Good morning everyone! This post has been a long while coming and I’m excited to finally share it with all of you. Choose your own adventure style books have always been something I find just really nifty, so having Greg talk a little about his choices in writing one has been a treat. Enjoy!

The Friar's Lantern front cover

The Friar’s Lantern is an interactive novel, meaning the story is told in the second person, and there are points where the reader gets to decide how the story continues. Why did you choose to write in this style?

Like many young readers of the 1980s and 90s, I enjoyed the books in the original Choose Your Own Adventure series. We all have moments in reading where we wish a character behaved differently than they do in the story. The Choose Your Own Adventure books and their offshoots gave readers a chance to be a part of the story and get the characters to act in ways that made more sense to the reader.

I distinctly remember having the idea to write an interactive novel for a grown-up audience almost fifteen years ago. It wasn’t a new idea—I since discovered that other authors have written in this genre—but it was new for me, and I thought it would be fun to have the same interactive reading experience as an adult, but with more mature themes. The problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted the book to be about.

I had a partial solution to that problem a year or two later when I read about a philosophical dilemma called Newcomb’s Problem in a college philosophy class. Newcomb’s Problem is a fascinating question that looks like a mathematics or logic problem on the surface but quickly expands into questions about how we make choices and the existence of free will. It got me hooked right away. I realized then that it would make sense for a choose-your-own-adventure-style novel to be about the nature of choice. So I adapted Newcomb’s Problem to make it more plausible and contemporary and incorporated it as one of the main plot threads of The Friar’s Lantern.

What makes The Friar’s Lantern stand out from other interactive novels?

Interactive novels for young readers are designed to keep them engaged at every point in the story. There are frequent choices, and every choice has a huge impact. But in real adult life, we don’t face that many high-stakes choices. Think about the decisions you make on a daily basis: what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, etc. They don’t have huge impacts on the course of your life. Even a choice like whether or not to go to work each day is a choice you don’t really make. You could stay home and not call your boss. But 99% of us never consider that option, because we know that going to work is what pays the bills and puts a roof over our heads and food on our tables.

The Friar’s Lantern reflects a more grown-up world of choices. There are fewer decision points in the novel than in books intended for younger readers, and the choices that are included in The Friar’s Lantern demand a little more thought from readers. Flipping a coin isn’t enough, because what you choose in The Friar’s Lantern says something about who you are as a person. Do you believe in free will? What do you think about punishment and the justice system? Do you make decisions emotionally or rationally?

I’ve also eliminated some of the subconscious choices we make on a regular basis. For example, in the second main plot thread of the novel, you are summoned to jury duty and assigned to a murder trial. Of course, you could ignore the summons, but again, 99% of us never consider that option, because we don’t want to be held in contempt of court, thrown in jail, etc. So I try to cut to the heart of decision-making and ask some bigger questions, like “Is the university professor on trial guilty or innocent of murdering the man he believes killed his wife?”

My goal is to write entertaining stories for smart readers. There’s definitely a place for books like the Choose Your Own Adventure series and the Harry Potter series—my wife and I reread Harry Potter last year and loved those books just as much as we did the first time. But there’s also a place for books that demand a little more from the reader, and that’s what I hope to offer in The Friar’s Lantern.

What’s at stake in The Friar’s Lantern?

I mentioned the two main plot threads above. In the first, you participate in a research experiment in which a neuroscientist attempts to use the results of an MRI brain scan to predict your decision a week in advance. As part of the experiment, you could win over $1,000,000. In the second thread, you serve on a jury that must decide whether or not a mild-mannered professor is guilty of cold-blooded murder. Other high-stakes choices intersect with those depending on your chosen path through the book. You may have to decide which of two unconscious people you want to perform CPR on. You may get to participate in a Turing test (trying to determine if your conversation partner is a computer or a human) only to have the tables turned on you.

But beyond choosing which path in the story to follow, The Friar’s Lantern asks you to think about what it means to choose in the first place and what power your choices can have. Do you believe in free will? Do you believe in the concept of “crimes of passion?” What really happens when you make a choice in The Friar’s Lantern? What really happens when you make a choice in real life? Do your choices make you a good or bad person?

As I like to tell readers, choose wisely—if you can.

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Greg Hickey is a former international professional baseball player and current forensic scientist, endurance athlete and author. His debut novel, Our Dried Voices, was a finalist for Foreword Reviews‘ INDIES Science Fiction Book of the Year Award. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Lindsay. Start reading The Friar’s Lantern for free on Greg’s website.

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