By Steven Zimmerman
“I guess a tribute to all my teachers. You know, it’s, it’s one of those things that if they told me never to stop doing…her name just slipped my mind,” said McKinley Cougar. “She was my third-grade teacher, and she was the one who influenced me never to stop writing, never to stop writing.”
As a kid, wet behind the ears, struggling with a rotten school experience and a home life that left much to be desired, writing was an escape for me. While in elementary school I filled legal pad after legal pad with a story I considered my first “book.” The time I spend when my head down, pen in hand, writing away, I was free.
My writing style, if you could call it that, rather linear, stream of consciousness writing. It would never win any awards if it saw the light of day, but it was my story.
One day, Ms. Brown, the principal of Bradley Elementary told me that she had heard I was writing a book. She asked if she could see it. How could I say no? I gave her all my notebooks and just walked away wondering how much trouble I was in.
After school that day Ms. Brown gave me my great American Novel back and told me that she really enjoyed it. She liked it. As we sat in her office, drinking canned Dr. Pepper; she told me what all the red marks and corrections were for.
It was great; it spurred me on to write more.
As I advanced, I was pushed off into special education. A place I was later told I never needed to be. When that happened, my desire to write all but died.
That is until I had Ms. Williams as an English teacher.
Ms. Williams was my first regular English teacher in Junior High School, at H. E. Charles in fact. It was a Monday, and we were about to begin the only week we were ever going to have in school learning about poetry.
By Wednesday night I had written the first thing I enjoyed writing since elementary school. It was great.
Ms. Williams really enjoyed my poem. When we were talking, I told her about my “book” from elementary school, and about Ms. Brown. Ms. Williams encouraged me to pick that pen back up. I did.
If I had the tool, the game McKinley Cougar has created, not only would I have caught up, but progressed by leaps and bounds.
What McKinley has created is a literary device that is disguised as a game.
“A game, it’s a disguised as a game,” said McKinley Cougar of The Tell of Tales. “It’s a literally devices disguised as a game. So, it sort of helps people learn without the threat of, without the fear of failing.”
That fear of failing is very real to every single writer I know. It’s even worse for kids in High School, Middle School, any school where they fear having to stand before their classmates and read what they’ve written. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve feared just that!
A game was not what McKinley was aiming for. The plan was, as he tells it, was an art project with photos he was working on [Authors note: McKinley gave me one of his photos, and I can tell you, I can see so many stories in that one ethereal photograph]
“It actually happened all by accident. I started to design photos, and in these photos, characters started to develop. And, I started asking myself, who are these people? Where did they come? And, and from there the game just took off,” McKinley said as we sat in a grocery store restaurant in the Northeast.
“It started to bring light to it. And so, my experience with writing, I wanted to write a story, but I felt as if the world could write the story, and that it would give the opportunity for people to follow a format that they may be unfamiliar with that could also help them diversify what it is in their writing and how to go from there.”
Before my interview, as we sat in the restaurant in Valley Supermarket, I played a round of the game.
The way the game is structured, the format, it hands you the bones of a story. It’s up to you to add flesh to those bones, to bring it to life. As I was reviewing my task, as I was writing, I found myself calling upon writing skills I had long forgotten.
This literary device, this “game” is going to be a game changer – no pun intended. It is going to help so many find and shape their own voice.
“It’s one of those things,” McKinley shared, “that I believe that you can assign it to any list of characters. You can assign it to any places or any circumstances. Whether it be your own or whether it be the characters within the game that the formula will help writers diversify their writing.”
So how does the game work?
“When the game came to be, there was a lot of little subtleties. There’s a lot, there’s a formula within it, and that formula is one of those things that I can’t divulge,” said Cougar because he is still in the process of obtaining a patient for the Tell of Tales.
“How the game operates, I like to sum it up as it takes some randomness of card dealing and combines it with the fun and adventure of storytelling.”
As we talked, McKinley said he sees this game being used in all types of writing classes. Everything from advanced to your neighborhood writing guild. I mentioned to him that it would also greatly benefit people, like me who found themselves stuck in a learning environment that was limited in scope and depth.
“It’d be something beneficial to all types of writers,” agreed McKinley. “You know, rather they’re amateur or professional that it brings to, it brings to the writer an opportunity to use different techniques that he may be unfamiliar with but, they may be unfamiliar with. And, it tells them how to develop a character and character development and how to use those attributes to benefit this storyline.”
That marriage between a character and the storyline was always one that eluded me in school. It took years for me to be able to understand the relationship between the two. Yet, in the Tell of Tales, we have a game that brings these, and other literary techniques to life. It presents them in a way that makes them easily understandable and fun.
How soon would we see this game on the market? How soon can we get it into schools?
McKinley is still working on obtaining the patient. Once that’s done, he will start seeking out manufacturers for the finished product. To get there, McKinley is testing his game with writers of all skill levels, he’s seeking investors, and is looking towards the future.
I will leave McKinley with the last word – I asked him the meteor question.
“So right now, I’d say that if a, if a meteor hit right now and I was wiped out, I’d say that take this opportunity to learn about investing, to invest into a product that has the potential to go very far in America,” Cougar shared. “And like I said, this is the only in English. So, I think that once we get it into other languages, it’s going to blossom into something brand new and that this, this also will help diversify writing for the future. I think i’s one of those types of games that once people become familiar with it, i’ll be a part of their life, forever.”
To find out more about what McKinley is doing, and learn how you can be a part of this project, contact him via the Tell of Tales Facebook page.