This weekend I learned with great sadness that Ray Montgomery (you may know him as R.A.Montgomery), founder and author of the Choose Your Own Adventure books passed away this week. His publisher shared a full obituary, which you can (and should!) read here: http://www.cyoa.com, but I thought I’d share my experience with Ray….
Because Ray got me reading.
I was a very reluctant reader until I discovered the interactive CYOA game-books, and like many kids my age in the mid 1980s, they captured my attention and imagination at a time when films, tv shows, and a new media called video games were proving able competition to books.
Because I was a reluctant reader, the CYOA books allowed me to practice at reading.
Nobody told me that you actually had to practice to get better at reading, and each branch of a CYOA interactive narrative propelled my reading skills forward. Before I knew it, I’d read all twenty-something endings and, miraculously, a full book. I went onto the next one, then the next one and before I knew it…I’d read about twenty-something of the books. Not bad for a kid who hated reading.
What I loved about them was the sense of control over your destiny; especially when a ten year old has very little real control over his world. And, they set me up for a life of reading. I moved onto Gordon Korman novels, and darker stuff (After The Bomb was a 6th grade favourite), but I never forgot my love of the Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Years later, when I was at Harvard Business School, I had an idea. I remembered my love of these novels and wanted to bring them to life in a whole new way using what was then a whole new technology…the DVD.
I tracked down who owned the rights to Choose Your Own Adventure and it turned out to be a new company owned by Ray and his wife Shannon. Together with a friend, I phoned them up, and organised dinner that very night. I met them in Vermont that evening and we got on great. Ray was warm, passionate, and gregarious. What became clear was that he saw his work as more than just books, but as helping to teach young people decision making via role playing. By dessert, we had a deal on the back of a napkin.
I remember having a conversation with him when I revealed that I’d received a job offer and felt I needed to choose between a corporate gig and an entrepreneurial life. He encouraged me to choose the creative path, the entrepreneurial adventure.
For the next three years, I worked tirelessly to adapt the thirteenth book in the series, The Abominable Snowman, from interactive second person game-book to animated, fully interactive movie. The creative challenges were as immense as the financing challenges, but in 2006 we launched Choose Your Own Adventure: The Abominable Snowman, a fully interactive DVD movie that served as a love-letter to Ray’s books.
During that time, I enjoyed working with Ray and came to know him as a friend and a creative mentor. He was fiercely protective of his work (as all creators are, and should be) so the process of adaptation wasn’t always easy, but he stayed true to his ethos of teaching young people, forcing us to do the same.
Without Ray’s work, I simply wouldn’t be a reader today. I feel very privileged that I got to meet and work with a childhood hero and I’m going to miss him. Ray Montgomery chose a life of adventure, and helped to teach my generation to do the same.
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