In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Kat Howard to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Fantasy Magazine, “Choose Your Own Adventure.”
First, let’s get the big question out of the way: How many of those Choose Your Own Adventure books did you read as a kid?
Every one I could get my hands on. I tried to read them in all the possible combinations of choices, too, so I knew all the possible endings.
Part of the Choose Your Own Adventure form is the use of the second person, a point-of-view often maligned by writing texts. How did you feel about writing this way?
Once I began the story, I knew it had to be in second person. Once I knew that, part of the fun of writing it was seeing if I could pull that off. And it was fun—I got to think about the way the story fit together in a manner that’s different than how I normally write. But the other thing is, I think one of the parts of a story that writers ought to think about is how the story gets told. We have more options than simply third person past for appropriate literary distance, or first person present for a sense of immediacy and connection. The way we choose to tell a story matters.
What I loved most about this piece is how it reflects upon its own textuality. What inspired this approach?
When I’m not being a writer, I’m an academic. I teach English literature at Stony Brook University. When I discuss a text with my students, one of the questions that I ask them to think about is, “What is this text in dialogue with?” as if the text itself were speaking. So some of it came from pressing on that question, and thinking about the possible sentience of the text. But most of it came from reading all of those Choose Your Own Adventure books. I tried to find all of the endings, because I was sure there was a right one, an ending the book wanted me to come to. If the text is sentient, then it must have a preferred reading.
Each section of this story touches on a setting or situation really vital to the fantasy genre. It reads like an exploration of what fantasy really means to its readers. What pushed or inspired you to use these topics?
This story started, as many wonderful things do, via Twitter. I said that I was stuck on my current WIP, and so I was going to put on some music and dance around my office, and when I came back to my desk, someone would have written the next bit for me. When I looked back at the computer everyone had responded with “rocks fall, everyone dies.” (Okay, one person said “bombs fall,” but you get the point.) I laughed, and offered co-author credit for the brilliant endings, but then I started thinking about all the sort of things we know we’re not supposed to do in our writing, like end a story with “and then I woke up,” or write an Adam and Eve story, or start a work of fantasy in an inn, either because these elements have become overdone, or because they’re seen as cheating the reader. And I thought, what if you shoved all of those things in one story? How could you write it in a way that worked, and took them seriously?
I am still sad that I couldn’t actually make “rocks fall, everyone dies” work.
In this story, there are many choices to make, and each one feels like a choice to resist moving forward or keep soldiering on. The work becomes a kind of journey story. Are there any stories or novels about journeys that have influenced you and your writing?
Like I said, when I’m not wearing my writerly hat, I’m an academic, and a medievalist by training, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dante’s Divine Comedy. Well, the Inferno and the Purgatorio, anyway. Also, I was reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids while writing this story, and it’s an extraordinary book about her artistic journey. I highly recommend it.
Is there anything you would like to add?
My friend Ellen Kushner, who is an extraordinary writer, wrote five of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. This story is for her.
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