The Stan Bryant Saga

I want to share a story about my mother’s family, who all live in rural Georgia. This story is about how strange that part of the world is, and it involves one of my mother’s cousins, Stan Bryant.

Everything I’ve been told is somewhat corroborated by public court records and articles drawn from the local paper, but it’s mostly hearsay. The only thing I can say with 100% certainty is that Stan Bryant is dead.

Stan Bryant was the son of my maternal grandfather’s sister, whom I knew as my Aunt Mervyn. When I was a kid, my Aunt Mervyn scared the bejesus out of me, and I later learned that she had schizophrenia. The disease apparently runs in my mom’s family. My grandfather’s mother, one of my mom’s sisters, and another of my mom’s cousins had it as well. I used to be worried that I would develop symptoms myself, but I think I turned out okay. In any case, Stan was my Aunt Mervyn’s only son, which can’t have been easy.

Stan grew up to be a nurse, and he lived in various cities up and down the East Coast. I met him a few times as an adult, and he seemed like a perfectly normal person, if somewhat mild-mannered and overly polite. Apparently, however, he was a serial wife beater. According to one of my uncles, Stan would be a perfect gentleman until a woman married him, at which point he would commence physically and emotionally assaulting her. This abuse would escalate until Stan felt compelled to flee whatever city he was living in so as to escape legal action. In this manner he married and divorced four wives, leaving behind four sons, all named Stan Bryant.

I should probably mention here that “Stan Bryant” is a pseudonym I created. This business gets weird, and I don’t want anything to be searchable.

Okay, so. After his most recent divorce, Stan Bryant returned to my hometown. Although he ostensibly came back to help care for his mother, Stan didn’t move back in with her. I believe Aunt Mervyn was supported with funds supplied by a trust set up by my grandfather, who had owned land all across the county. He built houses on some of this land; and, after he died, he left various properties to members of the family. Stan was living in one of these houses, which he legally owned. I’m not sure if he was working, but we later found out that he certainly wasn’t paying taxes.

Regardless, Stan started dating a woman named Tammy (also a pseudonym) who had no legal residence of her own and promptly moved in with him. It turns out that Stan had finally met his match, as Tammy was more than a little unstable herself. The two didn’t wait to get married before launching into a series of increasingly violent altercations, the last of which ended in Stan getting shot in the face.

The official account is that Stan threatened Tammy with a gun and then, filled with self-loathing, committed suicide by shooting himself. It’s important to note, however, that Stan never owned a gun, and the gun was registered in Tammy’s name. Tammy also happened to be cheating on Stan with the county sheriff, who was the first person to appear on the scene after the incident.

Because my Aunt Mervyn was not of sound mind, the management of Stan’s estate was overseen by my mother and her two brothers, all three of whom are lawyers. They jointly handled the legal proceedings and unilaterally claimed that the formal investigation of Stan’s death was off-the-charts bizarre. Because none of them felt the need to antagonize the sheriff, however, they let the matter slide. Who knows what actually happened?

Tammy sued the estate for Stan’s house; but, as soon as it came to light that Stan owed tens of thousands of dollars of back taxes, she decided that she wasn’t so interested after all. Instead of declaring bankruptcy on the estate and washing their hands of the affair, my mother and uncles decided that they would rent out Stan’s house. The person they hired to clean the place apparently found things that deeply upset him, and he started spreading stories that the house was haunted. In the end, the only person who would rent it was a Vietnam War veteran living on disability checks.

It initially seemed that this man was a perfect tenant. He paid his rent on time, kept to himself, and didn’t cause trouble. Unfortunately, his neighbor’s wife, whom my mother charmingly refers to as “the town bicycle,” had a crush on him, and he presumably ended up sleeping with her. Her husband, in a fit of jealous rage, reported to the sheriff that the man was using his military connections to run a drug cartel. The veracity of this accusation is debatable (and highly dubious), but the sheriff decided to investigate anyway. What he found in the woods behind the house were two growhouses in which the tenant had been cultivating marijuana. The sheriff confiscated the plants and put the man in jail. Since then, the house has been empty. I’m still not sure who’s doing what about the taxes on the property; but, as long as my mother doesn’t get shot in the face herself, I’ll probably never find out.

