Last night I posted the first part of my interview with author Edward Packard, who created the Choose Your Own Adventure children’s book series. The sheer number of CYOA posts that exist on this site will tell you how big a deal it is for me to talk to him. After that wonderful first part of the interview, covering everything from Borges to the Andromeda Galaxy, it’s hard to top it, but here’s the conclusion of the interview.
My questions are in bold.
In my reviews I refer often to the conventions or “tropes” of the CYOA series. For example, so many of them take place while “you’re” on summer vacation. “You” often get pulled into the plot by an adventurous relative, usually an uncle, aunt or cousin. I lost count of the books that start with getting a phone call, a mysterious package, or someone disappearing. You (the real Edward Packard)established many of these conventions—The Mystery of Chimney Rock, for instance, is the first appearance of many of them. Was it intentional that these conventions appear so often, possibly even “in-jokes?” Were they consciously part of the CYOA style of storytelling?
In real life, parents are not likely to allow their 8 to 12-year old children embark on dangerous adventures, so I invented characters and situations to make such undertakings more plausible.
We have to talk about what I call the “Easter Eggs”—the endings in a couple of the books that you can’t reach by following directions, but only by (forgive the expression) cheating. I’m thinking of Planet Ultima in Inside UFO 54-40 or a certain ending (you know which one I mean) in The Forbidden Castle (review coming soon). Why did you do these endings this way? Why didn’t you do more of them?
I forget how I set up the ending of the original Forbidden Castle, but in the expanded and revised U-Ventures edition I wouldn’t say that cheating is involved. To reach the Forbidden Castle you have to find both halves of the “secret name.” In the Introduction I tell readers they may have to discover how to do this on their own (not just by following turn-to directions). Similarly, the “Warning Page” of UFO 54-40 tips off readers that they will need to think outside the box. I knew when I thought of this variation that it would lose its distinctiveness if much repeated.
Speaking of something that wasn’t done much, only a very few of the books contain an infinite loop—a path of choices that never leads to an ending but theoretically keeps recycling over and over again, forever. R.A. Montgomery did that (Journey Under the Sea, The Race Forever) more than you did. (I can’t recall if you ever did it—not sure whether Hyperspace contains an infinite loop). Conscious choice? Just a stylistic difference?
Hyperspace may well have such a variation –- I tried as many tricks as I could think of in that book, including inserting myself as a character. But this is another variation that becomes less interesting if much repeated. I think the only other time I introduced it was in my first book, Sugarcane Island.
Why did you choose to revise and “reboot,” so to speak, The Forbidden Castle? I haven’t yet read the 2013 version and I’m very anxious to, but I’m quite familiar with the 1982 original. What was it like remaking this book from so long ago? Are there others you’d like to re-do?
After Random House (which had acquired Bantam, the original publisher) ceased publishing the series, they failed to renew the Choose Your Own Adventure trademark, whereupon Ray [R.A. Montgomery] registered it in the name of his company. For this reason I was no longer able to call new editions of my books “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. When Simon & Schuster offered to publish revised and expanded apps and print editions of some of my originals, I decided to call them U-Ventures. We selected three we particularly liked. I much enjoyed this project, but have no plans to work on others.
Another thing I’d love to talk about, and maybe isn’t talked about much, is what I refer to in my reviews as the gender issue. The illustrations often depict “you” as either male or female (more often a boy), but the books themselves never dare to suggest that “you” are one gender or the other. Intuitively I understand why that was done, so children reading the book could easily identify themselves with the second-person main character. Were you ever tempted to push this envelope a little bit? For example, I sense the “you” in Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? is almost flirting with Jenny Mudge, and I’d be lying if I said I never imagined that “you” are a wee bit smitten with Dr. Vivaldi—in a subtle, PG, kid- appropriate way, of course. Can you comment on this?
I always tried to avoid gender-identification, taking care to avoid referring to “you the reader” as “him” or “her.” For the first edition of Sugarcane Island, I asked the artist to illustrate the protagonist (“you”) as androgynous. When Bantam launched the Choose Your Own Adventure series, they insisted that “you” be depicted as a male, maintaining that girls will read books about boys, but boys won’t read books about girls. Unsurprisingly, some girls complained about this, and when a new girl-oriented series, called Baby Sitters Club, became popular, CYOA sales slumped. Bantam tried depicting “you” as a girl in some books, but that only made matters worse. In the U-Ventures books, there’s no gender issue because all illustrations are point-of-view the reader protagonist. The story is about you, after all, so it’s apt that the illustrations are not of you, but of what you see.
What’s your favorite book of the series that you didn’t write? Which ones—your books or others’—do you think really stand out as the best of the best?
With one exception, I only read books that I wrote and ones written under my direction, and it would be hard to pick out a favorite. If I had to, it might be Through the Black Hole, which involves not just a space adventure, but a trip to another universe! The exception I mentioned, as to having read a book written by someone else, was the submission by two girls that won the “write your own CYOA book contest.” Its wacky title, The Great Zopper Toothpaste Treasure, gives you an idea of the tone. It was fresh, original, and funny.
What else would you like to tell those of us who grew up with the CYOA books, and who still find them fun, compelling and relevant today?
Books open the way to the limits of human knowledge and imagination. It’s gratifying to know that young people on every continent have enjoyed reading mine and that for many of them it improved their reading skills and opened up new perspectives and new interests.
I’m tremendously grateful for the time that Edward Packard shared with me to bring you all this interview. Getting to talk to one of your all-time favorite authors is not an experience to take lightly. Thanks again to him, and keep watching this blog for a lot more CYOA reviews! (In fact, the very next one will be a double review, Mr. Packard’s original 1982 The Forbidden Castle and the 2013 U-Ventures reboot).