Writer Spotlight: Alexis Nedd
It's New Release Tuesday! We caught up with Alexis Nedd (@alexisthenedd) to talk about her debut novel, Don’t Hate The Player, which is out today. Alexis 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, focusing on sci-fi and fantasy universes like Game of Thrones and the MCU. When she’s not writing for money, Alexis is writing for no money on her socials, where her feeds consist of deep dives on weird history and analyzing pop culture as an artifact of society.
Don’t Hate The Player is a YA romance novel that follows two competitive eSports players as they navigate school, parents, and other IRL stuff, while preparing for their biggest (and only) tournament yet. As real life and online life collide, both find the boundaries between online and IRL slipping into each other.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about Don’t Hate The Player?
In one corner, we have Emilia Romero, a popular, high-achieving Puerto Rican girl who secretly plays Guardians League Online with the elite Team Fury. No one in her real life knows she games, and everything hinges on it staying that way. In the other corner is Jake Hooper, a quiet, detrimentally empathetic nerd who’s had a crush on Emilia for years. He plays GLO with Team Unity and thinks he’s otherwise invisible.
When Guardians League Online announces a huge tournament in their city, Jake is shocked to see Emilia competing. Jake is now the only person who knows her secret, and they have to work together to keep it...all while the tournament brings their teams closer and closer to an ultimate Fury vs. Unity showdown.
Outwardly, Jake is an awkward, suffering bundle of anxiety, quite successfully hiding his integrity and wit. What was enjoyable/difficult about writing a neurodivergent romantic lead?
I started working on DHTP around the same time I learned I had ADHD. Getting that diagnosis as an adult ushered in a really strange and painful period of reevaluating my childhood, knowing that I was neurodivergent and didn’t get the help I needed. I gave a lot of the traits I used to think made me “wrong” or “bad”—the anxiety, the spinning thoughts, the self-deprecating coping mechanisms—to Jake because writing them into a lovable character felt like correcting the narrative I had grown up writing about myself.
It was difficult to excavate all of that because that level of self-evaluation totally sucks and takes forever, but by the end, I could look at Jake and think, “if I can’t hate him for feeling this way, I have no business hating myself for having felt that way.”
DHTP comes alive in its use of online gaming maps and chatrooms. How did you approach getting those virtual places right?
I made my first internet friends when cameras on phones or laptops were still rare, so I got to know a lot of people through chatrooms and forums. People’s personalities, real or constructed, come off so strongly in those rapid-fire conversations. That solved one of the problems I knew I’d have coming into this book—how do I introduce the reader to a group of characters who aren’t going to show up until the end and make them seem like part of the story the whole time? Answer: Spy on their group chat.
It was so fun to play all five roles in those chapters and determine who uses acronyms or memes, who always punctuates, what their in-jokes say about them, and so on. Truly some of my favorite parts of DHTP are in those chats.
How important do you think it is to meaningfully include online culture in YA literature?
After the year we just had, when most social interaction moved from the analog space to the digital, I consider the transformation of “online culture” into just “culture, full stop,” complete. I say this knowing I am a fully discourse-poisoned individual, and other people or writers may have the freedom to think less about that all of the time. A significant chunk of life takes place on screens these days, so if I’m writing about life... I’m going to write about the screens.
One of the big themes of DHTP is that what happens online is real whether you like it or not. So what looks from the outside like a mummy and a snake beating a guy up outside a space church can actually be the beginning of an IRL love story. Just because it’s silly doesn’t mean it’s not important.
What makes a good beginning to a story?
I don’t have any definitive advice on this, but with DHTP and the second novel I’m currently working on, I think my favorite method is putting your main characters in a situation designed to make them act the most themselves. For DHTP, we meet Jake at a party he was invited to out of politeness, so his discomfort and anxiety are front and center. Until he meets Emilia, who is only at the party because it’s in an arcade where she can indulge her gaming obsession without her parents watching. There, now we know some important things about both characters, and from here, it’s a 75k+ word journey to get them to kiss.
What’s the first book you remember loving?
This is the hardest question anyone has ever asked me. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a nice explanation of string theory instead? I’m sure I had others, but one of my formative obsessions was A Series of Unfortunate Events because as a child, I was so often frustrated with adults who didn’t believe a single word I said just because a child was saying it. Those books capture that frustration and, more importantly, do not resolve it, which I think was kinder than telling young people that everything would be OK if we read a lot of books and placed value on facts.
As a writer, how do you practice self-care when juggling work commitments and the creative processes of writing and editing?
I simply do not. After two years of working full-time and writing this book (most of it during a global pandemic), I have mastered none of the skills required to unplug and take care of myself beyond remaining alive and upright. I do not want to project the image of someone who has the self-care matrix figured out.
You don’t have to have it figured out to make something you’re proud of. You can be exhausted and smelly and know you should probably work on that soon and still create. I don’t recommend it, but it’s possible. Ask for help when you can.
What would Emilia or Jake’s blog look like if they were on Tumblr? What kind of content would they (re)blog?
Emilia’s blog would be a secret Guardians League Online stan account. She’d reblog fanart and write incredible deep dives on strategy and lore. No one would know it was her blog, but talkswithknox.tumblr.com would be required reading for people who want to know the deep magic of the game.
Jake is mostly here to read good takes on his dashboard and learn something he didn’t know when he logged in. He has never written an original post, and that’s fine.
Thanks so much for taking the time, Alexis! Don't Hate The Player is on shelves from today (and it's really, really good).
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