Alexis Nedd is an entertainment writer whose foray into YA fiction is a new novel, Don’t Hate the Player. Alexis and I chat about her new book, the similarities between her and her main characters, the dark side of gaming, and how her day job as a journalist prepared her for this novel. She also shares her intriguing journey to becoming a YA author. Enjoy!
Bloomsbury Publishing is giving away a copy of Don’t Hate the Player. More deets at the end of this interview.
Hi Alexis! I enjoyed your debut YA book, Don’t Hate the Player. I’ve never read any book with competitive gaming as a main theme. I’m curious: how are you so familiar with the topic? Do you have any gaming experience? Why was this something you wanted to write about?
I didn’t know a ton about professional esports before writing Don’t Hate The Player, but I was a gamer in general. Part of my job as an entertainment reporter is reviewing and writing about video games so I’m immersed in that world on a day-to-day basis. Esports is incredible and I watched a lot of competition videos once I got this novel gig.
I say gig because the interesting part of this answer will be the part where I tell you I didn’t think I’d be writing about this at all before it happened! Don’t Hate The Player is based on a concept called Player vs. Player from the production company Assemble Media, who were looking for an author to write a book about a Puerto Rican female gamer.
My agent Steven Salpeter asked if I would be interested in the project and if so, to submit a two page sample for consideration. Once I finished screaming, I submitted the sample and a few weeks later I was at lunch with Brendan Deneen and Jack Heller from Assemble Media. They asked me if I’d be interested in continuing Emilia’s story. It really felt like being struck by lightning.
Emilia and Jake are absolute sweethearts! I loved them from the beginning of the story. Emilia is an intriguing character who has so many balls in the air at once. Were you morelike Emilia (academic-extracurricular overachiever) or Jake (the opposite) in high school?
I was an outward Emilia. Very academically oriented, played a varsity sport, juggled a bunch of extracurriculars — that overscheduled, stressed-out student life is something I am very, very familiar with. Internally I was and am a Jake in some respects. I had a lot of that internal critique and anxiety, which paired with the overachieving was not always ideal.
I loved seeing Team Unity chats and it was obvious that the team had great camaraderie. I thought the varying formats kept the story interesting. Was that always how you intended to write it?
It was not! I started off thinking that it was just going to be Emilia, then realized I wanted that first chapter where they meet as kids to be from Jake’s perspective. That turned into what I call Jake’s “vibe check” chapters where each act of the book begins with a peek into how he’s feeling about what’s happening. The Team Unity chat came from a different impulse, which was wanting to show what a healthy, supportive group of gamer friends looks like since Emilia doesn’t have that in her life. I toyed around with putting that in more Jake chapters but found it 100% funnier to have the reader be a fly on the wall in their group chat.
You don’t shy away from the dark side of gaming: trolls, harassment, etc., especially for women. Why was it important for you to highlight the negatives as well?
I’ve definitely said this before, but the way I approached writing this novel knowing that my protagonist was a Puerto Rican female esports player was that if I didn’t include the misogyny and harassment I’d have to shelve this book in the fantasy section. It is a fact of life that gaming (and the world in general) can be deliberately malicious towards and systematically aligned against women, people of color, and queer and trans players. I felt that leaving that part out would be disingenuous and a disservice to the gamer girls who get so much heat just for having an interest in video games and daring to be good at them.
I love video games; I think they’re fantastic and virtually limitless storytelling vehicles and a miraculous step forward in social experience, but I also can’t bury my head in the sand about how bad it can get out there.
You’re a journalist, which means you’re also a writer in your day job. Has writing always been the thing you wanted to do? Could you share a bit about when/how you decided you were ready to write a novel?
Writing has always been what I wanted to do. I established fairly early on that this was one of my talents and persisted in being good at almost nothing else so I did not give myself much of a choice.
I didn’t know I was ready to write a novel until Assemble Media literally made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. From there it was a very incredulous me with a blank page, a deadline, and the knowledge that I was just going to have to figure this out. I did not feel ready at first, but I did feel like that blank page was a huge opportunity I’d be an absolute cabbage to throw away. It turned out to be the most fun a girl can have with a laptop, in my opinion.
This is your debut YA novel. What surprised you the most about writing and traditionally publishing a YA novel?
Absolutely everything is surprising to me. I had no idea what to expect going into all of this and it’s been a constant stream of moments where I am dazzled by the competence of Assemble, my editors, and the publishing team. I’m grateful that they take the time to explain so much of the process to me because I am so lost, so often.
It also may sound silly, but I think the moment the text was finalized and I realized that this .docxfile I’ve had sitting on my desktop for years just gets to be a book now felt much stranger than I expected. That’s a book? Are you sure? Wow!
Jake has some traumatic family issues as readers will learn, but I loved the evolution of his relationship with his father. Both he and Emilia’s parents have their reservations (or dismissal) of gaming as a future path, as most parents would. Do you have personal experience with family wanting a more traditional career path?
Not so much with my career, since my parents picked up on the part where writing was clearly the move for me. I think everyone growing up loves something their parents aren’t nuts about or has a dream that someone from an older generation isn’t capable of fully understanding.
I would hope that people reading Don’t Hate The Player, whether they like video games or not, understands that it’s not really about the game here. Parents exist to have expectations and children exist to wreck those and set new ones. If anyone has parents who’ve only ever approved of their behavior and choices, they need to wait until their parents’ backs are turned and check the back of their necks for a zipper. If you find one: those aren’t your parents. Those are aliens wearing your parents and you need to get out of the house now.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Big surprise that I love to play video games — some of my recent favorites are Hades, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and my third comfort playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since quarantine started. I also love to cook, so I’ve been working my way through some subscription boxes that mix up my repertoire of recipes lately. B
esides that, this is the first time in a while I’ve been able to consider hobbies I can pursue outside of my apartment so I’m working on remembering what I even like Out There. I know I like museums, I recall those existing. And live theater, yes. I love Broadway and off-Broadway shows and I used to go to loads of those! I wonder if there are any tickets to Hadestownavailable..
Which books (YA or adult) have you read and loved recently?
I recently finished the American version of Love in Color by Bolu Babalola. It’s a series of short stories that retell myths with a deeper cultural twist and I’m a huge mythology nerd. I’ve also been putting myself through Netflix adaptation boot camp so I finally read Shadow & Bone, Six of Crows, and am halfway through The Witcher series. I’m the nerd book-to-series expert at work, so I’m usually reading whatever’s coming next to a streaming service near you. Finally I reread The Groom Will Keep His Name by my dear friend Matt Ortile, whose book is an essay collection about queer Filipino identity that’s going to be one of my yearly Pride Month reads probably forever.
Are you currently working on any new projects you would like to share about?
Happy to say I am working on another book, about which I have no shareable details at the present.
Thank you for your time, Alexis — and congratulations!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions, Afoma.
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Meet Alexis Nedd
Alexis Nedd is a Brooklyn-based pop culture “fanthropologist” who has only ever loved things in a big, obsessive way. As the Senior Entertainment Reporter at Mashable.com, she covers television, movies, and video games with a focus on sci-fi and fantasy universes like Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When she’s not writing for money, she’s writing for no money on Twitter, where her feed consists of deep dives on weird history (Hamilton and messed-up royal lineages are favorites) and analyzing pop culture as an artifact of society. Her writing has also appeared in Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and BuzzFeed. This is her debut novel. You can connect with Alexis and learn more about her books, visit Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.