1. Why do you choose to write the book using the second person, from the eyes of friends and family members of the protagonist?
I pictured Jeff Brennan, the protagonist, as a person who is quite insecure in his identity and defines himself by what other people think of him. It’s almost as if he doesn’t really exist unless he’s being observed. So I had the idea to make the narrative structure reflect this character trait, and have Jeff seen only through the eyes of other people.
2. Is it possible for a blog to be hijacked? I shudder to think that it is possible and it can happen!
Yes, it is quite possible. For the blog hijacking scene in the book, I did quite a bit of research (which, as a blog owner myself, scared me quite a bit!). It happened to a blogger I follow – you can read her account of it here. Usually you can recover the blog, as she did – in the book, the hijacking was only permanent because the blog owner didn’t take any action. But even so, it must be quite traumatic to see the site you put so much work into being run by someone else!
3. Many of the book bloggers (like me) started out writing for fun and just want to find a space in the cyberspace to share our thoughts about a book. Some blogs achieve wider readership than the others. I don’t think anyone who started out blogging plan for any of this. Do you think as a blogger gets more and more famous, would he or she still writes with integrity and honesty about their inner thoughts or he or she would write things that the readers want or like to read?
I think that it’s very difficult for a blogger to remain completely honest about his or her inner thoughts, even without a big following. Blog posts are strange in that they’re mostly ephemeral things, quickly forgotten, and yet they remain up online for years afterwards, searchable by anyone in the world. So it’s natural to be conscious of an audience, and to write things with other people’s views in mind. It’s the same with Facebook profiles or anything else – most people don’t try to be deceptive, but there is still an element of performance involved. If you look at a friend’s profile, you probably won’t see a rounded picture of who that person really is. At best you’ll see a representation of what that person is proud of or thinks is important.
4. Related to the above question, what do you see as the pros and cons of a blogger remaining anonymous and coming out from behind the blog?
I’ve blogged anonymously in the past and now I blog with my real name, and to be honest I haven’t noticed as much difference as I thought I would. I thought that being anonymous would give me more freedom, but really it didn’t – as soon as people started reading, I became just as concerned about what they would think of my anonymous blogger identity as I am now with my real name. And I’m not really inhibited by the thought of family or friends reading my posts – mostly they don’t read the blog anyway! Of course an important advantage of anonymity is that it helps bloggers who would be censored or in danger if they used their real names, but that’s a minority. For most people, I don’t think it matters too much. A blogger identity quickly becomes much like a real-life name and photo, both for the blogger herself and for her audience.
5. On the scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your time spent online and the number of social media accounts that you have? Say for example, if I take a book blogger as a benchmark, if you have a blog and an account with Goodreads, Shelfari, Librarything, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook account, Google+, myspace and Netgalley. I would say that is on a scale of 10!
Well, I have a blog, and I’m on Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook and Twitter, so I guess I’m about a 5! But the amount of time I spend on each site varies quite a bit – I probably put the most time into my blog and Twitter, and on the other sites I’m not very active.
6. Is there a key message that you wanted to convey through Virtual Love? Is it about getting off your computer desk and smelling the roses and experiencing again the beauty of living in a “real” life?
Well, there are several different perspectives portrayed in the book, and the message depends on who you believe. It seems as if the grandfather is the most sympathetic character and so most readers identify with him and agree with his perspective. But he also creates fantasies of his own (e.g. dressing up his wife and talking to her as if she’s still lucid), and he performs for Jeff and plays the role he thinks others want to see. I wanted to acknowledge that a lot of what’s new in internet life is actually very old – we’ve always played different roles in different parts of our lives, and we’ve always performed for others to a certain degree.
So I don’t want to knock the internet or romanticise an earlier way of life. But I do think that the ways we relate to each other are changing as we spend more time online. Every technology, from the flint axe to the printing press to the television, has changed us to a certain extent, and the internet is no different. My aim in writing the novel was not so much to impart a message as to create a compelling story that would encourage readers think about online identity in new ways and, I hope, to reach their own conclusions.
Thank you Andrew, for taking the time to answer my burning questions. Questions that I have asked myself for as long as I am running this blog. Reading Andrew’s book was an eye-opener for me, with the opportunity to reflect and also ponder about new world order of Internet and social networking.