You have a new book out, available through Amazon, called Lone Star Saucers: Searching for UFOs in Texas. In your bio you describe yourself as “a native Texan fascinated with UFOs.” What is it about UFOs and the supernatural that you find so intriguing? Did you have any preconceived notions about UFOs before writing this book?
We increasingly live in an information-driven world where there are readily available explanations for so many things in our daily lives. You can eat breakfast and while reading the cereal box Google the entire history of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Don’t know the best traffic route to a new restaurant? Your navigation system can not only point you there turn-by-turn, but also estimate the exact minute you’ll arrive and a pleasant voice will even talk you through it. Yet some of the longest-running mysteries endure despite this endless flood of information. Sure, I’m interested in why Classic Coca-Cola is better than Coke, but I’m surprised that after thousands of years across all countries we haven’t really cracked that pesky UFO question yet to everyone’s satisfaction. For me these more fringe subjects offer an avenue to wonder about our world and seek out many possibilities in search of answers. Some paths lead to hoaxes, some to simple misidentification, but in the end there are still some events that don’t offer easy solutions. I don’t know that I always believed in UFOs being piloted by little grey men hell-bent on abducting cows for nefarious purposes, but even as a kid I do remember being amazed that there were adults (seemingly rationale and well-educated in many cases) who legitimately believed that these phenomenon deserved more respect than they got. If it’s all a lot of B.S. then surely someone would have demonstrated this scientifically by now, at least that was my thinking. That said these sightings and personal experiences persist, with thousands of new reports each year from all over the world. I think there has to be something genuine to what people are witnessing; too many people are sincerely affected by their experiences and there are at least several reports that have a substantial amount of corroborating evidence that suggests that an unusual event occurred to just dismiss entirely.
You interviewed a lot of people for this book, including a former NASA astronaut. Did you have a favorite interviewee? How did you prepare for the various interviews?
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite interview, because for me each one was so different from the other. The topic of UFOs isn’t one a lot of people take seriously, and even those people who have been in the public spotlight as part of an organization or through publicly reporting their experiences have real reason to be cautious of anyone asking for their word on the record. There are media outlets or producers that really do a hatchet job on interviews, and if handled poorly or manipulated to suit an agenda a person can really be negatively impacted. I take that very seriously as the interviewer, and I’m honestly very grateful to everyone that has given me the opportunity to speak with them and share their stories. For the interviews I try to dig up as much relevant info as I can on that person as a first step. I’ll watch old interviews, read articles, draft potential questions and think of how their perspective is unique from the other people I’m working with on the project. I also want to be totally transparent with them well before the interview on the goals of the book. In my limited experience I’ve found that establishing a nice, open, conversational tone with each person off-the-record helps put them at ease and allows me to explore some different ideas with them. I’ll usually have the actual interview after I’ve narrowed-down some key things to touch on and have earned a bit of trust and mutual respect for one another before pulling out the recorder. I’ve found that’s a better way to engage people, set aside the right amount of time for the full interview, and have them primed and ready for the conversation.
From reading your book I learned a lot of things, such as the French government turned over their UFO investigations to the space department, so they use scientists as opposed to the military to explore UFO claims. What were some unusual or surprising things you learned while researching and writing this book?
For me one of the recurring themes was that the idea of a massive, well-organized conspiracy doesn’t hold a lot of water. Robert Powell and Nick Redfern both had some great comments on that. We’re so used to the idea of the Cigarette Smoking Man in some shadowy hangar running a secret government covering-up the whole UFO affair; and to me it was refreshing to have others shed some light on that. If a government or military representative were to even consider bringing up UFOs to their superior they are probably more concerned with being ridiculed or scolded for having more serious things to attend to in their position. The specialist working on a top secret aerospace component may be unwittingly working on some advanced space craft back-engineered from alien technology, but to them it’s just piece of a much larger and complex puzzle they can’t even begin to see from that perspective. So that was nice to explore a bit, and really it’s a rather simple answer but it makes much more sense to me in the grand scheme of things than believing in legions of henchmen working in some Bond villain lair. I also really enjoyed looking back at UFO reports from the 1800s. Maybe it’s me, but I think a lot of times we look back at history and assume everything was factual; and that all those newspaper stories were accurate and people were above creating hoaxes or tall tales. When you look at social media and the internet today people create crazy, poorly-shot videos of flying saucers, or blog accounts of little green men invading their homes at night and all sorts of bizarre things. Some of it might be true, but a lot of it generates attention either way. Even a century ago it was nice to see that while there were obviously catalysts for some reports of UFOs a lot of the reports that came in were noticeably more outlandish in nature, and I can’t help but think it’s because in a lot of ways people haven’t really changed all that much when it comes to telling a good story.
Something interesting about your book is that for the most part you keep yourself out of the story, that is, there is not a lot of authorial analysis about claims and sightings. Was this purposeful? Did you read any creative non-fiction books before writing this one to help you prepare?
