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New York Times bestselling author, Mark Cheverton grew up in Southern California, going through high school, and college. After college, Mark taught high school physics and math for many years. While teaching, he earned a Master's degree in Physics and conducted research on planetary atmospherics. His first book, The Algae Voices of Azule, was released in 2012, followed by the sequel shortly after.

In 2014, he released the first book in his Gameknight999 Minecraft series - Invasion of the Overworld, followed by Book 2: Battle for the Nether, and Book 3: Confronting the Dragon. This series made it to the New York Times bestseller list in February, 2015 and has been published in over 21 countries and translated into 10 languages across the globe. Currently, his second series, The Mystery of Herobrine has been released followed by his third series, called Herobrine Reborn. In 2016, Cheverton's 4th series, Herobrine's revenge will be released followed by his 5th series, the Birth of Herobrine later in that year. 

 

You were a teacher for fifteen years in public schools. What are your fondest memories and how do those experiences carry over to your mission of inspiring students today? 

 

My first year teaching, I taught as I was taught, you use the textbook, you assign the problem at the end of the chapter, you go through the book chapter after chapter . . . and at the end of the year, I gave the students a comprehensive test, just to see what they learned. And I found my students learned little to nothing. That was when I realized I was doing it all wrong, and it was also when my writing career really started.

The next year, I threw out the textbook, and I wrote my own materials. I created homework problems using characters I made up. A favorite was Barky the Physics Dog and Wally the Wannabe-Wallabee. I created situations for these characters to do something, and then the kids calculated what would happen to them. This was when I realized in physics, as in writing, students need to be engaged and interested in what they’re doing, or its just noise in their lives. Students started making up problems with Barky jumping over a pit of lava, or swimming through a lake of alligators (It never ended well for Barky). It was a fantastic moment when the kids embraced this character and created their own physics problems with them. I carried that lesson to my writing today. When I talk with classes about writing, they are instantly engaged because I’m talking about something they are already obsessed with; Minecraft. I get hundreds of stories from kids, who are writing about their passion; usually, it’s Minecraft, but not always. But the point is, the kids are engaged because they are writing about what they’re interested in, and it was the same with Barky the Physics Dog.

And by the way, when I did a comprehensive test at the end of that school year, the kids remembered much more, I’m guessing because they could associate the knowledge with a scene in their mind. Hurry for Barky the Physics Dog!

 

After leaving teaching, you used your Master's in physics to join a start-up company in fiber optics. Can you explain to us what exactly you accomplished there? 

 

After fifteen years of teaching, I found I was getting a little burned out. I had earned a Master’s Degree in Physics, so I could escape education if necessary. While I was in graduate school, I did research with scientists at the Jet Propulsions Laboratory, using Voyager II data to model Jupiter’s atmosphere. I also had the opportunity, during the summers, to do research with professors while I lived in New York State, studying optical properties of different kinds of glasses. Throughout my teaching career I had numerous opportunities to do research, and that experience enabled me to get a job with Molecular Opto-Electronics Company (MOEC). I worked in the R&D group, doing mathematical modeling of a new kind of waveguide-based optical amplifier for the fiber optics market. Sadly, I quit teaching and stared with MOEC shortly before the crash of the fiber optics market. I was at MOEC for 2 years, and the company went from maybe 400 employees to about 15; not a fun ride. When another opportunity arose, I left MOEC, but had a great time there. I created new fiber optic products for the telecommunications industry, none of which are being used because the eventual fate of MOEC was complete destruction, but it was a great place to work and a great place to learn.

 

From there, you went on to a fortune 500 research and development company, conducting research with some of the brightest minds in the country. What are some of the most amazing projects you had the opportunity to work on? 

