We're two days away from my favorite holiday of all: Halloween. Also known as Samhain, it marks the end of the pagan year, the time when the bridge between the mortal and spirit worlds is its thinnest... and when all kinds of creeps and crawlies come knocking at your door with a spirited "trick or treat" and their best ghoulish grin or spooky scowl. Everyone has Halloween traditions: jack-o-lanterns, stretchy fake cobwebs, screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show or other favorite creepy movies ... but my favorite Halloween tradition is a 20-year-old computer game. Let me show you around Old Man Stauf's mansion, and tell you the tale of how it planted the seeds of Aviario in my mind..
was only in junior high - maybe 12, 13, or so - not old enough for serious horror, according to my parents. We were visiting family in Connecticut, and I came downstairs to find all the adults crowded around the little butcher block in the kitchen, where my aunt kept the little PC she'd bought for my uncle's home business. "Go over there," I heard them say. "No, that one, try that one!" They were all helping her play a game, and my grandmother handed me the box: a purple affair adorned with a giant red 7 and a beautifully creepy Victorian mansion on a hill. They were attempting to navigate the halls of the mansion: to this day, I can still tell you the area of the house they were in. Once they found the next puzzle in the game, we spent a good hour crowded around that monitor, trying to decipher it so we could watch the next piece of the story unfold. We never did solve it, but my father and I were hooked. On our way home, we stopped at Staples and bought our own copy. Within months, I had powered my way through ... and found myself re-playing it every year or so.
It wasn't the puzzles that captivated me, though I can do some of them in my sleep, now. It was the story of Henry Stauf, the Depression-era toymaker who made a bargain with evil spirits for fame and fortune, then brought six equally desperate people to his house to compete for the right to their "heart's most secret desire" captivated me. I even collaborated with my fellow writer and good friend, Jewel E. Leonard, to write a parody of it for a Halloween installment of the stories we were weaving together during my senior year of high school.
College came before that Halloween, however, and with it, a parting of the ways which is now very deep water under the bridge. I knew I needed to keep writing, but the characters I had been tending to were all so tightly linked to Jewel's creations that I didn't feel comfortable using them: all but two: the man I had created as my own homage to one of the denizens of Stauf's mansion, and his daughter. They were the very first residents of Aviario, and the plot of my first novel grew slowly around them, with help from a tarot card reading on a stormy night.
That first novel has been written and rewritten three times, and the end result is In The Cards, which is due out just in time for next Halloween. It's very far removed from The 7th Guest, now, and the only thing which remains is the house on the edge of town, full of secrets. But its owner speaks with Stauf's voice: a low, musical lilt that invites you in even as it raises the hair on the back of your neck. I won't mention him by name, though: that would be spoiling things. And I do know how readers love surprises.
As my Halloween gift to you all, I invite you to enjoy my favorite game. It has been remastered for the advent of its 20th anniversary, and can be found on GOG.com (for $1.49, WOW), and as an Android app for tablets. It's also available on Steam! If you decide to indulge, I do hope you enjoy your trip through Stauf's mansion. Tell 'em Ang sent you. And don't forget to try the soup.
Next week, I'll be answering some questions about my life as an author, sent to me by my fellow author, S. Hunter Nisbet! I hope to see you then! Until next week ... why don't you leave me a comment and let me know something that's made an impression on you? A book, a movie, a game ... anything. I love hearing what makes people's creative juices flow... okay, I came off as a bit of a creeper, there. Blame the game. I know I always do. ;)
Back in July, I wrote a little introspective entry on claiming the Author title for myself, and how good it felt. Now that From the Desk of Buster Heywood is in print, all of that still stands, but I have something else to add:
Here's why: I'd been working on this book for five years. Buster had been a character in my mind for even longer than that. The book itself was nothing new, to me ... but everyone that I've showed the print copy to has been absolutely over the moon.
I had been so caught up in writing and juggling all the steps of self-publishing, in actually Being An Author, that I forgot how exhilarating the final product would be. For me, having a readership is not just something that brings my story to a greater life: it reminds me how fantastic this Author business really is.
