My Muse is a Battle Tank

Strange things happen on military bases, and no time is more fraught with such oddities as the span of 0300 to 0400. As a defense contractor doing the work I do, my schedule often has me arriving on post just before or during this peculiar time, classically referred to as the ‘witching hour’. Yesterday morning I swear I locked eyes with a nine-legged coyote as it casually crossed in front of my truck’s headlights. While we let that sink in, allow me to paint the background for a moment.
I am involved in training missions, and there are usually any number of soldiers and vehicles spread out across the training area, which is often many hundreds of acres of raw nature with a few dirt roads. I’ve been doing this for several years now, and working this job has provided me with much in the way of inspiration and information for my work as an author. Prior to working for the military I wrote stories more in the vein of horror, adventure, fantasy, and bizzaro fiction. While I still enjoy all of those types of writing, my work took a hard turn towards military science fiction. I found that writing in this genre allowed me to creatively process my relationship with the real-life military industrial complex and my place in it, not to mention the fact that working with the military has provided me with a vast amount of information and experience that can be drawn upon for my fiction. While I take much in the way of creative license when it comes to my writing, as it is science fiction after all, thanks to my work with the military, especially the combat training scenarios for infantry, medics, armor, and intelligence, I am able to layer in enough of the real deal to give my fiction a feel of authenticity.
What this job also offers is continuous moments of inspiration. There are a number of scenes and characters in my Necrospace series that are derived from things I have witness in the training, people I have met in the service, and even the settings in which we train. Since I am drawing upon the modern US military as my source, those influences can be clearly seen in the writing, and that is why despite being a futuristic sort of setting the weapons and tactics have a more contemporary feel to them, even if tinkered with profoundly for the sake of the story.
Well thanks to the witching hour, I have been given inspiration that is going to take me far into the realm of speculative fiction, even if still somewhat grounded in real world military.
This morning I saw a monster, and it demanded its own story.
I was driving down a dark dirt road, looking to raid our range operations warehouse for picket pounders so that our opposition forces troops could build fighting positions for the day’s war. We are the middle of nowhere, and the starlight and my headlights just weren’t sufficiently piercing the gloom. I threw on my brights just as I turned a tight corner, and saw a row of tanks parked on the side of the road. As I drove past the row I saw a monster, doing its best to pretend it was a tank, and I was instantly reminded of how cockroaches either freeze or bolt when you shine a light on them, depending on how close they are to an avenue of escape. This thing was caught in my high beams, and didn’t move. I rolled by slowly and snapped a photo, just to capture the moment in case the thing was gone by the time the sun came up.
I might write this beast into a Necrospace story, or I might add it to the new series that is gaining momentum in my mind, but I know for sure that it will appear one way or the other. Same goes for my new friend with all the appendages.
Where did I get the ideas for a nine-legged coyote and a monster tank you ask?
On dirt roads at three o’clock in the morning.

Marine Cadets Wanted

necrospaceRedux   DeadWorldsCover   TradeWarCover2

REAPER– Resource Exploration And Procurement Engineer Regiment

Welcome Citizen, to a new life of adventure, including meal plan and hazard pay! Because Grotto Corporation is heavily invested in exploration and military ventures there is always a place for stalwart citizens, twenty-five standard years or younger, willing to risk life and limb for incredible wages and a sense of accomplishment.

As a REAPER, your primary function will be to serve as foot soldiers and salvage specialists for militarized expeditions into regions of both mapped and unmapped space in search of raw materials ready to be exploited.

To claim or re-claim machinery, equipment, and building materials from former battlefields, space hulks, and otherwise abandoned facilities.

Base wages for training and transit time are nearly twice that of the average workforce assignment, and all recovery and combat duties come with additional hazard bonuses.

See your local recruiter for details.

Sign up today!

Risky Fiction

Honorable men, well, they die hard, but they still die.” — Nicola (the film Bunraku)

As an author I want to create a sense for the reader that, once the series is firmly established, anyone could die.

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I have approached my scifi military series ‘Necrospace‘ with this in mind. I know that for the most part (unless I surprise myself at some point) my main protagonist Samuel Hyst is going to survive any given book so that he can be around for the next installment, because though we may visit some subplots, this series is his story.

Until it isn’t.

Do I plan on killing off my main character?

Not really, but I’m open to it, which is why I’m building up all the supporting characters. I don’t know who is going to get killed in this book or that book, because I’m following this story only a few steps ahead of my readers (keeps it fun to write!). Maybe there will come a point in the series where its time for Samuel to meet his end and for one of the other characters to step onto the main stage. In the first book ‘Salvage Marines‘ all of the supporting characters began on equal footing as far as development, though as we go into the second book ‘Dead Worlds‘ not all of the supporting characters survived the first story, and now new ones are taking their place in book two, though a core group of supporting cast have now managed to survive not only one but two installments. They are growing as characters, and while not to the degree of the protagonist, I am confident that I could, if I wanted to, kill off Samuel Hyst and pass the protagonist torch to a supporting character who is ready to take the lead.