 

After MOEC, I was lucky enough to get a job at General Electric’s Global Research Center. This was an R&D site that employed maybe 3000+ researchers. I was brought in to build automated inspection equipment for GE Plastics. I designed optical systems that would automatically detect defects while they were manufacturing various kinds of plastic. From there I worked on other projects like Holographic Data Storage, Secure Holographic films for ID Cards (in fact, I made a hologram of myself which you can see here: https://youtu.be/vtf_-i9CXEo ) and finally ended up working with the 3D Printing team. GE Aviation had decided they were going to use 3D printing technology to make various aircraft engine components, using a specialized process called Direct Metal Laser Melting (https://youtu.be/rMzVSbNebCg ). My part of the process was to use machine vision to detect defects during the 3D printing process, using cameras to capture what was happening to the incredibly small and incredibly hot melt pool, to imaging the entire part through the process, to using infrared imaging to watch for anomalies during manufacturing. Though I’ve left GE and am now writing full-time, much of the research that I started is still being conducted by multiple PhDs within GE.

 

You started playing Minecraft with your son after seeing the spectacular things he was able to build. Your first Minecraft novel came after a teachable moment in the game. Can you tell us about that experience, and why it was such an important moment? 

 

My son and I play Minecraft together, frequently. In fact, we just finished making a downloadable Minecraft game that goes with my next novel, so kids can play through the adventure in the book, but from within Minecraft. Anyway, I’d gotten him a server, so he could play with friends and meet new people. A couple of players came on and ingratiated themselves to him, being helpful and kind and friendly. My son gave these kids administrator rights to the server, referred to as being OP’d. As soon as they were OP’s, these two kids came on late that night and destroyed everything he’d built. My son has spent months building his skyscrapers and underwater village, and diamond bridge, and space station in the sky. And what made it worse, this was one of the times when he really took pride in his creations, likely because he was building what his imagination told him to build; this was all from him. And those kids destroyed everything, recorded a video of it, said terrible foul things about him, and then sent him a link to the video on YouTube. Needless to say, he was crushed. We rebuilt the server and they came back again and again until we had to shut down the server. He asked me the question that many kids ask after they’ve been the victim of bullying, he asked, “Dad, what did I do to deserve this kind of treatment. I was nice to those kids and look what they did. I don’t understand.” I tried to explain to him this wasn’t about him, it was about those kids trying to feel important or powerful or in control or . . . but he didn’t get it. So I decided I’d use the thing he was obsessed with most, Minecraft, to teach him what kind of kid would do this and why it wasn’t his fault. So I put quill to parchment and started writing. After about 5 months, I had the book done, and we read it at bed time, and he got it, he finally understood this cyber-bullying wasn’t about him, it was about those boys being unhappy or maybe they were bullied or ??? It was one of the great moments in my life with my son.

 

When Invasion of the Overlord first released, you received several emails from both children and parents. What are the most memorable ones?

 

I received hundreds of emails from kids each year, and I reply to each. I think there are three that stand out; one is a review that is on Amazon

5.0 out of 5 starsPLEASE tell me there's a sequel

ByMan O Waron January 7, 2014

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

This was an Xmas gift for my 11-yr old son. Out of everything he got this was his favorite. I'm not kidding, he started reading the book right after opening it. I had to verbally remind him when it was his turn to open his next present. When all the gifts were opened he went to the bedroom and finished the book in one sitting. In an age when kids are glued to a myriad of screens and gadgets, I cherish the moments when mine opts for a book instead. Really hoping there's a series evolving here.

 

But there were also these two:

 

Dear Mark,

 

Many,  many thanks for infecting my son with the reading bug!  My son, Kainoa, is 7 years old and was pretty resistant to reading.  The only way we could get him to read was to dangle the proverbial carrot of a trip to the Lego store if he read 100 books last year in 1st grade for his school's reading program.  Well, this year was off to a very slow start...the usual hemming & hawing over a couple of chapters in The Magic Treehouse Series.  Until I found your box set in Costco and he found them under the Christmas tree.  I was concerned they might be too advanced for a 7 year old but he has devoured every single book.  Reading when he wakes up, in the car to school, before bed...it makes this English major mama proud.  Of course he might as well be speaking a foreign language aka Minecraftese when he tells me about them but I am over the moon that he has fallen in love with reading.  So thank you for that.  I'm sure you've heard this quite a bit from a lot of grateful parents.  He's already counting his piggybank money to save up for the 3rd series.

 

Thank you again and keep rockin' the Minecraft books!

