All Deviations and Explorations: A Conversation w/ EDML

Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes was born in Harrisburg, PA and has a BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University and an MFA from George Mason University. She has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Fat MagazineThe Birds We Piled LooselySmokeLong Quarterlycahoodaloodaling, and Mom Egg Review. She has a chapbook, Patterning, from Corgi Snorkel Press.

Elizabeth’s essay, “Green Gamer,” appeared in our Next Gen Temple Issue. Below, she talks with editor William Hoffacker about revision, podcasts, Stephen King, and more.

How did this essay begin to take form in your mind? Was there an inciting incident (like, say the conversation in the final scene)? Had you been mentally wrestling with these questions about your relationship with games for long before you started writing the essay?

In my old age (I’m 28.5 years old), I have started finally writing the “final drafts” of things I’ve been trying to write for a long time. Last year, I got a flash fiction piece called “Consequence” published about a woman who loses a baby. I’ve written maybe 15 poems about the same subject. I wrote two drafts of “Consequence” itself before it was published, but really, every other poem before that was an earlier “draft.”

I haven’t tried to write about video games before, but I have been wrestling with it a lot. This sort of came to a head when I was talking to Alyse Knorr when Super Mario Bros. 3 came out. She had suggested I should pitch a book, since Boss Fight’s authors are largely male. Ideally, I’d want to write a book about Silent Hill 3. The game deals a lot with violence, the human condition, and birth—all things that I write about a lot. But I have only ever watched my husband, Kenny, play this game, and absolutely could not play it myself—it’s technically difficult and scary. I thought maybe I could co-write it with Kenny—he’s the trivia expert on Silent Hill and has the symbol that’s used as the save spot for a tattoo—and I’d come at it from the philosophical standpoint. When I pitched my idea to Kenny, his very first reaction was, “You’d have to play through it. I insist.” And so I got stuck. Kenny was basically saying I’d have to “earn” my right to talk about this game. But I felt like I, too, had suffered through it. Kenny made me watch him play it in the dark!

Finally, these conversations with my coworkers pushed me over. I wrote the essay.

Mostly you have written poetry, as well as some short fiction. This essay represents your entry into a new frontier of creative nonfiction. How does your writing process differ (if at all) from one genre to another? Do you have to employ different skills, or access different parts of your brain (so to speak), when writing prose rather than poetry?

I had a few reasons for abandoning prose for most of my formal schooling, but the most practical was that I get very overwhelmed when I have to revise something that I can’t see all of at once. The way I cheat with this is two-fold: most of my poems are part of longer series (and thus bleed into the long-form of most prose) and all of my prose is modular. Did I just give something away? Sorry! Everything is in sections. Everything is compartmentalized. Then, I can write everything in blocks and rearrange them like you might rearrange the order you have pictures hung on a wall.

Also, podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts. Like a LOT: sometimes 3 hours a day. Listening to podcasts helped me unlock something in my brain in terms of the way I write prose now. When I write prose now, I imagine I’m talking on a podcast.

In your essay, you write about the reasons why Pokémon Blue is the only game you’ve ever beaten. Have you tried playing any other turn-based role playing games? Besides the obvious (Zelda games), are there any other game genres in which you’ve found any success or particular enjoyment?

So, this section was a lot longer originally in the essay, and Kenny helped me cut it down. There is one other game genre in which I’ve won: point-and-click adventure games. Specifically The Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island. I have beaten those games, but I didn’t count them because they are so linear. There’s only one way to beat them. The first two Pokémon games have 150 Pokémon you can use to fight the different gym leaders and trainers. Point-and-click games have solutions—solutions that I could have, if I wanted, googled.

Kenny would also like me to point out that I did play a lot of Skyrim. I had watched him play through the main campaign when I started Skyrim, and so I picked it up later and played a lot of the sort of “main sidequests” that he hadn’t done. I liked that game because I could sneak—I would literally sneak my entire way to different new locations, even though it was slower, just to get my stat up—and so I could oftentimes take out entire mini-dungeons at a distance with my bow and arrow. Kenny and I have also played through a fairly large portion of Resident Evil 5 together: I tend to, not so surprisingly, use the sniper from the high ground while he attacked enemies up close. Oh, and Stardew Valley. But guess what I avoided for as long as possible? THE MINE (i.e., the only place where you have to fight anything).

If you could create a video game (of any type, any scale, no limitations) based on any work of literature, what work would you choose, and what would that game look and play like?

I have been reading and re-reading a lot of children’s books recently (for no reason (I’m kidding; I have a baby)) and will give two short answers related to that and one long one.

Harold and the Purple Crayon where you could draw things and have you interact with them, but in the boundless way Harold does (I realize a game like Scribblenauts has similarly tried to create this).

Corduroy. I have very little conception of this, except that I love the idea of roaming around a department store at night as a cozy bear. Also, in terms of a “game”—Corduroy never does find his button! And so a game where there’s not really a way to “win” would be great. I’ve also dressed up as Corduroy for Halloween. Also, that second to last page, when she says, “I like you the way you are, but you’ll be more comfortable with your shoulder strap fastened,” makes me weep every time.

Finally, if The Dark Tower series could be a game, that would be amazing. I’m talking about a full-fledged, seven-part game, like the books, with all deviations and explorations. Kenny has read me those books out loud, and I think my favorite part about them is that for “gunslingers” there’s remarkably little shooting. Most of it is travel, exploration, and problem solving. If I could have a game with the richness of those settings, the character development, and the puzzles, I would play that game to its credits.

What writing project(s) are you working on now?

I have written half a book’s worth of poems about brassica/two women who live on a farm. I have my thesis, which is in two parts, Part 1: Ashley Sugarnotch and the Wolf and Part 2: The Rest of Us. I have an essay on touch. I am trying to figure out how these things go together and should exist in the world. I think I have more brassica poems in me. I feel like I have a book in there somewhere, but I don’t know where yet!

What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

I just finished the current collections of The Wicked and the Divine and really enjoyed that. Kenny is currently reading me the eighth book (or installment 4.5) of the Dark Tower series and just finished reading me It. Also, if anyone else tells me that clown is creepy, I’m gonna start yelling. The scariest thing in that book is the intense loneliness of the children. I don’t think I’ve ever wept as hard at a book as I have at the initial introduction to Ben Hanscom. I’m reading Kenny Little House on the Banks of Plum Creek and also A Wrinkle in Time. I’m also slowly reading The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters by Bernadette Mayer. I guess none of those are poetry…whoops!