Welcome to the beginning of the Spoookiest time of year!

When ghosts and goblins come out to play.

The air gets crisp, the leaves on the trees set the scene

for autumn, and we all share scary stories

to give ourselves haunted dreams before bed!

To kick off the month of Halloween, we had the privilege to sit down with Missoula's pillar of the community:

Laramie Dean


We sat down with writer and educator Laramie Dean to talk about what inspires him to write, how he became an educator at Hellgate High School, and all things creepy!

FOM: Laramie, why did you decide to be a writer?


Laramie: You don’t choose to be a writer, you are born a writer haha. Writers are notoriously pretentious as I will demonstrate forthwith.

I always wanted to be a writer. I learned to read when I was 4. We were moving into our farmhouse in Eastern Montana, and I was bugging my mom to read to me, and she said, “No, you read to me.” It was a Little Bear Book about Little Bear and his friend Emily, and she broke her doll's arm, or he broke the doll's arm, but it was very traumatic. And I loved this story because this broken doll was super intriguing. So I sat down and remembered how cool it was that the letters came together so easily and made words, and I remember that once the letters came together, I immediately wanted to be the person who was telling the story.

 

One of the first presents my mom ever got me was a typewriter. She bought it from our school’s library that was having a sale on typewriters from the 70’s. I wish you could see this typewriter. It was gimongous! And metal, and weighed 10,000 lbs. It was this industrial shade of blue, and it had a big ball that when you pushed the letter, it would go BAblonk! And I kind of hated it, and didn’t use it very often. It was hard to use, and it was loud and hummed. But in the mid to late 80’s, my mom had an electronic typewriter that was a lot fancier. I, of course, used that all the time, like I typed on it constantly. Then when we got our first computer it was much easier to write, so I wrote my first 100 pages of a book, based on our friend group from high school, with a monster.


I used to transcribe movies, and would write adaptations of movies, and yeah.

FOM: What about teaching? I know you went to school for drama at the university of Montana, but what made you decide to focus more on teaching?


LARAMIE: I wanted to be a teacher because the model writers that I read in fiction were teachers. It was in my head that English teachers were also writers. I wanted to be a teacher all the way up until senior year of high school, until I realized I hated my contemporaries, haha. I was like, I don’t want to work with teenagers, that’s insane!


I started at the U as undeclared and was kind of floating around, and then I took an Acting for non-Majors class. The guy that taught the class said ”you need to major in theater.”


And I was like.. “ugh”. But all my friends were theater majors, and they were all like “you should be a theater major!” So I declared it. And it was fun, and then college was fun! Everything was all planned out, and I got to be the center of attention, which I like, and I made such good friends.

 

So I was an acting major, and, this is so typical of me, I decided.. I didn’t want to be an actor. I just didn’t care about it enough to sacrifice everything for this one profession, and you kind of have to if you want to be an actor. You have to be willing to take jobs, and travel, and I liked my stuff too much. And I wanted to be a writer.

 

So I was floating around Missoula, and my friend Jillian came to me and said “I would like to have an assistant for the Laramie Project”. And I didn’t know how to do that, but I said yes. I was working with this young actor who was a freshman and he read as very surly, but really he was just shy and introverted, so I started to work with him, and the suggestions that I made helped him. I watched him change and I thought, golly, maybe I should rethink this teaching thing.

 

Jillian helped me get into grad school and I got my masters degree, but she told me I really needed to get a PHD, so I applied to a PHD program in Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and got my playwriting degree, and came back to Missoula.

 

And then I thought, you know, I really want to teach high school, which I can’t even tell you why I decided to do that.


So I went back and I got my 3rd masters degree (because you can’t have just 1) and I ended up being in the right place at the right time to get my job at Hellgate High School as the drama teacher.


So that’s the long twisted tale of why I am an educator.


I’m lucky because I write plays for Hellgate, and we’ve published 4 of them by Theater Folk, and I’m working on Little Women right now, cross your fingers!

FOM: Which you guys are already starting at Hellgate for this fall’s performance:


LARAMIE: Yeah, we’ve already started. We’ve just finished our 4th week of rehearsals.

 

FOM: And that’s going to premiere at Hellgate High School?


LARAMIE: Yes, November 11th, 12 and 13th. And it’s a very modern take, and queer take on Little Women. Because we have more gender diverse, sexual identity diverse students at Hellgate than ever before, non-binary kids, queer kids, gay kids, trans kids, bi kids, and they are suddenly more visible and more confident at expressing themselves, and that’s fantastic. I wanted to write this play to be inclusive of them as much as possible. It’s little women with a queer twist.

FOM: Can you give me a synopsis of what you’ve gotten published as far as your short stories and your plays?


