CJ Bernstein writes immersive stories that shatter the line between reader and character. In 2016 he launched an online interactive experience called The Monarch Papers, a year-long narrative about dark magic, secret societies, and the altered history of the world. Readers could directly interact with characters, solve puzzles, unwind centuries-old mysteries, and even alter the outcome of the story.
CJ used The Monarch Papers to launch Ackerly Green Publishing and a new literary universe where readers can become characters, and their actions and decisions become immortalized in an ever-expanding series of novels. CJ lives in New York City with his husband, twins, and dogs.
There were no books in my house growing up.
We lived by some estimates, in poverty. In my early childhood there were times when we didn’t have food.
There were many times when we didn’t have hot water. So you can imagine my mom was more concerned with feeding us and taking very short, very cold showers than she was with how well read a child she was bringing up.
One often unrecognized curse of poverty is that knowledge and wonder become luxuries. Those who most need to escape can’t afford to escape. But I was lucky. That vacuum at home led me to fall in love with English teachers and book fairs and school libraries and school librarians who, like me, had a love of worlds other than our own. They allowed me to escape and dream a much bigger life for myself. A life I left home to seek out.
I was a high school drop out. And a college drop out. Twice.
But I picked up a love of writing along that winding path and somewhere in my early twenties I decided I was going to be a screenwriter. So I learned how to be a screenwriter. After a few years, and a few unfinished scripts, I made my way to Los Angeles. I was there a little over a year when happenstance and luck and being almost sort-of prepared led me to my first sold script.
I went on to write movies with varying degrees of success for ten years. I was doing what I thought was my dream; the country boy goes to Hollywood. But it wasn’t really my dream. It was just a story I told people. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t creatively fulfilled. I had stopped chasing wonder. Instead, I was frantically chasing other people’s ideas when I had worlds inside me that wanted out.
It took me years, but I eventually realized I wanted to build a new life, a new career, new worlds. And when I realized that, it was kind of like wonder called out to me again. Just like it had when I was a kid. It didn’t mind that I was older and balding and a little worn out from life. It had waited like a patient friend. And now I’m off again on that never ending search for wonder. All I hope is that what I write also kindles that search in someone else.