Few book series celebrated narrative possibility and experimented with branching storytelling in as unique a way as the Choose Your Own Adventure novels. They were largely the work of R.A. Montgomery, who died aged 78 on Nov. 8.
The Choose Your Own Adventure blog has a great account of how the series got started:
In 1977 an author named Ed Packard approached Montgomery about publishing his interactive children's book Sugarcane Island. The young publisher saw it for what it was: a role-playing game in book form and eagerly agreed to put it in print. He felt so confident about it that he announced it as the first in a series entitled The Adventures of You. When Packard left Crossroads Press to write his next book for Lippincott, Montgomery wrote the subsequent book — Journey Under the Sea — and published it under the pen name Robert Mountain. When his marriage ended in divorce a short while later, Montgomery sold his interest in the press to his ex-wife, and brought "The Adventures of You" to Bantam Books, which was looking for something "different" with which to inaugurate a new children's book division. Bantam offered Montgomery a contract for Journey Under the Sea along with five more untitled books and renamed the series Choose Your Own Adventure. Little did Bantam or Montgomery realize that a publishing legend was about to be born. Choose Your Own Adventure went on to sell more than 250 million copies across more than 230 titles in over 40 languages, making it the 4th bestselling children's series in the world.
From the first contract, Ray opted not to use ghost writers, but to acknowledge every Choose Your Own Adventure author by his or her name. This ran counter to the standard publishing practice of the time of crediting all books to the founding author. This signal act helped launch the careers of several young authors, including Doug Wilhelm, Jay Leibold, and Laban Carrick Hill, a winner of the National Book Award.
As the New York Times mentions, tons of publishers had turned down Packard's interactive second-person novel, until Montgomery saw the potential in it:
"I Xeroxed 50 copies of Ed's manuscript and took it to a reading teacher in Stowe," in Vermont, Mr. Montgomery told The New York Times in 1981. "His kids — third grade through junior high — couldn't get enough of it."
Packard kept writing and publishing Choose Your Own Adventure books right up until his death, with his final book, Gus Vs. The Robot King, being published in September. After Bantam stopped publishing the CYOA books in 2000, Montgomery and his wife Shannon Gilligan Montgomery founded ChooseCo, which started reprinting the old CYOA books and publishing new ones, in 2006. They say the company has sold 10 million copies, according to the Times.
Mystery of the Maya, one of Montgomery's own books, is being turned into a feature film by 20th Century Fox — which won't say if the movie will be interactive.