Meanwhile, the incident allowed Tammy to receive disability compensation, which she used to buy a house of her own. She also managed to acquire a large commercial property that’s been unoccupied for more than a decade, and she was recently granted a license to convert it into an animal shelter. The officer who heads the local Animal Control was extremely upset about this, as she had prohibited Tammy from setting foot onto the grounds of all the animal shelters in the county years ago because Tammy had been adopting cats and selling them on eBay. As a compromise, the Magistrate’s Office restricted Tammy’s shelter license to a maximum residential capacity of twenty-five cats. This restriction has been relaxed, and the shelter now houses more than fifty cats, which are apparently free to roam the building and grounds.

So the end result of Stan Bryant’s strange life and stranger death is a live-action Neko Atsume. If this story were fiction, I suppose it would have a more fitting conclusion, but I couldn’t make up this sort of thing if I tried.

The world is a weird place, y’all.

How Notes Work on Tumblr

I’ve spent the past four years observing how Tumblr functions, especially how content is spread on the site, and I’ve developed a theory regarding how some posts manage to pick up more notes. This theory reflects my own experiences as someone who regularly posts original content and has slowly gained several thousand followers. I’m sure that other people have had different experiences. Tumblr is huge, after all.

Every blog on Tumblr has a “reblog coefficient,” which indicates how many notes someone’s reblog of a post will generate. If a blog has a reblog coefficient of ten, this means that at least ten of its followers will like and/or reblog any given post one of its posts.

I call the blogs with the highest reblog coefficients “anchor blogs,” as they serve as anchors for a fandom. Even when Tumblr-specific browser extensions (like XKit) are used, it can be difficult to catch everything that comes along in the rapid flow of the Tumblr feed stream, so people attached to a certain fandom will often visit one or two anchor blogs to check for new content, which they will like or reblog directly from that blog.

Tumblr has a category of older communities that we can think of as “legacy fandoms,” by which I mean fandoms that have inherited a large number of fans from fic-centric fandom communities on LiveJournal. To give a concrete example, Hannibal is a legacy fandom of Sherlock, which is itself a transitional legacy fandom of Harry Potter. In the larger legacy fandoms, it’s common for fanfic authors to have anchor blogs. Because the essentially visual nature of Tumblr as a platform can undermine the circulation of text posts even within legacy fandoms, however, sometimes fanfic writers will work together to create and co-moderate anchor blogs that are separate from their main blogs.

In many newer fandoms on Tumblr, however, the anchor blogs tend to be the blogs of popular artists. An artist’s work will generate its own fandom, which will help propel the broader fandom forward. Perhaps because they themselves are visually oriented, the artists who run anchor blogs tend to only reblog art and other image posts. In addition, there are typically several large anchor blogs within any given fandom that will reblog almost anything posted onto a certain tag or set of tags, with the caveat that they also tend to favor image posts.

What this means is that, within Tumblr-based fandom cultures, it’s rare for a text post to get more than thirty to forty notes, even if the author’s blog is fairly popular. There are exceptions, of course, but they’re generally tied to a friendship or collaboration between a writer and an artist. (Two other common exceptions are “discourse,” or aggressively inflammatory statements, and “shitposts,” which are characterized by a distinctive flavor of absurdist humor.) If an artist or other anchor blog reblogs a text post, it can get hundreds and sometimes even thousands of notes.

It’s entirely possible for someone who isn’t an artist to have what I call a “bedrock blog,” which is a blog that one or more of the anchor blogs follow and reblog from. Even if a bedrock blog only has a base reblog coefficient of ten, their practical reblog coefficient can be exponentially larger because of their association with an anchor blog. I’ve noticed a number of commonalities between bedrock blogs in my own fandoms, but one factor that stands out to me is that the people who run them tend to be extroverted and extremely active on the site.

I’ve also developed a theory that the algorithms that regulate Tumblr privilege content that has been liked or reblogged and thus vetted by certain “magnet blogs.” A “magnet blog” is one of the blogs that appears in the “recommended” section of a user’s internal dashboard if they search, track, or start using a certain tag, as the magnet blog is identified by the Tumblr algorithm as being identified with that tag. What this means is that, if you tag a post with a certain tag, and then one of the magnet blogs reblogs your post with the same tag, it’s much more likely to appear in the recommended posts (on both the website and the mobile app) of anyone who has ever liked or reblogged anything with that tag, even if the end user has never actually used the tag on their own blog before.

Based on my observations, a like or reblog from a magnet blog seems to be the difference between an image post getting 200 notes and getting 2,000 notes. This is social networking via algorithm, which means that you can never know who the “right” person to like or reblog your post is at any given time or in any given situation. If I had to guess, I might submit the hypothesis that megapopular (with 20k+ followers) anchor blogs often function as magnet blogs for the tags they use.