I took my copy of From the Desk... around to a couple of local shops yesterday, and uttered the words "I'm a local, self-published author ... would you be interested in carrying my book?" for the first time. It felt incredible, empowering ... and strange, as though I was doing something that I could be called out for at any moment. I almost expected someone to pop out from the stacks of the store, point, and screech "You're not an author! BOOO!" (I am all about the pop culture references, today, apparently.) But no one did, and I stood proud, and I owned my calling. It felt amazing.
So, before I prepare to throw myself into the battlefields of NaNoWriMo next Sunday, I wanted to take a moment, pause in my mad preparation and the rush that October has become, and say thank you.
Thank you to all of you: for reading this blog, for supporting me in any way, no matter how small. For every Like, Retweet, smile, encouraging word, and excited flail. It's easy for me to get mired in the work, as much as I love it: to forget that what I am doing is Kind of a Big Deal. You, dear Readers, remind me of it, and it means the world. I started this series for myself, but you are the reason I intend to keep going. Thank you for being you... I'll see you next week.
This week's optional theme for #2bitTues is "Forgotten" ... in searching In The Cards for good lines, I found this little gem of a scene, and decided I had to share it with you all.
As the last few rays of sun disappeared over the horizon, they were replaced by the spark and flare of a lighter, then the single glowing eye of a cigarette. Crowley drew in a lungful of nicotine, then sent it up to join the dark clouds closing in over town. “Bugger of a storm comin’ down soon.”
“Okay, seriously?” Fritz kicked over a rock with his sneaker as one of the first fat raindrops landed on his shoulder. “Being here is already enough of a cliché. Do you have to add the dialogue?”
“Not my fault the weather agrees.” Crowley bared his nicotine grin, turning toward the riverbank. “Besides … they’re getting closer.”
“Not that I mind a little rain, but we really should get outta here before anyone sees us.”
Crowley flicked his thumb, sending a spit of ash into the current as the rain begain in earnest. “Think you just bloody well jinxed yourself there. But at this point, it don’t matter who sees us. As far as I could tell this afternoon, cat’s nearly outta the bag.”
“That was awful. Why can’t we leave him out of this mess?”
“Those’re the orders.”
“Said the guy with the anarchy patches on his jacket.”
Crowley reached out and dug his neon fingernails into the collar of Fritz’s coat. The blue and green highlights in his pale blond hair flopped into his face as he leaned in close and bared his teeth. “Listen, you walking ball of nerves. I don’t know if you forgot what tree you stashed your brains in this morning before you drank your Ovaltine, but there’s only one authority I respect enough not t’question. It’s in your best interests – and Ral’s – t’do the same!”
Fritz flailed, swatting Crowley’s hand as he tried to wiggle free. “I – but – it – just - that – I – he – let go!” He squeaked, swiping raindrops off his chest and straightening his collar. “It isn’t that I question the big black bossman. I just don’t see why he doesn’t let you handle the girl.”
“I’ve got my own hand to play. As for the girl,” Crowley said, shielding his cigarette from the rain, “it’s gotta be one of you. When it comes to Iknara, I paid my dues a long time ago.”
Fritz shook his head. “I don’t care what he says we’ve got to do. There must be some way to finish this without getting someone else’s blood on my hands.”
Crowley rolled his eyes.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. Not everyone likes being a pain in the … butt.”
“One of these effing days, I’m going to see you swear.” Crowley smirked, pulling a cell phone from his pocket.
Fritz slicked rain from his broad forehead and shook it out onto the ground, where the riverbank was quickly degrading into thick, red mud. “If you make that call, I’m leaving. I can’t watch you involve anyone else in this mess and just lurk around getting your kicks out of watching them flip out.”
“Suit yourself.” Crowley shrugged mid-dial. “Just remember how t’make an omelet. Wouldn’t want you to starve.”
As he trudged up the hill to where he’d parked his Galaxie, Fritz raised his eyes to the storm clouds and let out a wordless whine. “Trixie,” he told his car, settling in behind her wheel, “I’m liking this job less and less.”
Last week, I promised you a review of a new writers' resource site from authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Pugilisi. One Stop For Writers pulls together content from their already existing Writers' Thesaurus series, and adds brand new content that these lovely ladies researched for themselves so we didn't have to. To get detail on their settings, they went to any lengths they could: up to and including getting arrested so that they could have a full sensory experience! That alone is worth some serious acclaim, in my opinion... but we're here to talk about the website.
