"People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden."
- Narrator/Jack, Chuck Palahnuik's Fight Club
So... who is Rex Garrote?
By now you've heard more than enough about him from me - and if you've been paying attention, you've likely figured out that he's a figment of my imagination. You may also know that he's the antagonist/Big Bad in my latest horror novel, Ghostland.
In the world of Ghostland, Rex Garrote was a cult horror author active from the late 1970s - after a brief tour in Vietnam - to the late '90s. The success of an early novel allowed him to buy the Hedgewood Estate, a Seattle mansion long believed to be haunted. It was there that he wrote his next big hit, The House Feeds. Many fans believe it wasn't just inspired by the house he lived in but that Garrote had merely transcribed the stories whispered to him by the ghosts of the house.
The House trilogy became wildly successful, though it was never made into a major motion picture, as the cover proclaimed, much to Garrote's disappointment. He was tapped to create and host a shortlived TV series called Ghost World, each episode introduced with what became his trademark catchphrase, "Tell me... what are you afraid of?" After the show was canceled, Garrote disappeared from the public eye. In 1999, he burned to death in his own library. All the clues pointed to self-immolation.
So that's Garrote's life in a nutshell. Vietnam vet. Famous author. Decent into madness.
But it's what came after his death where Garrote truly began to shine.
Ghostland: the Most Haunted Theme Park on Earth
Garrote's lifelong dream had always been to build not just a "haunted theme park" but a theme park featuring authentic hauntings as exhibits. Throughout the years he'd collected many "haunted" objects and properties. After his death, his "cause" was taken up by the Hedgewood Foundation, a multinational corporation started by the grandson of Oliver Hedgewood, who - perhaps not coincidentally - also happed to have built Garrote House in the 1800s.
Inventor and parapsychologist Sara Jane Amblin had been working for years to create a machine that would capture spirits and make them visible to the naked eye. With the Hedgewood Foundation's funding, she was finally able to realize her goal, making Garrote's dream a nightmarish reality. She called this technology the "Recurrence Field," essentially a massive containment system which traps ghosts (referred to as "dead energy" by Ghostland staff) within fixed loops of the moments before their deaths.
Along with Garrote House, many other exhibits were added to create the "most haunted theme park on earth." Fontaine County Correctional, Bright Falls Sanitarium, the Merchant Brothers' Big Top and the buildings from the Wild West ghost town Lonesome Plains, Nevada were disassembled and shipped to Ghostland with their hauntings intact.
As per his final wishes, Rex Garrote's likeness was to be used as a holographic host to the park, where a digitally-recreated version of him was programmed to introduce exhibits and taunt park guests with his signature sarcastic/sadistic flair.
What could possibly go wrong?
If you answered "everything," you would be correct.
The Hoax: Who Is Rex Garrote?
For those of you interested in how I created the "hoax," the idea began within the novel itself. I wanted him to feel more real to the world I'd created within the novel, and with that intent I added several quotes from Rex Garrote's books. From his breakout hit Shoki to his screenplay for Sins of the Blood," episode 1.4 of the Ghost World series, a quote from his writing introduces each part of the novel.
From there I got the idea to do some images of Garrote (see above) for the website. This was a relatively simple process, all done for free on the internet. I used an online AI-generated face (this part took the most time, finding the closest match to what Garrote looked like in my head), added a mustache (this was my biggest mistake, adding a mustache that didn't quite look real), gave it an old photo look, aged him, then added a weathered look and blue tone to the image.
I also created a fake book cover for The House Feeds. The house is a stock image I purchased to use as a temp book cover when I first started writing Ghostland. The font is ITC Benguiat, aka the Stranger Things font - and long before it became synonymous with the Netflix series it had been used throughout the '70s and '80s Horror Boom period, including books by and about Stephen King. I gave it an "old book cover" look by taking pics of other old books, removing everything but the creases and cracks in the free graphics editor Gimp, then layering it onto the image.
After that I thought, "Why not try some homegrown viral marketing?" So I created a fake Wikipedia page using the images I'd made. Oh, I know that's frowned on. But who was it hurting, really?
