Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: First and foremost, congratulations on the upcoming release of your novel, Post-High School Reality Quest! What inspired you to write this book?
Meg Eden Kuyatt: Thanks so much!
One day a friend said to me, "Hey, you should write a novel in the form of a text adventure game." I honestly didn’t think much of the idea but tried it out one day for fun. Once I started, I got hooked! The original draft of PHSRQ was really just a hot mess with no plot, focusing on the main "group" of friends: Buffy, Merrill, Tristan, Chase and Sephora. When I started playing with the text adventure idea, I tried it on this old draft, and everything came together really fast—I think I finished that draft in about a month. I also got strep like, three times in a row, so I was more or less bed-ridden and writing was the only thing I felt like doing. Since I already knew the characters from the older draft, plugging them into the text adventure framework was easy—and gave their narrative structure. The text adventure format helped induce a plot, as it created a conflict between Buffy and the Text Parser. It ended up making perfect sense: examining a group of friends in video game culture through the lens of a literal game.
BD: PHSRQ features a very unique second-person narration style. What can you tell us about your approach to the storytelling, as well as any authors who may have influenced your writing style?
MEK: I’m a character-driven writer and reader. Trying to better understand an interesting character is what keeps me propelled forward in any story. I write the first ten drafts of a book just getting to know my characters. Then, I start trying to figure out what they’re actually doing. I can’t plan novels—if I know what’s going to happen in the end, I get bored. My writing, like my reading, is an act of discovery.
As for influences, I guess my most obvious influence is from the Parsley games and their translation of the “text-adventure” into an interactive, in-person game. In the Parsley games, someone moderates as the text parser, and everyone else “inputs commands,” creating this live interpretation of a video game. We played these all the time in late high school / early college, and my friends had a lot of fun creating a sassy text parser. This is where I first got the idea of the text parser and his narration voice.
When I turned in a really crappy old excerpt of PHSRQ back in community college, my professor encouraged me to read Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. I fell in love with the book, and I know it greatly influenced PHSRQ and thinking about complex character development. When Bob [Peterson] from California Coldblood first read PHSRQ, he said it reminded him of Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs. In editing PHSRQ, I often thought about Douglas Coupland and the emotional tension between his characters—I also found myself greatly relieved that he, too, is a character-driven storyteller.
BD: How would you describe the characters of the book and their development throughout your writing process?
MEK: To me, characters are my friends. They’re real people. They inhabit and haunt me. They’re the ones that make me need to keep writing. When I find a character I love, I start getting to know them. I spend a lot of time hanging out with them and just seeing what happens.
Most of my characters start from components of real people I encounter or know. After a few drafts though, they become their own entities. Like with getting to know anyone, as I get to know my characters, I come to understand them as complex (instead of just “the guy who plays Halo”). Who Merrill was in draft one is very different than who he is now. What’s funny about that is that I started out not liking Merrill, and now he’s maybe my favorite character. Maybe that’s because I started out writing Merrill not understanding him, having him as a kind of antagonist who bullied his friends around. But as I wrote him, I began to understand his insecurities and started to see his complex relationship with Buffy. Now as I read PHSRQ, I feel like I’m cheering him on, and I have much more sympathy for him than I did when I first started writing.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from the story?
MEK: In whatever I write, I hope that it makes my readers think about the world around them and interrogate their own worldviews and assumptions. I know every time I write, I’m constantly interrogating myself. I hope that readers will walk away with the message of redemption—that even though Buffy made choices she later regretted, there were opportunities for her to make a new path and do things differently. Even if we can’t re-spawn at save points in our everyday life, there are always opportunities to start over, change, and grow.
I hope that people will take away a new perspective on mental illness, as well as nerd culture. It feels like the label “nerd” often carries with it this one-dimensional idea of a “weirdo,” as well as a handful of problematic stereotypes. I often struggle to find protagonists whose perspective and experiences I can relate to, so I hope that readers will be able to find themselves in PHSRQ.
BD: What makes California Coldblood Books the perfect home for Post-High School Reality Quest?
MEK: PHSRQ is a weird book. I got a lot of rejection letters along the lines of “This is cool, but I don’t know how we’d sell it.” It’s a book that takes risks and doesn’t try to line up with trends, which is a big risk for a press. When I found out about CCB, I loved that they were in the perfect middle as a press: They’re small, but also have a connection with a great distributor and carry the Rare Bird name (a press I had been familiar with before communicating with CCB). But obviously the one who makes CCB the perfect home for PHSRQ is Bob. When I sent him the query, I heard back right away asking for the full manuscript. And after that, I think it was maybe two days later that he replied back. He said that even though PHSRQ wasn’t what CCB typically publishes, he didn’t really care because he loved the book so much. I could tell he loved it by his quick replies and his true involvement with the book. Every author is looking for an editor who gets their book, and Bob really gets PHSRQ. He’s been an incredible supporter, providing encouragement through this whole process, and hasn’t been afraid to ask for some hard edits. He asked me to cut a character—which to me was like being asked to saw my arm off. I tried to justify why this character needed to stay, but Bob kept encouraging me that that was what was best for the book. Most editors wouldn’t take the time to provide the thorough edits that Bob did, or invest the time and energy to encourage a writer to make their book the best it could be. But Bob puts incredible care and energy into each of the books that he publishes at CCB—and that’s more than I could’ve ever asked for for PHSRQ.
BD: Are there any additional projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
MEK: I’m currently editing what must be the 13th or 14th draft of Case Study of Lotus Spaulding’s Love Life, a YA about a love advice columnist who gets into an abusive relationship and has to find her way out. The novel is composed entirely of found materials: tweets, texts, snapchats, journal entries, homework assignments—so it’s an interesting challenge to give myself: how to tell a story with the fewest number of words possible.
I’m also working on a sci-fi novel about neuroimaging, virtual reality, and environmental disasters, as well as a video game themed poetry collection.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information regarding Post-High School Reality Quest?
MEK: You can find PHSRQ from my publisher, Amazon, and Goodreads. If you want to hear the latest updates on PHSRQ, our “live demo” events or giveaways, make sure to sign up for my newsletter.
I also love to chat! Feel free to find me on Facebook (@megedenwritespoems), Twitter (@ConfusedNarwhal), and online at www.megedenbooks.com.