LARAMIE: I published 2 short stories with Queered Fiction in 2010 and 2011, "Moon Sing" which is about a young werewolf who is itching to get out of urban life, and he meets a young warlock and they falls in love and run away together, it’s gross. (giggle)

 

"After All" was published in Blood Fruit and is about a gay man who is married, but his ex-boyfriend died violently and he keeps appearing outside the window, and horrifically in his bed, and there’s blood everywhere, and... well.. what do you do when that happens? When your ex boyfriend won’t stay dead? haha.

 

I have 2 short stories published with Qommunicate. "The Hunter", which is my favorite short story, which is about a kid who’s in college and he isn’t sure if he should be there so he goes back to visit his recently widowed father and his homophobic brother who live in Eastern Montana and they go on a hunting trip, where things don’t turn out the way you’d expect them too.

 

Qommunicate also published my short story “The Pink House” which I also love, because it is based on this true story that I found online about what’s called the Spite House, which is this PeptoBismol colored house on an island in New England. The story goes, and I’m not sure how real it is, but that doesn’t matter, because I wrote a fictional version, haha, but the story goes this man and woman got married, and she ends up going to divorce him. Part of the agreement of the divorce was that he would build her whatever house she wanted. But he chose the place, and he picked this island which is essentially a salt marsh, so there’s no potable water. And the house is hideous. Google Pink house and you’ll see it. It’s absolutely hideous.


The short story is about a man and his husband and their marriage is shaky and dissolving and so they decide to go to spend the weekend at this pink house that you can rent, and they bring along a hot muscular grad student. Hijinks ensues…. Possibly decapitation. (laughs) No spoilers! That’s in "Geekout 2", which is an anthology of lots of variety of voices, genres and plays.

 

My 5th short story is called "The Other Boy", and I love it. It was in Dark Inks Book's anthology, "Unburied: A collection of Queer Dark Fiction," edited by the delightful Rebecca Rolland. It’s about a kid when he was younger, see this boy appear at his window, bonelessly shimmies into his bedroom and this memory stays with him. And he turns into a troubled teenager. So he tries to turns his life around, he comes back to his parent’s home, and there’s this boy sitting at a table that his parents have invited to live with them. When people try to say his name, it comes out almost like electronic whine. No one can say his name… Hijinks ensue..Possibly decapitation hahaha.


So I met the fantastic Lindsey Price and Craig Neeson at TheaterFolk at an educational theater association. My friend had gotten published with them, and I was like, I’ve got plays, I want to get published, so Lindsey told me to send her what plays I had. They really liked my play Frankenstein, so "Frankenstein Among the Dead" was my first play I got published.

Then they published my adaptation of "Dracula", they published the "Gorgon Sisters", which is about the 2 remaining Gorgon sisters after Medusa is killed by Perseus, and Stheno goes on a quest to try and bring Medusa back, and it’s about dealing with grief, and it’s funny, and sad. Then they published "The Wizard of Oz", which I was such a big fan of Wizard of Oz, ever since I was a little kid, and it’s really popular right now.

 

I have to talk about Dracula, which is my favorite play in the world, and when that got published, it was a huge dream come true. You framed the poster for the play of it. 

FOM: So why don’t we talk about Black Forest?

I know this is a story you’ve been working on for a long time.


LARAMIE: Since 2015, I had been re-reading all my Shirley Jackson stories. Penguin had just started republishing all of her books, and I picked up Hangsaman, which is a book that I hated when I was a kid, I read it my sophomore year, but I was such a big fan of The Haunting of Hill House, and Hangsaman didn’t make sense to me.


It’s about this girl who goes to college, and her personality disintegrates, her grades, her mental state, she might have an imaginary friend..I don’t think it’s an imaginary friend. I wanted to see what I could do with that theme, so I started playing around with that idea. The idea is about this kid Nathan, who goes to college, and fails haha. It’s a character kind of based on me, except for me, I succeeded and enjoyed college, where Nathan would go and fail.


I wanted to write this story about this kid who just cannot do college. I started writing about it and I thought, oh Nathan should see ghosts.

And I was thinking about the Antique Mall in Missoula, which, if you’ve never been, used to be an old motel down at the very end of downtown. It has a really creepy vibe. Did I ever tell you about this my ghost experience at the Antique Mall…

 

FOM: No…


LARAMIE: So, I totally believe in ghosts. I totally believe in the supernatural, I’ve seen things that were creepy. I think people who enjoy ghosts want to see them, and it’s when you’re not looking for them that they show up. But the antique mall feels just STUFFED with ghosts. Especially in the summer time, when it’s really hot, and they have a lot of fans running, and by the time you get to the third floor, you start dissociating, and your personality is crumbling, hahaha, and it’s a really good place for ghosts.