 

Tanya W.

 

And since my books are published in 16 countries, I get messages from all over the world. Here is my favorite from France.

 

>> Bonjour, je m'appelle Anaïs, j'ai 12ans et je vis en France. Je voulais vous dire que je tenais vraiment à vous écrire. Moi aussi j'aime crée des livres. Je travaille sur 1 en ce moment.

>> Je suis une grande fan de Minecraft et j'ai Adoré la série sur Minecraft que vous avez fait. Je me suis beaucoup attachée à Gamenight999, Monet113, Crafter, Hunter, Stitcher, Heder et Digger. Comme à tous les autres personnages! Ce livre est mon préféré! Il m'a faite rire, pleurer, sourire, sauter, danser, être en colère, avoir peur, trépigner d'impatience! Bref, le meilleur livre que j'ai jamais lu! Malheureusement, il n'y a que les deux premières séries qui sont sorties en France, et j'attends avec impatience la traduction des deux autres volets. Grace à votre livre, j'ai appris des belles citations. Et c'est grâce à vous si j'ai pu surmonter une de mes peurs. Je voulais vous remercier du fond du cœur! Gamenight999 est devenu un héro pour moi. Et je n'ai pas le courage qu'il a...

>> Je n'aurai pas pu affronter tous ce qu'il a vécu. (Comme Erebus qui est monstre préféré!!!) Un grand merci à vous encore une fois! Je vous adore! Et ce serai un grand honneur si je pouvais avoir votre réponse.

>> Thank You but I'm sorry, I little speek English.

>> Anaïs

 

Translated with Google Translate:

 

>> Hello, my name is Anaïs, I am 12 years old and I live in France. I wanted to tell you that I really wanted to write to you. I too like creating books. I am working on 1 right now.

>> I'm a big fan of Minecraft and I loved the Minecraft series you did. I was very fond of Gamenight999, Monet113, Crafter, Hunter, Stitcher, Heder and Digger. Like all the other characters! This book is my favorite! He made me laugh, cry, smile, jump, dance, be angry, be afraid, stamp with impatience! In short, the best book I have ever read! Unfortunately, only the first two series have been released in France, and I look forward to the translation of the other two parts. Thanks to your book, I learned beautiful quotes. And it's thanks to you if I was able to overcome one of my fears. I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart! Gamenight999 became a hero for me. And I do not have the courage he has ...

>> I could not face all that he lived. (Like Erebus who is my favorite monster !!!) Many thanks to you again! I love you! And it will be a great honor if I could have your answer.

>> Thank You I'm sorry, I little speek English.

>> Anaïs

 

 

I am gratified to hear that my books are reaching reluctant readers, which was a bit unexpected. In addition, early on, since I had a soapbox, I put a message at the beginning of the books which is typical linked to the story’s theme. The message from Anais in France talks about the lesson in my second book, that deeds do not make the hero, rather the fears they over come defines them. I’ve heard from many kids that this message resonated with them and helped many over whatever fear was plagueing them; Anais echoes this in her email. 

 

What other messages are found within your series of books you've written?

 

You hear about bullying and how to deal with it in many of my books. I was a victim of bullying as a kid and have first hand experience on how to handle it incorrectly, so you hear about bullying frequently in my books. But there are also books dealing with facing your fears, dealing with sibling relationships, dealing with parent-child relationships, responsibility, regret . . . numerous issues. I had one parent email me, telling me her son loved my books, but all he sees in the negative aspects in life. He expects bad things to happen, and when that’s what you’re looking for, that’s what you tend to see. So I wrote a book about negative expectations and how they can cloud not only your judgement but your outcomes as well, and then, when the book was released, I sent the mother an email, directed at the son, telling him about the book. I don’t know if it had any impact on the boy, I hope so. In every book, I think about what’s important to middle-grade kids. Sometimes, I’ll go to a child therapist I now and ask what are the problems they are seeing with kids, and it is usually some flavor of not fitting in, or feeling isolated or not understanding themselves, and I incorporate what the therapist tells the kids into the books. Minecraft is a great vehicle to deliver these lessons to kids, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to help them. If I were to just tell the kids . . . don’t be afraid to be yourself, they’d roll their eyes, as they do to their parents, but with a helping of Minecraft on top, it makes the lesson palatable. As Mary Poppins said, “A spoon full of Minecraft helps the lesson go down” I think that’s the way it goes but I might be wrong.

