On Monday the 14th, we get Jilly Gagnon with an interactive reading of her most recent book. Here’s a short intro…
Eric Larkin – Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays is your latest (with Mike MacDonald) in your series patterned after everyone’s childhood fave Choose Your Own Adventure books. All I remember from the originals is The Cave of Time, and I never made it out of the cave. What was your experience with the Choose Your Own Adventure books?
Jilly Gagnon – I was a total cheater. I was the kid who would read the first couple pages, and be faced with the decision to either follow the pirates on foot or start training an entire pack of bloodhounds in the hopes that one would eventually become smart enough to track down their scent, years down the line, from across the world, and I’d just be paralyzed by indecision. So I’d stick my fingers in between as many pages as I could manage, and try to figure out the “best” ending. So I could “win” the book.
Actually, let’s call me an early-adopting “maximizer,” because that sounds slightly better than “cheated herself out of the joy of the experience.”
EL – How much of your own holiday experience makes it into the book? You’re from Minnesota; other than the cold, it’s hard to imagine a Christmas up there being miserable.
JG – I’d complain about just how bad the cold is, but that’s the least Minnesotan thing I could ever do, and I can’t allow myself the indulgence (“Minnesota nice” actually just means we’re a seriously repressed, stoic people who take pride in our ability to quietly endure both physical and emotional pain).
That said, barring a couple choice anecdotes, most of the book isn’t SPECIFICALLY autobiographical. Mike and I try to take the sorts of general misery we may have experienced on the small scale: difficult relationships with your family, or visiting a significant other’s family home for the first time, or terrifyingly nice drivers who may want to turn you into a skin suit–and then blow those way out of proportion for the sake of laughs.
EL – Can you say something about the process of writing a multi-path (not sure what to call it) story like this? It’s seems like it would get extremely complex.
JG – You nailed it: especially for a couple writer types, the planning can get a bit daunting.
After a lot of really ill-conceived ideas for how to keep our storylines straight–sticky notes on the wall, efforts to somehow smash the whole book plan into an excel sheet–I found this amazing flowchart software, Gliffy, that lets us map out the whole book online like a family tree of horrible options.
Planning is everything, though; we can’t figure out the content of one “chapter” until we know the choices you’ll reach at the end, and until and unless we know that each of those new choices presents good, potentially funny additional options, we’ll scrap them. I’d say we spend a solid 3-4 months planning the paths out moment by moment, and just 2 months actually writing everything up. By the time we start writing, pretty much every beat has already been choreographed.
EL – You’ve written for some of the best sites: The Onion, The Toast (RIP), McSweeney’s, to name a few. What are a few of your favorite pieces you’ve written?
JG – Oh man, that’s like choosing a favorite child.
But everyone has an obvious favorite child, so I can tell you I always loved my “Reasons Women Aren’t Funny” piece on McSweeney’s–spoiler alert, “penislessness” plays a huge part. I also have a serious soft spot for a piece I did for The Toast called “The Surreal Housewives.” I 100% adore that franchise, but most of its stars are already half an inch away from their faces melting into puddles. Really, that piece was more documentary than comedy.
EL – The other book in the series is Choose Your Own Misery: The Office. What’s next in this series, and what else are you working on?
JG – Next up is Choose Your Own Misery: Dating, so yeah–the misery is pretty much guaranteed. After that, Mike and I will have to decide whether we have more brilliant ideas for making the world multi-path miserable, or whether we want to take things in a new direction!
I also write young adult fiction. My debut, #famous, launches February 14, 2017 from HarperCollins / Katherine Tegen Books. It’s a two-POV romance that deals with overnight internet fame and all the attendant insanity–dare I say misery?–that it brings along with it. I’m working on my next young adult novel at the moment, and while I’m SUPER excited about it, it’s still very early-stages, so I’m keeping my lips buttoned on that one.
EL – Are you going home for the holidays, and if so, are you looking forward to it? You can be honest; no one in Minnesota (besides my aunt and maybe Sarah Peters) ever reads this blog.
JG – The funny thing–in a meta way, at least–is that I actually adore Christmas. I have a ludicrous amount of decorations, especially considering that I live in a one-bedroom city apartment. I’ll even put on carols by choice (working from home means I’m not quite as assaulted by them as the average person).
So believe it or not, I’m really excited to head home to Minnesota for the holidays. I’m looking forward to lots of nog, piles of stuffing, and reverting to the 15-year-old angst-ridden version of myself that I always seem to forget comes out whenever I’m under the same roof with my mother and both my sisters. ‘Tis the season, right?
You can’t possibly have anything better to do at 7pm on a Monday night, so come have some holiday fun while you still can.