Editors' Notes

Maria Damon and Michelle Greenblatt
Jim Leftwich and Michelle Greenblatt
Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

A Visual Conversation on Michelle Greenblatt's ASHES AND SEEDS with Stephen Harrison, Monika Mori | MOO, Jonathan Penton and Michelle Greenblatt

Letters for Michelle: with work by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Jeffrey Side, Larry Goodell, mark hartenbach, Charles J. Butler, Alexandria Bryan and Brian Kovich

Visual Poetry by Reed Altemus
Poetry by Glen Armstrong
Poetry by Lana Bella
A Eulogic Poem by John M. Bennett
Elegic Poetry by John M. Bennett
Poetry by Wendy Taylor Carlisle
A Eulogy by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Joel Chace
A Spoken Word Poem and Visual Art by K.R. Copeland
A Eulogy by Alan Fyfe
Poetry by Win Harms
Poetry by Carolyn Hembree
Poetry by Cindy Hochman
A Eulogy by Steffen Horstmann
A Eulogic Poem by Dylan Krieger
An Elegic Poem by Dylan Krieger
Visual Art by Donna Kuhn
Poetry by Louise Landes Levi
Poetry by Jim Lineberger
Poetry by Dennis Mahagin
Poetry by Peter Marra
A Eulogy by Frankie Metro
A Song by Alexis Moon and Jonathan Penton
Poetry by Jay Passer
A Eulogy by Jonathan Penton
Visual Poetry by Anne Elezabeth Pluto and Bryson Dean-Gauthier
Visual Art by Marthe Reed
A Eulogy by Gabriel Ricard
Poetry by Alison Ross
A Short Movie by Bernd Sauermann
Poetry by Christopher Shipman
A Spoken Word Poem by Larissa Shmailo
A Eulogic Poem by Jay Sizemore
Elegic Poetry by Jay Sizemore
Poetry by Felino A. Soriano
Visual Art by Jamie Stoneman
Poetry by Ray Succre
Poetry by Yuriy Tarnawsky
A Song by Marc Vincenz

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An Interview with Christine Wilks
by Jeremy Hight

Jeremy Hight: Who are some of your influences?

Christine Wilks: Randy Adams and Chris Joseph, my co-remixers in our ongoing collaborative project, R3/\/\1X\/\/0RX (remixworx), where we've been remixing digital arts and e-poetry for the past six years or more, have had a direct influence on me via the collaborative process. So has Andy Campbell, who I'm currently working with on another project. Randy, Chris and Andy were all a big part of the trAce online writing community, which was really what got me started in the first place. trAce was set up by Sue Thomas, who with Kate Pullinger, led the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University, UK, which I did, so they've both had a profound and lasting influence on me too.

JH: What are you working on at the moment?

CW: I have two projects in active development at the moment—one that I'm creating on my own, called Blotto, and the other, called Inkubus, which is my first collaboration with Andy Campbell.

Blotto is a literary game and it's also a first for me in that I'm creating it in HTML5 and programming in Javascript for desktop and mobile browsers. Blotto explores the lure and the dangers of alcohol. Drinking's attraction is reflected in the pleasurable imagery and UI, whilst the risks are expressed through fictional characters and made concrete by the driven nature of the gameplay itself.

Inkubus is also a narrative-based game but this one is largely 3D, which is Andy's speciality. We'll be presenting our work-in-progress and a prototype at E-Poetry 2013 in London. Here's how we describe it:

Inkubus is a first-person playable coming-of-age story that centres on a girl, in her early teens, thoroughly immersed in contemporary digital culture. With creeping awareness, she/the player struggles with the insidious gender stereotyping, where womanhood is rendered as malleable and polymorphic as a digital doll, that literally threatens to drain her of life.
In 2D mode, the story-game progresses via skewed quizzes and leading questions, designed to manipulate and distort the girl's/player's behaviour. In 3D mode, the player experiences a hunt through a visceral cave-tunnel system for the creature that embodies the damaging artificial feminine ideal. Since this is a peril the girl has internalised, at its deepest darkest level of conflict, Inkubus abandons the realm of language, where text conveys the external influences of social conditioning and peer group pressure, for a more primal sensory environment, where the girl alone faces her inner demon.

JH: How would you describe your work? What umbrellas does it most fall under as far as forms and fields? Is there one that feels the most fitting?

CW: Broadly speaking, I tend to describe my work as electronic literature (although I prefer the moniker e-lit, it sounds less threatening, more approachable). Since most of my work is multi-media and interactive, I've found playable media can be another useful descriptor. Lately, I've been describing my recent work as story-games or literary games because they are consciously more game-like. These days I even tend to view an ongoing collaborative project such as R3/\/\1X\/\/0RX as game-like. It's an idea that I explore in a crissxross trail < R3/\/\1X\/\/0RX.

I'm not overly concerned with how my work is defined, I'm happy to use different terms for different audiences, whatever helps them understand how to approach the work best. Interactive storytelling (as used, for example, by Michael Mateas) probably best describes most of my narrative-based works because, where there is gameplay or game mechanics, it's usually in the service of storytelling rather than the other way round.

