New Books: Woodsword Chronicles
We spoke to author Nick Eliopulos about these new Minecraft books!
Today I’m proud to present an exclusive excerpt from a terrific book. I refer, of course, to the book I’ve been writing for the last twenty-five years, Henry the Hippopotamus is Late For the Dentist:
Actually, I’ve just realised my book is terrible and should be used as toilet paper immediately.
Instead, let’s enjoy an extract of an infinitely superior book from our new series, Minecraft: Woodsword Chronicles:
They would need to... what? THEY WOULD NEED TO WHAT??? I HAVE TO KNOW.
Guess I’ll just have to read the new series to find out! Currently there are two Woodsword Chronicles titles available, Into The Game and Night of the Bats. They’re out in the UK and America (with region-exclusive covers, too), and there’s many more to come!
To celebrate, I spoke to the charming author behind the new series, Nick Eliopulos. Did I spell his surname correctly without having to look it up? Actually, yes! But just this one time :(
Tom: Tell us about yourself and how you got into writing!
Nick Eliopulos: So I’m a writer living in New York. I actually moved from Florida to New York to work in children’s publishing as an editor, and I did that for a good twelve or thirteen years before transitioning to writing full time. I’ve got a lot of different projects in addition to the Minecraft books – I’m also writing a fantasy series, which I’m co-writing with my best friend, and I’m the writer and narrative designer for a small video game studio based in Seattle. I’m a big gamer as well as a big reader and writer, so the Minecraft gig is a super-exciting one for me!
Tom: It’s pretty clear from reading the books that you know Minecraft well.
Nick Eliopulos: It’s funny though, because as much as I have played the game, I still would make stupid mistakes sometimes. I was really glad that people from Mojang were actually reading it, in addition to my editor, and catching small stuff – like sometimes forgetting that you need a crafting table to create a particular tool rather than making it on the fly. Little details like that are easy to forget.
In the third book, I really wanted to use some phantoms, so I had phantoms attack, and I hadn’t realised that the phantoms only actually show up if you haven’t slept for – I think it’s three days?
Tom: It is three days, yep!
Nick Eliopulos: So I had encountered them in the game, but I hadn’t realised what had happened, that I hadn’t actually slept in a bed for a number of days – so little things like that, it was actually… there are so many details that you want to get right, that I think even – no matter how many hours you log, it’s helpful to have someone else looking over your shoulder and checking that stuff.
Tom: But how strict are you to the parameters of the game? Because the books are set in a special virtual reality version of Minecraft that doesn’t exist. So when do you go “Can I have artistic license here?” or do you think “No, this has to be exactly like it is in the core game?”
Nick Eliopulos: We wanted, at the beginning at least, for it to be very super-faithful, and one of the through-lines of the series so far is that someone else is in this game with them, and they are messing with things and making things happen that shouldn’t happen. So I sort of feel as the books go on, I have a little bit more license for that sort of thing – but my editor does like me to make a point, when something happens where we’re deviating from the rules, for them to actually say “This isn’t actually supposed to happen…”
Because the characters are big fans of Minecraft, and they would know. They would notice a mob acting in a way that’s unusual, or things like that. So I feel like the artistic license is there, but we found a way to bake it into the story, where the characters are going to notice it as the readers do. So if the reader’s like “Wait, that shouldn’t happen…” then the characters should also be noticing that.
Tom: You’ve got four Minecraft obsessives who can call out anything that doesn’t follow the rules of the game.
Nick Eliopulos: Yeah, though actually I really like having Jodie – one of the characters – we say at the beginning that she’s only played in creative mode, she hasn’t played in survival mode – and that’s fun because she knows a lot about the game. But there’s actually a lot she doesn’t know, so she can be a stand-in for the reader who maybe doesn’t know all this.
Tom: Some of the text in the book is in bold or different fonts or stylistically very different. It’s not something I’ve really seen before in books. Can you tell us more about that stylistic choice?
