Beneath a sprawling canopy of moss-draped oaks, author Cullan Hudson snaps several shots of a weathered old tombstone.
We’re standing in the middle of an old cemetery in the historic heart of Mobile, AL. Ensconced within a lush carpet of green grass are numerous graves dating to before the Civil War. The cemetery is also a refuge for several homeless men who often wander in for a quiet respite beneath the massive trees.
“They’re harmless,” Hudson says. “The worst they do is litter.” A look of mild reproof distorts his face momentarily before, wry mirth he asks if I’ve heard of ‘The Mobile Leprechaun’. I confessed I hadn’t and he launches into a ridiculous story about an Internet sensation from a couple years back. Apparently, some…colorful individuals spotted what they could only describe as a leprechaun (the mythical being of Irish folklore) in the boughs of a tree just outside the cemetery walls.
“I wasn’t living here at the time, but I recall the video on the Internet,” he says with a chuckle. “It had to be the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen—and I have seen my share of ridiculous.”
As the author of Strange State: Mysteries and Legends of Oklahoma, Hudson spent years tracking down local ghost stories, UFO sightings, and Bigfoot encounters. Fueled by a passion for the unexplained and a love of writing, he uncovered rare tales and exposed new facts. A recent book,Weird Oklahoma, in fact has labeled the author a "Fortean investigator."
“I’ve also heard some crazy stuff from people. I mean, obviously hard to swallow stuff. But you smile and you listen and you make them feel like at least somebody is taking them seriously. And while the stories might be incredible, I can’t say they haven’t inspired my writing.”
The writing he talks about includes his newly-released novel, The Mound. He easily admits it’s a summer beach read and that he and his co-author (his mother, of all people!) didn’t set out to write the great American novel.
“If someone says ‘What a fun book,’ I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.”
Beach book or not, he managed to slip in some commentary in the over 300 page story about a group of disparate souls that converge on a turn-of-the-century hotel just as an ancient evil awakens. Laced throughout are observations on the field of paranormal investigation, reality TV, and alternative history—even art and architecture.
“The Mound happened because of Strange State. Even before it was published, I was getting all these great story ideas from the different accounts I had been gathering: Indian mounds, haunted hotels, anomalous archaeology….”
Admittedly a novice at writing, he couldn’t quite get it off the ground. He says he had the plot laid out pretty well, but couldn’t quite see how to end it.
“She has written a lot more than I have—much of it published. Although neither of us had tackled a novel before, I asked her for her thoughts on what I was working on and she came back with some great ideas. The chemistry was there right away and we really fed off that energy to craft the story.”
The same said energy he claims brought one character to life.
“The psychic, Shade, whom we first called Rain—a really overused goth name—began life as just another character, but as we began fleshing her out…. Well, she just came alive for us in myriad unexpected ways.”
But it didn’t all flow from the pen (or computer) in one night. Hudson says it took a frustrating eight years to finish the manuscript. Countless drafts, revisions, redactions, and hair-pullings took place before the two felt the project was done.
“Or maybe we were just sick of it,” he laughs. “You spend too much time with something, perfecting it as much as you can, and you start to resent it. It really helped that we would take breaks from it, come back, and see new possibilities.”
While Hudson admits it was easy to start with a basis of familiar themes (readily acknowledging that the book is an homage to horror masters such as Lovecraft and King) and inspiration in the form of real life Oklahoma mysteries, it all sprang from the two author’s united imaginations.
“The Skirvin, a famous Oklahoma City hotel, was a big inspiration for The Montford Arms (the novel’s fictional hotel); however, we had the concept of renovation years before the Skirvin became revitalized as a Hilton property.”
He says this with an air of pride, as if his work somehow inspired events to unfold in the universe.
“If only!” he laughs. “If I had that kind of power, I’d have more money. No, it’s just that you send a message with your work—intentional or not. That was one of my early messages: Why is this hotel being left to languish? It was just nice to see it spared the wrecking ball. Maybe in some cosmic sense, my good ‘vibes’ had something to do with that.”
Messages aren’t something Hudson is known to shy away from. Strange State is replete with passages where a dispassionate narrative suddenly takes a nosedive into full-on diatribe, attacking everything from sloppy research and paranormal zealotry to salaciously exposing hoaxes and daring various institutions to embrace their haunted heritage.
“I don’t set out to be antagonistic or controversial. I just have opinions and an Irish mouth.” At this, he only manages a half-hearted chuckle, as if to telegraph the truth behind these words.
Controversy has come with a rising profile within the state and the paranormal community at large. While he admits to sometimes being affected by this, he says he tries to shrug most of it off and forge ahead.
“I guess I demand more from those who investigate these mysteries,” he says, launching into an impassioned spiel worthy of his status as a minister’s son. “I often see ‘true believers’ wearing science like an ill-fitting Halloween costume when they’ve little interest in following that discipline’s precepts.”
But it isn’t as dire as all that. Hudson agrees that if you want to go heedlessly chasing ghosts in the dark, “By all means, do it! It’s one of my favorite things. Just don’t call it science.”
From haranguing readers about the evils of the orb-loving, matching t-shirt crowd of paranormal investigators to challenging people to look at the mysterious from new perspectives, Hudson’s blog (the aptly titled “Strange State”) is his outlet for many of his musings and rants—as well as his dark humor.
“Humor—sly, sardonic, and dark—is a big part of my writing. It’s a part of who I am and I simply can’t divorce it from what I say. I think a lot of people appreciate it. At least, I hope they do. It balances what otherwise might be considered a raging bitterness with much needed levity.”