JH: How was your work progressed over the years and what areas do you see yourself exploring in the future?

CW: I think my early web pieces are more the works of an artist film-maker exploring a digital medium, but when I started looking at the source code, trying to understand what was going on, I became completely hooked. At first I was nervous of code but participating in remixworx helped initiate me into its mysteries. Unpacking other artists' Flash files, deciphering the ActionScript code, reusing and remixing it, learning how to animate programmatically and using randomising processes, had a transforming effect on me.

Alongside the playful experimentation of my remixworx output, I've been creating interactive digital stories and, by and large, each one has been more playable than the last. By which I mean, I've progressively tried to exploit the expressive potential of interactivity rather than using it only as a form of glorified digital page-turning. So for example, whereas in Tailspin the reader clicks on hotspots to reveal parts of the story, in my following piece, Fitting the Pattern, the reader uses digital 'dressmaking tools' to unpick or stitch together the narrative. Without consciously setting out to do so, this preoccupation led me to incorporate game-like elements in my next work, Underbelly, which ends with a 'Spin the Wheel' game of chance, as a metaphor for the predicament of many a working woman of child-bearing age.

As a result, I began to look with more purpose at the poetic or artistic potential of games and game mechanics. In Rememori I employ a memory game design pattern to create a poetic simulation of the destructiveness of dementia on an intimate circle of characters. In my current project, Blotto, I'm doing something similar by ironically coupling the compulsive nature of the popular match-three casual game genre with the addictive nature of alcohol.

In the future, I see myself exploring expressive processing more. The metaphor of the black box in programming fascinates me, where the internal code of one application is obscured from another but they can communicate or interact via an API. Every person is a kind of black box to every other person (indeed, even to ourselves a lot of the time). There are things hidden inside us and there are things we reveal to others and the outside world. I'm interested to find out if I can create characters that inhabit the code structures and exhibit their characteristics and actions via the properties and behaviours that the programming code allows.

JH: Your work has a strong sense of both interactivity , filmic elements and a textual story; how do you see this fascinating connection of elements working toward storytelling in your work in a fresh way? how is your latest work moving this in a new direction?

CW: Content that is responsive to player/reader interaction coupled with filmic elements really make a piece come alive, especially when it incorporates dynamically programmed kinetic elements. I think these are the things that initially seduce the reader/player but it's the narrative experience that holds their attention.

Although I come from a film/video-making background, I'm less interested in using video on the web because it doesn't lend itself so well to dynamic processing nor responsive interaction at the same granular level as text, animation and sound. Consequently, I'm more interested in textual storytelling embedded in multi-media and multimodal rich environments. Text is like the basic raw material of both storytelling and computer programming and it's very accessible to fabricate with (providing you're willing to learn the language/s), particularly in open web standards. Filmic elements, such as animation and sound, can enrich the text base enormously and add many more layers of meaning and expressivity.

In my latest work, for example, Blotto, I am using gameplay and game procedures to make the drama of the story experiential. The Blotto player experiences the addictive nature of a common casual gaming mechanic and, hopefully, reads into their experience, amongst other things, a connection with the potentially addictive patterns of alcohol use and how we can be manipulated as players/users/drinkers. It's both a game and a reading experience—after the frenetic thrust of the game, there is (recovery) time for reflection. The work has a cyclic structure to reflect the cyclic pattern of consumption and dependency, and it implicates the often-ignored driver of the profit motive.

JH: What first inspired you to work with digital narrative?

CW: Discovering the trAce online writing community and doing Tim Wright's Digital Writing Course at trAce were the key experiences that got me started. Also just playing around on my computer at home, experimenting with different software, being amazed at all the potential. Then experiencing works on the internet like Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph's 'Inanimate Alice', Talan Memmott's 'Lexia to Perplexia', Brian Kim Stefans' 'The Dreamlife of Letters', Francesca da Rimini's 'Dollspace', Caitlin Fisher's 'These Waves of Girls', Donna Leishman's 'RedRidingHood', Deena Larsen's 'Carving in Possibilities', the work of Shelley Jackson, MD Coverley, Alan Bigelow and of course Andy Campbell's 'DreamingMethods' site, plus many others. These are some of the works that had a big impact on me and inspired me to start creating my own.

JH: How can remixing relate to narrative in interesting ways?

CW: Remixing can expose the playfulness and sheer invention of story-making. It often involves making something up out of disparate and apparently unrelated elements. When you relinquish authorial control in that way, you have to play, and then you discover all kinds of serendipitous delights you wouldn't have otherwise. It's a human trait, to make meaning out of chance encounters, yet it's often surprising how much meaning we can squeeze out of things. We read the signs, rearrange the bits and invent the rest. We're very adept at filling in the gaps and finding a pattern that makes some kind of sense. I think remixing helps us see that, perhaps, narratives should never be too fixed.

Check out a selection of images from Christine Wilks's interactive fiction in this issue of Unlikely Stories: Episode IV. And be sure to check out her collaborator, Randy Adams!

Jeremy Hight is the Art Director at Unlikely Stories: Episode IV. You can learn more about him at his bio page.

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