Local author and entrepreneur, Alan B. Gibson, has a lot going on. He and his partner were recognized for years as the owner/operators of the popular Ridgefield Farm & Orchard located just outside of Shepherdstown—known for its apples, pumpkins, vegetables, Christmas trees, corn maze, and much more.
But they sold it, officially, last September (2017), and since then, Gibson has been on a dream-chasing tear, particularly as an author, though he’s quickly making inroads into film, while also continuing to grow a tech startup.
Explaining to me that he also plans on writing two to three books a year moving forward, and is finishing up a sitcom based on a senior living facility this year, he sat down with me last month to discuss his two current books as well as what life looks like since he removed “farmer” from his resume.
— — —
Chalmers: You sold the farm last year, but you’d already published your first book The Dead of Winter—a horror story—which dropped in 2015. Walk me through how that shaped out.
Gibson: We had the farm for some time and we’d been doing a scary Halloween event there for a while—kids would come through in the day and pick pumpkins and go through the corn maze and it was all very family friendly. But I’d always wanted to do a scary thing at night, though I was worried about various things, especially liability. However, one of my clients in the advertising business ran a scary theme park in Texas, and was familiar on how to do it. So, we set it up and ran it for quite a while.
Chalmers: Before long, this innocent new feature at the farm grew legs (in your head)—formulating the idea for the first book.
Gibson: Indeed. The hay ride was tightly choreographed, and ramped up slowly—we’d plant actors in the group and they’d get carried off into the corn. It was really popular. And then, on a flight to L.A. at one point, I was thinking about how the farm could pay for itself in different ways—other than just what we were currently doing. By the time we landed, I had the outline for Dead of Winter—which had the scary hay wagon at its core.
Chalmers: And now that book is close to becoming a movie?
Gibson: Yes. It was well reviewed and has a lot of elements that people want in a horror book, and it’s local. There’s some camp, cliché, and some twisted stuff. People have fun with it. Fast forward to just before Christmas 2017: I’d been invited to be an executive producer on a movie. The shoot was in Chicago, and towards the end, I had dinner with the director, Charlie Matthau [son of Walter], and asked him if he’d ever directed a horror movie, and he said, no—but he always wanted to. He asked me if I had something in mind.
Chalmers: Fast-forwarding yet again, he loved your book, and you both got moving on the project—which is now almost to production.
Gibson: It is. He likes Sissy Spacek in the lead role, has a budget, and is very enthusiastic. The script is almost done, and we’re almost ready for Charlie to shop it to Sissy. What’s next is investors. They’ll come after the business plan, sales projections—and then we attach a cast to it. I don’t see any trouble getting investors; it’s a rare horror film that loses money. There’s a huge population that will always go see a horror movie—especially one with a cast like this and an A-list director’s name attached to it. If everything goes well, we hope to shoot in the fall—or the spring if it takes longer.
Chalmers: Dream-chasing being what it is, your second book, Leave No Trace, dropped last December (2017).
Gibson: I was almost finished with the second book when the movie development for the first book began. Leave No Trace—a thriller this time—is another story that takes place locally. It starts off on the Appalachian Trail and involves an assassin and the assassin’s target. It’s fun because all the hikers have trail names, aliases, and double identities—no one’s quite sure who’s who. There’s a little something for everyone.
Chalmers: We often write what we know, and you drew from personal experience again for Leave No Trace.
Gibson: “Yes, not so much the trail, but it revolves around a tech startup. The hero in the story creates this tech product and becomes an instant billionaire. I also have a tech startup so this is kind of like my fantasy of what might happen. It’s a fast-paced thriller. I actually started writing it based on one of the traditions at the farm. Even before we purchased Ridgefield, the former owner would advertise to hikers in Harpers Ferry that they could come make some extra cash by working odd jobs at the farm. So we continued that in the early years. I started out writing a book about hikers coming to the farm and something was going to happen to them. I got into the Appalachian Trail a bit and then realized it was becoming a better story than I’d intended it to be. So I completely changed it—turned it into a hiking book with a different plot.
Chalmers: Tell me more about the startup.
Gibson: Well, I’m really excited about this project (OneClick.chat)—something I’ve been a part of for a while. It’s a video-chat platform that people can use to connect with each other in many different ways. A lot of corporations are using it right now for meetings and conference calls. But we’re also finding great progress in working with older populations—some of them with early cognitive impairment—part of Alzheimer’s research. The goal is to determine whether or not the social engagement experience on video chat is as effective as in-person social engagement—building on the theory that social engagement helps to deter the onset of cognitive impairment.
Chalmers: What distinguishes OneClick?
Gibson: Based on brand-new tech architecture, there’s nothing to download. It’s web-based (just a URL)—versus app-based products like Skype, which is bulky and involves software, or Facetime, which is restricted to Apple. It’s super user-friendly: one click on a link and you join a conversation. No downloads—anyone can use it.
Chalmers: You’re a busy dude, by choice. What can you say about this new part of life, post-farm?
Gibson: I’ve always been a multi-tasker; my mind has been full of thoughts for a long time. And now I have the time to pursue them. So it’s sort of bursting forward—after the farm. I’m a writer now, and I enjoy being around other writers. I’m hoping the movie versions of things take off—the sitcom as well. But overall, I’m just happy. I’m so happy with my life. I’m truly inspired and motivated. It’s a really good place.
— Purchase both of Gibson’s books (and many future publications) on Amazon, or locally at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown. For all additional information, click the above links.By Mike Chalmers