One Stop has a very clean, inviting interface that has a simple, classical feel to it. The drop-down menus are easy to navigate and understand, and the font is large enough to read for long periods of time without straining the eyes. The only caveat I would include about the site design is that some subscribers with light sensitivities may wish to dim their screen before prolonged use.
Anyone curious about the resources available before they start poking around can begin at the About OS page, or check out the breadth of tutorials that have been created for the site. These make it easy to quickly find whatever exact information you might need if you're in a hurry and not just wandering around for fun, like I was. As for the content, itself ... I haven't felt this excited about access to a broad wealth of knowledge since I got my first library card.
The Information Desk can be bypassed if you are there for a quick fact run, because it deals with FAQs, the site's blog, and other "About The Site" components. The meat of the content is in two sections of the menu: The Stacks and the Thesaurus. I won't bore you with a list of everything, but the Thesaurus has the kind of details I didn't even know I'd needed. Sensory details and alternatives to describing different items are a huge boon for me: who hasn't wondered how to describe something in a unique way? The Setting thesaurus even gives a sample description for each location, and shows authors the ways a setting can be personalized to your characters, while still maintaining the qualities that readers will be able to recognize and relate to. There are other Thesauri which will help set the mood with color and weather, or weave symbolism into your plot ... so if you are the sort of author who struggles with finding or maintaining a theme, this will be a treasure in itself.
Once the Thesauri have been plundered for all the bounty you need for your scene, The Stacks are there to help you finish the job. They are more than the finishing touch: they are more like flying buttresses which can help support your beautiful cathedral of words. The tutorials for the Thesauri can be found here, as well as an Idea Generator for the blocked and bewildered ... but the star of The Stacks are its templates and worksheets. These are a NaNoWriMo Plotter's dream content: not just your standard outline or character creation lists, but ones which help you get to the heart of your story, the parts which make it really come alive and sing. Work out your characters' fears and emotional growth, or create reference sheets for each character and setting so that you don't have to flip back through your manuscript to remember if Professor Goddard's eyes were blue or green. In fact ... oh! Let's get that thesaurus out now that you've looked it up:
The Professor stared them down with the bluest eyes Nick had ever seen. In any other circumstance, he might have thought them beautiful, but in that moment, they were a frostbite that spread to him and chilled him through.
That's the color thesaurus at work! I wouldn't have come up with that frostbite line, otherwise - I may have gone with electricity, perhaps, but that's far too overused, and I would've had this song stuck in my head for the rest of the day (and likely still will). But that isn't even scratching the surface of what's available at One Stop For Writers. The search engine for cross-comparison helps you connect themes, colors, textures ... any thesaurus entry can be cross-referenced with any others that could apply to it. Just like that, you've got a wealth of ideas for description, instead of sitting slack-jawed, buggy-eyed, staring at your monitor. And in case you find things you want to use for later, there's a Notes feature built into the site that saves your notes directly to your profile and allows you to link back to the article you used when you're ready for it.
I had a grand old time with One Stop For Writers, and I can see that it's going to be an invaluable resource. Unfortunately, the Thesaurus I was anticipating most, Emotional Wounds, was not yet available on the site, and several settings are still in the process of being added. I can't use it for everything I personally need, but that isn't going to stop me from strongly recommending it to any fiction author. A free membership lets you access a limited amount of content and get a feel for the site so that you can see if it would be worth the full subscription, which is broken down into 1-month, 6-month, or yearly price brackets. If you consider that the standard price of one Writer's Thesaurus is $12, and there are several available ... a $9 one month subscription which combines them pays for itself. But here's the thing ...
Value isn't the biggest reason I enjoy One Stop For Writers: and it isn't necessarily the content, either (though that plays a very large part). The entire site is imbued with the spirit that I think every author should have: to take the knowledge they have gathered and share it with other authors, so that they can find their path to their own goals just that little bit easier to traverse. Thanks to Angela and Becca for letting me test it out and spread the word!
