Please welcome The Onion alums and “Choose Your Own Misery” authors Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon to this week’s Geek Speaks Fiction! Their newest book, Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays, is available now, just in time to get you in the holiday spirit.
Whenever we write a Choose Your Own Misery book, the thing we geek out about hardest is our planning process, which involves hours poring over flowcharts and cross-referencing those against plotlines in the story (though in CYOM: The Holidays the most directly geeky moment was probably Jilly writing the D&D scene…from experience…while cackling).
Getting through the book writing process is a combination of distracting yourself with wiki-wormholes, and avoiding the process of writing even more aggressively with Netflix and gaming binges. Here are the distractions (some of them arguably ALMOST necessary) that helped us live through the process of birthing a manuscript:
One of the things that’s so much fun about writing these books is that the multiplicity of paths means you get to spin things into bizarre, unexpected directions…like a few threads where the main character’s ignorance of canine epilepsy leads to dire consequences.
Our storylines are ridiculous, so they don’t have to track 100% with how things would play out in the real world, but they do need to remain plausible…ish.
…which is why I can now tell you confidently that canine epilepsy is absolutely a real condition. One that you probably shouldn’t try to handle via mouth-to-dog-mouth…
Doctor Who reruns…again…
When I’m deep in the drafting process, my brain gets a little fried, which is why I tend to return to comfort food entertainments—replaying Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Pokemon, say–to unwind at the end of the day. It’s my mental equivalent of diving into a massive tub of mashed potatoes, mouth open.
During the drafting of CYOM: THE HOLIDAYS, I rewatched the entire reboot series of Doctor Who—for the third time? Fourth? Why count when it will only embarrass you?—usually while simultaneously playing Candy Crush or otherwise numbing my poor, overheated brain even further.
Also: The DoctorDonna forever.
The effects of Ambien
You know that thing I mentioned about doing enough research to give our stranger storylines plausibility?
You basically cannot get too strange when you’re talking about “what might someone do if they’ve taken too much Ambien?”
…but that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend literally hours sifting through articles about the woman who tried to excise some unremembered “parasite” from her fingertip with fingernail clippers and her teeth; or the one who shot four bullets into her front door, which she learned about only after the police investigating the shooting determined the bullet trajectory was from the inside out; or the one who sleep-drove to her ex’s house to sleep-fuck him—which he allowed to happen—an excuse that was apparently good enough for her husband.
Maybe not “necessary research,” but damn, that stuff is fascinating.
European Ice Hockey
In the book, one particularly insufferable character prefers all things European, including ice hockey (or as we call it in Canada, where I’m from, “hockey”).
But the European version of the game is actually very different from what I’d grown up with.
Did you know that in Europe, each team’s leading scorer wears a “golden helmet?” And that the “Man of the Match” is frequently gifted baskets of booze, chocolate, and cheese? So while North American players are pummeling each other into a bloody pulp with their fists, European players are busy pairing camembert with their favorite cider.
In unrelated news, I’m mentally planning a move to Europe…
While writing CYOM: The Holidays, I found out over coffee that a very close friend of mine hadn’t seen a single episode of the British comedy, Peep Show.
In my opinion, it’s one of the smartest, funniest shows to ever make it on television. So naturally, I forced her into watching the pilot with me as soon as we finished our lattes.
Within the span of a couple of weeks, we ended up devouring the entire nine seasons together. We both got so obsessed that now, whenever we send each other texts, it’s only ever a line from the show or a loosely related GIF.
Added bonus: the dark comedy of the show makes you feel like your own totally-haphazard author lifestyle is the epitome of having it together.
I’ll admit it, before writing CYOM: The Holidays, I didn’t really know what Kwanzaa was, though I’m sticking to my guns that it’s even less common in Canada than it is in the states.
In one of the storylines, the main character’s mirror-image ignorance spins quickly out of control. But you can’t write a good punchline about something you don’t understand; to make jokes about his ignorance land, I had to know what I was talking about, Kwanzaa-wise.
At this point, I could tell you all about Kwanzaa’s seven core principles, or the pan-African origins of a holiday invented in the US in the 1960s, but the fact that I found most reassuring, considering how few of them I had before I dove deep into wiki-wormholes, was this: the best estimates I could find said between half a million and two million Americans celebrate it currently. I can’t be the only person whose knowledge was a bit…gappy, right?