Credit: Quirk Books

F
rom the very first page, the end of every romance novel is a foregone
conclusion: the hero and heroine will fall madly in love and live happily
ever after. They will also have the best sex in human history. The only
suspense lies in how they get there.

My Lady’s Choosing
, a new interactive romance novel by Chicagoans Kitty Curran and Larissa
Zageris, builds that suspense exponentially by providing a seemingly
infinite number of paths to your happy ending—which, not incidentally,
travel through every landscape in the historical-romance world: a London
ballroom, a gothic manor on the Yorkshire moors, the Egyptian desert, and,
naturally, Scotland.

“It’s a send-up and a valentine,” explains Zageris.

The authors’ glee is infectious. It’s easy to imagine them sitting in a
state of extreme sleep deprivation at a kitchen table covered with Post-it
notes outlining various plot points, furiously typing up reimaginings of
every romance cliche they could think of, and cracking themselves up.
(“Your slightly blurred vision does not lie. There, bursting through silken
curtains, piercing the night as a member would a sex, Benedict breaks
through the entrance of Madam Crosby’s chambers.”)

And that was, in fact, how the book was created. They hadn’t intended to
write a choose-your-own-adventure romance. But last year when they went to
the Denver Independent Comic and Art Expo to promote their first book, the
Nancy Drew parody Taylor Swift, Girl Detective: The Secrets of the Starbucks Lovers,
they realized they needed to fill out their merch table. So they threw
together a pamphlet called How Ill Is Your Repute?, which Curran
describes as “a Buzzfeed quiz for 17th-century maidens.” It was featured on
the comics website Bleeding Cool and attracted the attention of an editor
at Quirk Books who suggested letting the questions lead to different story
lines to satisfy various readers’ personalities.

While Curran, now 35, has been a romance fan since adolescence, when she
discovered a copy of a novel by Julia Quinn and realized it was supposed to be funny, Zageris, 33, came later to the genre.
“Growing up, I avoided anything that looked like romance,” she remembers.
“I thought it wasn’t for me.” Instead she focused on the romantic elements
of The X-Files and R.L. Stine books, which she summarizes as “a
lot of making out, and then someone would die!!! It was a terrible model
for relationships.”

Already they’ve had positive reactions from early readers of My Lady’s Choosing, even from those who don’t identify as romance
fans. Many of those, however, feel the need to qualify their enjoyment by
adding some variation of “It’s not great literature, but.” Curran and
Zageris find this puzzling, but also a typical response to romance.

“You’re made to feel ashamed for liking what you like,” Curran observes.
“You don’t think you can divorce the stuff that gets picked on the most
from people who consume it.”

Adds Zageris, “It’s interesting in this day and age, that people, mostly
women, feel the need to say, ‘I can’t really like this, but I love it.'”   v