave room for new mobs in future books.
The adults in this story don’t seem to take the kids very seriously. Does their reluctance to believe the kids stem from their young age or is there another reason behind this?
The original inspiration for the book was my love of 80s movies in which groups of kids bond together and go on crazy adventures – Monster Squad, The Goonies, Stand By Me, The Chipmunk Adventure, and even the more recent Stranger Things. But in order for those kids to be out in the world having adventures, their parents have to be out of the picture. I hated the way adults ignored me when I was a kid or minimized my fears, so the adults in this book behave the same way. If even one adult (who wasn't one hundred years old) believed the Mob Squad, the kids would never make the decision to venture out on their own, meaning they would never have the chance to conquer their fears and explore a bright new world.
Names seem to play an important part in the story. The kids hand out names to mobs and places as they go, and the naming of their group was a pivotal moment in their journey. Can you tell us how you worked with names?
Names definitely mean a lot to me. I didn't like the name I was born with, and I hated the nickname I was given that stuck until I was out of college. Choosing my own name was a big moment for me. There's power in naming, and I wanted the Mob Squad to feel that giddy freedom. I think the mobs that are named perfectly capture their namers' thought processes: one kid likes simple, solid names; another gives ridiculous, knee-jerk reaction names; another likes big, weird words as names; and then there's the kid who just goes with what their heart tells them.
While we’re on the subject, can you tell us a little about the dramatic tension that leads to the naming of the Mob Squad?
It's all about who you think you are on the inside compared to how other people see you on the outside. The town sees our heroes as nuisances, as Bad Apples – they're weird, they cause trouble, and they make mistakes, even with the best intentions. As they grow to recognize their own skills, talents, and value, it makes sense that they would feel empowered to rename their group the Mob Squad and shed the negative nickname that was used to make them feel small, back home.
The squad encounter a lot of different obstacles on their journey, both physical and emotional. How did you map out their quest, did you plan it out before or did you let your writing lead the way?
When I start writing, I know how the story begins, what incident kicks off the plot, what the main conflict will be, how the climax will play out, and how the story ends. I have some ideas for scenes, but I like to leave a lot of room for discovery. I love to be surprised by little encounters and moments of wonder and joy. And when things seem to get a little too predictable or boring, I like to blow things up and see what happens. Once I had a first draft, I went back and made sure that each character had an arc, because you're never the same person at the end of an adventure that you are at the beginning.
What’s up with Krog’s beetroots? Are they the reason that he sees red all the time or are they just unsuspecting vegetables that don’t affect his temper at all?
I just really hate beets and think they taste like dirt. I hated veggies when I was a kid, but I've learned to love most of them as an adult. I adore Brussels sprouts and will happily eat cauliflower or broccoli or asparagus. But I've had beets at the finest restaurants around the world and have never enjoyed a single one. When I imagine what it would've been like, growing up with mean, strict parents on a beet farm... well, that sounds more like a horror novel.
You obviously have a great feeling for the world of Minecraft. Did you build any of the villages or play out any of the adventures in the story in the game as well, or did you let your imagination run wild while still staying true to the laws of the Overworld?
Here is my scandalous secret: I am pretty terrible at playing Minecraft, but I love watching experts play it. Any time I had questions, I went to my daughter, Rhys, and she would walk me through whatever I needed to see. She taught me lots of cool tricks, showed me how to build things, went into detail on how to deal with mobs, and delighted me with her beautiful creations. When she wasn't available, I watched lots of Minecraft content creator videos on YouTube. If anyone ever recreates anything from the book, please @ me on Twitter or Instagram (@DelilahSDawson on both) with a screenshot so I can squee and share it!
Did you do any research outside of the world of Minecraft when preparing to write this book?
Nope. It was all Minecraft, all the time! My daughter even made a beautiful Minecraft cake, which I really enjoyed eating – pumpkin with vanilla buttercream. And I found a big, cubical cardboard box and painted it like a block of grass, so we keep that around the house for fun.
Do you have any words of wisdom or learnings from your past that you would like to share with any aspiring writers?
All first drafts stink. Even mine, even Stephen King's – he admits it in his book, On Writing. So when you sit down to write a book, don't reread it and judge yourself and give up. Just write it through as fast as possible and know that you'll have plenty of time to fix it later. A finished, crummy book is a thousand times better than no book. And with each book you write, you'll level up. You don't have to be special or the best student in the world to write a book, and you don't need permission – you just need an idea you love and the tenacity to keep going when someone else might give up. The first sentence of the first book I ever wrote was about diarrhea, so whatever your first sentence is, it's probably better than mine was.
Thank you so much, Delilah! I’ll take that piece of pumpkin vanilla cake whenever you’re ready.
Minecraft: Mob Squad is out now!
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- Sofia Dankis