Happy Poetry Friday, everyone.
This week, I’m celebrating my friend Meg Eden‘s upcoming debut YA novel, Post-High School Reality Quest. I first met Meg when I was editing Little Patuxent Review. She is a talented young poet, and our journal published several of her poems.
Here’s what you’ll find in this post:
- blurb of Post-High School Reality Quest from Goodreads,
- interview with author Meg Eden (she has fascinating insights into transitioning from poetry to long-form fiction),
- a poem by Meg,
- link to a book giveaway!
PHSRQ publishes next week, June 13. Here is the description from Goodreads.
Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.
After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to life her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.
While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares.
Congratulations on your debut, Meg! Let’s dive into the interview.
- I love quest stories with female leads. How does Post-High School Reality Quest follow and/or break with the traditional quest narrative?
You could say Buffy’s quest is for Tristan, but there’s nothing epic about it. She’s not going to any dramatic lengths to get him, despite how much she might want him. What might be more accurate is to say that Buffy’s quest is to survive, to return to normalcy. When I think of quest narratives, I think of journeys and characters that actively travel to get what they want. Buffy isn’t “setting out” on a quest. In fact, her desire is antithetical to “setting out”—if it was up to her, she’d be “setting in,” remaining in the comfort of her patterns. But instead the world is changing around her, the text parser is calling her to action, and she’s just hanging on for the ride.
It’s interesting that many girl-led quests are about a return to normalcy. There’s Alice, Dorothy, Coraline. But that’s a topic for another day.
- It’s clear from your main character’s name (Buffy!) that there are a lot of Easter eggs in PHSRQ for geeks and gamers. Can you tell us about a few of those without revealing any spoilers?
Buffy’s name for her backpack is “inventory,” a shout-out to a vital attribute in pretty much every game ever. There are some beautifully illustrated memes, including a nod to “You don’t say” Nicholas Cage and “I know that feel, bro.” Merrill’s house has the address number 404, as if it doesn’t exist (a reference to 404 website errors). There’s a love letter written out like code, and a birthday cake written in binary. There are Slave Leia costumes, an NES Super Scope, multiple Pikachu instances, a prized Pokemon Stadium N64 cartridge, and all sorts of other things I’m currently blanking on.
- Your book is written in second person. That’s a challenging point-of-view to write from, but fitting for a novel about video games. Would you explain the importance of the “You” voice for non-gamers?
Post-High School Reality Quest is the form of a classic text-adventure game–that is, those old MS-DOS games, before graphics, where the game would narrate what was happening, and you would type in commands to interact with the game (e.g., “You are in a room. There is an axe. Exits are: out.” and to move out of the room, you’d type “out”). By narrating in second person, these games attempted to place the player in the environment as a character in their story. You could say that in text-adventure games, there are two distinct voices: that of the narrator and that of the player. This would be totally different if the games were narrated as “I”—they would make the game and the player one in the same.
Narrating from the “you” in PHSRQ allowed me to create conflict between the text parser and Buffy, to have two different narrators and two different goals. First or third person narration wouldn’t inherently carry this conflict.
- You’re a published poet who is debuting as a YA novelist. How was writing fiction was different than putting together a book of poetry? How did being a poet benefit you as you worked on this novel?
This is a great question, and a hard one to answer. I think in short: a book of poems is about (to me at least) different angles on a related experience. There are lots of tendrils, and there’s an emotional rise and fall, but not usually a plot. There’s not necessarily a climax or conclusion, and it’s focusing more on the experience than the end-goal. A novel is about following characters through a narrative of wants and obstacles. Poetry’s structure is a rising line: imagery leading to a realization. A novel’s structure is an arc of obstacles rising to a climax and choice, leading back down to a resolution.
All types of writing are exercises, like going to the gym. Poetry stretches my muscles for using space and words efficiently, using object-oriented language and imagery, and leading to a realization. Fiction stretches my muscles for keeping the action moving and going: of figuring out what my characters want, and what gets in the way of that.
Being a poet helped me focus in on the objects and specificity in Buffy’s experiences in PHSRQ. It gave me a fresh approach to writing a novel, where I was less concerned about what needed to happen or hitting the “outline” of what a novel’s structure is “supposed” to be and instead just enjoying observing what was already there. I feel like my background in poetry made me thrive on the complexity of the characters and situations, and observe instead of imposing my “game plan” of what should happen.
- Imagine one of your favorite poets has just written his or her first prose novel for teens. Which poet is it? Why do you think this person would be a great fit for a YA novel? Any guesses as to what the book might be about?
I would LOVE it if Fatimah Asghar would do this. I teach her poem “Pluto Shits on the Universe” in so many of my classes for lots of reasons, but the big one that I love to point out is the language of the experience. She makes Pluto into a real character, with a believable and relatable voice. Whatever her novel would be about, it would have character and voice and I would without question get sucked into it.
I asked Meg to share a poem in which she explores similar themes to those in PHSRQ.
Shigeru Miyamoto Goes Spelunking
with a line from an interview
By Meg Eden. Previously published in Cartridge Lit.
When you say you explored caves as a boy,
I think about the abandoned Sears catalogue homes
I grew up with: watching them rot, heavy with secrets.
What I’d give to go in that unreachable place.
Playing Zelda, seeing those doors on-screen
that resided on the other side of a wall—why
are there always so many walls? No matter
how many games I play there are always
impassable places. Disappearing places.
When McKenzie from down the street died
I told my dad I was biking to his house
to explore it & he didn’t stop me. I biked there
but couldn’t go inside: those ripped curtains
in the window, that sign on the back door
with drawing of a gun that read: If you’re here
today they’ll find your body here tomorrow.
I biked back home. If I was born a boy,
would I have gone inside? Or were there caves
in Sonobe that you were afraid of, too?
You say that going back home, someone has blocked
the entrances to your caves. Does that stop you
from going inside? I like to think I’ll go inside
the dilapidated houses I see off the side of the road
but instead I take pictures from my car & try
to rebuild them inside me. It’s not the same
as reaching your hand in a river & realizing
you’ve touched a fish but what else can you do
in this paved and partitioned world?
 from Master of Play by Nick Paumgarten (The New Yorker)
Would you like a copy of Post-High School Reality Quest? Enter this giveaway!
This interview and poem TOTALLY made me want to read the book!
On a side note, Meg’s poem resonates nicely with Molly’s offering today at Nix the Comfort Zone.
I’ll check that out. Thanks, Mary Lee!
You have no idea how much I need this book. I teach teenagers….girl gamer teenagers. A teacher in my school is teaching a class on writing games. I NEED this book. Thanks for the great review. Still learning from Laura!
I’m so glad to hear that, Linda. Meg will be thrilled! I call this serendipity.
Fascinating to hear the second person and the text parser as the two in conflict. I loved hearing about the different parts in the book, know that this will be loved by lots of teens. The gamers in my teaching life yearned for books that had gaming in the plot. I’ll pass this on to former colleagues. Thanks, Laura and Meg.
Wow! This book sounds amazing. I am thinking of past students who would have loved to read this book. I was always looking for books that involved gaming in some way.
I also just saw your comment on my poem from last week. Yes, you may share it if you like.
I think the writing of Meg’s novel in second person is intriguing and connects for me with her poetry background. I may not have picked up the book, I’m not a gamer, had I not heard about her p.o.v. on the story. I also liked your question Laura, about the connection between poetry and writing this prose novel, and appreciated Meg’s responses.
It’s good to see a book for girl gamers, of which my daughter is one. Great review, Laura. I love the raw voice of the Fatimah Asghar.