Seek Tender Glories: A Conversation with K. Jane Childs

K. Jane Childs lives in Providence, RI, because it’s a city that appreciates weird. She is an Alabama XFA, currently studying law at Boston University. Work by K. Jane has appeared in DREGINALD, Swarm, Fourth River, and Cartridge Lit. Her favorite adventure game alter egos are Zoë Castillo and Chloe Price.

Her chapbook, Tender Glories, is a collection based on the Quest for Glory series of classic Sierra adventure games, and it was the winner of our Push [START] to Begin Chapbook Contest. We published it in February 2017. Below, she talks with editor William Hoffacker about marginalized characters, narrativity, representation vs. agency, and more.

What can you tell us about the origins of your chapbook, Tender Glories? Why did you start writing it, and how did it begin to take shape?

TG had its origins in some reading I was doing during my MFA, specifically Kate Zambreno’s Heroines and Johannes Göransson’s entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate. After reading Heroines, I was thinking about how artificial a division between creative and scholarly work seems to me at this point in my life, and then that also led to this desire to make hybrid lyrical-narrative work that contained CNF elements. Then Ryan Bollenbach let me borrow his copy of entrance, and the form of that work (like a play/pageant with multiple speakers) really appealed to my little theatre-major heart. So I was kind of a method in search of a topic for a bit and then serendipitously signed up for Joel Brouwer’s Classics class (Homer, Virgil, Ovid), where we were given a prompt about writing from the perspective of marginalized characters (like Briseus). I immediately thought of the Quest for Glory games, and away I went. So the first draft of TG ended up being a project during that class.

The autobiographical sections of your chapbook span a wide swath of your life—from middle school to college to divorce to motherhood—which is a welcome surprise, as I’d expect most game-based memoir to focus solely on childhood or adolescence. Did you know from the start that you wanted this project to include so many times in your life? Was it a challenge to connect all those points to the overarching lens of the Quest for Glory games?

So, I’m 33 years old, almost 34. I grew up with computers and computer games. I’m from that shoulder generation folks call Xennials, though I prefer Generation Oregon Trail for obvious reasons. And I also struggle with the fact that narrativity is always somewhat performative for me. In other words, it doesn’t come naturally to me to try and fit my life (or my year or my day) into a Freytagian triangle or Aristotelian plot arc. I experience the urge to do that kind of shaping as a kind of external force or expectation that honestly gives me most of my anxiety. Which is a roundabout way of getting at the trouble I have answering this question. When I knew what I was doing with this project, there were moments from across my life that naturally suggested themselves as part of what I was doing. I kind of sorted my life through the sieve of the project, if that makes sense.

Aside from the autobiographical moments, most of Tender Glories consists of vignettes written from the points of view of various female characters in the Quest for Glory series. They address the hero, some questioning him, some unhappy with how they’ve been portrayed. What is it about this game series in particular that motivated you to think critically about its gender roles and representations of women? Why did these characters call out for a voice that you could provide?

I’m sure there are a number of game series that could be used, but this is one that I played many times over the course of my life. And all of these characters had voices, just not agency, because they weren’t playable characters. I think Roberta Williams and her team probably did a great job at the time of including so many different representations of women. It just gets back to that issue of representation vs. agency, like in some of the conversations about what’s coming out of Hollywood. I guess, in some ways, this project was a kind of close reading of the QfG games, or a commentated gameplay video done in text.

Beyond Quest for Glory, describe your relationship with video games. Any other favorite games? Do you still play?

Yes, I still play! For a while it felt like the world had left point-and-click adventure games behind, but I also love the Broken Sword series (although the gender binary of George/Nico has really begun to feel antiquated). Recently my favorite games have been Dreamfall Chapters and Life Is Strange. I had green hair last fall as a shout-out to Chloe Price. I’m actually playing the first chapter of the follow up game, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, on the weekends as a way to procrastinate outlining for my law school classes.

If you could adapt any literary work into a video game (of any genre, any scale, with no limitations), what work would you choose, and what would that game look and play like?

If I was adapting it, maybe something I haven’t written yet. 🙂 Otherwise, I think if Kiese Laymon ever chose to adapt Long Division that might be really interesting, with the time travel and the amazing characters. I just picture something like the talk-back challenges in the Life Is Strange: Before the Storm gameplay, but with Citoyen at the helm. Or some of Amelia Gray’s short works, as a kind of linked series of small games! Those could be really fantastic, implicating the player in the dark choices of some of her characters. IDK. Honestly, any contemporary works that are experimenting with narrativity and how you tell a story would translate really well.

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

Honestly, an open research memo for my legal writing class. But I’ve also got this linked collection of stories on the backburner, some of which were part of my thesis at Alabama. Hologram husbands and injectables that turn people into nixies and robot dogs that protect girlfriends from feral law students, like that. We’ll see what happens.

What have you read and/or played recently that you want to recommend?

Well, I think I covered the games I’d recommend above. Holmes’s The Common Law is hilarious. But also: Matthew Burnside’s Postludes; Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi.