THE CON GAME – The Long Way Forward


Nothing I am going to write is new. None of it is revelatory. None of it will do more than cause a bubble in the ocean but all of it comes from someone at ground zero of the killing fields of convention life.

Anyone who knows me knows my record but I’ll restate it for the sake of credentials –

I have been vending at conventions on and off, since 1994.

Of those twenty-two years we’ll say five of them had no cons or shows of any sort.

I started as a ‘guest’ at the table of the publisher of a magazine some friends and I did and then moved on to having my own tables to sell my books and stories.

I also have vended at art shows and book shows.

I have put on arts and culture events since 2007.

I have put on a horror convention since 2011 with one year off, though we still did horror events.

Each year we’d do several events leading up to a convention or bigger show.

And I write.

So that’s me.

So when I say I have been around the convention scene for a minute, I mean more like three minutes, and that I have seen the front, back, and middle of the shows.

So there you are.

And here I am.

And where I am is in a place to see that the snake is devouring its own tail and that the convention industry is heading for a big, big fall.

Man it’s been a hell of a ride though.

If you are a genre fan (Which is sort of a catch all for anyone into horror, fantasy, or sci-fi and the many sub-genres therein) then this has been a very good time to be alive. The theaters and television is filled with genre fare. Zombies, aliens, ghost, vampires, Vikings, dragons, man alive, there’s something for everyone. Then you go to the theater and find more of the same. It’s been glorious. AND you can find merch for every obscure property you ever loved as well as amazing special editions of most of those same properties. Heck, we have even been given the begrudging respect of mainstream media, though it’s generally still full of judgment and derision. Even cosplayers, the ‘freaks’ of fandom are being embraced – finally – as the creative geniuses many are and not the shut-ins they are often portrayed as.

It’s a great time.

Heck, almost every weekend of the year you can head out – if you are willing to travel a little – and meet genre and pop culture heroes and villains and buy a house-worth of nerdy good stuff.

It’s amazing.


Because there is always a but.

We’re at the point over oversaturation and worse than that we’re at the point of market instability.

Let me explain.

Once upon a time it was hard to find a comic convention let alone a genre convention. You had to look long and hard to find them and when they did pop up they popped up once a year. It was a long wait but the wait was worth it. Then small shows popped up. Generally, these were comic shows where some stores would band together and sell comics and merch, bring in a few indie comic creators, and vendors would be stores, zine-creators, artists, writers, or anything that was in the outlying areas around comics. These shows were a great stop-gap for fans that couldn’t make it to bigger shows or couldn’t wait for them. OR for those cynical indie stalwarts that shook their fist at anything mainstream.

When I was a kid I went to two horror conventions and they made a huge impact on me. They were part of a bigger convention tour and only landed in the Detroit area twice but they were amazing. I have gone on and on about them so I won’t flashback to them now. They were impactful to a young teenage guy though that loved horror and had never even been to a comic con.

Thanks to the growth of the ‘nerd’ market, bolstered by a resurgence in superhero and comic properties as well as the resilience and persistence of horror and sci-fi fans, the market grew. Horror conventions appeared and spread and slowly super-conventions also grew and spread. The smaller shows that would offer five to ten guests became big conventions that offered fifteen, twenty, and more guests. With more guests there were more vendors. With more guests and vendors there were more fans. And for fans it was a hey-day. Suddenly the handful of guests that did the circuit, so-called ‘has-beens’, were joined by people that would never be seen at a convention were it not for the lure of the money. Where those on the circuit did shows to keep themselves in the minds of fans, and to make a little extra money when their careers weren’t as vibrant, the new blood and their management saw this as a way to really tap into a money vein none had really hit before and that’s the ‘nerd market’. People who are passionate about something, deeply passionate, FANS, in other words, want things connected to their passions. If it’s sports, or horses, or games, or movies, or whatever, people want that. It’s one of the things that we have that lets us create comfortable and happy environments. It’s part of our process of nesting. Birds want pretty baubles and in our way, so do we. We also want to interact and ‘touch’ the creators of what we love. We want to share with them our passion and have a keepsake. We want that autograph or picture, not because it means anything in the great picture but because it means we got to share a moment with someone we admired or whose work we admire. Is it sensible? NO! But life isn’t about sense, it’s about finding moments of bliss in a hurricane of madness. The story behind collectibles is often more interesting than the collectible itself but without the having the story isn’t as meaningful. Fans will pay for these things; boy will they pay. Suddenly more and more ‘name’ actors made their way to genre fare and to the convention circuit and with them there was a place for more conventions. People will spend money on their passions and hobbies and there was a lot of that money to be had.

