I didn’t read too many Young Adult books as a teenager because I was a fool and thought I was better than them. Obviously, the joke is on me because YA books are incredible and that’s basically all I read these days. But this is one of the reasons why I love the Alex Awards. Sometimes teens just fit better with adult books and I love that YALSA supports those teens. Maybe they’ll even come to revisit young adult books in their adulthood just like me. So when we Hub writers were offered the chance to interview Alex Award winners, I jumped at the chance. When I heard Ryan North was one of the interviewees, I LEAPT at the chance.
If you don’t know Ryan North’s work you should get on that yesterday. North is the writer of the hilarious Dinosaur Comics as well as the Harvey and Eisner award winning writer of the Adventure Time comics. North is no stranger to the Youth Media Awards as his Adventure Time comics as well as his Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics have won entry to the Great Graphic Novels for teens lists in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Most recently his “chooseable path adventure” Romeo and/or Juliet won an Alex Award in 2017. I was able to chat with Ryan via email. Check it out!
Anna Tschetter: You’ve done “chooseable path adventure books” with To Be or Not to Be and now Romeo and/or Juliet and even your Adventure Time comic. Did you read a lot of the classic “Choose your Own Adventure” books as a kid (or a grownup in preparation to write your versions?)
Ryan North: I did! I loved them as a kid and could not understand why adults weren’t reading them. They’re books where YOU get to decide what happens next: what is not to like? When 30 years later I realized that if I wanted to see these books I guess I should write them myself, I had two advantage, I think: there’s not a lot of books written in the CYOA style for adults, and I could write my book on a computer. Earlier non-linear narratives tended to be of the “put pieces of paper on a pinboard and connect strings between them for choices”, which obviously limits the scale of stories you can tell, but I could use software to keep track of all the different paths and how they interact with each other – and that really freed me up to try all sorts of new things.
Just as an example: there’s a page early on in the book where you choose your character: Romeo or Juliet. But then if you play through the book as either of these characters and follow a certain path to its conclusion, you unlock a third playable character: Rosaline! We figured out how to have unlockable characters in books. Normally that’s tricky, since you can’t change the state of the book, but what I realized was that you can always change the state of the reader. So the book tells you a secret for how to unlock Rosaline, and then on your next playthough, when you get to the character select page – which hasn’t changed, obviously – you can now see a way to play as Rosaline. It’s a neat trick, and I was really happy that we were able to get it to work so well!