Sharing concerns that sometimes he needs a hard-nosed editor to tell him to keep his mouth shut now and then, Hudson says that, overall, he’s happy with his work and appreciates it when others take notice.
“I was surprised after ripping into a book by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman—during which heated comments were expressed on my blog—that my own book was fairly judged by the man. I was stunned. It would have been easy for him to rip into mine, but he refrained. I learned a lot from that.”
Much of the press Hudson has received has been favorable, which baffles him. “I’m so grateful, but I can’t help thinking there’s some odious journalist just waiting to gut Strange State or The Mound. I wouldn’t blame them.” He laughs at this, admitting he could easily point to the very soft spots such a writer might attack.
“Still, I must be doing something right,” he imparts with a look of bewilderment, as if he can’t believe it when success knocks on his door. “I’ve been asked by three or four production companies to audition for various paranormal reality programs in production.”
He’s turned them all down. When asked why, he shrugs. After a moment of silence, he arrives at an answer that seems too kind to be the whole truth.
“I suppose I’m not comfortable being in front of the camera like that. And I was really hoping they wanted me for research or writing purposes.”
Research is where Hudson excels. The arcanum churned up in his wake could fill a book—two, in fact. 2012 will see the release of Stranger State: MORE Mysteries and Legends of Oklahoma. The mountain of notes he shows me is nearly equal to that of the folders in his file cabinet for the first book.
“Growing up with a librarian mother, you learn tricks on how to get the information you’re looking for. And sometimes the information you didn’t even know you wanted. I spent a lot of my youth in libraries. There are secrets in there, if you know how to look.”
It shows. His first collection of strange-but-true tidbits brims with stories that haven’t seen print in more than a century (if ever). Several of the accounts are unique to his work and he’s proud of that.
“I think of them as my ‘babies’,” he chuckles. “It’s my legacy for Oklahoma. I’m not the most….” He scrunches his face, as if trying to squeeze the word out. “Statriotic? I don’t know what you would call patriotism on the state level, but I feel proud of my work. I’ve brought a lot of neglected legends to light and shared them with a whole new generation. I think that’s really cool.”
Many of these orphaned enigmas piqued his curiosity. He wasn’t satisfied to simply retell them; he had to track them down, find out more, uncover the truth, and—hopefully—experience something for himself.
Such was the case at the Overholser Mansion, a stately three-story home in Oklahoma City’s historic Heritage Hills neighborhood long thought to be haunted.
“That place is haunted. I try to keep an open mind and remain skeptical, but there are some experiences you just can’t shake.”
While waiting for a private tour, Hudson says he heard the faint tones of some bygone tune—just a bar or so—as he stood on the porch. The neighborhood was dead quiet, he insists, and the music “wasn’t like anything you’d hear in the 21st Century.”
“It was just old fashioned chamber music, like you’d hear on a gramophone.”
Later, an unseen presence brushed past him as he crossed the second floor landing.
“I thought maybe it was a spider web, at first, but there was nothing there. Not on the wall, not on my clothes. Besides, they keep that place clean.”
Another account he recalls happened twenty minutes west of the city, in El Reno.
“In the old downtown are a number of buildings dating to the early 1900s. I was asked to help guide volunteers through the sprawling structure as a part of an experiment being conducted by a local investigation team. On the final night of the trials, we had very few people, so we decided to just enjoy the place; do some ghost hunting. As we stood in one darkened apartment above and old store front, we asked the usual EVP questions. If we were lucky, we’d get some great responses on playback. To our surprise, a man’s muffled voice came to us from the doorway nearby. We couldn’t tell what he was saying, but it was crystal clear that it was a man talking—like from inside a box or something. Very garbled. Unfortunately, from what I hear, nothing was recorded of that event.”
His curiosity for investigating these bizarre encounters hasn’t ended at the Oklahoma border. Hudson has investigated such disparate locales as a haunted department store in a small West Texas town to poking around the ruins of mysterious pyramids built by unknown hands on an island in the Canaries; visited Mayan ruins at the heart of 2012 prophecies and examined the famous Chase Vault on Barbados, known for its mysteriously moving coffins. He even spent three years living in and examining ghosts, UFOs, and the legend of the Chupacabras in Puerto Rico.
“You truly come to understand the socio-political influences on how different cultures perceive the paranormal when you spend time investigating these things abroad. For instance, in England and France, I found ghosts under every welcome mat; but in Spain and Portugal, that wasn’t the case.”
I ask him if he will be writing about these ghostly globe-trotting adventures. With a wide-eyed sigh, he tells me, “I try to write about what’s been overlooked. The impetus for Strange State was just that. In as far as I knew, nothing had been written about Oklahoma. I wanted to remedy that.”
Later, while working on the manuscript, he learned another author, David Farris, had beaten him to the punch.
“Once I found his books, I was a bit dismayed. But only for a moment. I decided, I’m going to do it better! More! And I did. I researched the hell out of that book. And I was still finding more.”
That more will be included in 2012’s Strange State: MORE Mysteries and Legends of Oklahoma. This volume, he says, will include sections on true crime, mysterious disappearances, and cattle mutilations.
You can look for both Strange State: Mysteries and Legends of Oklahoma and The Mound for sale on www.amazon.com, or visit his blog at www.strangestate.blogspot .com to learn more.(Stephanie Cahill, 2011, used with permission for this installment in the Paranormal Librarian Blog Author Interview Series)