There are also more concrete and mechanical factors that influence the distribution of content. For example, Sunday evening from 6:00pm to 8:30pm EST/EDT is the best time to post something on Tumblr. Wednesdays and Thursdays also get a high volume of traffic, with the window between 7:00pm to 10:00pm being particularly active. The trick seems to be to try to catch the sweet spot when both the East Coast and the West Coast will see your work, and hopefully the reblogs will keep the post spreading until the people in Asia and Europe are active. Also, unlike Instagram and other social media sites, only the first five tags of any given post “count,” meaning that the post will only appear on the searches and feeds for those first five tags. There are a few other best practices concerning things such as embedded links and image formatting, but these can change according to a user’s blog theme and the site’s current policies.

When it comes to how many notes any given post on Tumblr will get, specific social connections, timing, and formatting – not to mention creativity, skill, and consistency – are important, as is having a strong social network both on and off Tumblr. That being said, there are other major contributing factors that are not random, exactly, but extremely difficult to control or predict.

Writing Log 11/19/2018

– I finished editing all the stories in my Ghost Stories zine! I reformatted the file in InDesign and sent the PDF to the printer, a service called Mixam that came highly recommended by an artist friend on Tumblr. If all goes well, I should have the books in my hands this Friday.

– I also finished editing the zine for my “Anime and Manga Studies” course this semester. One of the class assignments was for everyone to submit a zine page based on their research projects. Some of the students phoned it in (which kind of hurt my feelings, to be honest), but most of them created fantastic work. It took me a solid eleven hours to put the zine together, but it was worth the effort. I just submitted the file to Mixam this morning, and I should be able to give my students copies of the zine during the final week of class, when they’re scheduled to present their projects.

– I had a wonderful time participating in the “Remembering Isao Takahata, Co-Founder of Studio Ghibli” panel at Anime NYC this past weekend. The panel was sponsored by the Japan Foundation, who put a considerable amount of care into promoting it. As a result, the room was at its full capacity of 215 people. It was a great audience! My co-panelist, CJ Suzuki, is one of my favorite people, and it’s always a pleasure to work with him.

– As I was talking to people over the weekend, I played down the time and effort I put into researching and writing (and memorizing) this presentation, but I’ve actually been working on it since August. I’m considering editing all of my material into a blog post, but that may only happen next year.

– I also introduced a screening of the Takahata film My Neighbors the Yamadas at the Japan Society on Saturday evening. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible this was. I met and talked with so many smart and interesting people, and the experience renewed my sense of what exactly it is that I’m trying to accomplish by studying popular media. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the experience filled me with hope and determination!

Writing Log 11/11/2018

– I finished editing the second chapter of my book manuscript! I was only able to do this because I skipped a department meeting on Wednesday. I’m not proud of this, but work on this project has got to get done.

– I edited four more stories for my Ghost Stories chapbook and touched up the design for the back cover. Everything is looking great! I’m really excited about sharing this when it’s ready.

– I wrote 2,500 words of The Demon King. Although I’ve already written the first chapter, I’m not starting at the beginning, but rather with scenes that I can already see clearly in my mind. Now that I’ve begun to get a better sense of the characters, and I think it’s time to create a chapter outline.

– I’m still working on a Breath of the Wild postgame fanfic called “The Seven Heroines.” I’m done with the first (very rough) draft, and I think the story is probably going to be finished next week at about 2,000 words.

– I wrote half a dozen recommendation letters. Two of these were basically form letters, but I put a considerable amount of effort into the rest.

– I’ve been working to prepare for a panel on Isao Takahata at Anime NYC. I’m also introducing a screening of one of the director’s films, My Neighbors the Yamadas, at the Japan Society. This got a press release on Anime News Network, which is kind of cool. I’m not going to lie – this trip to New York is a big deal for me, and I’m nervous.

Online Horror Fiction

In the presentation I gave about Japanese urban legends for Anime USA, I mentioned a few cursed websites that are relatively well-known in Japan. These websites are mostly digital memorials for deceased relatives (and pets) that overshoot “elegiac” and land squarely in the realm of “disturbing.” I’m sure that a scholar of Asian religions could write an interesting paper about these websites; but, for the purposes of my presentation, the most important thing was to maintain a sense of respect for the family members who created them. While I was putting together my PowerPoint slideshow, I started wondering if there are any cursed websites in American internet lore that might serve as a basis of comparison. Indeed there are, but the actual “cursed websites” I ended up visiting were somewhat underwhelming. What I did find, however, was some fantastic online horror fiction.

