BOOKS: Childhood experience inspires mystery novel | Books & Literature

Jane Ammeson Times correspondent

A mysterious and abandoned octagonal house, hidden in the woods, a mysterious disappearance and stories of hauntings. A spooky and spooky place indeed and one that lures – no luring brand – Clare and Abby, two young friends, to peek inside.

Or go back even further, to the memories of author Jennifer Fawcett, a playwright who worked with a theater company in Canada before moving to upstate New York to teach at Skidmore College. Fawcett, the author of the just-released “Beneath the Stairs,” accepted a friend’s challenge to participate in NaNoWriMo about a decade ago. Short for National Novel Writing Month, it’s a way for writers to jump-start the process by setting a goal to finish a 50,000-word book in a month.

Make it a decade for Fawcett. That’s how long it took him to finish “Under the Stairs,” as there were plays to write, a baby that arrived, a move to upstate New York, and classes at to give. But what emerged was a story based on her own experience when she was 13, riding a bike with three friends to explore an old, decrepit octagonal house.

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“We didn’t stay inside long,” said Fawcett, who holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. “I remember it was very cold.”

Decades later, that short visit and feelings of cold and goosebumps were reflected in Fawcett’s story about the aftermath of Clare and Abby’s visits. Long estranged from her childhood friend, Clare is living in Chicago when she receives a call that Abby is hospitalized after attempting to kill herself in the basement of the Octagonal House. Clare, who has had a miscarriage and sees her relationship dissolving, reluctantly returns home. There are all sorts of reasons why she wants to avoid where she grew up, and one of them is Abby’s older brother-in-law.

Trying to figure out what happened to Abby brings Clare back to the Octagon House. As she remembers all those years, there is an icy cold in the house and a feeling of invisible beings. Almost irresistibly, she is drawn to the basement where the house’s distilled evil seems centered. The basement door is an animated object, opening on its own, and creepier, sometimes locking in someone who has descended the stairs to the basement.

In the book, Fawcett added a widow’s walk to the top, although there was none when she and her friends came when they were 13. She recently discovered that the house originally had one. She also discovered, after the book was published, that the names she used for the characters were the actual names of the people associated with the house. It was almost as if the house channeled its story through Fawcett when she wrote. Scary stuff indeed.

Fawcett doesn’t necessarily believe in the supernatural, but we both get a slight shiver when I ask her if she would enter the house, which is located in Canada, now if she had the chance.

“I can’t,” she said. “It burned down a few years ago. On Halloween.”

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