Conventions have always been businesses but suddenly they had become BIG business, and bit by bit the smaller shows, the indie shows, died off.

It’s basic economics – It costs ‘X’ to put a show on. In order to afford ‘X’ and to do that show again you need to make ‘Y’. If you do not make ‘Y’ then you either close up shop or find sponsors, backers, or your own money to proceed. Even the smallest, most basic show requires a heady investment. There’s booking a venue, there’s booking guests, renting tables, promotion, materials for the show, food for guests, and so on and so on. Even a small show with local or regional talent can still run you much closer to a grand than not. Not that intimidating until you factor in that you have to price your show to sell – in example – If you are offering top tier talent and have rented a top tier venue then you must book as many vendors, for as much money as you are able to, and you still will need to charge fans a premium. You book the big guests and then pass the expense on to fans and vendors. That’s how this works. Vendors and ‘dealers’ – the comic shop or business owners – are there to make money, and since you have premium talent for fans to meet, you bank on there being a LOT of fans and that everyone will have an opportunity to make money. Build it and they will come. For a vendor small, local shows can go anywhere from $25 to $75 with the big shows, the ‘super-cons’ wanting $150 on the very low end and upwards of $350. That’s for a three-day show. Not ‘a lot’ until you look at the fact that most creators sell comics for, say $4 a piece, or books for $15 a piece, or art for around the same price. THEN it becomes a lot to sell. And you have to factor in that most average fans want to meet the stars and want to buy merch, not art, books, or comics. SOME do, for sure, but not all. So part of your market is already gone. Then you factor in that some shows charge fans to park but we’ll say they done. So a fan goes to a big show and will pay $20 on the low end and $35 on the high end to get into a convention. Then the guests will charge for photos or for autographs. Low end – $20, high end hundreds of dollars. Fans come with pockets of cash, real or virtual, but there’s only so much money one has. So if you spend $30 to get in, get say, three autographs, and maybe a piece of merch that’s easily around $200 they spent and they haven’t even made it to the vendors area yet. And that is the risk you take as a vendor. You know going in that out of say, 1,000 or more people that may attend the show only about half will give a darn about anything beyond guests, and of those you have to find the ones into what you do. THEN you have to sell. It’s not easy. It’s part of the deal, but it’s not easy.

But there’s only so much money.

It is a golden age of fandom and conventions but this golden age is on the edge of collapse.

Fans have caught on to the game and are growing more and more bitter at celebrities that act like they are slumming and are charging fans exorbitant amounts for that moment of interaction and a photo. Fans are tired of seeing children brought before them, children who even if they are in genre fare shouldn’t be at a show like a con – they are loud, weird, and fans can be a lot to handle with their ‘excitement’ – and then it’s weird to be paying them a bunch of cash to get their autograph. Throw in the collector’s market that already ruined the fun of just getting an autograph by flipping them so often that celebrities grew bitter about the whole scene, a bitterness that remains to this day. You have big shows competing with one another for the ‘name’ guests, so much so that they’ll petulantly refuse to work with guests who don’t appear when they are requested due to other obligations. You have more and more shows popping up that aim too high and end up collapsing under their own weight, only hurting fans and the industry in the long run. You have the growth of harassment to cosplayers from people who feel entitled to their behavior because they were paying customers and the cosplayers ‘shouldn’t have dressed that way’. You have vendors who can’t make their ‘table’ back, which means they don’t even make enough money to pay for themselves to be there. You have the older guests who are not as active with their careers being cast to the side in favor of ‘Background Actor #3’, who will charge money to sign things because they happened to be an extra on a genre show. You have artists blatantly ripping off or ‘re-imagining’ famous or not as famous artwork to sell at these shows.

Conventions have turned from something beautiful into a cash cow that is starting to go dry.