For the uninitiated, urban legends that spread online are called “creepypasta” after the “copypasta” text that used to be cut and pasted from a website onto a forum and then into an email and then into another email (and so on) back in the days of AOL and GeoCities. Like urban legends, creepypasta is generally presented as true. Most stories are ostensibly something that happened to the people who originally wrote them, who are presumably “a friend of a friend” of the people who then copy and paste and thereby spread the story. There’s an entire Creepypasta Wiki devoted to these types of stories, but they can also be found elsewhere, including the NoSleep subreddit and Jezebel’s annual scary story contest (here’s one of my favorites, from 2014).

There are all sorts of “Best of Creepypasta” lists out there, but what I’ve collected here are stories I found during my research that were very clearly written as fiction and presented online in interesting ways, as well as a few journalistic attempts to debunk creepypasta that ended up becoming stories in and of themselves.

Annie Is Typing
http://www.storiesforyourscreen.com/annie96-is-typing/

This is a short and very creepy story written in the form of a text message conversation between a young man and his friend, who’s not entirely sure that she’s alone in her house. It’s a lot of fun to watch the story play out seemingly in real time, and the twist at the end is fantastic.

The Dionaea House
http://www.dionaea-house.com/

This is epistolary fiction written in the form of a set of emails that the recipient has posted online for the family of the sender, who has gone missing after he quit his job to investigate a random murder instigated by someone he was friends with as a teenager. He confesses that he always knew something was wrong with this friend, especially after the boy spent a few days in a strange house that his realtor parents could never keep occupied. Between the presentation of the digital found objects and the encroaching insanity of the narrator, this story is like House of Leaves, but with all of the mystery and none of the pretension.

Candle Cove
http://ichorfalls.chainsawsuit.com/

This story takes the form of a short series of posts on a Reddit-style forum about “Candle Cove,” a homebrewed children’s show broadcast on a small public access channel. The people posting share their memories of the show, which, in retrospect, was quite sinister. The twist ending is horrifying and delightful.

Mr. Bear’s Cellar
https://www.bustle.com/articles/72619-is-the-creepypasta-1999-real-heres-the-truth-about-caledon-local-21-and-mr-bears-cellar

This article, written by Lucia Peters, explains the cultural context of 1999, a famous story on the Creepypasta Wiki. This story’s premise is similar to that of “Candle Cove.” The narrator vaguely remembers that a small local public access station, Caledon Local 21, once broadcast a low-budget show called “Mr. Bear’s Cellar,” which is just as upsetting as you’d think it would be. Peters provides an excellent summary of the rambling creepypasta and argues that, although this particular story isn’t true, it’s not unreasonable to think that a similar story very well could be.

Abandoned by Disney
https://www.bustle.com/articles/88129-is-the-creepypasta-abandoned-by-disney-real-heres-the-truth-about-mowglis-palace

This is another article written by Lucia Peters (who – can I just say – is a very cool person). In this article Peters investigates the origin of another famous story on the Creepypasta Wiki, “Abandoned by Disney,” which is about a Disney resort on the coast of North Carolina that was suddenly shut down with no official explanation before it opened to the public. These haunted ruins are not real, but that doesn’t mean that Disney hasn’t actually built and then abandoned waterside resorts. What’s interesting about this article is where and how Peters manages to track down information about these derelict theme parks online. It’s also interesting that the original story has apparently been deleted, perhaps because the author was afraid of the real monster in the room, the Disney Corporation.

Sad Satan
https://kotaku.com/a-horror-game-hidden-in-the-darkest-corners-of-the-inte-1714980337

In this in-depth article, Kotaku reporter Patricia Hernandez tries to figure out whether or not a game called “Sad Satan,” which was featured on a popular Let’s Play channel on YouTube, is actually real. She and I both think that it’s mostly likely not, but her investigation takes her to some interesting places online. What I appreciate about this article is its no-nonsense explanation of what the Deep Web actually is based on details drawn from interviews with people who spend time there. I was also amused by its references to real horror games hidden in places you’d never expect, like Microsoft Excel 95.

The Princess
http://ifyouseeherturnoffthegame.blogspot.com/

This is classic creepypasta from 2011 written in the form of thirteen blog posts. On one level, it’s about the strangeness of video game glitches. On another level, it’s about how odd game-related forums used to be, with faceless and anonymous people spreading rumors, making things up, and roleplaying in ways that didn’t always make a great deal of sense. The fact that this story is posted on Blogspot, which now feels akin to a collection of lost and forgotten ruins on the internet, only heightens the eeriness, but the story is really more nostalgic than scary.

