Hi guys! Today is the 1-year book birthday of Post-High School Reality Quest by Meg Eden, probably one of the most unique books you will ever read if you decide to pick it up. Well, today you have the opportunity not only to learn more about the story but also to win a copy of the book PLUS a narwhal mug and infuser. And you can’t say no to narwhals, can you? Enjoy!
About the Book
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.
1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
I love writing because I’m compelled to do it, because it makes sense to me. It’s how I process, how I worship, how I communicate with the world around me. I started “writing” in middle school when my friends wrote poems because they thought it was “cool.” But over time, I found writing as something that was my own and personal, and when a teacher told me I was a good writer, that encouraged me to become even more serious about it. As I began to discover my ASD in college, I realized that there are times that it’s very hard for me to be verbal. I became overwhelmed and overstimulated, and my first response was to write. It helped me calm down, as well as to find a way to improve how I communicated with others.
2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
I really love magical realism. Some of my biggest inspirations have been Japanese writers and writers of Japanese magic realism, like Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata, Shuntaro Tanikawa and Kelly Luce, as well as Studio Ghibli films. I add in Studio Ghibli because I think those films really taught me the power of silence, the power of slowing down the pace and taking a moment to pause. There are moments in Ghibli films, in the anime aesthetic at large, where there’s no music, no action, just a selah, a haiku moment between the audience and the environment. Maybe zooming into a flower or a bug, or a panoramic nature shot. As someone who writes both poetry and prose, this has definitely informed what I focus on in a scene, a moment, what details I care about and how I pace them.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
I recently started working full time with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and teaching creative writing on the side. Before, I really just taught part-time, giving me more time to write. But I’m finding that right now, the full time job gives me a sense of urgency to want to make the time to write, while before I was procrastinating a bit…
4. Your YA debut novel Post-High School Reality Quest is not the average novel; in fact, it infuses the basics of the traditional storyline with the format of a text adventure game! What inspired you to write your book in the form of a text adventure? Could you describe to us both the benefits and the challenges of utilizing this idea?
So it started with a friend casually saying “you should write a novel in the form of a text adventure game.” I tried it on a whim one day and found out I actually really enjoyed doing it! The benefit is that it naturally created tension between two voices: the parser and Buffy (the player), so it was very fast and easy to draft. It allowed me to view the story from a different lens–so I had initially written a very crappy draft of a story about these nerdy friends who all played RPGs in Merrill’s basement and shenanigans ensued. But nothing really happened. So the text parser perspective allowed me to view everything in a new way, and give bones to the story. As for challenges, I think the biggest one was to convince people, “Hey–it’s in second person, but it’s OK!” Personally, I found it a blast to write, but it breaks one of the sacred writing classroom rules, so it can be hard to adjust to.
5. How has being an avid gamer impacted Post-High School Reality Quest? What are some of your favorite video games, and which games influenced the creation of your book?
I think part of what was so fun about writing PHSRQ is that it wasn’t informed by a specific game, but really game mechanics at large. I tried to think of Buffy’s life as a game: in save slots, in dying and respawning, of corrupted save files, and how a game “guides” you through a world and provides direction. It was really interesting to translate real life into these mechanics, and see what came out of that–I think the biggest aha moment for me was how I crave that ability to go back and play and replay the same scene in my life, a mechanic relatively easy to achieve in a game, but impossible in reality.
I think games have also informed how I tell a story. I talk a lot at cons and online about environmental storytelling: how games like Gone Home, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, What Remains of Edith Finch tell stories through objects. It has really made me think about what objects my characters encounter and what work that can do instead of dry exposition.
Some other games I really love are the Pokemon and Fire Emblem franchises, Life is Strange, Night in the Woods, and Stanley Parable.
6. Mental illness is an important theme that is explored throughout your novel. How does Post-High School Reality Quest shed light onto this serious matter, especially with its unique format and eccentric characters?
