The End: New Novel Out Now
We spoke to Catherynne M Valente about her new Minecraft tome!
Wow, that was a brief article. Guess I can go to bed early. Goodnight.
...Oh, wait, my mistake! The End is actually the name of our just-released Minecraft novel!
Let’s all read the synopsis together:
When humans enter the End, a pair of endermen must decide which side they’re really on.
For as long as they can remember, the twin endermen Fin and Mo have lived in the mysterious land of the End. On the outskirts of the great enderman city of Telos, they explore ancient ruins under the watchful gaze of the mighty ender dragon. They have everything they need in the end ship they call home, and know everything there is to know about their world – or so they think until the strangers from another dimension arrive.
The invaders are called humans, and they’ve come to steal artifacts and slay the ender dragon. Fin and Mo are ready to protect their home from the trespassers, but when they come face-to-face with the humans, they discover that they aren’t as prepared for battle as they’d thought. Caught off guard, the twins are trapped in the middle of a war between the endermen and the humans, with the future of their home at stake.
To celebrate the launch of this book, I wasted the time of it’s excellent author, Catherynne M Valente, and got myself an exclusive interview!
Tom: I think when people think of Minecraft they think of big green open spaces where you can build what you like – what made you want to write a story about The End?
Catherynne M. Valente: I was pregnant and I was back home in Seattle for my baby shower, so I was staying with my parents, and my brother and his wife and their two young kids live there as well. So I was there hanging out with my niece and my nephew, who were nine and six at the time…
Tom: Ah, the Minecrafting age...
Catherynne: Prime Minecrafting age! And I got the email [about writing a Minecraft book] and I was like “Ha! Hey Aurora and Cole, should I write a Minecraft book?” and they were like “Whaaaaaaaaaaat?” (Laughs) And my dad was like “Really? Are you going to write a Minecraft book?” I said “Well, I did the Mass Effect book, why not?”
The first thing I asked [Mojang] was “What do you mean a Minecraft book? There’s no story in Minecraft… I don’t even know what would I write about.” And they said “Literally anything you want.”
So I called my niece and nephew and said “I want you to play Minecraft for me. You guys play for a couple of hours.”
Tom: Oh man, this is like every kid’s dream right now… If they have another Aunt, you are safely the favourite forever!
Catherynne: Well, the book’s dedicated to them, so… I'm safely locked in for it. (Laughs)
So I’m watching them play and squabble as brothers and sisters do over who gets to control what’s happening, the different playing styles, like who wants to play in creative mode and who wants to play in survival mode. And I’m watching them squabble over this and an Enderman shows up, and my nephew immediately rattles off who the Endermen are. Of course I know who the Endermen are, but the way he’s talking about them and how cool he thought they were, I was like “Huh.” I mean, if there’s one thing I do, it’s that I give a voice to the monsters, all the way back to the book I wrote when I was 22. I like to take the voice of the monsters in fairy tales and make them understandable – still monsters, but understandable.
So I wrote up this pitch document and I will say that my editor and Mojang were so supportive of what I wanted to do, it was such a pleasure to work with them. They had some changes – and I would say that the biggest changes made it a better book. I had a really dark enemy to begin with, the ending is much more upbeat now – and they never even questioned that! They were like “Yup, no problem!”
Tom: You say the ending was originally much darker, but the book is still pretty dark. The opening talks about death, killing, stealing hearts, The Great Chaos – was there any concerns on your end about being too dark?
Catherynne: I write for kids all the time and kids love the dark. It’s adults that get worried about how dark things are for kids. When I go to schools and talk about fairy tales, the first thing I do is tell them the original version of Cinderella where her feet get lopped off – and they’re into it! Kids of sixth and seventh grade who could not care less about Cinderella – the boys who wouldn’t go see a Cinderella movie if there was a gun to their head – were super into Cinderella all of a sudden!
There never really was any concern about being too dark, and especially because Enderman are the enemies – in fact, one of the notes I got was to make them worse and stranger and darker! They didn’t want me to make them too lovable so people would feel bad about killing them. So the darker the Enderman were, the happier Mojang was! (Laughs) So that was never an issue – it was more of an issue that I was sort of woob-ifying them a little too much.
Tom: I really like the way you humanised the Endermen. They get jealous, they feel undervalued, they don’t have much respect for authority. Was it tough to give weird and strange creatures such recognisably human traits?
Catherynne: When you’re making an enemy human, or to some extent humanising them, you just put yourself in their shoes, and think about what it feels like to have these strange looking people [human players] show up in your world and take your stuff. That’s something almost every child; and not coincidentally, children with siblings, really understand, you know?
Tom: I laughed a lot while reading the book, even though it’s in this very dark setting and there are the monsters as protagonists. Was it always intentional to have a lot of humour in there, or was that something that developed when you were writing?
Catherynne: A way that I balance the dark material is with comedy. On the other hand, I actually write quite a lot of comedy these days; my most recent adult book was called Space Opera and it is a comic/sci-fi novel based on Eurovision. (Laughs) I think Space Opera honestly is probably the lightest book I’ve ever written, and yet it also involves dystopian politics and the possible extinction of all human life. But I’ve been doing the whole balancing out with comedy thing for a long time and it is one of my favourite things to read and watch and it is one of my favourite things to do.
My favourite thing is to make you laugh and make you laugh right until I stab you in the heart. That’s what I’m always looking to do, and I do think that one of the nice things about comedy and by this, I’m just quoting Aristotle – I don’t know how much Aristotle you usually get in a Minecraft interview but – it is cathartic! You build up all this dread and tension and you laugh it out. Minecraft itself can get incredibly tense and when you’re playing in survival mode and the night falls, it can get really frightening!
Tom: I genuinely think the spider noise is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever encountered in a game! I don’t know how we’re able to market this to children...
Catherynne: It’s horrible! For children who just got here – everything is brand new, and everything is scary! Everything in their regular lives is scary because it’s never happened before. Because they’ve never experienced anything before, everything that happens to them is both exciting and frightening at the same time, and so I think they don’t have the same fear of dark stories, as long as there is catharsis in them.
Mojang Tom: Was there any particular Minecraft stuff you were determined to get in the book?
Catherynne: I wanted to have a reason that the Endermen flip out when they see you or when you see them. I wanted to have an in-story reason for that. I wanted to have a couple of scenes where you had the same sense of wonder that you do when you first start Minecraft, and you look around and you realise you can do anything. That’s what I wanted to invoke a few times, and I hope that I did.
Mojang Tom: The opening is a really beautiful description of what this place is like from this perspective. (SIDE NOTE: YOU CAN READ THE OPENING BY CLICKING HERE).
Catherynne: And even in the beginning when I was like, “OK, I’m going to describe The End as if it’s the best place in the world…” Even that was something where I felt like I could turn people’s perception of the game on their head. And of course I wanted to make little jokes about diamonds and digging straight down and stuff, but those are just for true fans to giggle at along the way.
I wanted to do some more with the Endermites and just never found a place for it. It’s a pretty barrel-y narrative, it’s pretty lean so I just didn’t end up ever finding a good place to get it in.
Tom: I wouldn't worry about it. We haven't found a good use for Endermites in the game either. Catherynne, thank you very much for your time!
The End is available now. Click here to buy a copy!
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- Tom Stone