Nick Eliopulos: Yeah, I actually love that, and that’s something I can’t take credit for at all! That came from the editor and the art director working together. I think there’s a challenge when you’re creating books for young readers and hoping to entice them because of a videogame property, because books and games engage kids differently. On the most basic level, video games are much more immersive and visual.
So the thinking was to make these books feel as fun and vibrant and immersive as possible, and that was an idea that they came up with to do that. Not only having these beautiful illustrations but making it be like the text itself is part of this adventure and drawing you into the story too.
Tom: You mentioned wanting the Phantom in the books. Were there any other Minecraft features that you were like “I have to get that in there, I’m determined to get that into the books”?
Nick Eliopulos: I really want to use all of it, to be honest! But the funny thing is, some of the things I find most exciting are the passive things, like the cute little animals when you’re around.
One of the things that was actually in my very first pitch, when I was first outlining the first book, was I was going to have Jodi get stuck in a llama form. She was going to be a llama for the entire series, and they came back and said “well, you know that’s not really how Minecraft works. You don’t get to play as a llama, so that’s a little confusing – that may break the rules a little too much.”
But as a result of that, I’m determined to get llamas in the books whenever and however I can so there will be a lot more llamas as the series goes on!
Tom: There’s llama skins that you can wear in-game, so I’m sure…
Nick Eliopulos: Po is the character who plays in the skins, so if he wears a llama skin, I think Jodi might actually be a bit jealous about that! (Laughs)
Tom: I’ve spent a few minutes before this interview trying to look up the name of the hamster in your books. I can’t remember what the hamster was called, but it was brilliant…
Nick Eliopulos: Baron Sweetcheeks!
Tom: That is amazing – how long did you spend coming up with that? I might have to get my name changed to Baron Sweetcheeks.
Nick Eliopulos: It’s really quite funny you ask because one of the ways that I procrastinate as a writer is naming characters. So I’ll sit down, I’ll have my coffee, I’ll have my music playing, ready to go and I’ll think “Oh, I don’t have a name for this character yet.” And then I’ll just get up and walk around and waste three hours trying to name a character.
With Baron Sweetcheeks, it was the exact opposite, because I’d already named all of the other characters in the outline, and these books had to be written very, very quickly. So I got to the point where I realised I didn’t have the name for the hamster, and I thought “I don’t have time to procrastinate. I’d love to find the perfect name for this hamster that is some kind of great inside joke or reference – like to my very first pet rodent or something – but I don’t have time for this, so I’m just going to throw in something absurd and I’ll come back and fix it later…”
So Baron Sweetcheeks was honestly just the first thing that popped into my head and yeah, he was a placeholder! And then I went back to fix it, and I thought “You know what? I can do no better than this! He’s already got the best possible name!” (Laughs)
Mojang Tom: So so far we’ve seen ‘Into the Game’ and ‘Night of the Bats’. The next book in the Woodsword Chronicles series is ‘Deep Dive’ – can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Nick Eliopulos: That comes out later this year and is specifically celebrating the Update Aquatic. There’s just a lot of new content, new landscapes and new mobs that we thought would be really fun to play with. One’s that you haven’t seen a lot of in other Minecraft publications,
As I was doing some research into the aquatic stuff, I was really intrigued by some of the real world work that Mojang is doing, specifically with some of the coral restoration projects. So I took a lot of inspiration from that. With all of these books, my number one marching order is that these are real kids, they should be dealing with real stuff in school as well as having these Minecraft adventures, and those things should work together in each book. So it made a lot of sense to do a fun undersea adventure, and it’s actually linking up with the real world coral restoration stuff and some of the problems facing our planet that can feel really overwhelming to kids, I think. I really love the idea that there are these programs in place where kids can feel like some of these problems can actually be addressed.
It’s a Deep Dive and that’s a lot of the aquatic stuff; it’s an underwater adventure but it’s actually going into some of the real-world stuff that Mojang has inspired as well.
Tom: Nick, thank you very much for speaking to us!