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FOG! Interviews CHOOSE YOUR OWN MISERY Authors Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon!

Interview conducted by Elizabeth Weitz

Office jobs are pointless necessities that are only useful for the cash they bring in so that you can buy booze and illegal drugs on the weekends in order to forget that you have, in fact, an office job. And yes, I completely stand by that statement (she says as she lays in bed virtually unemployed as a writer).

But perhaps my former career in office work drudgery wouldn’t have been so horrible (and apparently scarring) had Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon‘s humor/guide book, Choose Your Own Misery: The Office Adventure been available to me during those long days in a cubicle where I prayed for death. And maybe, just maybe, I would have been able to make it through the banality of office birthday cake time without sobbing in a bathroom stall, lamenting about all the wrong choices I had made that brought me to such a lowly state of being (wow, maybe I really do need therapy).

If you read through the book excerpt on Wednesday (which you should really do NOW) you already know how hilarious Choose Your Own Misery: The Office Adventure is, but to really appreciate the genius behind it, check out the interview with MacDonald and Gagnon after the break. Seriously, it’s as if they intimately understand the heart of anyone forced into attending a meeting about proper memo fonts against their will.

FOG!: Being an adult is the universe’s worst practical joke and I’m constantly amazed that more people don’t give up on the whole thing and simply stay in bed until their demise. Was the idea for a Choose Your Own Adventure-style book for adults a way to give the middle finger to life itself and basically wallow in the grief that is adulthood?  

Jilly Gagnon: I don’t know if it was a middle-finger to life–though Mike and I definitely have pretty dark senses of humor, so that’s not off the table. More a middle finger to workplace culture. Because so much of being an adult does, as you note, suck so incredibly hard, and the vast majority of your waking adult life is spent in your workplace. I think one of the thoughts underpinning the book was: we’re all there, we’re all forced to do this, so why does it have to be this bad?  

Mike MacDonald: Exactly. Writing this book wasn’t so much a ‘fuck you’ as it was cathartic. We’d vent about our respective offices so often, that the idea for this book almost seemed inevitable.  

One of the things I really appreciated about the book was that every decision was a variation of a “bad” choice, that nothing you chose really allowed you to experience any level of joy at all (which is a perfect analogy of adulthood by the way). When coming up with scenarios, how much did you pull from your own (or your friends and families) life and how much did you assume happened to other people against their will?  

MM: The thing that was most true to life for the both of us, I think, was the underlying sense of malaise that runs through the entire book. Just that dissatisfaction with your life, especially your work life. As far as specific moments, most of those were just us imagining the worst thing that could happen to the poor schmuck next.  

JG: Speaking for myself, the “cut out your own maybe-a-tumor with a pen-knife” scenario is 100% autobiographical. Kidding. Maybe.  

While reading the book I found that being able to choose my own misery put me in an almost zen-like state of calm, sure, the outcomes were horrible but at least they were “my” choices and not a random set of outcomes straight out of a Rube Goldberg machine. Have any other readers given you feedback about feeling better after finishing the book or do I need to have my doctor re-evaluate my Xanax dosage?

MM: A lot of people said that they laughed out loud while reading it, so I assume it made them feel better, at least temporarily. But just as many friends have come up to me, clearly stunned, and said “man, you guys are seriously miserable assholes.” I think they’re both right.

JG: Tragically, I think you’ve hit on a deep, ugly truth about this book: even though all the choices are terrible, even being presented with a legitimate choice feels like a lot more agency than you have in life. That said, always push for more Xanax.

Upon graduating from high school or college a lot of people receive Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss (or a similar “Welcome to Adulthood” tome) as a gift. Considering what a suck fest the real world actually is, do you think a Choose Your Own Misery book a more appropriate offering to someone about to get such a rude awakening?  

JG: It’d certainly be more accurate. And of course, still in the flower of youth and hopefulness, the recipients will probably laugh for all the wrong reasons, naively assuming this could never be them. And then you, the giver, can enjoy a lovely moment of schadenfreude.  

MM: Who got you Oh the Places You’ll Go? Leaving college, all I got from my folks was a monthly repayment plan for my tuition and the garage sale proceeds from my childhood room.

The realm of adulthood provides much fodder for the Choose Your Own Misery series, after tackling the Office, what’s next for you guys?

MM: We already have a Holiday installment in the works, and there are plans down the road for a third book in the series.  

JG: Once that’s all done, maybe heroin? I’ve always been really curious about heroin.

And finally, if there is any one experience you wish you could go back and change what was it? And, more importantly, are you going to put it in a book?  

JG: Is this one of those “time machine” questions? Because even though I know I should go back and kill Hitler, I’d probably do one of those great “knew about the stock at the exact right moment” things circa 1960, and leave myself inevitable millions. If anyone wanted to buy that book, that’d just be even more gravy on my already sloppy, overflowing gravy train.  

MM: I would have substituted all of those afternoon candy bars for something healthier. Or maybe I would have got up to stretch every 20 minutes, instead of just telling myself I was gonna do that. Too much sitting: that’s the real regret.

Choose Your Own Misery: The Office Adventure is available now

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