That Time The Undertaker Possessed a Guy

You can’t talk about horror and wrestling without talking about The Undertaker. Over his 30 years (!) in the business, I imagine he’s the guy most people think of when they consider moments where horror and wrestling intersect. He’s a 6’10, undead mortician with mannerisms borrowed from Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. He’s been “killed” more than once (including a truly ridiculous moment where his storyline brother Kane put him in a burning casket). Yet, he kept on coming back. While he admittedly evolved his gimmick to become more human as the business became more grounded, he still had a strange, dark aura around him. Indeed, until very recently, he never gave out of character interviews. Nowadays, you can’t get him to shut up. He’s even appeared on Joe Rogan.

One of my favorite Undertaker moments is in the utterly insane clip above where he straight up possesses a backstage interviewer in order to play mind games with his opponent Randy Orton. You can’t make this stuff up. Wrestling is often ridiculous and absurd, and I think fiction could benefit from trying a similar approach. We writers take ourselves too seriously oftentimes, and that’s fine, but also, if we’re crafting fantasy worlds where normal rules don’t apply, why not go full-on mad with it? Have your character possess someone. Why not?

With the release of my book PANDEMONIUM, I’ve been thinking a lot about times where wrestling and horror intersect. It’s a truly whacky book, full of comic-book violence and all sorts of wild characters. The Undertaker’s storied career has run the gamut of what can happen when horror tropes invade professional wrestling.

Visual Novels & Tonal Shifts

I’ve spent a good portion of this week playing DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB. It’s a game that came out about four years ago in the visual novel genre. For those not in the know, a visual novel is a game that’s designed like one of those old “choose your own adventure” books. It’s an interactive story, complimented by art and visuals, but the graphics are a lot simpler than traditional games.

This game has completely absorbed my imagination. You play a high school boy who joins a literature club at the urging of his female friend Sayori, only to find it populated by three other ridiculously cute young women. The apparent object of the game is to woo one of these girls with your poetry, but there’s an important twist. DOKI DOKI isn’t a dating sim, it’s a horror game. And when the horror comes, my GOD. It doesn’t jab you in the face or kick you in the gut. It takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.

I’m not finished with the game yet, but with its darker elements now in gear, I’m even more engrossed than I was before. The tonal shift is so dramatic. The structure of the story, so surreal. It’s a wonder why such dramatic changes aren’t used more often in art.

I have my suspicions about American audiences wanting their serviceable, formulaic stories. Art that doesn’t challenge them too much and never makes them feel unsafe. I’ve nothing against that sort of thing, BUT I think it is important to challenge ourselves sometimes. It’s important to step out of our comfort zones. A dramatic tonal shift in the story your telling can be a huge boon for that story. I’m not sure if I can find a way to do it in my free ongoing serial ONE AND ONLY, but it is something I want to keep in mind for it, and future projects.

From what I understand, Asian cinema has been employing these dramatic tonal shifts for a while now. Outside of the original FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, I can’t think of any American movies that have embraced this technique.

I think the reason that a shift in tone or genre can be so effective is that life is not one genre. So, even if your story is pulpy and larger than life, a dramatic tonal shift will affect your audience in a visceral way. It will make your unreal work seem more real, at least on a primal subconscious level, because the change will mirror the changes present in life. Life has moments of tenderness, horror, somberness, joy, and laughs. Oftentimes, these moods shift with little warning. Sometimes when the change comes, it takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.

That’s not always the experience I want with my fiction–I like a good Marvel movie like anyone else–but it’s something I’d like to see more often. More irreverence. Weirdness. Tonal shifts that take you in a whole new genre. That’s the shit that sings to me.


Some of you may remember that I have a Twitch channel that I mostly ignore. After I’ve played through DOKI DOKI, I’ll probably play it again and stream the experience there. Playing visual novels is probably the most comfortable way for me to use that channel.

Revisions

The new episode of White Trash Occultism will go up late. Last week got away from me, and it required some additional edits. I’d initially wanted to stick to a weekly schedule, with a new episode every Tuesday, but I think bi-weekly is more realistic, even if we record weekly. That said, I’m eager to get it up there because I think we hit our stride this episode. It feels like it’s found its tone. That’s not to say it won’t evolve further as we continue to record new episodes (we’re recording episode 3 tonight). I think art is a perpetually a work in progress. Even completed works are really just part of a larger work, even if that larger work is the artist him/her/them self.

