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Casey Berger’s Multiple Lives


As a teacher and a writer, Professor Berger chooses her own adventure


Published June 14, 2024

What’s one of the biggest challenges for a new Choose Your Own Adventure author? Avoiding too many happy endings. That’s what Professor Casey Berger discovered when she embarked on her own newest adventure, crafting a tale that would eventually become Sister from the Multiverse. 

“When kids read through these books and they get to an ending that’s frustrating, it motivates them to go back and go again,” she said. “It’s more fun to go through the whole process because then you’re motivated to see what else is in there and see how else it can end.” 

Sitting in her office recently, as an espresso machine rumbled on her sideboard coffee station, Berger, assistant professor of physics and statistical and data sciences, reflected on how she juggled being both a tenure-track professor and a published author, as well as the challenges to writing in the CYOA genre. (Editor‘s note: As this story was posted, Berger announced that she will be leaving Smith in July.)

“One of my childhood friends has said my life is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure,” Berger said. “But [I] stubbornly refuse to settle for only one ending.”

Sister from the Multiverse cover art

For Berger to end up where she is now, she had to first make an early (and critical) life choice while working as a graduate student and embarking on a degree in physics. Although she had long used creative writing as an outlet, Berger said the seriousness of enrolling in a Ph.D. program convinced her to focus all her energy on school and put her hobby aside. 

“About three years in, I realized that was a huge mistake because I was burnt out,” she said. ”So I picked up the book I finished writing [during] undergrad and started editing. It probably saved my physics career—and also spawned a new one.” 

Her writing work would eventually lead to a space opera trilogy for adults, The Resonance Saga. In 2021, as she was also joining Smith College as a then-visiting assistant professor, Berger gave a talk with a panel of fellow debut authors at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. In the audience was an editor, who later approached Berger with a proposition: The publishing company Chooseco LLC was looking for potential Choose Your Own Adventure authors, particularly those with science backgrounds. Was she interested in pitching a few ideas? Berger was. 

The prospect of writing for a younger audience was appealing, Berger said. On the one hand, books for middle schoolers often explore the “scary and exciting” prospect of what it means to be an adult. On the other, Berger loved the “fertile ground for metaphor” inherent in speculative fiction. 

“It’s really easy to explore questions about the world we live in, without having to basically face bleak reality directly,” she said. “It’s also really great for thought experiments.” 

Berger proposed several possible storylines for a CYOA book: rogue AIs battling; a sleuth in space (“Zenon meets Veronica Mars”); and a story about a parallel universe. It was this last pitch that was ultimately accepted. 

Idea in hand, Berger then took on the difficult task of organizing the structure and tracking storylines. Each piece of the story had to be properly mapped to make sure arcs—all 31 of them, leading to 25 endings—made sense and kept readers engaged. 

“If you think about what took the most time and effort, it was definitely the structure,” she said. “[Readers] don’t like it if you get to an ending too quickly from the beginning. Where’s the fun in that, right?” 

At the same time, Berger knew that not all of the stories could end bleakly—there had to be a wide range in how the arcs concluded. To solve the problem, Berger focused on thinking more like a middle schooler, where certain mundane consequences can almost feel worse than the prospect of the universe collapsing. 

“What are ways that a 12-year-old could get into trouble that to them feels like the end of the world, but really isn’t?” she said. In brainstorming sessions with her editor, Berger came up with such ideas as being stuck in detention and or getting locked in a closet by a clone. 


One of her own favorite endings follows the main character and her sister as they escape to the safety of a parallel universe, but are forced to leave their parents behind. “It’s very bittersweet,” says Berger. “The sister is there, you’ve reunited with her, but you’ve lost something else important to you. It’s a really important lesson about how sometimes life is.” 

Having mapped so many different endings, Berger can easily imagine some of her own alternate lives: perhaps a parallel universe where she ended up in a quantum computing startup or in a policy think tank, interpreting science for the government. 

In this CYOA life, though, she said that alternating between intense periods of teaching during the academic year and writing during the summer is how she’s able to balance a high workload and still feel rejuvenated. Berger is already hard at work on a gothic fiction book and a future fantasy series. 

“For me, it’s giving my brain a break,” she said. “I’m sure if I didn’t have this outlet, I’d find another one.”