Although advice is often unwelcome, in some situations it’s exactly what launches a great idea.
Such was the case for Brian Mooney, 52, inventor of the story-making games Storymatic, Sunapsis, Rememory and Storymatic for Kids. These are non-competitive parlor games — creative writing prompts — that can used in the classroom, at parties, for movie-making, cartooning, date nights, therapy, or for writers and others wanting to explore, as Mooney explains, “serious artistic and personal material.” But, he adds, these games can give you also some “good ol’ fashioned fooling around.”
His own story going from teacher and writer to entrepreneur began in the classroom.
“I had this particular prompt that I used a lot for my fiction classes,” says Mooney. “My students encouraged me to make more of these prompts, so they could use them at home with friends. I took their advice and made a few, put them on a little website and people started ordering them. Suddenly, I found myself running a business.”
It was not only catalytic advice that created his games — it was economic necessity that drove him on. A year’s worth of freelance writing and editing work ahead of him suddenly vanished. Not knowing what to expect, he spent about $70 making a rudimentary version of his game. The investment paid off: Today the games are available from about a hundred different retailers, including online ones such as Amazon, and brick and mortar shops from Brattleboro to Beijing. In 2015 Storymatic was the Academics’ Choice Award™ Brain Toy Award winner.
But not everyone goes from writer and teacher to successful businessman. He had an intriguing idea and a healthy serving of encouragement, but then there’s the man himself — a creative teacher always keen for new ways to teach students how to write.
Mooney wrote up some character prompts on little slips of paper for a class. These were character traits, jobs people might have, personality types and so on. He put the slips in a little brown lunch bag.
That little exercise amused me enough that I wrote up a few other things — objects, complications, places and so forth — and put them in some other bags. Everyone would take a slip of paper from each bag and see what ideas came up,” Mooney explains.
Then came that random moment. Mooney thought: How about taking two slips of paper from the character bag, rather than only one?
“I was cracking myself up the whole time I was writing the prompts. I mean ‘boxer’ on its own is fine. And ‘dentist’ on its own is fine,” says Mooney. “But when you put them together to make a boxing dentist — that’s instantly an interesting character.” Someone his students might like to write about.
The experiment worked. It worked in the classroom and, though Mooney didn’t realize it at the time, it was on its way to another realm: the marketplace.
Like many an entrepreneur, Mooney assembled the product at home. Storymatic was first made at the kitchen table with the help of Mooney’s wife, Vaune Trachtman. But after making about a 1,000 hand-stamped versions of the cards it was clear they needed a manufacturer, bookkeeper and designer.
They found a mentor in Mooney’s friend, Josh Bach, who makes neckties. Support also came from Debra Boudrieau of the Vermont Small Business Development Center. The games, now made in Michigan, are currently shipped from the couple’s studio in the Cotton Mill, Brattleboro, Vermont.
Mooney continues to write the prompts on cards. As Vaune likes to say, “It’s Mooney’s brain in a box.”
The packaging gets a stamp from the early days, so “I never forget how this all started,” notes Mooney. After all, every good story has its backstory.
To see the complete Storymatic line-up of games go to www.storymatic.com. Locally the games are available at Art-rage-us, Penelope Wurr and Everyone’s Books, all in Brattleboro.
Peg Lopata writes from Brattleboro, Vermont.