As an author I like having that option, and as a reader that is exactly what I want out of a series. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dresden Files, but I know that Wizard Harry Dresden is never going to die, at least until the author decides to write one last novel and call it quits (because final installments all bets are off!). I want to create a story where we have multitudes of characters who can take center stage when a protagonist bites the big one. I’m not writing from so many perspectives as George RR Martin or anythying, though I am certainly taking a page from his style and continuing in my Necrospace series without the certainty that it will always be “The Samuel Hyst Show”, and that he might die or disappear and someone else could take the helm.

I’ll miss Samuel, if he goes, the same way I miss several of the supporting characters in Necrospace who have already come and gone, but that is what I like about what I’ll call ‘risky fiction’, the fact that after the setting and the characters are established the crosshairs of mortality could come to rest on anyone, even the protagonist of an on-going series.

That’s the great thing about stories… those characters that you loved and hated can rise and fall over and over again, in all their glory.

“I live. I die. I live again!” — Nux (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Gold and Glory

“There is time enough for civilization when we are at war” — Wargir proverb

I love space marines.

Whether they are the genetically engineered super-soldiers of the Warhammer 40k universe, the Terran marines of the Starcraft games, the seminal warriors of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, or the hundreds of other incarnations of these future soldiers throughout sci-fi fiction, films, comics, and video games… I think they are awesome, and I have been meaning to contribute to this genre myself for a long time.

And so I give you the first installment of the Necrospace series … SALVAGE MARINES

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The synopsis:

It is the Age of The Corporation. The common man toils under the watchful eye of the elite and their enforcers. The rules of law have long been replaced by the politics of profit. The dark ages of feudalism have returned with capitalistic ferocity. There is no peace among the stars of mapped space and business is booming. Samuel Hyst is an indentured worker who seeks to better his fortunes by joining the ranks of a militarized deep space salvage operation as a hired soldier. The young man’s hope is to earn enough hazard wages to pay off his debts and expatriate his growing family away from the totalitarian industrial society ruled by Grotto Corporation. To reach his goals he must survive a grueling tour of duty in Necrospace, a name given to the abandoned scrapyard quadrants of a war-torn universe.

This is a novel that I have had simmering in the back of my mind for several years, and it finally clawed its way to the top of my list of writing priorities during the 2014 National Novel Writing Month. I worked with my favorite editor Terry Bland and we got this thing polished and ready for press as of last week. I’ve decided to set this book up for an Amazon Pre-Order, with the title being available on March 1st. If you pre-order then the ebook will be loaded to your Kindle/Cloud on March 1st. It will be DRM free so even if you don’t have a kindle device you can read it on your computer, and the print edition will be available on that same day.

Why a pre-order?

You aren’t a famous author OR even in brick & mortar bookstores, so why bother?

My answer is Reader Awareness.

I’ve been writing and publishing for some time now, and before that I was making movies and distributing them. One key element that I’ve never fully managed was a ‘proper release’ of any book or film. By the time a book gets finished I’m already moving on to the next project, and I haven’t given enough time and effort to promoting the book. Usually that shows in the sales numbers, and at the end of the day the sales numbers are just as important as the story… because if people are buying the book (or borrowing through Kindle Unlimited) then that means the Story Is Being Told. That’s right, I’ve realized that being an author, or more specifically being a storyteller, is just as much about the ‘gold’ you get from sales as it is the ‘glory’ you get from telling a good story.

The purpose of a story is to be told (in this case read) and the more people who read this story the more that purpose is realized, and as a storyteller that feeds my soul. What puts food in my belly (and my family’s) is that the people who read this story paid to read it. I know it sounds hilarious to even say it, but honestly it has taken me this long to see that increasing Reader Awareness in what drives sales, which feeds my soul and my belly. By giving myself a few weeks to promote the book before it is released gives me a chance to make sales, which boosts sales rank, which raises visibility on the Holy Grail of publishing (Amazon Top 100 in genre). As such here I am, working on a blog that I hope gives a bit more insight into the novel, to entice you to pre-order and experience the story in depth.

It feels Good to tell people about this story, because I think this one is worth sharing, especially in these troubled times. We live in a world not dissimilar to that of Samuel Hyst and his comrades, and we can see our own struggles reflected on the page (or kindle screen), even if in a more dramatic science fiction action kind of way. I see myself in this story, at various moments, behind the eyes of several of the characters, as I see other people I’ve known in my life. I imagine that you will too.

Space marine stories are generally rather grim, and this tale is no different, though it does have a unique element that sets it apart from most space marine genre fiction. Samuel Hyst has a choice. He is not defending earth from alien invaders, nor is he fighting the forces of some galactic evil. Samuel’s situation hits us closer to home because he is a debt-slave, and only marginally more dramatically than what we see reflected in our own modern world. Our protagonist chooses the life of a mercenary, a salaried corporate soldier to be exact. At any point in his troubled journey he can ‘opt out’ and return to his civilian life, unlike the average space marine protagonist in the greater genre. Samuel Hyst explicitly fights for money, that is his ‘gold’. He tells himself that he will use the money to escape the corporate world and find a new life, that is his ‘glory’. We must struggle alongside him to reconcile his dubious occupation with his humanity, his goals more elusive than he ever imagined, knowing that we don’t get the ‘easy out’ of saying that we are ‘defending earth’ or ‘fighting evil’. In many ways, the excerpt below illustrates the struggles, of both mind and body, that Samuel must endure as the story unfolds.

“The wargir waved an invitation to Samuel and the marine trudged up the dune hill to join the mercenary in surveying the battlefield. The fighting was all but finished, and for the first time that day Samuel began to feel confident about the mission.

“Well, uh,” Samuel wracked his brain for the other man’s name. Imago. “Imago. Looks like we won,” said Samuel off handedly as he sat down next to the mercenary, “Good day for Grotto and bad day for Helion. Can’t say it feels all that victorious though, a lot of bodies out there that belong to us.”

“Hyst Samgir,” the mercenary said, “you must understand that when war is stripped of ideology, all that remains is the simple reality that it is nothing more, and nothing less, than the violent redistribution of wealth.” He cocked his head at Samuel as they sat perched upon the burned out hull of a Helion battle tank. “Anyone who says differently is just trying to lower your pay rate.”

As a defense logistics contractor and a self-published author, in many ways I feel as if I’m right there alongside our protagonist while I work to balance the Businessman and the Storyteller during my own quest for Gold and Glory.

Fable: A Cinematic Sucker Punch

WARNING: This post is meant to be entertaining. I hope you can laugh along with me.

As the director, a producer, a contributing writer, and overall core storyteller of the film I am duty-bound to take responsibility for the final product. Actors lacking good direction, a confusing script, shoddy post-production, all of these are on my shoulders. As a filmmaker I have been through some bad reviews in my time, and no film of mine has been so vilified as Fable, and no film so deserving of it as Fable.

The reviewer, Derek the Bard, made a scathing-yet-hilarious video review for his web-series “Chasing the Muse” about a year ago, and recently shared it with me. He got in touch and wanted to create a second review after reading my book “As Above So Below: And Other Unborn Cinema”, where I delve into the making of Fable in several chapters appropriately titled “Anatomy of a Trainwreck”. Using the book and some of our discussions he created a second, equally brutal and equally entertaining review, which I would like to share. 

He is merciless, and you’ll be holding your sides laughing as much as you’ll be covering your mouth in shock at the film-ripping he puts on my movie, but after this review you’ll be loving to hate Fable: Teeth of Beasts along with the rest of us.

Consequently… you can shoot yourself in the cinema-face with the purchase of Fable from Amazon by visiting the “Tragedy” section of this blog, and you can check out the Unborn Cinema book in print or ebook Right Here

Enjoy the review!

Antiheroes and the Hard Six

SPOILER ALERT: Walking Dead Season 3, Man on Fire, Voodoo Cowboys, and 300

 

Classically a ‘hero’ is a dead man, venerated because of wide fame, the compounding of great deeds, a particularly epic death, or some combination therein. I’ve always thought of myself as a fan of the ‘antihero’, that being someone who fills the role of the protagonist, though exemplifies more villainous qualities than traditionally heroic ones. Recently I have been watching the zombie drama series ‘The Walking Dead’ and like most fans I really liked Daryl Dixon, and I had a soft-spot for his older brother Merle Dixon, because those guys were rough around the edges and reminded me a bit of growing up in the south. 

In the final episodes of Season 3 of the Walking Dead there is a scene where Merle has left one group of survivors and joined another, only to find that he doesn’t fit in there either.  His final act is to launch a one man assault against a vastly superior force, and dies in the process. I found myself deeply moved by the character’s arc, and that after several seasons of him being a somewhat reviled character he has his moment of heroism. Upon watching this I started to think about the classical definition of heroes, and thinking back to other heroes I’ve felt a connection with who went out in a similar fashion. 

As I sift through the list I begin to see a pattern, in which I find a particular interest in characters who  lay everything on the line for one perfect moment. It brought me back to Battlestar Galactica, where Captain Adama talks about how “sometimes you just have to roll the hard six”. Its a gambling phrase, about beating the dreadful odds against and coming out with a victory. When I apply that hard six idea with heroes, I start to see some interesting beliefs that I apparently hold to in my own fictional works. 

In the comic & film ‘300’ King Leonidas brings his Spartan warriors out into the open, instead of retreating into the hot gates where he can still fight, so that he can lure Xerxes within range of a well-thrown spear. When the trap is sprung all of the Spartans are killed, and though Leonidas wounds Xerxes, he fails to roll the hard six. Leonidas dies, but in such a heroic way his story is inspirational regardless of his failure. 

In the Walking Dead Merle Dixon leads a horde of zombies into an ambush laid by the Governor, and under cover of the zombie attack Merle manages to shoot down eight of the Governor’s men before he is killed. For a brief moment Merle has the Governor in his sights, and fires, only to hit a man who crosses in front of the Governor at the last moment. Merle dies, having also failed to roll the hard six, but damn what a way to go. 

In Man on Fire John Creasy is waging a war on the drug cartels in Mexico City, and is severely wounded early in the film. He fights his way through the film, all the while struggling with the increasingly debilitating wound. Somewhere deep down you as a viewer know he’s not going to survive, and you are ok with that, because he is too, so long as he can “do this one last thing”, which is save the little girl. Ultimately he rolls the hard six, and successfully trades his life for the little girl, managing to die before his captors can do anything worse. 

In my own film Voodoo Cowboys, a spell-slinger named Doctor John barely survives a battle with shaman-sorcerer Duvalier in which his comrades (Shaner and Reese) were killed. In order to gain the power with which to defeat Duvalier the slinger must make a magical bargain with a bloodthirsty god, exchanging his own vital life energy for the god’s favor in battle. Doctor John faces off high noon style with Duvalier and kills the shaman, then pays the price for his chance to roll the hard six and dies himself as he walks towards the setting sun. 

In the third Star Wars film Darth Vader sees his son being tortured to death by Emperor Palpatine, and decides to intervene. After years of serving as the dark champion for the Empire Darth Vader chooses to abandon his duties and attack the Emperor, though doing so would surely mean his death. Vader fights through the deadly lighting coming from the Emperor and manages to kill Palpatine before succumbing to his own wounds. Then, to top it off, he survives long enough to tell his son “you were right about me”, and that there was some good still left in him, before dying. To me that sounds like the gold standard of hitting the hard six. 

These are generally dark tales, with grim endings and hard choices, and I do love them so. One of my friends told me, after reading several of my stories, that I seem to kill all of the protagonists by the end of the story, and now perhaps I am beginning to understand why he was right. At the end of it all the way I see it is that whatever a person is, it’s that act of making the attempt to roll a hard six that makes you a hero, and the outcome, whatever it is, isn’t your concern, because you’ll most likely be dead anyway. 

First World Problems

Warning… this post gets a little preachy… but fear not… we will return to our regularly scheduled Argo geek blog shortly…

 

Like any other American I sometimes get stressed about money, my physique, the opinions of others, and the state of my nation & the world. What I don’t do is worry about being the victim of ethnic cleansing, being put up on legal charges for blasphemy, or being starved out of my village by men with guns. My problems are First World, and I wanted to write a post today in thanks of that fact, because I know that this freedom didn’t come for free. 

I enjoyed the life of a nomadic filmmaker for roughly five years, and it was glorious. I moved from city to city, bouncing from project to project as I followed a haphazard path through the film industry. I never really had any money of my own, yet I never lacked for food, shelter, adventure, and companionship. Through it all I worked hard, earning my stripes and paying my dues in the trenches of the independent film world. I didn’t have much to show for my labors, perpetually broke and holding half-finished films in my hands, and there was always the allure of going back to that desk job. For me it was the choice between being a white-collar office drone or a vagabond artist. When I look at the state of affairs in many other nations of this world I realize that while I was worrying about where to go next or how I was going to get there others cannot stand up long enough under the weight of their grinding poverty or political oppression to even consider such a choice. I live in a country where someone can decide to be an artist, and I can make films or write books or make music about whatever I want without fear of censorship or interference as long as I don’t hurt or exploit anyone in the process. First World Problems. 

These days I’ve shifted from nomadic bachelor to family man. I work for the military roughly 4 months out of the year, then spend the rest of the year working on my films, books, and being a stay-at-home dad. My biggest concerns day to day are things like running out of laundry detergent, forgetting to put out the recycling, or changing out the diaper bin. When I worry about money its not a question of whether or not I can provide food, clothing, and shelter for my family, its more like picking 3 day shipping on an Amazon purchase instead of overnight, or whether to take a vacation now or later when there’s a bit more cash on hand. First World Problems. 

For me a big creative outlet is cooking, and I like to experiment about ninety percent of the time. Unlike other art forms, like filmmaking for instance, cooking allows one to have an idea, prepare the ingredients, add the heat, and serve the meal all in one burst of energy. I enjoy going to the grocery store without a plan and just buying a cart full of assorted ingredients that I’ll find combinations for later. I don’t worry about the money most of the time, and the few times when I do its more a question of variety instead of quantity. Not once in my life have I ever worried about where my next meal is coming from or if it will be enough. My biggest concern when it comes to food is the variety of what I consume, not the quantity, because there is always enough. First World Problems. 

Right now the United States of America is a First World Nation, and for that I am thankful. Though it is important to acknowledge that not everyone in America experiences this country as a First World Nation. There are many here who struggle with financial problems that are dramatically more dire than being able to afford hobbies or vacations, and their education/employment situations are dire to the point that my own dilemmas seem silly to be stressed about. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, my only point is that most of us are truly enjoying the Good Life, and we should be thankful for it. My lady and I are starting a non-profit soon, in the spirit of putting our money where our mouths are. Which brings me to my real point (I know I’ve meandered, bear with me)…. being thankful is literally the least you can do. Being thankful is our biggest First World Problem, because to be thankful you’ve got to be looking at the other guy and realizing how good you’ve got it by comparison.

Turn that thankfulness into First World Action, because its the job of the folks who’ve got it good to pay it forward. We don’t all have to go become full-time activists or start feeling guilty for the success we’ve achieved. Just give a little back. Maybe volunteer one day a month. Donate some of your luxury cash to a charity, or fund non-commercial science (we all need to know more about hippos, and those researchers need that sweet grant money). Whether we realize it or not having First World Problems is a blessing, and we earn it by helping others, however we can. 

Supernatural Activity

Supernatural Activity….. a ‘found footage’ movie that WINS.

Being an independent filmmaker, a horror movie fanboy, and having worked for a low-budget horror distribution company, I have seen (or seen parts of) dozens of “found footage” movies.

Generally I am not a fan of that sort of style, given that much of my personal enjoyment of watching movies is the cinematography, and in a “found footage” movie I would hesitate to call the camera work (however immaculately shot & lit) to be ‘Cinematography’ as much as it is ‘Camera Operating’.

I don’t mean this as a sleight against the no-doubt talented cinematographers who work hard on (some) of these films, I’m just saying that the vast majority of films in this style (be it action, horror, sci-fi, whatever) are intentionally shot to look like a home movie and as a paying viewer that’s just not my thing.

To give credit where credit is due on the low-budget side there are a few honorable mentions like The Great American Snuff Film or Death of a Ghost Hunter (solid indie films you should also check out), while the vast majority of the low-budget found footage movies really SUCK and honestly are rather devoid of talent and originality. When you throw in larger budget films like Troll Hunter or Cloverfield then you start to win me back as an audience member, since the world they are taking their ‘found footage’ characters through is fabricated and pretty incredible.

At any rate, what I like about Supernatural Activity is that it faithfully parodies the ‘found footage’ movies, most notably Paranormal Activity, which had a brilliantly executed marketing campaign. Supernatural Activity also parodies the glut of paranormal or ghost hunter reality TV shows…. which is not expressly classified as ‘found footage’ though it is certainly shot in the same way, and has just as much of a contrived storyline as any feature film.

So for me sitting down to watch Supernatural Activity was a happy journey of jokes at the expense of both the found footage films and paranormal reality shows. Faithfully executed from the cast, the shooting style, the editing & presentation, and sheer silliness of the whole fad. Not to mention some heavy laughs brought on at the expense of Chris Angel.

If you love found footage movies and/or paranormal reality shows, or if you hate them, or if you love/hate them, or hate-love them, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Supernatural Activity.

Check it out here.  

Cult Watch: Casa Grande

A little slice of life from my time living in Arizona.

Cult Watch: Casa Grande

Based on true events. 

 October 9th, 2009
I was happily editing on the computer when my flatmate Jeffrey walked into the room and asked if I had plans that night. Being a workaholic with very little time for personal relationships or nights on the town, I said that I was busy editing and would remain so for most of the weekend. Several hours later I unplugged for a much needed break, and took a quick walk around the apartment complex. When I got back Jeffrey was getting ready to head out, and I asked him what he was up to. He told me that he and my old boss from Brain Damage Films, Darrin Ramage, were going on a “ghost hunt” in CasaGrande. Beyond that he didn’t have many details, and neither did Darrin, who had apparently hooked up with one of the ghost hunters at a Phoenix Multiple Sclerosis meet & greet. I decided that the editing could wait for a few hours, and tagged along. On the hour long drive out into the desert we discussed what it might be like to go on a real ghost hunt, and decided that this was a fun, if random, way to spend an evening.
We arrived in Casa Grande, and were instructed down several side roads until we were well into the desert. We parked near the only house in the area, a run down 3 building farming compound surrounded by desert, canals, and a dried up cotton field. A man came out of the darkness and identified himself as Lamar, and led us into the house. As we reached the light I noticed that he was wearing a large hunting knife on his belt, and had several clip knives in his pockets. Then as I walked into the porch area we met the man that had invited us, a scrawny kid named John. On the bench inside the porch area was a large chopping sword and a bag of duct tape wrapped wooden clubs. It was at this point that I went into danger mode and began counting bodies and taking note of exits. John had a computer system set up on the porch, and on the display we could see that they had rigged several rooms in the house with infa-red cameras that could monitor and record the house once all the lights were turned out. Once we arrived and had been oriented on the cameras, we met Eddie, a skinny & tattooed shifty character, Carlos, a tubby looking innocent, and Deborah, the perpetually silent and sullen girlfriend of at least one or more of the boys.
The ghost hunt began with a quick tour of the compound, complete with stories about all the spirits that lived there, the murders that had happened there, and how Lamar had grown up in the trailer on the property. We were also told that Lamar was a “pusher” who could banish spirits and move energy. Eddie was a “mover” and could pull spirits into the bodies of other people, and pull those people out of their bodies. Carlos was their “open book” who could easily be possessed by spirits, and have spirits moved in and out of him very easily by Eddie or Lamar. We are being told this as Darrin, Jeff, and myself are being shown by flashlight the entire property, which is revealed to be a very run down farming complex made up of a large house, a double wide trailer, and a horse stock building. Lamar is regailing us with past tales of battles and experiences with the spirits, and how there’s a body buried in the cotton field. Because of the presence of blades and blunt weapons I am already heavily on edge, my tension compounded by the fact that I can smell the booze wafting from Lamar. I keep everything to myself, not wanting to embarass Darrin in front of his new friend John, and to be honest Darrin is really getting into it, though as the night progresses he gets more and more skeptical. Jeff and I share a few concerned looks, but once we both know that we are on guard I relax slightly at the thought of having an extra set of eyes and pair of hands on the situation.
After the tour the ghost hunt began in earnest. Myself, Jeff, Carlos, Eddie, and Deborah went in first, while Darrin, John, and Lamar stayed behind to monitor the cameras. We go in carrying video cameras, still cameras, and EPK monitors to pick up on sounds. We go to the back room first, and Andy starts doing automatic writing and asking very typical questions like “who is here”. I start ignoring him as my initial unease at the situation begins to shift into annoyance, then I feel a big opening of energy in the bathroom area. I stand in the threshold of the door, knowing that thresholds break up energy patterns, and I didn’t want to be in the room with the wannabe sorcerer Eddie, but also had no interest in being in the bathroom where some serious energy was starting to boil out into the area. When Eddie asks the spirit to make a noise so we know its there Jeff hears a crash in the bathroom, and we both start hearing the buzzing of flies in the bathroom area. Nobody else seems to notice or care. Eddie and Carlos start talking themselves through the room, as if giving each other cues and lines of dialogue, fully giving into the power of mutual suggestion. I’ve got these guys pegged as poseurs and wannabes when they fail to notice the bathroom and claim that there’s nothing in the room, so start going with the flow as we move from room to room, taking pictures, while Eddie and Carlos pretend to be sensing ghosts and spirits. I even sit in their “haunted” chair while they freak out about all the spirits that are roaming around the room. Being a practitioner of the craft, I silently reach out, and get a firm sense that I’m not the only being in the house that thinks this is kind of lame.
Eventually we move back to the computer monitor room, and Lamar, Carlos, and Darrin all take turns sitting in the chair while everyone else gathers around the monitors and freak out about all the dust specs and how they are “spirit orbs”. Darrin, Carlos, and Lamar follow a cold spot around as I take photos, then while Lamar is talking about how the spirit is in one part of the room, I back up into a truly cold spot, and nearly lose my cool. I keep it together, silently excuse myself to whatever it is, and keep taking snapshots. Everyone stops for a smoke break and Jeff and I decide to take the still camera and go back into the house alone. We discuss our thoughts so far of the hunt, and both decide that the back room is the place where the action of the evening is going down. Jeff and I walk down the dark hallway and get into the back room. Immediatley we are both buffeted with waves of energy. I’m getting all kinds of vibes from the bathroom, and we take some pictures in their as I search around for anything interesting, finding nothing, but still immersed in a near suffocating wash of energy. Jeff is getting the vibe from the closet, which we never opened the last time we were in the room. We approach the closet, and pull open one of the doors. The energy that bleeds out is full of rot, decay, and malice. We decide that this place is none of our business, and back out of the room nice and easy.
Then we move to the trailer. Everyone goes in, all subconsciously prepared with suggestions about the history of the place, and how the spirits in the trailer are quite violent, depsite the fact that earlier in the evening we had traipsed through the trailer without opposition. Now that I’m back in proximity to Lamar, still armed and stinking of alchohol, I back myself into a corner so nothing can come up behind me, and keep snapping pictures. Carlos gets possessed by a spirit, which annoyingly doesn’t say anything, and Lamar sends Jeff out of the room to take Carlos outside. Jeff later tells me that Carlos talks about how “things almost got bad in there” and if they had “told you about me”. Jeff is set further on edge by the comments, and becomes keenly aware that he has been separated from Darrin and myself, and his guard comes back up. Meanwhile, Lamar has Darrin standing next to him holding his hands out to “feel the cold” of the room. I am taking snaps of the scene, and honestly do capture some orbs in a few of the shots. Then Lamar has me put my hand in the cold spot, which of course isn’t cold at all. I didn’t like standing so close to him, and was all too aware of the fact that his hand was near his knife, so began mentally preparing myself. Thankfully the cold spot, apparently, moved away, and we left the trailer. I did get a snapshot of the window from the outside, and there was a strange facelike shape in the window, not sure what it was.
Once back in the monitor room everyone took a smoke break and we looked at the pictures. Lamar had been trying to provoke the spirit, and had in general, along with Eddie, been talking some major trash about the spirits (mostly Jake and Mark), and continued to congradulate themselves on how flippant they were in such a haunted place. Jeff and I share some more skeptical looks and keep to ourselves and the “ghost hunters” talk to us about a TV show they want to do, their skills in video editing, and congregate around Darrin, making it really obvious that they are enamored of our status as filmmakers and “movie guys”. Jeff and I share a few quick jokes about how the three horror movie guys are now in a position where we could quickly become the victims of a homegrown horror movie, and its right about then that Lamar announces that I am going to be possessed by a spirit so that everyone can talk to some of the entities that haunt the area.
Being a practitioner myself, I have a serious problem with the idea of being possessed, and know that I won’t let it happen voluntarily. However, I must admit that I was annoyed enough with these people that I didn’t want to rob them of the opprotunity to fail at pulling my spirit out of my body. I confided in Jeff that I was going to fake the possession, and he agreed, as by that time we’d decided that despite the fact that these people were on the lame side of the social spectrum that most of them were armed and at least a few of them had been drinking. So to avoid an outbreak of violence in the middle of nowhere, we decided to just go with the flow.
I walk into the room where the possession is to take place, and am instructed by Eddie to put my hands over a mason jar of water that rests on a small table in the center of the room. He begins stroking my shoulders and arms, claiming to “cleanse my energy”. Then he starts pouring energy into me. This is where it gets interesting. The kid does in fact have some power, and I do feel him pulling on my spirit, though as I’d made the decision not to be possessed, it was like pulling against a tree with deep roots. He starts asking me questions about my name, so I mutter something about how I can’t pronounce my name. Then he keeps pushing, so I say my name is “Seth”, which is the pen-name that I write my own occult books under. Darrin catches the reference but keeps it to himself, starting to pick up on my ruse. I continue to attempt to fake a possession, but I am losing my ability to keep from laughing and/or hitting the arrogant asshole standing behind me, so I eventually resign myself to some false embarassment just to get myself out of the situation. So I make up a story about how I can’t seem to let go and how I’m afraid, and I walk to the other side of the room. Folks seem disappointed, and I can see in their eyes that they are beginning to doubt their own beliefs and powers. However, like any good cult membership and cult leadership the group pulls itself together and decide that Carlos should be possessed, so that they can show us how its done by people unafraid to let go.
Carlos stands over the table, and very quickly Eddie begins his ritual. Carlos can’t raise his hands from the mason jar, and when Eddie asks Carlos his name the poor Carlos, who is overweight and effete and completely faking his possession, says “you know who it is”. Then like a badly rehearsed theatrical performance of an exorcism stage play the unfortunate Carlos starts growling and trying to attack a smirking Eddie, though cannot lift his hands from the mason jar. Eddie says something along the lines of “we have faced each other before, you know what I am” in his most badass sorcerer voice and I nearly lose my composure. Jeff later tells me that he had to work very hard to keep his laughter in at that point, and was completely taken aback by the fact that these people had chosen to cross the line from hapless poseurs to full blown deluded cultists. Lamar, who has been stoic and standing aside up to this point, saunters up to the now possessed Carlos, and they begin to speak about kicking each other’s asses and that they keep playing the same old game. Lamar, in his most arrogant tone of the evening, says “you know what happened last time” and turns to walk away, the entire exchange having the rhythm and blocking of a well rehearsed scene from a B-movie. Lamar picks up another jar of water and a plate, then puts it on Carlo’s head and start smacking it with the palm of his hand while Eddie recites the Lord’s Prayer, a sure-fire staple of B-movie exorcists the world over. Carlos fights it, each strike of the jar looking as if it hurts him badly, then finally collapses dramatically. Eddie steps back and Lamar help Carlos to a chair, the whole time Carlos is saying things like “its so cold”. When Carlos looks around dramatically and says “what happened?” Jeff nearly bursts out laughing, instead just buries his face in his hands.
Darrin and I are talking to Lamar about the possession and about how I have very weak energy because I can’t be possessed when Eddie screams from outside in the parking lot. Lamar, like a combat ninja, runs to the parking lot to save the day. Jeff, Darrin, and myself casually stroll out to the lot after John rushes inside and yells that Lamar is beating Carlos. When we get outside Lamar has reverse mounted Carlos in the dust of the parking lot, and trust me it looks really gay. Eddie is reciting the Lord’s Prayer again, and Carlos is struggling, though in time gives up. It is explained to us that Eddie wasn’t able to “close” Carlos soon enough, and something else got inside the guy and attacked them. Darrin goes back inside with the group as they attempt to put a spirit into John, while Jeff and I stand outside.
At this point Jeff and I are done with the evening. Nothing happens to John, and Lamar comes to get me. We stand with his hands over mine as he attempts to pull my spirit out again. I lie about seeing myself over his shoulder just to get it over with. Lamar’s eyes are like a shark, and I can tell that the man is completely insane and fully believes in all of this stuff. I suspected before that moment that he was a true believer, but in that moment I knew. This man was very dangerous. I could feel his power, though thankfully it was untrained, and yet combined with the hidden mental problems, the booze, the knives, and his charismatic power over the group of ghost hunters, I knew in that moment that this was an early stage charismatic cult. Charles Manson and Tom Jones level stuff. This guy was going to lead people into dark places.
Jeff and I kept to ourselves after that, and eventually were able to extricate ourselves from the situation. Eddie, Lamar, and John were talking to Darrin about how they were powerful and the “real deal” when Jeff and I came out of the house. We all shook hands and made to leave, and in the pause between the goodbye and the walk away Lamar’s last remark was “ha ha, one of these day’s we’ll have to kill Carlos”. At that moment, knife fight or not, I walked away. Thankfully Jeff and Darrin had the same idea, and we managed to escape into the night.
At the end of it all, it was clear that powerful beings and strange energy confluences riddle that little patch of desert. Our experiences in the house had shown Jeff and I that there was certainly something powerul in that place, and that it wasn’t good. These strange people had no clue about what they were doing, and believed so hard that they would make fools of themselves just to confirm their own beliefs. The two of them with actual powers, Lamar and Eddie, were unfocused and untrained and completely delusional about the potency of their abilities. My conclusion is that the property itself was a dark place, rife with energies, and this freshly minted cult of “ghost hunters” were just delusional and sensitive enough to be sucked into the vortex of this place. Bad things are going to happen there.
It was terrifying, it was entertaining, and a completely reckless & wonderful way to spend a Friday night out with good friends.

Answers to a set of Interview Questions about “Voodoo Cowboys”

Question 1:  What made you decide to be a director?  I FOUND THAT BEING THE DIRECTOR ON A FILM WAS THE MOST POWERFUL WAY TO CONTROL THE TELLING OF THE STORY, AT THE END OF THE DAY ITS THE DIRECTOR TO PUTS TOGETHER THE STORY, USING THE CINEMATOGRAPHER, EDITOR, COMPOSER, AND ACTORS AS TOOLS TO TELL  THE STORY. How did you get into directing? I WAS A PRODUCER AND COORDINATOR FOR SEVERAL YEARS, AND DISCOVERED A LOVE FOR DIRECTING AND THE CREATIVE ASPECT OF FILMMAKING, SO SET ABOUT FINDING FUNDING FOR MY OWN PROJECTS. 

Question 2:  Why did you pick Voodoo Cowboys to make into a movie?  VOODOO COWBOYS WAS A VERY ORGANIC STORY. IT BEGAN WITH SEVERAL OF US DECIDING TO MAKE A WEIRD CHEAP MOVIE ABOUT COWBOYS FIGHTING TOP HAT WEARING BAD GUYS IN THE ABANDONED SCHOOL, THEN THE IDEA GREW AS MORE PEOPLE BECAME INVOLVED, UNTIL SUCH TIME AS A SCRIPT WAS WRITTEN, AND 5 DRAFTS LATER WE ENDED UP WITH THE SHOOTING SCRIPT FOR THE MOVIE. What goes into the decision to make a movie? IT IS A BLEND OF THINGS… ONE PART BUSINESS, IN WORKING OUT WHAT KIND OF MOVIE CAN MAKE THE BEST RETURN ON THE INVESTMENT OF TIME/MONEY, ONE PART IS CREATIVE, IN THAT WE MUST TELL A STORY BOTH WORTH TELLING AND THAT WE ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT, AND THE FINAL IS ABOUT LOGISTICS… WHAT CAN WE MAKE WITH WHAT WE HAVE, OR WHAT WE CAN BEG/BORROW/STEAL 😉

Question 3:  What is the hardest part about making movies? FINDING THE FUNDING, MOVIES ARE A RISKY INVESTMENT AT BEST, AND WITH THE ECONOMY IT IS TOUGH TO GET PEOPLE TO WRITE THOSE CHECKS, ESPECIALLY FOR INDEPENDENTS, WHO DON’T COMMAND A-LIST CELEBRITY CAST OR 35MM CAMERAS. 

Question 4:  What is the easiest part about making movies? THERE IS AN EASY PART?

Question 5:  What goes into picking cast and crew for your productions? LIKE CHOOSING WHAT MOVIE TO MAKE, IT IS A BLEND OF FACTORS, THE FIRST BEING WHO IS WORTH WHAT SALARY (FOR CREW ITS EXPERIENCE/SKILL, FOR CAST IT IS CELEBRITY LEVEL & TALENT), THEN ITS THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN CAST/CREW AND THEIR COUNTERPARTS

Question 6:  How do you decide the length of time it will take to make a movie? DEPENDS ON THE SCRIPT, THE FUNDING AVAILABLE, AND THE CAST/CREW, BUT USUALLY A RESPONSIBLE AMOUNT OF TIME TO PREP A FILM IS 6 WEEKS, SHOOTING IS 2-3 WEEKS, AND POST PRODUCTION (EDITING, SOUND, MUSIC, VISUAL FX) IS ROUGHLY 12 WEEKS 

Question 7:  What happens if you get behind schedule? YOU HAVE TO START SACRIFICING SCENES AND MODIFYING YOUR SCRIPT TO COPE WITH LESS SHOOTING TIME, LIKE TRIAGE, OR YOU GO RAISE MORE FUNDING AND TRY TO ADD MORE DAYS TO YOUR SCHEDULE 

Question 8:  What do you go through to find and use locations for sets? JUST A KEEN EYE FOR WHAT THE CAMERA WILL SEE… A LOCATION CAN LOOK AMAZING TO THE NAKED EYE, BUT LOOKS CRAMPED OR BORING TO THE CAMERA, ALSO IT IS A QUESTION OF ACCESS… BATHROOMS, DISTANCE FROM LODGING/OFFICE, THE SOUND OF THE AREA FOR AUDIO, TRAFFIC, BYSTANDERS… MAKING A MOVIE IS ABOUT CONTROLLING REALITY, SO WE HAVE TO PUT OURSELVES IN A SITUATION WHERE WE CAN CONTROL AS MUCH OF REALITY AS POSSIBLE WHEN IT COMES TO WHAT GOES INTO THE CAMERA 

Question 9:  What all is involved in pre-production?  HIRING CAST/CREW, FINISHING THE SCRIPT, FINDING THE FUNDING, ARRANGING LODGING, CATERING, ETC Post-production? EDITING, AUDIO, MUSICAL SCORE, VISUAL FX 

Question 10:  What is involved in advertising and spreading the word about the movies you’ve made? FACEBOOK, MYSPACE, VIRAL ONLINE MARKETING, MAGAZINE ARTICLES AND ADVERTISING, FILM FESTIVALS AND MARKETS 

Question 11:  Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about what you do and are involved with? THE MOVIE BUSINESS IS A COTTAGE INDUSTRY, SO JUST LIKE THE FRONTIER FAMILIES OF COLONIAL AMERICA, IT CAN BE DONE ANYWHERE