Packard couldn’t figure out how to progress the tale and asked his kids what should happen next

Saturday, January 13th, 2024

Cave of Time by Edward PackardInteractive books weren’t a completely new idea before Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA), but they weren’t popular:

There was a romance novel from the 1930s, where the reader decides which suitor the protagonist marries with dozens of possible endings. Several high-concept stories arrived by the 50s and 60s, like Raymond Queneau’s surreal Story As You Like It or Robert Coover’s explicit and unsettling The Babysitter. Celebrated for their uniqueness, none of these caught on beyond their novelty, and were purely adult fare. It wasn’t until a lawyer teamed up with a young writer to find a way to bring this idea to bookshelves across the country.

Edward Packard came from a family deep in the legal business, but practicing law was never something he truly cared about. While his passion was writing, Ed’s children’s books were never picked up by publishers. His fate changed one evening in 1969 while making up a bedtime story for his two daughters about a character named Pete. Struck by writer’s block, Packard couldn’t figure out how to progress the tale and asked his kids what should happen next. When both girls answered differently, he realized Pete was never the protagonist – it was his kids living those adventures firsthand in their imaginations. Immediately, Packard knew he was onto something.

Ray Montgomery had just started Vermont Crossroads Press in 1970, after cutting his teeth writing roleplaying scenarios for Clark Abt, a pioneer in educational games. The Yale and NYU grad had aspirations larger than his employer and ventured out to make a name for himself in publishing. When Packard walked into his office with a draft of Sugarcane Island in 1976, Montgomery saw great potential that perfectly aligned with his interests. “I Xeroxed 50 copies of Ed’s manuscript and took it to a reading teacher in Stowe,” Montgomery said in an interview from 1981. “His kids — third grade through junior high — couldn’t get enough of it.”

Sugarcane Island became the best-selling book of the upstart publisher, moving over five thousand copies, but they were still an unknown entity in a crowded landscape.

It was this point where things started to get messy for Packard and Montgomery. Both writers saw a a potential for larger success beyond the small Vermont publishing house, and the two pursued greener pastures, independent from each others ventures. Packard published two CYOA-style books in 1978 under Harper imprint, Lippincott. Meanwhile, Montgomery’s agent managed to obtain a six-book deal from Bantam in 1979, with the caveat that Packard must be involved. Cooler heads prevailed, and the duo came together to split the deal and workload.

Similar to the origin story of Sugarcane Island, Packard turned to his kids for story ideas. His daughter, Andrea, told him about her summer escapades spelunking, and her desire to wander solo to explore more. She imagined a tunnel that could transport her to another time or place, and her dad loved it! Andrea scribbled more notes, and ultimately ideated the first published CYOA book, “The Cave of Time.”


A fortuitous mistake resulted in Bantam overprinting this inaugural entry, and the publisher remedied its overstock by donating 100,000 books to schools and libraries throughout America. This charitable act guaranteed their target audience would have no problem discovering the book, transforming CYOA into a household name practically overnight.


Sales dwindled until the company flew the white flag in 1998, ending with book #184, Mayday, which Packard co-wrote with the person responsible for the very first title in the franchise, his daughter Andrea.

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