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.

December, Technology, and Books

Do you say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

I’m never really sure which to say around this time of year. Usually I go with Happy Holidays. But of course Christmas has become as much a secular holiday as a Christian one, so I suppose saying Merry Christmas is fine too. I think the main point is that you wish people well, as with all things in life I suppose.

This month I’ve been going some through some technological mishaps which is kind of an interesting coincidence because the book I’ve been working on, School Robots, makes use of heavy amounts of technology.

In total my car door got dented when someone hit me in a parking lot, my phone shut off in the middle of the day and decided it was never going to turn back on, and then I had a near scare when my check engine light went on in my car (and then the next morning it mysteriously went off). Hopefully it stays off.

On the plus side, I got a Google Pixel 3a. It’s been a pretty good phone so far, and I’m getting an Otterbox Defender case for it in the mail soon (the best type of case, imho).

I’ve also somehow managed to find vestiges of time to work on School Robots, and I’m still roughly on track to wrap up editing on it by January (those on my list will get a free ARC!). I’m getting to the phase of editing now where I focus on all the specific minute details to the robots, and since they are essentially smartphones, computers, printers, and other real world devices, kids are going to be able to learn a lot by reading the book!

In addition, I’ve been thinking about dragons, and soaking in Avatar: The Last Airbender stuff. I know those are two very different things, but my mind feeds off different things and looks for unique ways to combine them. That’s kind of what I did with Sand and Smoke – I combined westerns and dragon-rider fantasy.

In a little over a week I’ll be heading to Chicago to spend Christmas and the holidays. Currently my aunt, uncle, grandmother, and cousins live there, and my dad and sisters will also be flying in. My family is spread out all over America, so it’s the normal for us to fly pretty regularly.

So far as I know, we have planned for the trip a gift exchange and a movie-going adventure to see Star Wars Episode IX. So I’m definitely looking forward to the latter half of December. Though what I like most as always is just seeing family and friends and spending more time with them.

Seven Most Interesting Questions about A Wrinkle in Time

This kind of behavior quickly leads to a society that is conditioned to all do the same things, all act the same way, all think the same way, and run the same way, like a machine.

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Q #1: Is the novel A Wrinkle in Time worth reading?

A: Yes. Well, I would say yes depending on what type of books you like. A Wrinkle in Time is science fiction, and it’s a children’s book, though I think it could be enjoyed by teens also. Adults might like it as light reading, it’s a great story, though the story is more in line with what a child or teen might enjoy, in my opinion.

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Q #2: What’s your favourite line in A Wrinkle in Time?

A: This is a great question! There are lots of great lines. However, one that sticks with me is Mrs. Whatsit’s last line in the first chapter. She just says casually: “there is such a thing as a tesseract” and it completely draws you in and makes you want to read the rest of the book.

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Q #3: In A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle the protagonists encounter a city where everything runs on a schedule and is controlled by a nefarious machine if memory serves. If you read the book what was your impression?

A: This is one of the best parts in my opinion. Most obviously, it’s a warning that uniformity is the enemy of freedom. But also, that is just the surface-level meaning. Given the time this book was published, smack dab in the middle of the cold war, I think it’s likely this was an analogy for the dangers of communism. However, in present day it’s easy to see these dangers popping up in the capitalist world too. Given the connectivity of everyone, and the booming population, people have become more like a number than ever before, and big corporations are plugging them into a pipeline where everything runs on schedule and everyone is expected to act in a uniform machine-like manner. Beyond this, social media and the connectiveness of the world has made it easier than ever to quickly learn what is popular and what is not. People post on Facebook en-masse about TV shows like Game of Thrones, and then more people go to watch Game of Thrones because everyone else is posting about it, and then they post about it, and the cycle continues. It’s great for popular shows like Game of Thrones (and this isn’t a commentary on that show, it’s just a recent example of this I’ve seen) but this kind of behavior quickly leads to a society that is conditioned to all do the same things, all act the same way, all think the same way, and run the same way, like a machine.

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Q #4: What is the worst book to movie inaccuracy in A Wrinkle in Time (2018)?

A: In my opinion, the worst inaccuracy has to do with the tone of the movie. Hollywood made it all about adventure and action. There was a point in the movie when I remember Meg and Calvin running away from the It, in a sort of chase that I distinctly remember didn’t happen. They also had another scene where Meg goes riding on the backs of these giant green things that didn’t belong. Adventure and action isn’t bad, necessarily, but it wasn’t the point of the book. The book had a lot of messages about society, about culture, about family, about growing up, and these were sacrificed to make a movie that was essentially a fun romp through a wrinkle in time.

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Q #5: Is the book A Wrinkle in Time for teens (15y)?

A: Yes, I think it absolutely can be a great book for teens! It’s usually targeted at middle grade, which is ages 8-12, but I believe it could easily appeal to a teen as well.

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Q #6: Is A Wrinkle in Time considered to be a children’s book?

A: Yes. It’s great for kids ages 8 and up!

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Q #7: Is it possible to tether (teleport) just like characters from the movie A Wrinkle in Time?

A: I would say not that we know of. Of course, in A Wrinkle in Time, the three women who show Meg how to tesser are all otherwordly beings. Their knowledge surpasses our own. Even fifty or more years after the book was written, I would have to say that we don’t know enough about the universe to know whether or not tessering is possible. With our current technology, we can’t do it. However, with all of the laws of the universe we know, as far as I am aware, we can’t rule it out as possible.

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