New novel: The Voyage
We speak to author Jason Fry!
Reading! It’s the best invention since sliced bread. What’s that? It was likely invented before sliced bread? OK, reading, you’re just showing off now. Cut it out.
Fans of the written word who’d love to read something Minecrafty but can only just about stand a few more sentences from me are in luck. Because today is the launch of our latest novel Minecraft: The Voyage. Our hero, Stax, is the rich heir to a mining company. He lives a contented, quiet life in his luxurious estate, until one day a mysterious stranger brings him on an adventure. How nice! Well, er, actually I kept reading and it turns out the stranger is horrible and takes Stax on said adventure by force. What happens to poor Stax next? You’ll just have to live out the rest of your days in endless misery, tormented by the fact you’ll never know. OR you could buy the book. Totally up to you!
To celebrate the release, I spoke to author Jason Fry about what it’s like being a real writer.
Tom: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
Jason: Honestly, as far back as I can remember, I was writing little poems or stories or whatever I could do. I was the annoying kid at school who actually was thrilled when he got a paper that he had to write, it was what I wanted to do! (Laughs)
Tom: Do you play a lot of Minecraft? Were you that familiar with it before the book?
Jason: I was a noob! But I just plunged in and was thrilled to find out that I loved the game and now play every day. I have a bunch of cats who were the inspiration for the cats in The Voyage, and they somehow – I had let them set up to run around my home base and somehow forgot to make them sit again, so they all teleported to my underwater base, and I wound up having to ferry them back in the boat one by one. (Laughs)
Tom: Well, I’m glad you got them out, that sounds like it could’ve gone a very different way!
Jason: (Laughs) Since writing The Voyage I’ve actually gotten a lot better at building. I just built a castle which I’m inordinately proud of and my kid actually said he thought it was cool. When your 17-year-old thinks something you actually did is pretty cool, you know you’ve actually achieved something because that’s pretty rare praise!
For the first three weeks, all I did was play Minecraft, without even worrying about the story. Just playing and immersing myself in that world and I knew if I did that, stories and ideas would start coming to me. I wound up with an idea for a character and things that would happen to him and it just went from there. That was really fun to do. Plus for the first month or so my wife would find me at 4 am, she’d be like “What are you doing? Are you playing Minecraft again?” and I’d be able to say “I’m working!” And it was actually true, it was great!
Tom: Stax lives in a really impressive estate at the start of the book. Is that based on something you’d built in Minecraft?
Jason: Oh yeah, it is the home base that I had made. I kind of fell in love with diorite and granite as an interesting combination you can do. They look fancy but they’re not super rare minerals, so you can do a super lot. I suspect every Minecraft player kind of falls in love with whatever his or her initial setting is. That pretty much is Stax’s home and it’s reasonably faithful to it with some exceptions – there isn’t a village very nearby and, less surprisingly, the people in the village don’t all work for a mining company. But hey, that’s storytelling for you!
Tom: Let’s talk a bit more about Stax – can you tell us more about his character? He starts off quite a loner figure but then gets forced into adventure.
Jason: I wanted him to be kind of an idle sort, to go a little beyond the callow youth who isn’t ready to be a hero. I think with a lot of those characters you have a sense that that is their destiny, to crib from the language of epic storytelling. But it’s not Stax’s destiny. His destiny seems to be to be a kind of layabout rich kid who doesn’t ever do anything of much consequence or think of anything. But then his life is utterly changed and he is forced to change and forced to be different – I thought that was an interesting thing to explore.
I hope that he seems like a perfectly nice character from the beginning, if a little odd. Just not the guy you would expect to become the hero. He doesn’t really have a choice and he’s forced to respond, so I just thought that would be a fun dynamic to play with and a little bit off the beaten path for usual heroic fiction.
Tom: I like how the book is sympathetic to him – a couple of times the narrator chimes in, and he’s warning Stax “What the heck are you doing?” Was the narrator being a character something you always wanted in there or was that something that developed as you were writing it?
Jason: I wanted that sort of vaguely antique feel you get in some kids books, where the narrator does speak directly to the reader and comments a little more than we’re used to. I wanted to pay homage to The Hobbit – which is such a wonderful kids’ book – and there’s more of that than I think most of us probably remember in The Hobbit, with Tolkien stepping out of the narrative to talk directly to the reader or to comment on events. That had been such a huge book for me as a kid that I thought that it would be fun to go back there – and Stax has a little bit of Bilbo in him too. It’s less traumatic for Bilbo than for Stax, but he also is not an obvious hero who’s kind of pushed into adventure.
Tom: Bilbo’s also quite content with where he is at the start.
Jason: Yeah, exactly. I thought it’d be fun to play with that feeling a little more than I had in other stories. And that’s also why I also wanted to do those kind of faintly antique chapter headings where each chapter heading looks ahead and includes a few lines about what’s going to happen in the chapter; that came from the same place.
Tom: I miss those! I haven’t seen them in a book for so long.
Jason: Yeah! Isn’t that fun? I realised I kind of missed that too! It’s an interesting exercise to try not to spoil the upcoming chapter for everyone. (Laughs)
Tom: So how do you go about that? It’s almost like a little trailer for the new chapter.
Jason: Exactly, I think that’s a good way of putting it – as a writer it’s a really interesting tool to try to keep the reader moving. On the last page of the chapter, you’re hoping to make the reader turn the page and then that’s also actually at the beginning of each chapter to keep them turning the page – so yeah, it was fun to do!
Tom: You said you were playing pretty solidly for three weeks – were there any Minecraft touches that you were determined to get in?
Jason: A section I really enjoyed writing was when Stax gets to Tunnel’s Harbour and has a vision in mind of the town and how it had grown up from nothing – starting with a little house and then eventually becoming a town or a city – and that’s something that resonated with me. I think we’ve all played Minecraft and had that feeling; you find a little perfect bay or the perfect hillside or whatever it is and you can see in your minds’ eye what it could become, and then you put up a little humble structure so that Creepers don’t get you in the night, and then you keep going from there and pretty soon it’s this gigantic thing.
The mining was based entirely on my own experiences playing the game and also going to various guides and trying to figure out if it was a good system or not for getting hopelessly lost. So I thought “well, if Stax grew up in mining as a family business, he’d absolutely know how to do that!”
Tom: Oh that’s a good idea, I hadn’t thought of that!
Jason: Yeah! It was a fun way of bringing in some practical advice that had helped me as a player and using it for storytelling.
Tom: The novel has a pretty nasty villain, Fouge. He kidnaps Stax, raids his base and – worst of all – throws a book into the sea. Did you enjoy making him such an awful person?
Jason: I did! Author 101 is that nobody thinks that he or she is the villain, and characters have unique motivations, etc. But honestly, it’s really fun just to have a villain who’s a complete psycho sometimes and just let them rip, and that’s what I wanted in Fouge. He really is like being hit by a hurricane – a force of nature that can’t be bargained with. I didn’t want a whole lot of ambiguity to him. There are little hints of what’s going on in his head, but I really wanted him to be just a character who you boo and hiss and maybe are a little frightened of in ways that are not too much for kids.
Tom: Let’s hope so. Jason, thank you very much!
Minecraft: The Voyage is out now.