My hope is that PHSRQ allows people to see mental health from a new and unique angle, and for readers to feel represented on the page. There are a lot of associations with mental health and video game culture, so it felt really personal and important for me to address. My characters struggle with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and Buffy’s doctors consider a schizophrenia diagnosis for her text parser experiences. I don’t want to diagnose my characters, but I did want to represent these symptoms and the struggles that come along with them. Ultimately, I wanted to create complex characters that felt real to me.
I think the game mechanics allowed for a way for me to talk about mental health without always explicitly labelling it. For example, I see my ASD in Buffy’s struggles to cope with change, her desire to play the same scene over and over again until she “achieves the ending” she wants. The contrasts of choice and no choice, change and permanence were really important realizations for me on the page.
7. Since you are @ConfusedNarwhal on Twitter, what is the importance of the narwhal in your book and in your personal life?
I love this question so much! So the earlier drafts of PHSRQ had the narwhal as almost this spirit guide for Buffy. She would have dreams and the narwhal would guide her to answers, or at least the beginning of answers. I had all these scientific quotes about narwhals interspersed in the chapters, and a couple of those details entered into the book, but with a much more anecdotal role. I was first drawn to narwhals because they’re such unusual and interesting creatures, but as I studied them, it was fun to draw parallels to myself, to Buffy, to the friend group: isolated from other creatures by deep benthic waters, creatures of habit, misunderstood or unknown. Much of that was removed in revisions but never completely.
8. If you could be trapped in any video game, what would you choose and what would you do?
Pokemon, hands down. I would ride a Dragonite, and then proceed to catch them all 🙂
9. Why do you believe that it is important to portray more nerds and geeks in YA literature? Who are some of your favorite fictional nerds?
I think representation matters—for culture, race, subgroups, religion–everything. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about nerds and geeks, so for YA lit to complexify those portrayals and make them more realistic is important. Especially as someone who is a nerd and on the autism spectrum, there are these stereotypes of violence and unfeeling toward others, so I think it’s really important to me to portray characters who push back against these stereotypes, and are characters I relate to—and I reason if I relate to them, someone else will too!
My favorite fictional nerd is definitely Moss from The IT Crowd.
10. Since “What’s your cure for writer’s block?” is asked very frequently, what is one “cure” that did not work for you when you tried it?
I think you have to have the practice and habit of writing, but often I’ll push too hard, thinking I can’t stop until I break the “writer’s block.” But sometimes you do have to take a break and consume other stories: books, movies, games.
11. What could we expect from you in the future? Are there any secrets you would like to share?
Nothing official yet–I’ve got a project on submission, and another I’m editing about a demon impersonating a man’s lost love. Stay tuned on my Twitter (@ConfusedNarwhal) for updates!
12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers?
So many things I could say here, but I’ll try to keep it short.
Every day I’m learning to humble myself and realize how little control I have over the writing or publishing process. I really resonated with Lemony Snickett when reading A Series of Unfortunate Events and he’d say he had no control over the story he was writing. All I can do is faithfully come to the page and send my work out. Everything else is out of my hands. As someone who likes to have control over everything, this is super hard for me to come to terms with. I want to think I’ve “done my time” and “earned” certain things, but the writing industry does not work like that. So if you struggle with those same things I do, brace yourself for a very growing experience!
But whatever happens, write because you love to, because you need to, and persist. Resist. Get a thick skin. Serve the writing community around you, and learn from them. And always, never stop writing.
Thanks so much, Meg, for letting me interview you today! I definitely had a blast!
Win a Post-High School Reality Quest Narwhal Prize Pack that includes:
- A copy of Post-High School Reality Quest
- A Fred & Friends TWO FOR TEA Spiked Tea Narwhal and Mug Gift Set
- You must be 18+ or have your parent’s permission
- You must be a US resident
- You must not have a giveaway account on Twitter or Instagram
- Ends at midnight on June 27th PHT
About the Author
Meg Eden’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Poet Lore, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at the University of Maryland. She has five poetry chapbooks, and her novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” is published with California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at http://www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.
Have you read Post-High School Reality Quest? Do you like YA novels featuring video games and nerds?
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!