Friday, March 9, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure

It's All About the Ride.
When I was 12 years old, I wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure tale called The Silver Key. I wrote it as a computer game (starting on a Commodore Vic-20 and moving to a Commodore 64) and it tracked the adventures of a young girl who found a Silver Key and went off in search of doors to open.

My intrepid heroine discovered pirates, highwaymen, other kids with their own keys, as well as a mysterious underworld society called The Delvings (this was my older sister’s inspired contribution to the tale). She swung through forests, jumped off cliffs, leaped chasms and (of course, hello, I was writing the story) fell in love.

I absolutely adored Choose Your Own Adventure stories – flipping through the pages to find out what happened next based on decisions you made at the bottom of every page. Didn’t like what you found? You could always go back and start over at the beginning, or at the last critical juncture. It was a low-tech “undo” and seemed a perfect way to correct your mistakes.

As I take off on this new adventure with the Lucky 13s, leading up to the launch of my debut novel Maid of Secrets in Spring, 2013, it occurs to me that life doesn’t usually hand you such easy “do-overs”. You plot and plan and choose your adventure, and if things go awry, you can’t just “undo”.

Or can you?

With a few notable exceptions, just about any life path you take can be turned into a temporary detour or a momentary wrong turn, if it ends up not being the right choice for you. So too can every RIGHT decision eventually become a WRONG one if you stay on a path too long. In my own world, I was going to become a college professor of international affairs… but instead I took a job that was COMPLETELY wrong for me, mainly because I was offered what was, at the time, a crazy amount of money.

The job involved sales. I, for the record, suck at sales.

Within twelve months, however, I was in a different job in the same company, doing what I did best—writing. My career track after that was an upwardly-mobile scribble, but whenever I found myself totally miserable, it was just a matter of choosing a new adventure. The choices weren’t always easy, but the leap was always worth it. Eventually, the career itself became the wrong decision for me, and I left corporate America behind for freelance work.

I think of this now as I’m about to take another leap, facing decisions about the work I take on vs. the books I want to write. I’m nervous about where the next step will take me, and what my life will be like. I know from experience that nothing is unchangeable in life—heck, wait long enough and even history is revised, as I learned when I was that aspiring college professor. But it doesn’t mean it’s an easy choice to embrace the new adventure.

Still, I can recognize a cliff when I see one, and I know the leap is coming.

What about you? What major decisions have you made that changed your life's adventure?

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in Spring, 2013. You can find Jenn online and on twitter.


  1. I loved those "choose your adventure" novels. They're making a comeback too. Everything 80s is new again, eh?

    My major decision was to bid a fond adieu to a steady paycheck. I flipped back a hundred pages in my adventure for a do-over chasing the career of my heart. I'll let you know if I ever catch it. ;D

  2. KAK, I have a feeling you'll catch that dream with both hands. I look forward to celebrating your many and marvelous successes!!

  3. I loooooooooooooooooved the CYOA books! There was such a crazy waiting list for them when we were in elementary school. Whoever came up with that concept was a damned genius!

    I'm kind of like KAK in that I changed career paths. As much as I loved teaching, I love being an author even more.

    1. Melissa, I think you are rocking the Casbah with this career switch -- GO YOU on following your dreams!!!

  4. I am so looking forward to your Maids books! And from the description, I'd like to read the Silver Key! Sounds fun!

    As for me, I remember the first time I put down "writer" as my occupation. It was as a reference for a friend. A stomach twister, but I felt so proud at the same time.

    1. Aww, Michele, thank you!! I love that image of you identifying yourself as a "writer". I taught a class on Branding today and the roles and identifiers we choose for ourselves have amazing power. I can't wait to see how your writing career evolves!!

  5. I *loved* the choose your own adventure books! I checked out every one our library had at least 5x each. :) Just think if we could write alternate paths for our characters when we wrote ourselves into a dead end in a novel!

    When I left my corporate job two and a half years ago, I thought I'd be off for a few months and then find another similar position. But once I got a taste of writing full-time I decided my corporate life was over for good. It was a scary decision, (and the lack of income can still be scary) but I've never regretted it.
    Great post, Jen!

    1. Lorie, I eat, slept and breathed those books! :) And yes, writing full time is less of a spot in the road than the opening of a brand new vista. It's insane how much possibility is there, just beyond the looking glass.

      Fingers Crossed for wonderful news for you soon!!

  6. OMG, I think I once owned that exact Choose Your Own Adventure book (the Space and Beyond one). Can't wait till your book comes out next spring!

    1. Thanks, Amy!! And I am eagerly awaiting great news on your books as well. PLEASE keep me posted!!

  7. You must be close to my age, because this all resonated right down to the Commodore 64. I totally loved the Choose Your Own Adventures and yours sounds better than some of the published ones! Great outlook on life. Right on!

    1. LOL--Thanks, Shell! I adored my 64!! And here's hoping your adventures take you to awesome places. With pirates. :)

  8. Ah, yes, the Commodore and Atari. I loved those chose your next move adventures (I also loved Mad Libs, but that's another story!) and have had several in my life. Not all good, mind you, but all useful in some way, shape, or form.

    Good luck on your newest adventure, Jenn. Can't wait to read Maid of Secrets!
    (Blogger hates me, so think Bond Girl & Starcatcher!)

    1. Patricia hello! Thank you so much for commenting, and yay for the shoutouts to Bond Girls and Starcatchers! Two absolutely fabulous groups. :)

      Go, FBU, too! ;)

  9. This the PEGGY BLOG with MP3?
    You the sister of SEMPOU in SCULLS?
    You got the WHAMBANGO in ANNESUP with " GEDIANNE"?
    And " GEDIE"?
    DANADELAMAR says " you do"?
    With " KNEE COCKS"?
    RICK the PRICK says he 's MOB with ARYAN " MARY PAT"?
    This with SC- COSYMST
    And " you"?
    LEAP ON?
    LIP ON?
    Or anyway you can get it?
    LOUISIANA - MP now tie YEMEN .
    And that ,in itself is a COCHOUN.
    SYN SEA.

  10. Choose Your Own Adventure. Man, did I love those. Mystery of Chimney Rock!

    1. April they were the BEST. It's great to see how many people read them... really, what better way to spark creativity!

  11. I can relate. Did the Corporate America gig thing. So not me. Glad I made the switch to what made me happy. Life's too short.

    1. Liz!! Sending you cyber high fives for leaving corporate. :) Thank you for your post!