The Making of Middle School Robots

Last month I published my third novel…called Middle School Robots. It’s a book I’ve had in my head for almost 4 years now, and it started as a TV script.

For anyone who follows me on social media, you might have heard that story. But I also want to tell the story here on my blog.

And I’ll include a little more detail here.

And by the way, the TV pilot was first called Ordinary Robots, so I might refer to it as that, or Office Robots, which I called it at some point after Ordinary Robots but before Middle School Robots.

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I wrote it in 2016.

From 2015-2016 I lived in Los Angeles for 10 months. Middle School Robots was written towards the tail end of that, in June.

The sequence of events that led to writing it, however, started in May of 2016, when I got really sick.

I don’t know exactly what I had, but it seemed like the flu. My body hurt all over and I had a 103-degree fever. I got better after about a week of rest, though immediately after the flu I got a UTI.

And as soon as I got over the UTI, I got another issue. The worst back pain of my life.

At the time, I had been driving Uber and working as a freelance Production Assistant on film sets to make money. After the back pain came, I couldn’t do either of those things. I went to urgent care three or four times, and they couldn’t get rid of the pain for me.

It lasted like two months.

And in those two months, I couldn’t drive Uber anymore. I tried once, and after two hours the pain was so bad I had to stop. I also didn’t trust myself to take a PA (Production Assistant) job. I was scared that if I did, I’d have to leave in the middle of it, or I’d hurt myself worse. A lot of the PA’s duties involve manual labor.

And so the only real work I could do was write.

I was working on another project the day I wrote Ordinary Robots, but having trouble finding inspiration.

And I didn’t want to spend time writing anything that didn’t inspire me. Not when my back hurt like it did.

So I wrote something else.

I wrote Middle School Robots.

And I think, looking back on it, I just wanted to create a world I could escape into. I wanted to get away from the pain I had.

I wrote the TV pilot in just one day. I didn’t do any outlining or any character work before writing it. I just wrote it using what I knew about how to craft good stories and my own imagination.

Later I submitted it to some contests. It scored quarter-finalist honors in two contests – Scriptapalooza and Fresh Voices in 2017. It was also nominated for the Courage & Fortitude Award for Fresh Voices.

And then in 2019, I started adapting it into a children’s novel.

But once again, I didn’t go into adapting it with the intention to.

Actually, I was trying to write another book. It was a young adult sci-fi novel, about superheroes. It was based around a Jean Gray type superhero who could control the molecular bonds between elements, thereby creating and destroying anything at will.

I still like the idea of that character. But honestly, she needed more to her character than that power.

And I realized, a couple chapters into writing it, that I didn’t understand who she was beyond a superhero with that really cool power.

And that left me feeling frantic.

Because I couldn’t write the story until I knew.

This was June of 2019.

I wanted to write something, to get another book in line to be published, but suddenly I knew that the book I had planned to write wasn’t something I could write.

And so this caused me to search around for other ideas.

And I had a couple, but the ones I did have were not ready to be written yet.

They were still ideas, and still needed more work. They needed to sit with me longer before they’d feel formed enough to start on.

And then, I realized that what I needed was a story that I had already written in the past.

I had written a few TV pilots. But the one that came to mind immediately was Ordinary Robots, since renamed Office Robots.

In just a few days, I realized that the script was perfect because it was like The Time Twins. It was the same genre, sure the TV pilot wasn’t kid-friendly, but the book could be.

Now here’s the part where I admit to you a dirty little secret. So if you’re a parent reading this to your kids you might want to skip this part.

But Colossal Time, the crazy smartwatch robot in the book, was originally an alcoholic.

It was a TV pilot meant for Adult Swim!

But I changed it so that he was a sugar addict instead for the book.

Ok, kids can start reading again here.

I also changed a few other things. In the TV pilot, there was no mouse. The robots snuck out the front door.

Also in the TV pilot Joe never got separated from Thomas and Alexa. Instead, all three of them encountered the school teachers, who were office workers instead, and then all three of them just went back to the office.

I made Joe get separated to add more danger, excitement, and another layer of stuff to think about to the book. And out of it came some good stuff, I think. The idea of swarms of kids holding smartphones, the tidbit about Alzheimer’s disease.

The other major change I mad was the ending. Originally, Alexa tore up the constitution. But when writing the book I realized that couldn’t be the ending.