That philosophy is a huge part of why I’m releasing ONE AND ONLY on my blog a little bit at a time. To show that progress in real time. This book is a distillation of my interests into a singular work. It’s horror, it’s a tragic love story, it’s littered with occult themes, and one of the characters is a pro wrestler working for an indie promotion. Of course, I have other interests beyond these things, but I don’t know, I’m having a moment right now. Not so much an identity crisis as it is a strong desire to give my small audience a statement of purpose.

I don’t think it’s possible for artists just starting out to do this. None of us emerge fully formed. It involves self-exploration, failure, living, and practice. And even after you’ve found the thing you do, that doesn’t mean the discovery process is over. Your inspiration, your ability, will ebb and flow. It’s not something we want to admit. We want to believe we can become an art factory, an operational flesh facility generating a perfect product over and over until the grave eats us. It’s just not the way it is. There is no perfect product, first of all, and machines break down, they get rusty, they need maintenance and repairs. Sometimes, the standard of quality slips (remember Windows Vista). Even that is part of the process. All of it is.

Or maybe it’s just me.

I ended a collaboration over the weekend. The person in question is a bit of a perfectionist. I am not. Their way isn’t wrong. It just isn’t how I do things. Besides, with a new baby on the way in less than a month, I just don’t trust myself to keep up with them. Sure, it was an opportunity I closed the door on. Sure, I probably could have addressed my concerns with this person sooner. But I am imperfect.

I also found out that soon we’ll have to put down Jack, a cat who was our first baby and who we had to rehome with my father-in-law. I wrote about him here. I hate that we had to rehome him. I hate that shit got here. But life is imperfect.

Life is full of moments we wish we could revise. An artist’s backlist is full of works they wish they could fix with their newly refined skills.

But you can’t go back. You can only move forward, refining as you go.

Some Updates

Yesterday, I was messed up on allergy medication, and I recorded this embarrassing video. I’m slurring bad and rambling, but at least I practiced talking in front of a camera? Yeah, there’s the bright spot. You have to find those positives.

I went to see my buddy Shane McKenzie last night. He laid some very exciting news on me about a film he wrote. I can’t divulge everything, so all I’ll say is it’s about to go into production with one of my favorite character actors attached. I’m happy for him. Dude works harder than anyone I know, myself included.

I’m almost finished reading Kenzie Jennings’ RED STATION. It’s part of Death’s Head Press’ popular Splatter Western line and a ton of fun. Kenzie has a lean style and doesn’t shy away from the nasty stuff. You can grab that book here.

Writing has been slow this week due to the aforementioned side effects of allergy meds. I started to hit my stride again last night, so hopefully that trend continues today. I’d like to get a new chapter of ONE AND ONLY up on Monday. Plus, I’ll be jumping back on the Wesley Southard collaboration soon.

White Trash Occultism, the new video podcast with friends Kelby Losack and J. David Osborne has been getting some nice traction. You can watch the first episode here. Episode 2 will be up Tuesday morning.

This weekend will be spent finishing up the new chapter of ONE AND ONLY and commencing my next section on the Wesley Southard collab. Like a shark, I must keep swimming, and speaking of Wes and sharks, he’s got a new book out called CRUEL SUMMER that looks like a wild ride. You can grab it here.

That’s it for today, gang. As always, thanks for reading.

Groggy

Today’s blog is late and short. My allergies have been acting up, and the medicine I’m taking for them has got me all sorts of groggy.

I read an article today that suggested calling cults “new religious movements” because “cult” is offensive. Guys, listen, I don’t make it a habit of crying about PC culture, because a lot of the time, things that are labeled PC just strike me as common courtesy. This, though? Definitely dismissive toward those of us with religious trauma. If anything, I think more churches should qualify as cults, but anyway…

No cult gave me what I wanted, so I started my own. Let’s be weird as fuck together.

Galaxies Within Us

I spent this morning catching up on newsletters from authors I follow. If you’re not sure I’m subscribed to yours, feel free to drop a link in the comments. I promise to at least check it out. Developed, long-form thoughts are so much more appealing to me than bite-sized hot takes. While I’ve felt increasingly alienated from the scene to which I’ve belonged for ten years now, there are some folks who I know are intelligent, interesting and kind. I’d like to keep up with them.

My newsletter is more or less dead in the water. Maybe fixing that’s a 2022 resolution. I’ve made enough for 2021. Sure, we’re scared still and 2020’s aftershocks are still being felt, but as I stated yesterday, I’m onto the next one. All about leveling up. Bearing my torch through all darkness and lighting little fires along the way.

This past week, I did a few things that were outside my comfort zone and (in some cases) outside my normal realm of interests. I started learning how to code at Free Code Camp. New skills are important, especially in the gig economy we’re increasingly moving toward. Sure, it doesn’t have anything to do with writing and that’s okay, or maybe it does and I don’t see it yet. Still, I’m growing. Leveling up. Evolving.