The rub is this – if the vendors cannot make money they they’ll stop doing shows. And while promoters and fans may say – so what? There’s other fish in the sea – the fact is that there will come a time when the only vendors you have will be cons looking to emulate whatever trend is hot – dwarves, boy, I just happen to have a dwarf book, and painting, and necklace – and not creating the next trends. You’ll have a superstore of pop-culture, which sounds swell until you realize you paid $50 to get in and park just to see the same stuff you can see at the mall or on Amazon. Vendors are the lifeblood of conventions. They spread the word about the good ones and the bad ones and they can be as big of a draw as any guest if you are lucky enough to get the right ones. And the thing about the ‘lower tier’ guests is that they are a part of the fabric of what made the genre what it is. Without those ‘has-beens’ many of the films and properties we love would never have existed because, well, the genres existed for more than five years.

As much fun as conventions are we have forgotten our roots. We have forgotten the small shows, the low-dough shows, and the shows that were about being a fan and not a collector. We have forgotten meeting that one person who was in that one movie that we loved. We have forgotten discovering an artist or comic creator that showed us a world we’d never have seen in the mainstream. We have forgotten that these were once put on by fans and not business people. We forgot that this was once about sharing your passion with other fans and interacting with creators of all kinds.

We forgot what conventions used to be.

I am not naïve. This is the monster we made and that we wanted. We want to meet the ‘big stars’. We want to have their photos with us. We want their autographs. We wanted bigger shows and bigger shows cost more money to put on. Vendors want more people to sell to, and a better chance to sell, and sometimes this is what happens. We have let the beast get out of control though. There is a place for big shows AND small shows but all we have done is kill the small shows and let the big shows oversaturate the market so that you’ll see the same guests at the same shows over and over and over again.

We need a convention revolution.

We need the creatives to take back the shows.

We need to remember our heritage in the genres.

We need to make shows about the fans and make them affordable for them once more.

We need to make shows affordable for vendors and creatives once more because we WANT them to profit because if they do well then they tell everyone and the shows do well.

We need to stop serving as ATMs to people who have no interest in the genres or the fans but who are there just to make money hand over fist.

We need to let the super-cons crumble so that only a few remain, giving birth to the smaller shows once more.

And we need to understand that WHO you are a fan of and WHAT you are a fan of is just as important as what you support. If you are cool with paying tons of money to people who are bored by having to speak to you then player, play on. If you are cool with supporting artists who eschew original art for recreations of famous photos or art then again, you do you. But we are reaping what we sow. We have wanted so desperately to be taken seriously and to be seen as more than just ‘nerds in basements’. Well, we have the power, and we are choosing to be ATMs. We make the choices here, no one else.

It is a golden age for fandom but unless we start making better choices and stop waving dollar bills at everything with the name of our particularly beloved franchise then all we are is more consumers, blindly buying whatever is put before us and darn it, as a fan, I think I am better than that, and I think you are too.

I have been doing shows for a long time, and in a lot of different capacities and it genuinely makes me sad to see how things have progressed. Conventions are becoming havens only for the ‘haves’ and not the common fans. These are not places to mix, mingle, and to fall in love with worlds we may never see but are marketplaces made for money where you are little more than a customer. Everything has become an up-sell. Get the VIP package. Get the super-VIP package. Get the ultra-limited-exclusive package. It’s all a hustle and we’re all suckers.

I for one am tired of being played for a sucker.


Why I Do It


In talking to someone at work today I mentioned that I was going to a big comic convention this weekend to sell my books.

They said that sounded like fun and hoped I sold some books.

I told them – well, I don’t. I never do. (This is writer hyperbole – I DO sell books, just not many, so take that statement with about a handful of salt).

They asked a very good, and pointed question – then why do it?

And sometimes I don’t know.

I do cons because I need to get out there, to get my books out there, and to keep trying. I need to do shows because my books won’t just find their audience, I have to help the audience find them.

I can’t afford to be an optimist when it comes to my books. I have to be a realist and I have to keep pushing.

I have to hope that some people will take a chance on my work, that some people will want to know what I am about, and that someone will become a fan. I accept that most people won’t care but some people may. I have to hope for that.

And that’s why I do these shows – hope.

The reality is that I am one little writer in a hall full of hundreds of talented people selling their own wares and no one is there looking for me. My odds are not great to make an impact. But I will try. I have been doing this show in particular for over twenty years, off and on. I never sell much at all but it’s fun to go and it’s an opportunity to promote my writing and our convention that some friends and I run.