When I was writing the TV pilot, I just thought it was funny. But actually, the ending needs to be serious. Because the matter of the robots overcoming oppression is serious, even if there’s a lot of humor at other points in the book.

Overall, I wrote the book over the course of a month, in June alone, using the TV pilot as a template and stealing almost every line from it, then adding a few new ones.

Then, I didn’t touch the book again until late October, when I read it over and made some structural changes I thought needed to be done.

In November again I took a break for another book I was writing, and in December I made the last changes to the book, over the course of three weeks.

I thought I was done with it after that but I did end up making a few slight edits in January before publishing in February.

And, that’s it! After that I published it and now it’s done.

Six Most Interesting Questions about The Divergent Series

But in reality the choice has already been made for them, and the choice isn’t the choice of what faction to be in; it’s the choice of whether to accept a world in which everyone is divided into different factions.

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Q #1: Which series should I read first: The Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, The Maze Runner, or Divergent?

A: It depends on what you like to read and who you are! I myself have read all of them except for The Maze Runner and they were all great. I would recommend Percy Jackson to anyone who’s in middle-school or approaching middle-school. It is probably the most relatable and interesting for that age-range. On the other hand, I’d recommend The Lord of the Rings for older readers – anyone who loves complex worlds especially. If you’re in college or beyond, or an advanced reader in high school, and love fantasy that’d probably be the best read. If you like Game of Thrones it’s probably the most similar of any of these to that. Divergent is quite a bit different – I would probably recommend it to high school or college kids, and I would especially recommend it to anyone who loves romance – it has some pretty heavy romance in it, and would be great for any readers who enjoyed books like The Hunger Games or Twilight.

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Q #2: In Divergent, what is the point of an aptitude test if you choose your faction anyway?

A: This is up to interpretation I think, but here’s my interpretation. I think that the aptitude test is there to reinforce the idea of factions, and to reinforce factions as the right thing. By having everyone take an aptitude test, kids are basically being prepared for the fact that they fit in better with some people and in some places than in other places and with other people. The aptitude test is one of the first ways in which people are divided and separate and put into different buckets. It starts the narrowing down, and then I think that the choice is given about what faction to be in as a way for the people in control to trick those choosing their factions into thinking they are making the choice. But in reality the choice has already been made for them, and the choice isn’t the choice of what faction to be in; it’s the choice of whether to accept a world in which everyone is divided into different factions.

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Q #3: What would the Dauntless faction think of space travel?

A: The Dauntless would love space travel! As the most adventurous and daring of the factions, I think they’d probably be the ones to be astronauts, or go up in space first, even though the technology would have to be something that Erudite developed. I think that if space travel did progress to the point where things were like Star Trek in the Divergent universe, then the Dauntless would probably be the dominant faction due to their bravery and willingness to venture into the unknown and make discoveries.

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Q #4: Why do authors of novels like The Hunger Games and Divergent prefer not to spend time and effort on detailed world-building?

A: I know it may seem like they don’t, but I would argue they do. As a writer myself, I know there is a lot of preparation and work that is done before even putting pen to paper. One thing to keep in mind is that Veronica Roth and Suzanne Collins likely chose not to include every single detail about their worlds because it would be too much, slow down the story, and not make for as interesting as a narrative. Part of being a writer is to know how much worldbuilding to show in your story and how much to withhold. One thing that is often used is the metaphor of an iceberg. Icebergs are huge, but we only see the small portion that is above the water when we encounter them. Worldbuilding is like that too. The best stories show you only a small portion of the world, while promising that there is a whole lot more underneath the surface waiting to be seen later.

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Q #5: If Tris and Four from Divergent went to Hogwarts, what house would they be in?

A: I think they’d be in Gryffindor! The reason why is because they are brave, but they are not cruel, like some of the Dauntless. I think that all Dauntless would probably be in either Gryffindor or Slytherin. The Erudites on the other hand could be in either Ravenclaw or Slytherin, the Candor in either Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, and Amity I would say are probably usually in Hufflepuff while the Abnegation are probably either Gryffindor or Hufflepuff.

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Q #6: Something similar to Divergent?

A: The most similar thing I can think of is The Hunger Games! They both came out around the same time too. I would say that Twilight could be something that most readers of Divergent might enjoy also. Another lesser known series I would suggest is called The Guardians of Time by Marianne Curley. It isn’t a dystopian story, but it does deliver a similarly heavy dose of romance. Here’s a link to the Amazon page for the first book: The Named.

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