 

Being a former teacher, one of your missions is to get more children to read. How are you working with teachers to inspire more children? 

 

When I had some downtime between books, which wasn’t very often, I decided to try my hand at writing short stories. I was surprised to find short stories are hard; I need all those pages to develop my characters and layer the lesson into the story. I think I’m brevity-impaired, anyway, I wrote three short stories, just for the purpose of giving them away to students, parents and teachers. They are written so that individual chapters can be printed out and given to kids. I’ve made these available on my website in the Writing Tutorials section of www.markcheverton.com. The social worker at my son’s school was using them as rewards for the kids she works with, giving them Chapter 1 after they did something great, then offering Chapter 2 only if they met some goal, I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve heard from teachers who had kids that wouldn’t read books, but when they were given these short stories, they would start reading them, and once they were done with them, they wanted to read all the short stories, then start reading books. I think it’s important to remember, as adults, we read books we want to read, but if we are forced to read something we’re not interested in, we too are reluctant, and its no different with kids. There is a ton of research in the educational community showing if kids pick their own books, not only do they read above their grade level, but their comprehension is much better, because they are engaged, like with Barky the Physics Dog. These short stories are stepping stone to help teachers and parents to get their kids engaged. I believe, once kids start reading, whether it is my Minecraft-inspired novels, or it’s Percy Jackson or the Warrior Cats or . . . If they start reading what interests them, hopefully, they will carry that love of reading throughout their life.

 

Another of your missions is to inspire children to write their own stories. You've put together writing materials for teachers to use in the classroom. Tell us more about that and what inspired you. 

 

I wish I could take credit for thinking of using Minecraft to inspire kids to write, but I didn’t. Actually, it was the kids’ idea. After I released my first book, Invasion of the Overworld, I started receiving emails from kids, and then all of a sudden, I started receiving stories written about my characters, but with the kids creating the plot. I was stunned. I replied to each kids, telling them their story was fantastic, then figured out how to post them on my website, http://markcheverton.com/blog/. I originally intended this section of my website to be a blog, but I found I had nothing to say, and kids had a lot to say, so I started putting their stories there. Some of them are fantastic, some are difficult to understand, in fact one girl who submitted many stories to me seemed to have an allergy to punctuation, making her stories were really hard to understand, but she was writing!  Kids created some amazing adventures for my characters, then they started using their own characters, but there was one thing in common with the stories; they tended to just be battle scenes. I realized kids wanted to write stories, but didn’t understand the mechanics of storytelling. And I don’t mean punctuation and paragraph formation and commas and . . . I mean, how to do you form a story that will capture someone's attention and take them to the edge of their seat.

When I first started writing, I knew nothing about storytelling, but I had a story I wanted to tell. So, like a true engineer, I bought every book on novel writing I could find, and I read them all. I learned a couple of things from this book, a couple from that book. Some books were fantastic, some were not right for me, but I learned a lot, and I started putting that learning into my writing. As you see in my 19 novels, my writing improved dramatically because I was constantly reading books about writing and improving my craft. So when these stories from kids were coming in, I decided I’d put some resources on my website to help them with their writing. I created a video series, sharing things I’d learned from writing books or conferences or writing workshops. I created an example story, Battle with the Wither King, and explained how I would outline it, how I would design the character and plot and setting and . . . and then I wrote that short story, making it available to kids to download. It was my hope teachers would use these writing materials with their classes, see how I’d write as story, then show them the finished product.

