this all started one weekend i was staying over at slut’s house – that’s how long ago this was, we weren’t living together yet. we were lying in bed together, reading a choose your own adventure book out loud to each other. specifically, it was “YOU ARE A MONSTER.” this particular volume begins with a long description of how you’re kidnapped by a mad scientist, imprisoned, experimented on, turned into a hideous creature, and ultimately manage to escape. that’s when the first choice finally happens – when you manage to escape, ten or so pages in. the book keeps directing you: turn to page 54, turn to page 23, but this whole prolonged opening scene is completely linear.
it got us talking about playing with the structure of choose your own adventure books – “art choose your own adventure books,” that was it. what if the entire book is linear up to the very last page, where you’re faced with your one choice in the entire story: a choice between an obvious winning condition and an obvious losing condition, but a losing condition you might take just to assert your control over your own destiny. “or,” slut said, “what about a book where you make your only choice at the beginning, and there are a hundred different endings.”
soon after starting on that book, i realized how perfectly a non-linear story where you “lose” on every page fit my identity, my sexuality, my sadism, my interest in chance in storytelling. i fell in love with the book a little while after. it was my background project: i’d go without looking at it for weeks, then i’d write five more endings. i’d work on lesbian spider-queens, or rise of the videogame zinesters, or dys4ia, then i’d go back to star wench, throw out three pages and write two more. three years later, the book’s finally in print, my debut book of fiction.
STAR WENCH always needed to be a physical book. it’s an experiment in letting the reader structure the story: each page of the book represents a fragment of a larger story, the whole of which we’re never shown, but there are recurring characters, recurring places, events that play out in different ways. the reader opens to a page at random and discovers something new, or something connected to a page she read earlier. maybe she reads forward a couple of pages, or backwards. maybe she thinks, i’ve read a lot of the first half of the book, let’s poke around the second. maybe she just skims looking for the pictures.
the book needed illustrations, so i approached j christian, who had previously illustrated my slut’s children’s story, brunhilda. j designed what the characters looked like – star wench, interstellar adventurer and rogue, and the queen of space, her antagonist and obsession – and completed three illustrations, but wasn’t able to illustrate the entire book. so then i talked to rebecca clements, who agreed to do the cover and two more illustrations. then i talked to basically every other artist i know – i ended up with twelve illustrators who each contributed at least one page. i paid them out of my own pockets with lesbian spider-queens money – or in some cases i still owe them.
i got rejected by a bunch of publishers and literary agents trying to make this book real. a borderline-pornographic pulp sci-fi choose your own adventure book about explicitly queer women and eroticized deathtraps is a hard sell. but reba connected me to their friend mary borsellino, who had had some success with a little publishing house called omnium gatherum. kate jonez emailed me back during indiecade – it must have been about the same time jonathan blow was telling my slut “this isn’t an intelligent conversation” and turning his back on her. i was sitting by myself, watching them set up live-action frogger. kate wanted to publish the book.
so thanks, first, to kate, for not only printing my book but acceding to my millions of demands. and, second, to every beautiful queer person whose presence in my life inspired the scenarios on these hundred pages. i’m not kidding when i say this book is the most exciting project i’ve ever had – it stands at the intersection of all the things i care about: play, chance, kink, sadism, pulp, games and queerness.