But there is the pragmatic side. I am currently sick. It’s an expensive show to do. It’s long hours and little sleep. It’s more of a job than my own job.

But that’s the path I chose.

If you are gonna write, or do any art, then you have to understand that you are the main promoter, cheerleader, and sales person for your stuff. If you aren’t willing to go out and bang the drum a little for your own work then you are for sure doomed. And there’s something to be said about selling your work to someone in person, who makes the choice to buy it. People who don’t know you and have no connection to you.

That’s great.

Connecting with someone over your work, that’s pretty amazing.

It’s rare, but amazing.

So why do I do this?

Well, to a degree I have no choice. The market is saturated, any advertising I could afford would be tuned out, and I just don’t have the time to become infamous right now.

So I have to do shows to promote my work.

And I like them. When you are at the shows you make friends, you see friends, and you have strange experiences that only happen at the shows. And you learn. You learn to sell and to promote.

So off I go, to sell, sell, sell…in the least obnoxious way I am able to.

Wish me luck.


The Lies We Tell Tomorrow


When I said I would publish no more books I meant it. I still wrote, I still write, and that won’t change. I am a writer. I write. Kinda goes together. But the notion of being one those people that has a library of their own books that don’t sell doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t want to become a joke. A clown. A parody. I don’t want to be another example of why self publishing is bad.


There’s a thing also where I still have stories to tell, to those that want to hear/read them. And I don’t like the notion of doing what I am supposed to do. I don’t want to behave. I want to do what the heck I want to do. A big part of the fun for publishing these books for me is the experimentation. The playfulness of it. I control everything, essentially, so I get to make the rules.

I like that.

So I wrote a kid’s book.

I love that book.

I don’t know that anyone else does. It certainly isn’t selling.

But I love it

It deserves to be in the world.

As a book.

And this year I was thinking about how fun it would be to have something I would only sell at shows. Sort of that DIY ethic that informed life as a zine maker, art show creator, and, well, me. I like that. It doesn’t mean people care. It doesn’t mean that people will buy it.

But I care.

It’s a quick, mean little thing that is like a grabbing the wrong end of a razor.

It will hurt.

You will bleed.


So I introduce you to The Lies We Tell Tomorrow. My new book. It’s only going to be available as a physical book at events I am doing. That’s it.

In the darkest parts of our hearts hide our every secret, our every fear, and our every horror just waiting to be unleashed. We are but doors to Hell waiting for the right key to open us. We can lie to ourselves, we can lie to our friends, but you can never fool tomorrow. You can never fool Hell.
I welcome you to a house of mirrors that will show you the worst in all of us, the monsters that live in each of us, but even in Hell there is the dimmest glimmer of hope, an undying light that even the abyss cannot snuff out.
Witness, traveler, the lies we tell tomorrow.


My other work is available on – just look up Chris Ringler.

Or –


Drawn To The Dark


Authors have gone to great length over the years to discuss horror and how it is used as a means of catharsis – a way to confront the horrors of the world real or imagined and to see them faced and conquered. Horror is our way to lean out over the edge of the chasm to feel its cold breath knowing we can always lean back when we’ve had our fill. This is why so many of us love horror and more hate it – it revels in the dark side of things and some fear what that dark side may bring out of us. And I am sure, like everything else, horror and every other thing can have an adverse effect on the psyche of someone with preexisting issues, but any blame that horror – or other things like video games – takes for the horrors that Man commits against Man is just a form of scapegoating. If we won’t blame the guns for killing people then we can’t blame the movies for killing people either. No, horror is not meant to be a cultural guidepost towards bettering ourselves, no, it is meant to be a barometer as to where we are in society, where we have been, and where we may yet be heading. If comedy is a release from the pressures of the world – comedy never being blamed for teens getting up to sexual high jinx, naturally – then horror is our confrontation of the world’s horrors.

The problem with modern horror is that it has started to wallow in its own gruesomeness. Horror has become decadent in its gloom and what were once bold choices to have a downbeat ending has become the flavor of the month. Young filmmakers are aping the terror of the seventies, the realism of it, without the context or meaning. We are no longer surprised when the ‘hero’ or ‘heroine’ gets it in the end, we expect it. Yes, the world is dark, yes, ‘monsters’ win, and not every evil is banished but if no one survives and there is never any hope then there is no release, there is only wallowing. Believe me, I like downbeat endings, and I appreciate that horror is willing to tell us that sometimes the darkness wins…but I also think that there has to be a reason it wins and it has to mean something.

I can think of two modern horror film franchises that went multiple sequels deep only to end with downbeat conclusions leaving you series for masochists or gloom-mongers. As I said, I like downbeat endings but I don’t want to watch hours and hours of film and get invested into the overarching story only to be told there is no hope and everyone dies. Well, if that’s the case then I can just turn on the TV news. There has to be a reason for the things to happen. There has to be meaning to it. In one film you can say ‘well, bad things happen to bad people’ and get away with it but in a series you have to have something more to say. Sadly, most franchises are built film by film, rarely having a fully developed arc and so when they realize that the ever decreasing box office returns dictate that the series has to end or be shown the door they paste together something that approximates a summary of the other films. THAT is where Marvel has it all over everyone else – they plot things out. Imagine a Jason film or Freddy film with a plotted course of several films. Imagine if they made one movie that could stand alone but that if they wanted to make more they could all tie together into an arc. Not a series where every film is inter-related but an arc that told one story over several films. Horror doesn’t do that. Part of that is economics – horror films are made to make money and little else – but there is also a lack of vision. Sure, studios and filmmakers envision sequels and a SERIES for their movies but they never plot out an arc. And without an arc you get a hastily crafted wrap-up from people who were never involved with the first film and are just making it up as they go along.

This is a problem.

Horror has to mean something.

It’s mean-spirited to create a film or series of films solely for spreading darkness. Sure, people do it, and that’s fine, but if you are going to create a series of films that are inter-connected you owe it to your fans to give them more than that. Yes, there will be loss, there will be sacrifice, there will be pain and there can even be doom but you have to make these earned things, and have to make them mean something. Nihilism is swell but very few people want to invest hours and hours into something to be told that life sucks, the bad guys win, have a nice day. There’s an unwritten compact between cultural artist and consumer and it’s that you should give the people not necessarily what they want but what they have earned. Yeah, it’s different than what a fine artist or even a run of the mill artist has to do – they can make points and take risks – but the cultural artist works for and with the consumer and as such you have to take them into consideration. Don’t soften the blow to appease them but don’t be cruel as a sort of artists’ statement well after you have cashed all your checks. No one wants to go to the Fast & Furious series and watch all the characters die at the end of the series. Sure, there can be loss, and pain, and sorrow, but you have to earn that and it has to mean something. That was why people hated what happened to Hicks in Alien3 – he had done so many heroic and amazing things in Aliens and then in the next film he was just dead. Sure, it was a way to get a character out of the film who didn’t fit it, and it was maybe a reflection of real life but that wasn’t what people wanted. They wanted fairness and it wasn’t fair. I actually loved that a horror film I saw this year, a sequel to a film with a downbeat ending, did the opposite and had a dark ending but one which gave you a happier ending. It surprised me. That is what I want, I want to be surprised, or at least to feel that the ending we got was earned. There’s a very dark film out there about the ‘dark web’ and a young woman stumbling upon it and it’s a mean movie, a nasty movie, and it has a grim ending but when the camera fully pulls back you see a bigger picture and the ending takes on more meaning. It worked because the context and message worked. That is what I want to see, not just everyone dying and the killer traipsing off with no repercussions in any way. Even a film like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which was dark as heck, gave you an ending that it earned, as grim as it was. That is what I want.

But these are movies people cry out – or books too, to be honest, since you can have a book series do the same thing. And yeah, this is popular culture stuff, not life or death, but we still invest our time, our money, and our emotions. Humans are emotional beings and when we invest in a thing, get attached to it, we are all in and that means that when the creators of a project don’t play fair it bothers us. I wrote a fantasy book series and when it came time to wrap things up what I had intended to do and what I did do were not the same. The story organically went one way and my intentions the other but part of it too was that you have to be fair, to the characters, to the reader, and to yourself. This doesn’t mean you pull punches and had I gone with my original intent I would have made that ending mean something, because you have to or you betray the trust people who invested in your work had in you and the work itself. If you choose to work in cultural art, especially popular cultural art then you have to be fair. You don’t have to be nice but you have to be fair. And honestly, the genre has gotten predictable of late with the consistent downbeat endings. Sure, they fit horror better than any other genre save sci-fi maybe but if that ending doesn’t mean anything, and offers no hope, then what are you saying? And if you are trying to make some bold artistic statement then maybe you are in the wrong trade. The audiences don’t have to leave happy but they have to leave feeling something more than outrage and disappointment.

Like all other arts movies need to be crafted. They need to be created. Movies, unlike other arts are generally made by committee. There are a lot of voices heard and many times this takes the impact a director has away and mutes the films power but sometimes that committee is needed to remind everyone why the film is being made and that it is still a product to be consumed. Again, this isn’t about happy endings and placating the audience. Horror needs to take risks, be edgy, and push boundaries, if it doesn’t then it loses its power and impact. I like Serbian Film – as much as you can like it – because it dares to say things that other films don’t and say them in a way other films won’t. But all that being said an ending must be earned and must make sense to what you have created. Since the days of slasher films and before we have gotten stuck on the jump scare false ending and the genre has suffered for that. We also suffered for the ‘women as perpetual victims’ shtick that was popular for so long. And we are suffering now for the persistent gloom of downbeat endings and it has to stop. If you are compelled to kill everyone at the end then make it mean something. Make it say something. Otherwise you’re just playing games with the audience and thinking yourself far cleverer than you really are. It takes no art to kill people off in art, no, the art is in making it mean something.

  • C



There’s a difficult time when we are young and are just discovering what boundaries are, those invisible lines that each of us has and never wants crossed. The easy thing is learning that there are boundaries, the hard part is knowing where they are with each situation and each person. Each circumstance dictates different behavior and each person demands different boundaries. Learning and respecting these boundaries is part of growing up and is something none of us can fully master. All of us have those awkward moments where we go to hug someone who doesn’t want to be touched, or don’t hug someone who does. We have those moments where we make a joke that wasn’t appropriate for the time or audience. All of us goes through these growing pains.

Welcome to the fun of humanity.

We are at a crossroads, in society, with a lot of issues and ideas and the idea of boundaries is one of those that, while not noticed, is at the base of what is shifting. How far is too far is something we have always struggled with but the shift in gender and sexuality that has been happening has set off a lot of boundary debates. As things shift in society this is bound to happen but we are definitely at a very emotional crossroads that is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to see through.

This past weekend I attended a ‘horror campout’ where you would camp out overnight and be scared over the course of many hours. Think of it as like a haunted house but with camping. The event promised its patrons ‘extreme scares’ and warned there would be dragging. I can’t tell you how extreme the scares were but I did see some dragging, people being tied up, and a young woman being put on her belly with her arms behind her back and someone sitting astride her. All of it unnerved me and made me really start to think about personal and cultural boundaries, especially in relation to haunted attractions.

As I said, all of us have our boundaries, or limits if you prefer and while it takes time to learn all of them once you know them you KNOW them. Sure, we sometimes allow people to push our limits and once in a while it can help us open and grow but most times these moments serve only as bitter reminders of why we have our limits in the first place. Pushing boundaries is about power as much as it is anything else and power can be easily abused.

The thing about haunted attractions is that it lets people live within the horror movie for a short time. They get to face the boogiemen, the ghosts, the demons, the monsters and survive. They get to venture into the darkness and come out in the light at the end. They let us tap into that primal part of us that is so deeply connected to our childhood and for a short time we can get an adrenaline rush with no harmful consequences. The thing is though that the art of the haunt seems to be dying as more and more move to the ‘extreme’ scares. Once upon a time a haunted attraction was about you being put into scenarios or scenes where something or someone would scare you, or at least try. There was a lot of play with darkness, with confusion, with misdirection, and with shock. Slowly the people began being replaced by animatronics, which has been the big trend for the last decade or so. Sure, there are humans in the attractions but most of the scares come from something popping out of you, screaming at you, or flailing in the background of a scene. The animatronic scares work best as backgrounds or when used sparingly but it’s been my experience that the more you lean on them the smaller the scares. The animatronics cannot adapt to the guests and they are so stiff in movement that beyond a slight shock you don’t get genuinely scared. From animatronics the attractions got I gorier and gorier so that people became so accustomed to outrageous scenes of blood and grue that they stopped being effective in unsettling people. Now we are in an era of the ‘extreme’ scare.

What is an ‘extreme’ scare? An ‘extreme’ scare is where the performers can yell at you, scream at you, swear at you, push you, pull you, drag you, and get overall physical with you so you feel threatened and scared. I don’t doubt it is effective for many people. Having someone break through your boundaries can scare you to your core. It can frighten you. People have become so jaded, so indifferent to imagined terror that I can absolutely see the allure of the ‘extreme’ scare. If you can’t scare the guests then your business is shot. The problem is that once you commit to the ‘extreme’ scare…there is nowhere left to go. When people get jaded to being yelled at and pushed around, even having gross things done to them, what then? There’s nothing left. You can’t HARM the people. You can’t KILL the people. So what do you do? Once you break all the boundaries, the boundaries you CAN break, where do you go?


You go broke.

Boundaries exist for many reasons but one of them is so that we can know how much is too much, how far is too far, and when we have had enough. Take the boundaries away, or push them too far then you either break the person or you break the experience. Sure, there are people who love the extremes in life, they wanna be not just pushed but shoved when they do things. Those people have always existed and always will. The thing though is that they are not the ‘rule’, they are the ‘exception’. Most people want to test themselves, see WHAT their limits are but they don’t want to push well past them. Those limits exist for a reason and most people respect that. So we drive a LITTLE too fast, and go a LITTLE too far when we do things that scare us but most of us don’t have an interest in seeing how far we can go because we don’t want to lose control. There is safety in control. Ah, but scares are all about losing control and that’s where the trouble comes in.

To me, the ‘extreme’ haunts are lazy. It’s easy to scare someone, at least for a moment, if you threaten them or put them in situations where they could genuinely be in some danger of harm. It’s an easy scare because there is no skill needed, no art to it, and it’s honestly shooting for the lowest common denominator. If being screamed at and pushed and shoved don’t freak you out then a haunt is not what you are looking for at all. You want something much, much darker. And fine. Swell. Truly, each to their own. But here’s the thing – a haunted attraction is ABOUT the art. It IS the art. There is a roughness to a haunt but there’s also refinement and care and when you take that away you are losing the heart of what makes a haunt so special.

A really good haunted attraction tells a story. It weaves a world where anything can happen and does. It tricks you, if just for a moment, into thinking something could be going on that shouldn’t. I remember when I was 18 and going through a haunt at a haunted hotel and remember them telling us that the place really was haunted and that the ghosts had appeared during the haunt itself from time to time and it amped the experience up because I was LOOKING for ghosts. There was another that I went to a few years back that wove a great story and kept to it. They didn’t mix clowns and killbillies. They didn’t mix aliens and mad bombers. They kept to the story and the things in the story are what came after you. They also used set design to create set pieces that put you on edge. Sure, no one REALLY believes that a boogeyman is going to get you but you want to believe one COULD get you. You have to have a story, something so people have a base to build from. Tell them a place is haunted and their mind fills in blanks. You let the guest do the work for you. Once you have the story you build sets that take advantage of that story and that exploit people’s fears. Rooms that are off kilter, that are dark, that are damp, that have hidden areas, that trick you, or rooms that just seem…off. Next you need the soundtrack, something that isn’t overpowering but which keeps people on edge. Subtlety is best. You don’t want driving music, raging heavy metal, no, you want sounds, nuances that tickle at the back of someone’s spine. The most important piece is the staff. It’s great to have animatronics to fill in and to give an occasional jolt but you want a staff that is dedicated to scaring, can adapt, and knows the boundaries and will keep to them. And again, subtlety is everything. If everyone is screaming or laughing or yelling it kills the mood. You want some to be ‘aggressive’ and others to be ‘passive’, that way the guests don’t know what to expect. You want them to understand that some folks won’t be scared but to still try. When a haunter quits on a group it kills the entire haunt and takes you out of the moment. With a good staff you can do a lot with very, very little.

And that’s it.

None of it has to be really expensive or high tech. Fear isn’t high tech. Fear is low down and dirty and primal but a haunt has to have boundaries. It has to have a line. The thing is, the patron KNOWS there is a line but deep down, deeeeeeep down they don’t know. They worry. They ask ‘what if’. That’s where you can use dummie guests that you CAN grab and ‘kill’ and ‘torture’. If they see it but it doesn’t happen to them then it lets them think ‘what if?’. What if this is real? THAT is the power of a good haunt. It’s meant to be fun, not traumatic. It’s meant to send shivers and give you chills, not give you emotional trauma. That’s what we’ve lost sight of these past few years as the horror arms race has escalated – the fun. I LOVE horror films and attractions that genuinely unnerve me but just as much I like them that have fun and are dedicated to the fun side of horror. The playful scare that wants to give you goosebumps but doesn’t want to harm you. Horror has gotten too mean spirited of late and the haunts reflect that. It’s good to look into the well of darkness but once in a while it’s nice to know that you can look away. Humor has been cut from haunts and it’s a huge mistake. You need the laughter, nervous, uneasy laughter, to set up the next scare. If you push too hard for the entirety of the haunt then it all blurs together and loses its impact. It’s a dull gray roar or fear and not a vibrant rainbow of terror.

The fact is that some people will always want their horror more extreme. That’s fine. It’s awesome. But with a haunt attraction there’s got to be way more craft, way more art for it to be memorable. Why are people going for the extreme? Because there’s nothing else new. No one is innovating. No one is breaking ground. No one is taking from the past and improving it. All we have are mimics of one another. It’s an arms race with mirrors and smoke. There’s a lot to be done with the way haunts are created and run, a lot to be learned, and a lot of fun to be had without going ‘extreme’, it just takes an innovative and creative mind to make it happen.

Me, I am always looking for the unique haunts. I can get ‘extreme’ in any number of ways in real life and for me, I prefer the fun escape of the unreal and not the despairing horror of reality. I’d like to think there are others out there with the same feelings.

Happy Haunting.




First it was one, then two, then three and by the end of the night there were thirteen little bodies washed ashore, their pale peace a startling reminder that brutal life existed outside of leisure in this paradise. The day was overcast and there was no one to witness the landing of the children. No one to welcome them. No one to mourn them. The winds were moderate, the air was cool, and the sky was filled with clouds that while not foretelling a storm did warn that the sun would not be making an appearance. With no sun the tourists stayed away and with no tourists the food vendors stayed away and with no food vendors even the gulls stayed away. The children were alone, together and alone.

They had come dressed for war. Their clothes torn and burned, faded and small. The oldest was ten, the youngest four. They came bearing no luggage. They had no identification. The only other survivor of whatever tragedy that had befallen them was a teddy bear with no head that lay near the feet of a little girl with dark hair and a deep bruise around her throat. The sun rose on the bodies and no one came. The sun reached its height and no one came. The sun began to fall and no one came. There were none to bear witness. None to give forgiveness. None but the water.

But the water did not leave the children.

The water kissed their wounds.

The water caressed their prone bodies.

The water held their hands and whispered that everything would be all right.


Everything would be all right.

By midnight the water had had enough. The children were but three hundred feet from a major roadway and no one, not one person had noticed the horror that lay on the beach. Not one person took their mind away from themselves long enough to give tears to the tragedy that lay in the sand. The water that had risen around the children and had begun to bubble and slowly the mouths of each child opened and in rushed the water, filling each of them with the whisper of the sea.



Come back to me.

Come back to Mother.

Come back to your first Mother.

Your only Mother.

Come back.

The children stirred.

The children rose.

Thirteen children stood silently on a moonless beach, their bodies bent, broken, and bloated from the ocean’s kisses. The ocean roared behind them and the children began to move, slowly, deliberately, holding hands as they walked slowly towards the roadway and the cities beyond them. When the children reached the rocks they helped one another up them until they were on solid ground again beside the road. The street lights showed thirteen children with cold, gray eyes and white skin, hands held, moving slowly towards the world.

They were no longer human.

They were of the sea.

They were loved.

They were angry.

Behind them the brothers and sisters of the children began to make the beach, their bodies far less human, the work of the ocean far stronger, and their purposes far darker. One by one the children of the sea made land and began marching on humanity and the thirteen that had come first all smiled as they went to tell the world of the coming flood.


9.3.15 for my books.