Saturday, October 15, 2011

Opening The Vintage Matt Shafeek Vault

My mother recently sold her house, and as a result I found myself having to rummage through every single possession I have in permanent storage. This led to some delightful trips down memory lane, as well as the gift of some great memoir fodder (look for a garage-themed piece later).

One of the best finds during the many hours spent sifting through my childhood were some of the little books I wrote as a kid. I loved writing short stories where my friends and I would go on wild adventures filled with, well, cliches and references to other adventures I'd seen before (what do you want from me, I was 8). They also happen to be pretty adorable, and make me yearn for the days when I could write a full story and not agonize over whether or not anyone will ever like it.

So I'm sharing a few of my discoveries here today. If you guys love them enough, I've got plenty more to show off in future posts.

This particular story is called: Adventures with Matthew: The Mystery of the Missing Jewel.

Adventures of Matthew and Friends - The Mystery of the Missing Jewel


1) Apparently I wrote this story as a present for my parents during Christmas, which is pretty amazing, right? I mean, I did have a ton of money that I inherited from my incredibly rich great grandmama, but what could I have possibly bought the two of them that would have been more impressive than a story crafted from the mind of their own child?

2) Other than on the cover, where the titular character has apparently donned an undersized investgator's hat, our hero Matthew is generally always seen wearing his trademark green hat, along with his trademark blue shirt, orange pants and brown shoes. Also, note that this is marked #1. This was no one-off. I had big plans for this series, ladies and gentlemen.

3) In all my stories I incorporated a fair of my actual friends at the time, plus my brother Mo. But apparently, I deemed none of them cool enough (including myself) because I felt the need to introduce a fictional Joe Cool (check name) character, who wore black sunglasses and smoked cigarettes that inexplicably saved the day on three separate occasions! Joe is, to my knowledge, supposed to be our age, so it's important to realize I gave myself an 8 year old friend with a pack-a-day habit. For the record, I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, so this wasn't wishful thinking on my part. I guess I just thought my group needed someone like Joe - reckless, carefree and oh so f-ing cool to be fully fleshed out.

4) This was the first time, to my recollection (I'll have to analyze my oeuvre a bit more carefully to confirm this) that I played around with perspective. Most of my drawings were drawn from the profile, with a character facing to the side, with only one eye, arm and shoe visible or facing out, showing their full body. But check out the spectacular bird's eye view on page 12. I don't know about you, but I'm impressed.

Ok, so next up we have Adventures with Matthew & Friends: The Video Game. That's right folks, not only was I a child novelist, but I was also a mother f-ing game designer.

Adventures with Matthew and Friends: The Video Game!

I only pasted a few pages from the instruction booklet here, but it's more than enough for you to understand my grand vision.

Bonus Facts!

1) I loved Loved LOVED imagining the possibilities for video games as a kid. I wrote up designs for a LOT of games, and thought of ideas for hundreds more. Most were sequels to franchises I already knew, but I came up with a handful of original ideas, too. Fact: I actually came up with the idea for Grand Theft that I imagined an open world came where you could drive around an entire city and go anywhere you wanted. The actual premise to my game involved getting medicine for your grandmama and didn't include guns, car theft, or prostitutes, so I guess you could say Rockstar produced a bastardized version of my vision.

2) Erica, my real life cousin was the only female to be featured in the Adventures with Matthew and Friends series. As I recall, I ran every other girl I knew through an exhaustive series of tests (have you played any of these video games? How much of these games have you played?), and they all failed.

3) Note that all the kids in this game - including my then 3-4 year old brother - are holding a gun. This is a serious adventure people, and you can't expect to survive it without packing some heat! More importantly though - look at our returning friend Joe Cool. His gun has a cigarette sticking out of its barrel. I don't even know what else to say.

4) By this point I felt my friends deserved to get some recognition, though they're clearly not getting top billing.

Oh hey - did you get stuck part-way through this game that I made up in my mind? Well have no fear friend, because I also drew up a strategy guide!

How To Win At Adventures With Matthew And Friends The Video Game

Are you all as amused as I am by myself?

Secret Facts!

1) Are you noticing my weird obsessions with ridiculously over-sized jewels? Nowadays I'll take a jewel-less ring, necklace  or nose stud imbued with magical properties over those giant blue monstrosities, thank you very much.

2) What you see on the cover inside Matt's backpack and around his belt and on his shoes were all the items/powerups I imagined you'd collect over the course of the game. If you think I thought this was kind of a fantastical image, understand that in my spare time I'd play out pretend adventures with as many video game-y items (magnifying glasses, gloves, empty bottles, four leaf clovers, plastic swords, garbage can covers) on my person as I explored the unknown depths of my basement and backyard. This was simply the lens through which I saw the world

3) This strategy guide was my brilliant way of showing all the cool stuff in my game. It was also the easiest way for me to bring all my awesome ideas into existence without a modicum of programming ability.

4) I loved those little secrets within games as you can tell from the last two pages here. I always thought the best reward to give a gamer when he beats a game is to give him MORE GAME, so most of my secrets involved unlocking new areas or tougher versions of old levels. I must have reigned in my imagination a bit though, because, with no time or budgetary constraints, why wouldn't I just have an entirely new adventure/sequel be unlocked? I suppose I was keeping my imaginary overworked programmers in mind.

So...not content to just leave my ideas sitting on the table, I actually wrote a letter to Nintendo at some point with some of my best, likely comically oversized gems. I didn't think to make a copy of the original letter, so I can't share exactly what I wrote, but what I do have is the actual letter they wrote in response to me:

Pretty awesome...

Final Facts!

1) Apparently I must have sent them artwork and ideas. They got away without having to actually say they were rejecting any of them by basically saying that "we don't make those decisions here - all that stuff happens in Japan. Sorry kid!" Pretty convenient, Nintendo Of America. Pretty convenient.

2) Note that this is a response from the Nintendo Fun Club which was a company-owned monthly zine that predated the more well known Nintendo Power (which was already being plugged in this letter). I scanned every issue of both periodicals with a fine tooth comb.

3) It's a good thing they didn't send me any free stuff because I probably would have sent them a letter a week forever. Kind of a reverse Andy Dufrane from Shawshank Redemption

4) Nintendo could have gotten me programming if they had given me the slightest hint as to what to do to get my foot in the door in the industry. They could have also just as easily gotten me hooked on drugs, or stealing hubcaps off of cars if they had felt so inclined.


This is probably as good a time as any to announce I'm going to pick up where I left off during my early childhood and try my hand at writing another story (though to be fair, I have been doing a fair amount of writing, both fiction and non-fiction in the past few years). I'm going to enter National Novel Writing Month this year with a couple of friends. It begins November 1st. 

It's an incredibly frightening commitment to make, and I have no idea if I'll be able to get 50,000 words on paper in 30 days, but all I can say is that I'm going to try. I'd like to think 8 year-old me would be proud of 32 year-old me. And what is life about if not trying to life you imagined yourself having when you were a kid?


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