Picture this: you have fought and clawed to have the time to yourself so that you can write. You're in that perfect mindset, and as your word processing program of choice boots, you're soft-tapping the keyboard in anticipation because your fingers are just that ready to get working. I've been there. You've been there. And then... you write. The words start pouring out as fast as your typing can keep up with them, and you're on an absolute roll. Your dialogue is beautiful, your characters are full of life, and the scene is singing on key ... until disaster strikes. Your main character is so moved by something that a simple sigh or smile won't do, or their friend does something which hints that there may be more to them than you planned ... and you don't quite know what it could be. Even worse? They round a corner or open a door, and that setting that's laid out so precisely in your mind won't fit on the page in the way you want it to: you're at a loss for that perfect descriptor.
So what do you do? Sometimes, you just write the bland thing and leave it for later. Other times, the yen for The Right Phrase is so strong that there's nothing for it. You turn to your stacks of writing books, your thesaurus, your idea notebook ... or, heaven forbid, Google and the vast siren song of the open internet. Before you know it, you're looking at pages that have nothing to do with what you needed, getting other ideas: that creative mind that was in such joyous overdrive is burning its fuel on side roads instead of cruising down the glorious scenic byway of your project,
With that in mind ... I have a task ahead of me for this week, and I am SO excited about it that I can't just wait until my next blog post for you to hear about it. Two authors I've been following for a couple of years now, Angela Ackerman and Becca Pugilisi, have taken the fruits of their Writers Helping Writers site and brought them all together into a website called One Stop For Writers. It just launched yesterday, and yours truly has a free month's worth of complete access in exchange for an honest review.
This comes at a perfect time: I'm finalizing my outline and character sketches for my third novel, so I have things I actively need to research, and plenty of opportunities to test the vast reaches of the site. I took a cursory glimpse at it yesterday when I registered and used my free coupon, and I'm already psyched up to dive deeper! There is such a wealth of information in this site, and I have a feeling that a quick ten-minute browse wasn't even beginning to do it justice. I look forward to coming back next week and sharing everything I've found out with you!
Fall officially arrived on the Autumn Equinox, September 23rd, but here in my little corner of the world, it feels like it's finally settling in and getting comfortable with being here. I crunched through and kicked up my first puddle of leaves on Sunday, as I was coming up from the laundry room. There was a blue sky overhead, and the air had that crisp, clear smell. I think fall may be the only time that we enjoy the smell of something decaying... which is telling.
The Autumn Equinox is also known as Mabon to witches and druids, and it signals a preparation for the end of the year. It is a time for letting go of the things that weigh us down, and squaring up with our past. There are echoes of this theme in Yom Kippur, as well ... and they take place within days of each other. The Pagan year traditionally ends on Halloween, or Samhain, and begins on All Saints'/Souls' Day. The world has given its bounties up to us, and we celebrate with our ancestors before settling in with that bounty for the long winter.
At this point, you're likely wondering what all of this has to do with writing... especially those of you who may already be reading From the Desk of Buster Heywood and know that it starts in January, during a dreary, gray Connecticut winter. The answer is that time itself, and the season, are vital characters in a story just as much as a setting can be. Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables is a character, as is the titular town of Richard Russo's Empire Falls... and who would dare to not call Firefly's Serenity or Star Trek's Enterprise a character? They shape the story just as much as the people who live in them... and the seasons shape them.
Fall has always been my favorite season, because it has always felt like a magical time: nature shows off her colors to full extent here in New Hampshire, and the beginning of the school year was a time when everything started over again and anything - yes, anything! - could happen. Every new day brimmed with possibilities to learn, to grow, and to explore, and the air got comfortable and cozy. Long before Pumpkin Spice was Queen of All, there was apple cider, and the first smells of woodstove smoke, and costume-hunting. In October, you could be whoever you wanted, do whatever you wanted, and neighborhoods came aglow with flickering Jack-O-Lanterns and creepy-crawly things that bumped and swooshed and booed.
If October is magic, then what more perfect time to choose as the setting of the second novel, In The Cards? It is the beginning of magic's involvement in the world of Aviario, and it does not start out slow and small. There are mysteries to chase and unravel, threads which knit together to form a plot that you can wrap yourself up in like that favorite fall scarf. The town changes along with its leaves, and along with the reader's perception of it . As for Buster and his winter, I wouldn't dare spoil the reasoning behind that here ... you'll have to give the book a read and guess at that one yourselves.
What magic does fall hold for you? Or, if it's not your favorite season, what stirs the magic in your heart? Please feel free to drop me a comment and share.
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