I got the chance to chat with Eric Smith, the writer of “Don’t Read The Comments,” and learn more about his writing process, favorite video games, and fandoms!
As a person who is a part of many fandoms and is an avid reader, I love to explore novels that explore the fandom experience. “Don’t Read The Comments” explores the wide world of online gaming and takes a deep look at the gaming community as a whole. The novel follows Divya, a rising-star online gamer, who connects with Aaron, who dreams of becoming a game developer. They become friends, but what happens when internet trolls launch a campaign to affect their lives?
FS: Hello Eric, thanks for agreeing to an interview! Tell us a bit about yourself.
E: “My pleasure! I’m a writer and a literary agent who lives in Philadelphia with my wife and son. Most of my time is spent working on books by other people, something I absolutely love, and when I have free time I love throwing myself into a good video game. I just finished Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (after like one hundred hours) and I’m currently digging into Cyperpunk 2077.
Basically, whether I’m working on books and playing super long games, I just like immersing myself in stories. It’s my happy place.”
FS: What inspired you to write “Don’t Read the Comments?” And what is the message you want to impart to your readers?
E: “So, there were a lot of things going on at the time that made me want to tell a story like this. For one, my wife and I had moved away from Philadelphia, and suddenly all of my friends became, well, virtual. And while I did eventually meet some lovely people in Richmond, Virginia where we settled for a while, all of my closest pals that I’d grown up with were abruptly now mostly on social media.
At the same time, there was a surge going on in the video game communities, a hate campaign against women, people of color, folks in the LGBTQ+ community, that’s still going on right now. And a lot of my friends who wrote for games or wrote about games found themselves under siege. I’d always grown up in a space where racism was ever-present for me, as a person of color, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to have that safe space taken away from me.
And really, that’s a big part of what Don’t Read the Comments is all about. When the space that’s meant to be a supportive space, a place of creation and joy, is made to feel like anything but. And how can you reclaim it.”
FS: What are some of your personal favorite videogames?
E: “Anything with a big immersive storyline. I grew up adoring the Final Fantasy games on the Super Nintendo (Final Fantasy III is one of the greatest games of all time), Chrono Trigger (my favorite game period), and point-and-click adventures on the PC. These days, games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Skyrim capture my attention the most. I want to get attached and feel things for the characters as I’m going through their storyline.
I also do enjoy the occasional shooting game like Halo though. I’m terrible at them, but I still like them.”
FS: Do you ever get writer’s block? And if so, what do you do to combat it?
E: “All the time! My trick is to always surround myself with what makes me want to write in the first place. Sometimes it’s watching a TV series that sparks a lot of joy (rewatching Schitt’s Creek got me out of a hole recently) or a movie that has spectacular writing (a frequent pick for me is Almost Famous).
But when it’s not media, it’s people. I see my friends, I spend time with my family. They’re the ones who make me want to write and tell stories, and often inspire the ones I write. More time with them, more words.”
FS: When did you decide to become a writer? Do you have a favorite piece of work that you’ve published?
E: “I was one of those cliché kids with a typewriter given to me by my parents, so I was absolutely always writing. But I only started to take it really seriously after graduate school. I had some wildly inspiring teachers, I was working in publishing, and I was trying to figure out my voice. And it was only after reading a bundle of Young Adult books that I figured out, this is where I want to be. And now here we are.
My favorite piece of work, oof. That’s a really hard one! Maybe my short story in Sangu Mandanna’s Color Outside the Lines anthology? It’s based on some true things in my own teen life, and was the first time I really dug into writing fiction about being a transracial adoptee. I’m so grateful she gave me the space to explore that.”
FS: What are some of your favorite fandoms?
E: “Hm, probably the Marvel fandoms? I watch every single movie and TV show that comes out of that studio, and I read quite a few of the comics (Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye run remains my absolute favorite). I also love me some Star Trek, and I’m excited to have some downtime to finally watch through all of the newest series. I have a lot of catching up to do, but that fandom just centers itself around the theme of “hope” in such a big way, that it is so frequently inspiring.”
FS: Congratulations on your upcoming release, “You Can Go Your Own Way”! Can you tell us a bit about your new novel?
E: “Thank you! It’s a rom-com set in Philadelphia. In it readers are going to meet Adam, a teen boy running his family’s failing pinball arcade as a way to keep the memory of his father alive, and Whitney, a teen girl who operates her Dad’s social media accounts for a successful eSports café. The two of them used to be dear friends, but now, they’re these bitter rivals.”
And things get worse when Whitney’s father lays out plans to buy the arcade and turn it into one of his cafes. When the two get snowed in the arcade together, lots of feelings and past traumas bubble to the surface. Also there’s only one blanket. <3″