You are sitting in Sawyer at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night. You have an essay due at midnight, but hours of reading Dostoevsky have turned your brain to mush. You’re next move is to: a) drown out writers’ block by blasting Lady Gaga, b) throw in the towel and go home or c) warm up your creativity by writing a children’s story, then crush the paper. The choice is yours, but be warned: Your decision will irreversibly change your fate.
The scenario above resembles a Choose Your Own Adventure book, a series that allows readers to get involved in the story by choosing from among options at the end of each chapter. And for those of you who chose “c,” you’re in good company, alongside Anson Montgomery ’94, who has authored seven books for the series.
The popular children’s books allow readers to determine the end of the story by making choices that lead them to other sections of the book. Written in the second person, the books make the reader the protagonist and main character.
“The idea was conceived to help kids who have problems reading,” Montgomery said. “It empowers them, giving them control of the story.” Stories are often fantasy or adventure-related: Montgomery’s books include titles such as Moonquest, Escape from the Haunted Warehouse and Snowboard Racer.
The books were wildly popular during the 1980s and 1990s, when Montgomery was a teenager. Designed to foster a love for reading, books were geared towards children ages four to eight, eight to 13 and 12 to 16. In recent years, the books have experienced a revival. The publisher, Chooseco, is now reprinting classics and publishing new titles.
For Montgomery, writing (and the College!) is all in the family. His father, Ray Montgomery ’58, is a famous author of the Choose Your Own Adventure series (His penname was R.A.). “My dad was a big name,” Montgomery said. “When I was in college, his books were really popular. People [would] be so surprised and be like, ‘Is R.A. Montgomery really your dad?’” Montgomery’s stepmother, Shannon Gilligan ’81, and brother, Ramsey Montgomery, also write for the series.
Montgomery is keeping the tradition alive by involving his own daughters, Avery, 12, and Lila, 8. “I guess it’s just the family business,” he said, laughing. “Avery is currently helping me with a dragon series. She reads the book while I’m writing and helps me edit. She’ll say what she likes and give feedback.”
Though Montgomery has been writing for the Choose Your Own Adventure franchise since his sophomore year here at the College, he still experiences the occasional bout of writer’s block. Organizing books, especially ones with multiple endings, “can be a painful process,” he said. “I always start by drawing it out like a family tree. I sketch out the first chapter and get to a division point, then branch off from there.”
Montgomery also uses friends for character inspiration. “I’ve included my friends as characters in books,” he said. “I use their names and things, but I’m careful not to make too much fun of them or draw any mean comparisons.”
In addition to Montgomery’s career as a writer, he works for a computer sales, repair and servicing company in his hometown of Warren, Vt.
“Writing is something I need to do, a way to express creativity that I don’t get with my regular job … [but] it’s difficult to make money writing,” Montgomery said. “But if you love it, there are ways to make it work.”
For those looking to break into the business, he offers words of wisdom: First, don’t stop believin’. “Even if people say what you’re doing isn’t good, keep at it. There are ways to revise your style.” Second, don’t be quick to overlook self-publishers. “If you can’t get a company to publish your book, try publishing yourself,” advised Montgomery. “The stigma associated with self-publishing has faded. With the rise of e-books, it’s much easier to break into the market. You can go from unknown to bestseller.”
Though he enjoys creating his stories for Choose Your Own Adventure, Montgomery plans to branch out into different territory in the future. “I’m currently working on a more traditional novel,” he explains. “It’s a fictional, autobiographical memoir, a little more adult-centered,” he said, “but I’m also working on this sci-fi/fantasy project.” Old habits die hard. And at the core of them, for Montgomery, is the act of writing itself.
“I can’t picture my life without writing. Even when I was in college, I always knew I would be a writer,” said Montgomery. He graduated from the College with a B.A. in history. While constantly juggling a family, a full-time day job and writing commitments can sometimes make it difficult even to find time to breathe, Montgomery says the final product is still worth all the effort. “Writing can be a painful process,” he admits. “But the pain of not writing is much worse.”