The Long Road to Amy Abel

January 15, 2013

Since I’ve spent most of my working life writing mysteries and creating mystery games, the questions always come up.  How did I get started?  Did I always fantasize about killing people?  Do my friends feel safe when they’re in a room with me?

I can’t answer that last one, but I suppose I always loved the mechanics of a mystery.  Like many kids of my generation, I grew up on Sherlock Holmes and Encyclopedia Brown.  Even my non-mystery choices were notable for their symmetry, where all the elements tie together and make sense.  Charles Dickens is a good example.  Some people may fault him for too many wild coincidences, but I call it tight plotting.  And if you don’t like it, go climb a tree.

A good mystery, as any amateur psychologist will tell you, makes order out of chaos.  That’s the deal the writer makes with his reader: go along for the ride and I promise, no matter how crazy this gets, it will all make sense.  The world will be returned to stasis.  You’ll notice that the classic detectives never really aged.  Miss Marple was old for fifty years.  There’s a comfort to that.

Having said this, I now have to admit that mystery writing was not my first career.  I was a New York stage actor who then turned to playwriting.  One day, after a mild failure Off Broadway, one of my backers asked, “Do you have any ideas that would work on a laserdisc?”

For those who don’t remember, laserdiscs were large, frisbee-like DVDs that were supposed to replace the VCR.  They had two audio soundtracks and you could instantly go to any frame or scene on the disc.  There had to be some cool way to use them.  “How about a mystery?” I finally said.  “You can go to individual frames to see clues, and use different soundtracks with the same video to create different storylines.”

The result was “The MysteryDisc”, and that launched my new career.  From then on, I was the go-to guy for interactive mysteries.  “Clue VCR”, “Nancy Drew Online”.  You name it and I probably worked on it.

One of my favorites was “Abel Adventures” an online serial I created for Prodigy.  Every day you would read a new chapter about Tom Abel, a travel agent who led tours around the world and always ran into murder.  And every month, a new mystery would begin.  The series lasted for several years, basically until Prodigy went out of business and AOL took over.  That shows you how long ago this was.

“Abel Adventures” was always in the back of my mind, through my years of writing for TV and putting out countless volumes of short mysteries.  It seemed like such a fun concept, combining exotic locations with a light mystery.

And then, like the way many things happen today, social media came to my rescue.  Kent Holloway, an old fan, tracked me down on Facebook, told me he had started a publishing house and asked if I had any ideas for a novel.  Tom Abel came immediately to mind, only now his name would be Amy Abel and she would have adventures and a love life that Tom could never dream of.