Today I am so pleased to welcome Alexis Hall to Joyfully Jay. Alexis has come to talk to us about his latest release, Looking for Group. He is answering some questions I had for him about the book, and has brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Alexis a big welcome!
Thanks for coming today to talk to us about your release Looking for Group. For folks who haven’t read it yet, can you give us a quick overview of the story?
Thanks for having me.
Long story short, it’s about a boy who meets another boy playing an MMORPG and he initially thinks the other boy is a girl, but he’s not and that’s okay. It’s very much a nerd romance and I sort of feel that I need to put a little asterisk next to that because I have seen comments from a couple of people saying that they weren’t prepared for quite how much of a nerd romance it is.
I definitely don’t want to put people off the book (because that would be basically the exact opposite of the promo I’m trying to do) but at the same time I do think it’s important that people have a clear idea of what they’re letting themselves in for when they buy one of my books.
To put it another way, while it’s perfectly accurate to say that it’s a book about a boy who meets another boy playing an online computer game, it could just as easily be described as a book about a boy who meets another boy when he ragequits his guild over loot drama and hooks up with a more casual raiding group who need a solid MT. If that sentence makes sense to you, you are 100% the target audience of this book. If it doesn’t make much sense but you’re willing to go with it, you’re about 75% the target audience for this book. And if reading made you think “holy hell, what the shit are you on about” then … um … you may not have the best time with Looking For Group.
The story focus a lot on the gaming world and gives lots of detail about the games the characters are playing. Is this something you were familiar with before writing the book? What kind of research was involved?
Zero research because that book is basically my life. I mean, not the actual incidents, but I love computer games, pretty much every single nerdy reference to a game in the book is a reference to a game that I personally own and have played (sometimes played badly), and the made-up world of Heroes of Legend (the fake MMORPG where the characters meet) is, without wishing to sound too corny, kind of my love letter to Azeroth (and, again, if you know without being told that Azeroth is the name of the world that World of Warcraft is set in then … well … hopefully you’ll like this book).
Did you make the game up, or is it based on something real? Was it hard to create that kind of detail?
Oops, I’m afraid I just sort of answered that one. The game is entirely made-up in the sense that it’s entirely ripped-off. All the raids, character classes, spells and game mechanics are fairly explicit homages to specific bits of World of Warcraft. So, in that sense, coming up with the detail was easier than it could have been because I had a strong template to work from.
That said, one of the things I’ve always been really impressed with in WoW (and also in a large number of other long-standing gaming universes like Warhammer 40k, the Dragon Age setting and the many worlds of D&D) is the sheer amount of content in the lore and backstory. I mean seriously, you could spend days listening to podcasts that are just people explaining bits of WoW lore. Basically those kinds of settings can only really be created by having dozens of people build them organically over years or in some cases decades of overlapping, reinforcing and, in many cases, self-contradictory stories.
What I hope I did with Heroes of Legend was to create the impression of that kind of world without having to produce quite as much written content as there is on, say, Wowwiki or Lexicarnum. I did, however, have a reasonably substantial fictional setting notes document that listed things like what all the capitals were called, what had happened in the earlier sequence of games that HoL was supposed to be based, and who the major lore figures were. It even included pointless nerdy in-jokes like bits where the games had contradicted each other and retcons that had caused fan outrage.
One of the aspects of the story I found interesting was the anonymity of the internet and the way we never quite know who we are talking to out there. But at the same time, people are able to make such close connections. Can you talk more about how that conflict plays out in the story?
I think, to me, it’s less about anonymity than about construction of identity and I think that in a lot of ways the internet just makes more explicit something people have been doing for hundreds of years in pretty much every walk of life. Nearly everyone has different personas that they adopt in different contexts and this is actually really important for the functioning of a healthy society. If you were exactly at the same with your boss, your kids and your mates from university you’d probably be treating at least one of those groups of people mildly inappropriately.
On the internet I think this is more pronounced because we’re denied a lot of the cues that everyday life teaches us to see as important. But, in fact, as one of the main character’s friends points out in the book, there’s that much difference between knowing someone’s real name and what they look than knowing their LiveJournal name and what they’ve flagged as their interests. I could walk into a bar and claim to be an estate agent who was raised in Lithuania and nobody would really be able to gainsay me—and, to be honest, they probably wouldn’t even care.
I think one of the things the Internet lets you do is pick and choose more about what you share with people, which I think is a positive thing because it lets you decide what is important to you. When you meet someone in real life they are a whole bunch of things you have to share with them whether you want to or not, like your ethnicity, whether or not you use a wheelchair, quite possibly your gender assigned at birth, which may or may not align with your actual gender identity.
