Any self-respecting child of the ‘80s will remember Choose Your Own Adventure books -- those second-person tales with titles such as Mystery of the Maya and Lost on the Amazon that gave the reader the power to determine his or her fate. If you thought the series had gone the way of Cabbage Patch Kids and Lite-Brite, think again.
Ray Montgomery, creator of the series, and his wife Shannon Gilligan formed Chooseco, a Waitsfield-based company, to relaunch the books in 2006. They’ve brushed up the editorial content to keep pace with the 21st century, and this year they’re introducing two new series aimed at older audiences.
Choose Your Own Adventure got its start in the late ‘70s when Montgomery who then ran Vermont Crossroads Press published a book called Sugarcane Island under the trademark “The Adventures of You.” Montgomery then penned a second book in the series, Journey Under the Sea. In 1979, Bantam acquired the series from him and rechristened it Choose Your Own Adventure.
The series’ initial launch coincided with the introduction of home computers, a time when “the paradigm of interactivity was really coming to the fore,” says Gilligan, whom Montgomery hired to produce an Atari game based on the series in 1981. “They were like a written-out computer game in book form,” she says. Montgomery, whose background is in designing simulation games for schools and the Peace Corps, champions this paradigm, which he says empowers the reader to take responsibility for making choices. “It’s really an amazing way to teach and entertain,” he declares.
The books were a huge success: They sold 250 million copies and were translated into 44 languages. Ultimately, Bantam published 186 books in the classic series 65 of them written by Montgomery himself, and 56 books for younger readers, as well as several spin-off series. Eventually, Gilligan notes, Bantam stopped publishing the books in 1998 after a fall-off in sales. The licenses for the bulk of the series came back to Montgomery.
He and Gilligan initially thought they would re-license the series to another publisher, but after a number of weak offers, they decided to publish the books themselves. The pair had confidence in their sense of design, having spent a good part of the ‘90s creating interactive CD-ROM games. They also knew the original CYOA fans were growing up and having kids. The relaunched books, updated to include technological advances such as cellphones and the Internet, hit stores in the spring of 2006.
To date, Chooseco has published 25 books from the classic series and six books from the Dragonlark series for younger readers. They’ve also added some new components, including games and secret endings readers can find online.
Several of the titles coming out this year have a Vermont focus. The classic Island of Time takes place on Providence Island in Lake Champlain, and Lake Monster Mystery, a book in the Dragonlark series written by Gilligan, focuses on Champ.
To reach new audiences, Chooseco recently added two new series to its catalogue. The Golden Path a three-fantasy epic written by Montgomery’s son, Anson is aimed at young adult readers. The first volume was published in May. Next month, the company will unveil Fabulous Terrible, a series for tween girls that incorporates primary source material such as diary entries and maps.
Montgomery and Gilligan, who live in Warren and run their nine-person business from a renovated farmhouse on Route 100, say the beauty, quiet and “true nature of the people” have kept them in Vermont. And Federal Express, fax machines and the Internet have allowed them to do what they love in a place they love. “We virtually run an international operation,” Gilligan says, “right here from the Valley.”