In the first blog post I pretended to be suffering from a Mandela Effect due to a horror author I loved during my teenage years who no one else seemed to remember. I'd just stumbled upon the Wiki page, which proved what I'd believed all along was true. I posted it online, presenting it as fact. Some people thought it was real. Others played along. The beauty of the internet is not knowing which was which. I was fooled as much as anyone else.
But people started getting crafty. And those who were hooked in by the thought of a mysterious horror novel very few people remembered and an author who burned himself alive in a haunted house, took to the internet. Using keywords mentioned in the post, they were able to find a link to the Ghostland Restoration Project website. Only at the time it was still under construction, with a COMING SOON redirect page. But somehow Google was listing pages within the "tour" section, revealing key info about exhibits and the park itself. This made some people even more intrigued, and made me have to ramp up security.
It was clear I had to let these people in on the gag, much as I would have liked to keep playing along.
I figured by having nothing on the "home" page, no one would discover what the site was about, or at least in any sort of depth. I knew some clever folks would type "/home" and probably "/about." I never thought Google would give me away so easily!
So I removed every page from Google SEO. Unfortunately someone else was still able to find one of the pages in a search, so I went one step further and added a password to the pages. One that only a reader of the Advanced Reader Copies could potentially figure out, or a really good hacker. If you Xed out of the password page it would redirect to the COMING SOON page.
Then I decided, why not go even further? I've already gone to the trouble to create this fake cult horror author and fictional book, why not keep pushing this "Mandela effect" thing, see if I can generate some buzz. I used a fake email generator to log in and comment on my site, pretending to be someone who was interested in the post and who would like to speak about it in private. I responded to this person's comment as myself, telling them to message me via my Facebook page.
I created a fake messenger chat, in which the person sent me photos of the physical book on her father's bookshelf and in her hand. This was a bit more challenging. I had to create an actual book cover from the image I'd created simply as a promotional piece. So I added a spine and got a few copies made at the printers on card stock and thick sticker stock. I chucked it on top of an author copy of my collection Video Nasties and the illusion was just about perfect.
This was all fine and good, but it still wasn't generating the kind of buzz I was hoping for. After several tepid or downright failed book launches, I really wanted to make a huge splash with this new one. I decided to take it to Fiverr, to see if I could find someone who would drum up some retweets and generally hashtaggery.
This was a bad idea. Most Twitter promoters I've dealt with seem to have very little grasp on how to promote via Twitter. All they do is tweet repeatedly using "trending" hashtags. So my post ended up with dumb, irrelevant hashtags like #LockHimUp and #NationalDessertDay - things which would not only not generate the kind of attention I wanted it to get, but also would make the "viral" aspect not look natural. I told the guy to delete the tweets and paid him, taking my lumps. Lesson learned. Again.
Back to Twitter for me, where I opened a new account and light-spammed Mandela Effect accounts with questions, etc. I also did the same on Reddit, which was what eventually burned me. Some Redditor from Japan flagged my Wikipedia page for Garrote and got me banned from creating or editing pages. Luckily this was a few days before launch so the hoax had already served a fair amount of its intended purpose.
The problem was, people wanted to read The House Feeds. What the hell was this Ghostland book?
The gorgeous cover Dean Samed created for Ghostland generated its own amount of buzz. People seemed to really dig the concept of a haunted house in the midst of a theme park midway. The color scheme was bold - how many hot-pink horror covers have you seen recently? - and there's a mystery element about it, with all of the lights on in the house and the two teen protagonists standing on the threshold, about to enter.
All in all, I had a lot of fun creating the Rex Garrote mystery and interacting with people who also seemed to enjoy it. I had a lot of fun creating the website to go along with it, as well. The book is about a theme park, and I felt a bit like a carnival barker during the marketing phase.
Many people told me they would genuinely vist a theme park like this, if it existed. I admit, I would too. Although I would probably have second thoughts once I got there.
This may be the end of the Rex Garrote Mystery... but I have heard rumors of a reprint of THE HOUSE FEEDS for sometime in late-2020.
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