One of the things that I hope comes across in the book is that all of the various characters in the guild choose to share very different levels of themselves with the other members and that’s fine. So one character (Bjorn) is very performative and consciously presents a persona that he feels the others will respect (though whether they do is another matter). Another (Dave) is very guileless and obviously treats the guild like any other room full of people. Someone else (Magda) is very matter-of-fact and clearly just there to play the game and not especially in anything else.
I couldn’t help but think about parallels to our own romance community and how many people have developed deep friendships with other readers and authors without ever having met in person. Did that connection play a role at all when you were writing this story?
I think every online-mediated relationship I’ve ever experienced or observed had a role to an extent and, actually, the phenomenon of having friends who I know primarily via the internet has one that’s been part of my reality for most of my adult life. And as the people who were originally my “real life” friends (the ones I met because they were geographically close to me when I was at university) have dispersed. I now, in fact, keep in touch with them largely through electronic means as well. Maybe I’m just a child of the 21st century but the way we tend still to de-value, or treat as suspect, online interactions really bothers me.
There’s a perennial observation made by a certain sort of stand-up comedian that people these days will sit at the same table in a pub/restaurant/whatever ignoring each other and staring at their phones. And people say this like it’s a bad thing but actually just because I am in the room with you and I’m not in the room with someone else that doesn’t mean you are more deserving or in need of my attention than the other person. Maybe I’m sitting in a café with somebody I vaguely know from work and now we’ve finished talking about our quarterly reports or the other two things we have in common we’re both taking some time to sit in a nice relaxed environment and catch up with other people who we perhaps haven’t spoken to in a long while. We might be texting our parents and what could be more wholesome than that?
You haven’t written many things set at this age level, featuring two college students. What made you decide to focus the book on this age level?
The boring and all-purpose answer is that it just felt right for the story. I knew from the outset that I wanted to write a book about two people who met playing an MMORPG and there are a couple of stages in life where that’s likely to happen to you, one being university where you are very inclined to make new relationships and, especially, to do so on the basis of shared interests, and the other being a little while after university, when you suddenly discover that—what with your full time job and mortgage—you no longer have any time to do most of the things that would previously have let you make friends.
And, ultimately, I went with university because I had actually written on nineteen-year-old character before (Toby, in For Real) and I very much wanted to write a different sort of nineteen-year-old. From there, everything sort of fell into place. I needed to have two characters who would have similar interests and be a similar age but not know each other (which is actually quite hard to do in a university environment) which led to the whole dynamic where one of them goes to a traditional university and the other goes to what we in this country euphemistically refer to as a “modern” university. And that informed in the character of Drew and Kit as much as other ideas about the dynamic of their relationship.
Is there anything else you are working on that you’d like to tell our readers about?
I’m always really, really bad at keeping track at what I am and am not allowed to talk about. And I’m always a little bit superstitious about saying too much about my works in progress, in case they fall through or my publisher decides they don’t want them or I get stricken with crippling writers block and can’t finish them.
But I can say that I have another contemporary m/m in the Spires series is coming out in October. It’s called Pansies and it involves no computer games whatsoever. Oh, wait, that’s a lie. There’s a brief scene where the two main characters play Mario Kart.
If readers want to learn more about you and your work, how can they find you?
I am available on the usual social media. You can get me on twitter @quicunquevult, my website is http://www.quicunquevult.com, and I hang around a lot in the Hassell and Hall Facebook group. I also answer emails and such like if people want to get in touch with me directly.
Thanks again for coming today!
So, yeah, I play Heroes of Legend, y’know, the MMO. I’m not like obsessed or addicted or anything. It’s just a game. Anyway, there was this girl in my guild who I really liked because she was funny and nerdy and a great healer. Of course, my mates thought it was hilarious I was into someone I’d met online. And they thought it was even more hilarious when she turned out to be a boy IRL. But the joke’s on them because I still really like him.
And now that we’re together, it’s going pretty well. Except sometimes I think Kit—that’s his name, sorry I didn’t mention that—spends way too much time in HoL. I know he has friends in the guild, but he has me now, and my friends, and everyone knows people you meet online aren’t real. I mean. Not Kit. Kit’s real. Obviously.
Oh, I’m Drew, by the way. This is sort of my story. About how I messed up some stuff and figured out some stuff. And fell in love and stuff.
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Connect with Alexis:
- Website: quicunquevult.com
- Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
- Twitter: @quicunquevult
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall
To celebrate the release of Looking for Group, one lucky winner will receive their choice of 3 ebooks from Alexis Hall’s backlist. Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on September 3, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
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