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.