Yes, I wanted to be a constant for readers but I tried to stay fairly neutral. I hope that if I did my job well the information was delivered in a way that allowed them to connect the dots as it makes sense to them. I have my own opinions and thoughts, but I didn’t want those to cloud the subject so much as just shine a light on different things they might not have already considered. A book that really influenced me was Will Storr vs the Supernatural by Will Storr. He was investigating hauntings and all sorts of paranormal happenings in the UK and US in an effort to just learn as a sort of participant observer for a feature he was preparing. Will let readers in on his thoughts and even shared some of his own experiences that seemed to really shake him a little bit, but his writing style made me feel as a reader like I was in the room with him and these people. It really helped make something eerie and surreal feel grounded and possible. I think that approach helped offset what could be an overwhelming, larger-than-life subject by infusing some real humanity into it. Whether UFOs or ghosts, the constant factors are the people having these experiences and those people aren’t any more perfect than you or I but they are interested in this stuff and sincere in their stories. I tried to put a little of my personality in there to lighten things a bit or foreshadow something coming-up, but if people wanted to know all about me I think I’d just write an autobiography. I let the people, places and events tell these stories for the most part, because in my kind readers bought a ticket for UFOs. I just wanted to serve as a sort of helpful guide who has a good deal of interest and curiosity about it the subject.
What’s a typical writing day look like for you? How do you balance a 9-5 job with your writing life?
Writing is very much a side project for me right now. I’d love for it to pay the bills and then some, but I think I’ll have at least another Bigfoot or zombie book to write before I can quit my day job! Really, though, writing is a lot of fun for me. The development process is what I like the most, and I like that feeling of starting out on a new idea. It’s a great excuse to order a ton of books online, scour the ends of the internet and daydream about what my version of that book could be. I usually read a lot in the evenings after work and to kick around themes and ideas about different directions I could go. I mark through books, sort printed articles and bookmark interesting sites I don’t want to lose here and there. Mornings seem to be the best time for me to write. I’ll wake-up refreshed, put the kettle on, sip some Earl Grey and start typing. Usually I’ll write from about 9am to 12pm or so on a Saturday or Sunday before I need a break. Transcribing is a bit more tedious, so I’ll try to knock that down here and there and edit it all down until I’ve got a chapter flowing a bit better. I try to walk away from each writing session feeling like I’ve made some progress at the very least, because there is nothing more frustrating for me than feeling like I need to start over or that I’ve boxed myself into a corner I can’t easily escape from.
What are you currently reading? Any favorite authors or books you return to again and again?
Well, I’m a total comic book fan and I’m typically reading the latest Batman or Ghost Rider comics each month. Comics are a great, quick read and escape from the daily grind. I really enjoy Scott Snyder who has written some great stories like Batman, American Vampire, and The Wake in recent years. As far as favorite authors go that’s a tough one to answer, but Washington Irving, Michael Crichton, and Edgar Allan Poe come to mind. I can read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow once a year and still love it each and every time. I tend to bounce around a lot and just add things to my Amazon Wish List as I come across them.
What are you working on these days?
Just recently I’ve started writing short fiction to see how I like it. I’ve never felt like that would be something I’d be good at, but I’ve set the parameters that I have to write the entire story in a single sitting and it has to be 500 words or less. So far that’s been fun, and while I’m starting out writing more horror/supernatural stories to supplement my Lone Star Spooks Facebook page it’s been a really neat way to try out something new and get feedback from folks. I’ve only been doing that for a couple of weeks leading into Halloween but so far I have about 5 “Spooky Spine-Tingler” ideas ready to go. We’ll see how it all turns, but it’s the idea of completing these little challenges that appealed to me and hopefully entertains people in a different way than my nonfiction might. I think I’m also a frustrated artist because last year I drew a series of sketches paired with the paranormal inspiration I dubbed “Spooky Scribbles” which was a lot of fun and another way to express some creativity.
And let’s close with our obligatory set of questions: Have you read A Confederacy of Dunces, our literary inspiration here at Literary Labors (and the Occasional Cheese Dip)? Do you have a cheese dip recipe to share?
I’m sad to say that I haven’t read it, but I’ll add it to my list right now! As for cheese dip I’m only familiar with the Sunday football special combo of Velveeta and Ro-Tel, but I recently had some hatch green chile queso and it was a life-changing experience!
Nate Riddle is a native Texan fascinated with ghosts, UFOs, and other paranormal subjects. Among his heroes are Batman, Han Solo, Phil Hartman, and his grandparents. Nate studied anthropology and psychology while attending the University of North Texas where he pursued his interests of cultural studies, field methods, and folklore. His love of the unknown inspired him to search for answers with readers spurring thought and conversation about these enduring mysteries. Nate is the author of two nonfiction books, Lone Star Spooks: Searching for Ghosts in Texas, and the recently-released Lone Star Saucers: Searching for UFOs in Texas.