Monday, September 19, 2016

From Adman to Horror Writer

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
Alan Gibson Alan Gibson

Interview with Alan Gibson

As the golden glow of autumn begins to shine on Maryland, thoughts of pumpkin picking, Harvest festivals, and eerie tales of October mayhem begin to spring to mind. No one understands and enjoys the spoils of the season more than author Alan Gibson. Baltimore OUTloud recently sat down with Gibson to discuss his life, his career and what the future has in store.

Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Gibson had a great life growing up northwest of Chicago. Upon entering college, he traded his enjoyable Midwest upbringing for the bustle of an East Coast education. As a university student at Virginia’s Washington and Lee, Gibson earned a degree in French and eventually started his career teaching at the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland. “I also drove the school bus.” Gibson recalls. “All of the young masters were expected to do multiple things. We had to coach, drive the school busses … sort of everything. Especially if you were one of the unmarried ones.” Gibson reminisced that it was a great school for him to begin his career, and that he thoroughly enjoyed his time there.

Soon after, Gibson decided that he wanted to refocus on his career and returned to school at Georgetown University for graduate work in linguistics. “From there I worked through a Masters and Ph.D. program. After I took my Ph.D. orals, I decided I would take a week off before starting my dissertation.” Gibson laughs. “That was in 1979 and I still don’t have that dissertation. I loved linguistics but ended up getting hooked on advertising.”

Gibson’s foray into advertising turned out to be a successful venture. “I got started on the creative end of it and I was totally mesmerized. It ended up being a field I seemed to be good at.”

Within a few months of being hired, Gibson ended up being director of the agency. “It was fun and challenging because I was starting from scratch and had to learn everything about it,” Gibson explained. “I began as a copywriter, but I had to become an art director, too. One day I woke up and had to learn how to direct a photo shoot.”

Under Gibson’s direction, the agency took models to exotic jungle and desert locations around the world to shoot fashion catalogues and ads for Britches of Georgetown. “It was the number one, top-of-the-line clothing store in Washington, D.C. By the time I left, they were in many other locations as well. The company was quite visionary, and they were very supportive of aggressive advertising. I mean, ads we made back then were in Time and Newsweek.”

Eventually Gibson was hired away to run an ad agency for Gray & Co. “There my principal client was the Kennedy Center, and I worked with interesting performers from around the world. It helped me learn how to juggle a client with a lot of moving parts. That was when I started to do a lot of television.” Not soon after that, Gibson decided to venture out on his own and has been on his own ever since.

As if a stellar career in advertising wasn’t enough, last year Gibson published his first book, The Dead of Winter. “I had always wanted to write a paperback. You know, one that you’d see at the airport kiosks. That was my fantasy. My goal was never to write great literature, but I’ve always enjoyed a fun plot. Thirty years later, but I finally did it.” Gibson explained that although he has done quite an extensive amount of writing over the years, a long form writing project was something new for him. “For so many years, my creative world consisted of 30-to-60 second commercials, and I could do a quick commercial in my head. I had been no stranger to writing scholarly papers, but the discipline of keeping track of a complex plot with twists and turns was tricky. Fortunately, the Jesuits at Georgetown pounded a sense for logic into my head. I’ve thanked them every day since.”

Gibson drew upon his home, Ridgefield Farm in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, as part of the inspiration for the setting of his book. “My partner, Scott Beard, and I live on a farm. It’s one of those destination farms where people go to pick pumpkins and apples. We’ve been there for 13 years, but the farm has been around a long time, and it’s very family friendly. During the day, an elementary school visits our farm for their field trips. In the evening, though, we bump it up a couple notches and do something very scary called Haunting Season.” Gibson laughs, “Of course, we live in West Virginia so the play on words isn’t bad. We start the evening off with a hay ride. Naturally we have creepy types that jump up on the wagon and scare people, but there are others who abduct people kicking and screaming right off the ride and drag them into the cornfields. The abductions are followed by the sounds of chain saws and more screams – it never fails to scare.”

Gibson explained that it was during a trip that he had the idea for his book. “My partner and I were at Dulles Airport buckling our seatbelts to fly to LA for a week. I knew when we got back, I knew I was going to have to figure out where to plant the pumpkins and the corn maze for the fall season, and of course, where the hayride would run. It was going to be fun, but I wanted something more. By the time we had landed in LA, I had the outline for a screenplay for a horror movie. It was based off the idea of people visiting the farm, staying at the house and going on that hayride. And I thought, what if the person that gets pulled off the hay wagon never appeared again? That was the idea behind this book.”

Readers have helped to make his book quite a success. “The book covers a lot of West Virginia themes, as well as adult themes. I think it’s a pretty good story, and it’s gotten some great reviews. I’m even on the best-seller list out here in West Virginia. I’d love to expand my market to Baltimore, and I’m always up for a book-signing or reading. Hint. Hint.”

Gibson is almost done with his second book. It’s a true murder mystery, so it’s quite different from the horror genre of The Dead of Winter.” Gibson laughed. “I guess I can’t write a good story without a dead body or two.”

And as if advertising whiz, farmer and writer weren’t enough titles for Gibson, he’s currently working on adding social media guru to his resume. “In spite of all the hats I already wear, I created yet another company,” Gibson added. “I’ve created a start up with a college classmate and another alumnus from Washington and Lee. I can’t talk about it right now, because we are in the beta testing stage. We’re on track, though, for a January launch. I’m putting a lot of passion and energy into it, and we’ll see what happens, but I’m very optimistic. It’s to be continued…but you’ll be one of the first to hear about it.” Gibson laughed. “We’ll definitely keep you posted for things to come!”


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