 

So a couple summers ago, I was in the basement, and I.. didn’t hear anybody, and it felt very… like very close. It was chilly, but like everything felt kind of muffled, and I started hearing.. a woman crying. *Sigh.


And it wasn’t like it was in a movie, or like a ghost story where it’s a spectral sobbing, it sounded like some woman was upset and she was crying and she didn’t want anyone to hear. So I had this moment where I was like, oh s**t, what do I do? Do I go around the corner and surprise her? So I think I started making noises so that she would know I was there, and I went around the corner.. aaaand there was nobody there..And I looked, and there was nobody hiding, and there was no where to go…and I was like, son of a bitch.

 

SO I went a few years ago with some friends, and there was a woman that had a stall down there, and she would take taxidermy animals and place hats on them or glasses, like kind of weird stuff. And she started talking to us, and she looked at me and was like, “oooh… ghosts follow you young man. They’re everywhere, and all around you.” And I replied.. OOHHH..


Then she says, “They’ll follow you right out of here if you aren’t careful” And I was like, good. Hahahaha. Awesome. Come home with me bitches, I’ve got room, you guys take up very little space.

 

I was really intrigued by that and I wrote one of the most horrific things I have ever written, where my Nathan, my protagonist of Black Forest, he’s 9, and he’s at the antique mall with his mom, because he’s super gay, and he loves antiques.. because, he’s super gay. He steals a perfume bottle, and stuffs it down his pants.

 

And he turns around and there’s another boy there that’s watching him. They have an awkward interaction, and the boy is really creepy and he smells like unwashed feet, and his hair is unwashed and dark and thick and greasy looking, and the boy makes him really uncomfortable, but kind of not uncomfortable, and the boy reaches into his pants pocket and pulls out the perfume, and says “See, you’re a bad person. You think you’re a good person, but you’re actually a bad person” and throws and shatters the perfume bottle, and Nathan looks up and the boy is gone. But there’s this other lady there who’s making weird sounds, and shaking and quivering, and she turns around…and her face is like……well you should read the book!!



And it’s a horrible ghoulish ghost experience.

Laramie Dean telling us his haunting tale of the Antique Mall in Missoula, MT.

FOM: Because it's Halloween, and this is our Halloween edition, can you tell me why you like horror, and what are your influences?

In your stories I was hearing a lot of scenes about people at windows...a little like...(Simultaneously said) "Salem's Lot" haha


LARAMIE: My mother is the most fantastic person on the planet, she’s so supportive of me. In the summer of 86, my mother was reading Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I was like a seven year old, and it was the movie edition. So it had pictures in it from the 1979 mini series. Again, if you know, you know that Barlow the vampire is terrifying, and I looked at this picture of him and I was like, What is that! That’s AMAZING!!


My grandmother, would not let me have the book, she locked it up in the attic. So my mom bought me my own copy, not with the movie pictures. I desperately wanted the movie pictures. And I read it, and loved it, and read it again, and loved it. I would ask my grandmother if I could have it, and she would say no. So we were about to have a branding event at the farm, and I noticed that the attic door was mysteriously unlocked and I went upstairs and it was gone. So I asked her where it was, and she told me she took it out and burned it in the burn barrel yesterday. But then.. my mom’s aunt Nancy sent it to me. And when it came in the mail it was like the sun came out and it was perfect.

 

Stephen King was big when I was a kid, he sent me an autographed book when I was 7, he sent me Cycle of the Werewolf and the Silver Bullet screenplay. He signed it, "watch out for ol’ shaggy." I carried it around with me everywhere. It was in such sad shape, my mom had to tape it back together because it fell apart. But I brought it with me EVERYWHERE! It came on the night of the full moon, and I swear to god, we lived in the middle of nowhere in this spooky ass farm in eastern Montana, and in my thirty some year memory, the moon was full, there was a coyote howling outside.. and here I’ve got silver bullet. If you’ve seen the Bernie Right’s illustration for it, they’re terrifying. It’s this giant werewolf that jumps through this window and eats you so..I don’t think I slept that night. But my mom gave me a silver colored pen to sleep with that night, to protect me from werewolves..haha..cause I told you she’s the best.

 

Freshmen year of high school, I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and it changed my life! Shirley Jackson didn't transformed my writing style, but she gave me a writing style that became my own.

 

FOM: Do you want to say anything else about the book?


LARAMIE: It will hopefully be available next summer, summer of 2022. I would love it if it came out for Pride. I think it would be a good summer time read. It will be on Inkshares, on Amazon, and hopefully in all the bookstores in Missoula.

 

And.. hat’s all I have to say.

 

FOM: Well thank you Laramie!


 Well, thank you!

To learn more about Laramie, follow him on Instagram at @bylaramiedean or head over to InkShares and follow the progress of Black Forest or preorder your copy today!

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