The Choose Your Own Adventure books were seminal, vital in our day-to-day lives and the excellent Bandersnatch “episode” of Black Mirror has brought it to the forefront of our minds once more. The creator of the genre, the legendary Edward Packard is a very busy man but he kindly answered a few questions for us:
How did you first come up with the amazing concept of choosing your own adventures in book format?
Making up bed time stories for my kids and asking them what they would do in the situation I described; then making up the story from there, following multiple plot lines leading to multiple endings.
What were your personal motivations and concepts when starting this new genre of book?
My personal motivation was just for fun and to make the stories I was telling the kids more interesting, but then I realized that this could be commercially successful, so I wanted to explore how I could market it.
Did you know from day one that your new idea would be a success, and is it true that your idea was initially rejected from many publishers?
Quite early on I thought it could possibly be a success, and yes it was initially rejected by some major publishers, and I put it in a desk drawer, and only five or six years later tried (successfully) to line up a deal with the small press owned by Ray Montgomery and his wife.
Can you describe how you felt when you struck a deal with Ray to get your first choose your own adventure novel The Adventures of You on Sugarcane Island and do you remember the first reactions to your game-changing book?
I was glad but not excited, because there was little prospect this small press could generate more than modest sales (and that proved to be the case). Ray tested the book with local school kids and their reaction was highly favorable, and that was encouraging.
Out of all your Choose Your Own Adventure stories, do you have a personal favourite book, and if so, can you explain why?
Maybe Sugarcane Island, because that was my first book and antedated the CYOA series, though it was later reprinted as part of the series.
I love the idea of your book Inside UFO 54-40 that the reader has to cheat to progress in the story. How did you come up with this tenacious idea and do you remember peoples reaction to this particular story?
The idea just popped in my head. A lot of readers loved this device, but many must have been discouraged that they never reached Ultima. They had no cause for complaint, though, because I said on the “Warning” page at the outset that you couldn’t get there following the rules.
Did you ever come up with any other clever and devious ideas you wished to include in a story to trick the reader, which never made the final publication?
No. I didn’t think of UFO as a trick because the warning was an invitation to the reader that he/she would have to think “outside the box.” You might say there was a trick of sorts in Sugarcane Island because, as I recall, there’s one sequence where time goes around in circles and you can be stuck forever in the time loop if you don’t make the right choice.
I love the idea of your U-Ventures series, and how many of your stories are now available on the iPad and the App store. How did this idea come about and are you a fan of using technology to reach new readers?
Apps etc are interactive, and my books are quintessentially interactive, so it was a natural progression. I’m not really a “fan” –– my interests lie elsewhere.
Many point and click video games use a Choose Your Own Adventure style by giving the players different options and interactions. Have you ever considered or even been approached to adapt any of your fine books into a video game?
I worked with a couple of developers on promising projects, but in each case they miscalculated how much time, effort, skill, and money would be required and ran out of funds and time, so nothing of mine has come to fruition in this regard. I do expect to have an interactive audio book of mine released in a few months. I adapted it for that purpose last fall. The book’s title is Journey to the Year 3000.
The latest episode of Black Mirror called Bandersnatch is an interactive choose your own adventure style TV show. How do you reflect that your idea is now evolving into television and other media?
I don’t pay any attention to this.
Are you a fan of video games, and if, so which games are your favourite?
What projects are you currently involved in?
I’m writing a book of essays and reflections on life, working title, The View from Ninety, to be published in 2021.
If you could choose to live in one of your stories and live there for a day, which book would you choose and why?
I did live in one my stories briefly, and was pleased to meet some of my readers when they turned to the page where they encountered me. The book was Hyperspace. I wouldn’t want to live in many of my books for a whole day –– too much risk of being killed.