When Andrew Daly was in fourth grade at Elizabeth Lane Elementary School, his classmates overwhelmingly predicted that he’d grow up to be an author.
At age 15, Daly is already there.
Daly, who will be a junior at Ardrey Kell High School in the fall, recently self published “Portal of Vaal” based on his experience in an online Minecraft community. The book is available on Amazon.com, and he received the first printed copies in early June.
“It felt pretty awesome,” Daly said.
The story follows a young hero who wakes up in a faraway land, called Vaalbara, with no memory. He identifies as “Motorthud” and gathers a group of allies to help him save Vaalbara from the Dark Ones and bring peace to the land.
The book began as a short story that Daly wrote when he was 12. Over three years and with help from his online Minecraft community and the Charlotte Writer’s Club (CWC) scifi/fantasy group, he expanded it into a novel.
“His writing is very good,” Erin Ryan, who has served as the group leader of the CWC scifi/fantasy critique group since 2012, wrote in an email. “He does dialog well, and he knows how to throw in a dash of humor.”
Daly has enjoyed writing since elementary school. He remembers turning in a four-page poem about Boxing Day – that rhymed – and building plot lines around vocabulary lists.
“He was very creative and detailed in his writing,” Andrea Hsu, Daly’s fourth grade teacher at Elizabeth Lane Elementary, wrote in an email. “His stories were unique, different from his peers.”
Daly began playing Minecraft, a game where players explore, gather resources and build in various terrains, after school and during summer months when he was about 11. He soon connected online with fellow players as they worked together to advance in the game.
When he uploaded excerpts from his story to an online Minecraft forum, his fellow players got a kick out of being featured in his writing.
“People would comment,” Daly said. “They said I should keep writing.”
He liked the archetype of a young hero waking up with amnesia, and he named the young man after his Minecraft user name.
Daly said he wrote himself into the character, and Motorthud’s allies are based on his real-life Minecraft friends. The characters are about 19 years old, old enough, Daly said, to wage battle and develop emotionally.
“I felt that Motor was able to understand and connect to what it is to be human,” Daly said.
He worked on the book for three years. He contacted Mojang, Minecraft’s parent company, to make sure he could set the novel in a Minecraft world. Company officials gave him the go-ahead and allowed him to include creepers, iconic Minecraft hostile mobs.
While the book is not an official Minecraft novel, readers who play the game will know where Vaalbara is set. Daly also wrote in a number of “Easter eggs,” or hidden references that Minecraft users will understand.
Daly said that while he’s always enjoyed writing and English classes, he is developing an interest in science and likely will pursue a career in a related field.
For now, though, he’s still writing. He’s laying out the plot to a sequel to “Portal of Vaal” and has a book to market.
Hsu, who taught second grade at Elizabeth Lane Elementary last year, invited Daly to visit her class after his mom, Jana Case, contacted her about it.
“It is a teacher’s dream to hear stories like this,” Hsu wrote in an email.
Some of her students bought the book ahead of his visit and had him autograph it. Elizabeth Lane will promote Daly’s book in its media center, and Hsu hopes to schedule him to visit her new class in the fall.
Hsu wrote in an email, “Many of my students love video games, so the fact that his book is related to Minecraft is perfect.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.