If you have been a reader of my blog for a while, you would know I’m kind of obsessed with Eric Smith. Ever since Girl and the Grove I’ve been a huge fan and so this interview is SO special to me.
Slay meets Eliza and Her Monsters in Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments, an #ownvoices story in which two teen gamers find their virtual worlds—and blossoming romance—invaded by the real-world issues of trolling and doxing in the gaming community.
Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.
Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.
At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…
And she isn’t going down without a fight.
Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335016027
What kind of research did you have to do for Don’t Read the Comments?
There were some small bits of research that went into certain parts of Don’t Read the Comments. Like when I was talking about Hoboken and sections of Jersey City, as I’d been living in Virginia for a while and well, it’d been a minute since I visited towns near my home.
The big pieces of research came into play when I had to go into the streaming world and the landscape of the video game. Reclaim the Sun… well, a game like that doesn’t quite exist yet, though we’re almost there. And streaming an MMORPG / virtual reality combo game would present some significant challenges.
So I had to fiddle around the mechanics of how that would work, introduced a co-streamer, and took some liberties with how that would work. But in order to break some rules, you have to know them, so I watched a number of streamers, talked to my friends who actually stream, as well as friends (and family!) who are avid Let’s Play viewers.
I’m also lucky enough to know a number of people in the video game industry and streaming world. I shared the novel with them, to make sure the world felt real.
I also spent some time digging around in classic MMORPG games, but I can’t say much else there without ruining something about the book. 🙂 But I did my homework regarding that particular storyline.
So yeah! A mix of reading and watching, as well as talking to people in the actual industry, helped in a big way while writing and editing Don’t Read the Comments.
Was it easier to write Divya or Aaron’s POV? Was one more challenging than the other?
Aaron’s was by far the easiest for me. There’s a lot of me in his character. I scrounged for discarded computers in my neighborhood’s trash growing up, built my own monster PC. I had daydreams of writing games, which eventually morphed into books… though I still think about one day writing an RPG. Someday! He’s a well meaning goof, eager to learn, just trying to figure it all out.
Divya’s was definitely the hardest. She’s resilient. Determined. She fights. Her character was the furthest from me, and I spent so much time trying to get her right. A lot of what you find in Divya, you can find in some of my closest friends, who are all just as bold and courageous as she is through the story.
That didn’t make her any easier to write, but it made me want to spend time with her character more.
There’s some writing advice for you right there. If you want characters your reader will fall in love with, pull inspiration from the people you love.
Is Reclaim the Sun based on an existing video game? As in, where can I find a game like that I can play?
Hah! Oh, how I wish. Reclaim the Sun is definitely a mashup of several games. The exploration pulls from games like No Man’s Sky, the guilds and channels and teams come from World of Warcraft, and the economics are inspired partly from games like Eve Online. As for the VR, that’s mostly inspired from the games I’ve played on my own Oculus.
It throws together a lot of what I love about those kind of games, just without a real storyline. If I had to make Reclaim the Sun, it might be a little more like Mass Effect.
So if you want to play a game that feels like Reclaim… maybe just out No Man’s Sky and those other games I mentioned. And if you want space exploration with a good story, Mass Effect is about to become your best friend. Play the trilogy. You’ll thank me later.
Did Divya or Aaron change considerably from draft one to the finished book?
So the original draft of Don’t Read the Comments was maybe… 30,000 words shorter? SHORTER. It was a smaller book. So out of all the characters, I think Aaron changed the most. His motivations, his friends, just the world around him and the pressures he was feeling from his family. A lot of that was pulled into the revised version of the novel.
And that’s what a good editor will do. They won’t just polish your book. They’ll help pull the rest of the story out of you.
I’d always wanted Divya to be tough, so she didn’t change that much. But their relationship and the way the two of them connected changed a lot. Showing more warmth between the characters. There are some moments in the book that weren’t in the original, and I can’t even fathom the novel without them now.
Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335016027
About the Author
Eric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).