I used these materials in countless writing workshops for young kids, having the young writers fill out the Writer’s Guide I created, and they filled the front and back of each page and needed extra sheets of paper for them to put down their ideas. It was then that I learned the same lesson with letting kids choose the books they want to read: If you let kids choose what they want to write about, they will fill volumes. I mean no disrespect the authors of classic literature, but I know very few kids who want to write about Huck Finn, or Call of the Wild, or Lord of the flies, because writing about those topics is scary, primarily because they might be wrong in their answers/conclusions. When I worked at GE and I had to write a technical article or write a proposal for a grant, I was terrified, because I was not an expert in the field and I might look like an idiot. It’s the same with kids. But when it comes to Minecraft, the kids are the experts. They know more about Minecraft than you and I will ever understand. And because of this feeling of expertise, the anxiety barrier of writing is lowered significantly. When you remove the fear from writing, its easy, you just write what’s in your head. This is what happened with kids writing their own stories.

Now, after about 3.5 years, I’ve over 700 stories from kids, all of which can be found on my website, http://markcheverton.com/blog/.

 

What other things are you doing, or do you have planned to engage children in reading and writing more? 

 

Most of the stories I received from kids are a couple a hundred to maybe thousand or two words in length, but every now and than, I’ll receive a story that is maybe 10,000 words or even 20,000 words; that’s some serious dedication by that young writer. My first book, Invasion of the Overworld, was actually self-published on Amazon, and I was surprised at how easy it was to get my novel up on Amazon’s site. So when I started receiving these long and detailed stories, I put a video on my website, showing how easy the self-publishing process can be. And quickly, I received emails from kids, telling me their book was now up on Amazon. Can you imagine the impact that moment has, when a 10-year old kid opens that Amazon envelope and pulls out their book; that’s like a self-esteem overdose! I was so proud of these kids, I created a page for those that self-published, http://markcheverton.com/published-kids/. I purchased every book on that page, so I could hopefully be the first person to purchase their books. Since starting this page, honoring those self-published kids, some of the young writers started publishing their 2nd and 3rd novels. This was fantastic to watch, and I know it motivated other kids to write, because here was evidence that age was not a limitation to writing.

In addition, I’m currently working with a teacher named Kristi Holl at Louisville Elementary school, https://louisvilleelementary.weebly.com/. She’s a 4th/5th grade writing resource teacher. She has used my writing tutorials with her students last year and her students submitted maybe 60+ stories to my website. She has some fantastic tales to tell about how excited her students are about writing. Anyway, this year, I introduced Kristi to NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month program. During the month of November, kids and adults take on the challenge of writing a novel or story during the month of November, and her students have answered the call. Kristi and I have been working together to get the kids both ready and excited about NaNoWriMo, https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/. Her students are very excited about getting their creative juices flowing and putting their imaginations to work. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they create.

 

You play Minecraft with your son often. As a former educator, and parent, what do you think the game offers children that may be carried over in real life lessons? 

 

As evident by Microsoft’s push of Minecraft into schools with their Minecraft Education Edition, Minecraft has incredible value in the schools. From kids designing  towns and doing the math necessary to calculate how many trees need to be cut down to build the schoolhouse, to having discussions about ecology and how many saplings need to be collected to repopulate the forest, to the development of a gold or diamond-based economy for their village, to civic planning and what services are needed in the village (emergency, medical, educational), to kids building models of the digestive system or solar system . . . Minecraft is a three-dimensional, interactive chalkboard that can be used to engage kids and draw them into these lessons. The opportunity for creativity is unlimited, but more important is that it gives the kids an opportunity to express themselves and be proud of their creations. When I was a kid, if I had to draw a picture and show it to the class, I’d be terrified; I can’t draw to save my life. But if I had to build a castle and who what I’d learned about medieval times while at the same time, letting my creativity blossom into the best castle I could imagine . . . now that would have been something I could do. And the self-esteem boost from success in Minecraft should never be underrated. Self-esteem with kids is important, and because they feel like they are an expert, students can express themselves, and demonstrate their learning, using Minecraft as an educational tool.

Students learn basic circuit theory, whether they know it or not, by using Redstone to create contraptions.

Students learn basic programming skills through the use of command blocks, to create interesting effects within the game.

Students learn Java programming skills through modifying Minecraft, so they can create a new and original version of the game.

The potential benefits are huge with Minecraft in the classroom and should not be understated. I think because of this, you’ll see Minecraft around for a long long time.