I also started studying & investing in the stock market. Dry stuff, from my outsider perspective, BUT I will say there is a feeling I get watching my money grow. A feeling I used to get from likes on social media, but so much more beneficial, in my opinion. Something that means having the means to take care of my own.

I also recorded a vidcast (is that a word? a video podcast) with Kelby Losack and J David Osborne. While chatting with those two is not outside my comfort zone at all (in fact, I feel like I can be my genuine self around them), recording that conversation and putting it up for the world to see is another matter entirely. I pride myself on being real as fuck, but I’ve always been hesitant to do ALL my thinking in public because I worry about sounding crazy or insensitive half the time. The show will go up on Tuesday morning. It’s called White Trash Occultism. Links will follow once it’s posted.

Progress on ONE AND ONLY is moving along nicely. Chapter 3 will be up here tomorrow morning. You can read Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here. I kind of know where it’s all going, at least the part of it that I’m calling ONE AND ONLY. See, I didn’t show my hand before, but it’s 5 am on a Sunday and I’m feeling froggy. I’m working on three novellas that will actually be one novel. ONE AND ONLY will probably conclude around Valentine’s Day. It’s sequel will commence the following week and wrap up around June. The third part will wrap around Halloween. This is intended as a year long, public project. A chance to work out loud, offer early access, and think on a larger scale. Once it concludes, I’ll edit and collect them into a physical edition you can purchase.

I used to think of writing as THE thing I do. It’s time to think of it as A thing I do. We’re complicated, and I think limiting ourselves to one vocation can be mentally and economically harmful. I am Lucas Mangum. I am not one thing. YOU are not one thing. Whole galaxies swirl within us.

Good morning.

Zero Hour

I’m reading the DC comics story arc ZERO HOUR: CRISIS IN TIME. Published in 1994, it details a cosmic event in which time collapses on itself, causing all sorts of chaos. Nearly thirty years since its publication, as our nation’s capital erupts into anarchy, it seems kind of quaint.

At least the DC universe has Batman. That’s one thought, but we’re not DC, and expecting weirdoes in capes and masks to solve our problems ain’t solving shit.

Find your home. Find your tribe. Build and grow the things that matter to you. Be ready to defend those things. You can’t stop the world from burning, but you can move far from the flames and keep them at bay.

Dissociation is considered a symptom of most mental disorders. I agree that full dissociation is unhelpful, but DELIBERATE dissociation is a great tool. Just remember that, as I say in SAINT SADIST, no safe space can protect you from yourself. In other words, before you retreat into yourself, make sure that you’ve made yourself into something you’re ready to face.

I want to believe we’re better than armed thugs storming the Capitol building. I want to believe we’re better than mass shootings, racial injustice, kids in cages at the border, the hypocrisy and sensationalism of cancel culture, bigotry against our LGBTQ friends, the death of nuance, and the all too convenient erasure of context in so many narratives.

All these things are symptoms of our broken nature.

The time to evolve is long overdue.

Resolution # 3

No more mental health days. I took a lot of those last year, missing more time at the day job than I care to say. Sure, I had good reasons. My brain trying to kill me. Anxiety over our crumbling society. Anger at people on both sides of the political aisle. Sadness over sick and dying friends.

But I want to keep going. Doing the things I need to support myself and my family. This isn’t about pride or so-called toxic masculinity. This is about refusing to let them win. This is about living life the way I want to live it.

This is not to say that I will, going forward, neglect self-care. Quite the opposite. There are plenty of ways to take care of myself without fucking up my livelihood.

Walks after work with only an audiobook and my camera for company. Hitting the heavy bag. Taking care of my fish and the outdoor cat who visits almost daily. Meditative tarot readings. Blogging here every damn day.

The list goes on. I’ve got this. You’ve got this. Happy New Year.

Time Passes

I went to visit this guy yesterday. This is an old photo. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture yesterday. He’s not doing well, and I would rather remember him like this.

On the plus side, he did remember me.

Life can throw some strange and terrible curve balls sometimes. We had to rehome him (and two other cats) a few years back due to our son’s allergies. The news was the breaking point that sent me to the hospital.

I’m better these days, I guess. We go on.

I’m proud of what I’ve done to survive. I know the narrative online is that people like me don’t know what it’s like to really struggle, but I know my truth. I was born fighting and I fight every damn day to stay well.

Nuance, man. Deny it all you want, but it ain’t going nowhere.

Good morning.