SPC-231
http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-231

This is probably my favorite story in the shared universe of the SPC Foundation, a wiki hosting the X-Files style “records” of a paragovernmental organization given the task to “secure, contain, and protect” various dangerous and unexplainable phenomena. I learned about this subset of creepypasta through a video of someone playing SPC-87-B, a game based on the entry for SPC-87. What’s so horrifying about this story, as well as many other stories on the SPC wiki, is not the various creatures being documented, but rather the inhumanity of the bureaucratic organization that documents them. SPC-231 is especially disturbing in this regard, specifically in terms of its refusal to specify what something called “Procedure 110-Montauk” actually entails. A short story based on SPC-231, Fear Alone, offers a brilliant interpretation that makes the nastiness of the experience of reading the original case file worthwhile.

Writing Log 11/04/2018

– I edited the first half of Chapter 2 of my book manuscript! I realized that the only way to get this done is to say “no” to literally every other professional obligation, so that’s what I’m doing.

– I’m writing a review of Haruki Murakami’s newest novel in translation, Killing Commendatore, for my book review blog. This novel didn’t make a strong impression on me when I read it in Japanese, and a second reading in English hasn’t changed my mind, so I don’t actually have much to say. Still, I’ve now read a good dozen reviews of the novel that get the plot and the characters mixed up, and there isn’t currently anything on the novel’s English-language Wikipedia page, so at the very least I can write an accurate plot summary that correctly identifies the characters and the themes of the story.

– I’m slowly editing the thirteen (very) short stories that I’m going to include in a chapbook called Ghost Stories, which I hope to send off to the printer by the end of the month. I’ve already posted the first story in the collection, Aunt Bernice, on this blog.

– I’m working on a short Breath of the Wild postgame fic about Zelda and Riju, who I think would get along really well together. I told myself I would stop writing fanfic once the fall semester began, but I was wrong. If it doesn’t get in the way of my professional writing and makes me happy, what’s the harm?

– I found not one but two artists who would be willing to create a character illustration of Balthazar from The Demon King! I was 95% certain that one of them would turn me down, but both ended up taking my commission. I’m very excited about this! Unlike Ceres and Hero, I only have the sketchiest idea of what Balthazar is supposed to look like, so it will be good to get two different interpretations from two different artists. Both artists have already sent sketches, and they’re beyond fantastic. Once I have professional illustrations of the character, hopefully I’ll be able to start drawing him myself.

Writing Log 10/28/2018

– Last weekend I gave two panels at Anime USA, “Japanese Urban Legends” and “Legend of Zelda Theories.” The panel on urban legends was extraordinarily successful, completely filling a room meant to seat 125 people, and earlier this morning I accepted an invitation to present it at Katsucon in February.

– I submitted revisions for an essay about the Takashi Miike film Audition, which has been accepted in an academic essay collection on gender and horror. I’ve been working on this research project for years, and I’m happy it’s finally going to be published!

– I finished editing the first chapter of my book manuscript! This took about a month. It took me almost four months to edit the Introduction, but I think I’ve managed to develop a practical and efficient routine. My goal is to submit the manuscript to my editor by the end of the year, so I’ll need to pick up the pace.

– I wrote a script for a twelve-panel comic about Link’s Awakening. The comic is about the strange experience of playing the game when it first came out, which was back when Game Boy cartridges were notoriously glitchy. I want the visual style of this comic to be simple and stylized, and I’m thinking of drawing everything from scratch in Photoshop. I’m not sure whether I want to submit it to a gaming arts magazine like ZEAL or just post it directly to Tumblr, but I’ll worry about that once it’s actually finished.

– Speaking of Tumblr, I wrote a blog post about mean people on the internet. This involved about five hours of research and seven hours of writing and editing, all of which was spread out across four days.

– An artist friend on Twitter retweeted a commission post created by another artist. I was intrigued by the style of the sample images, so I stayed up late going through the artist’s Tumblr and reading their webcomic. I was awed and inspired by their work, so the next morning I sent them a message asking if they would be interested in creating an illustration of Balthazar from The Demon King. The artist responded favorably, so I stayed up late again working on an email. They haven’t responded, and I don’t think they’re ever going to, but the effort wasn’t wasted. I got to discover the work of an amazing artist, and I now have a better idea of who Balthazar is and what he looks like.