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. ;)
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