When people ask, "what do you do," I always find myself experiencing an identity crisis. I do a lot of things. I'm an author, journalist, a paranormal investigator, producer, director, "TV host," teacher, student and a few other things. I usually answer by picking one or two of my professions. Which two depends on the person who asks.
ALL ABOUT ME (THE LONG, Nontraditional version)
You clicked on this page, so obviously curiosity got the better of you. So, here goes: I was born in Corry, Pennsylvania to a young mother and father who were just entering adulthood. I was told I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck and stopped breathing. In case you're wondering, yes, I was resuscitated (hence why I'm alive). I then gratefully peed on my doctor to show him my appreciation.
After being born, my father joined the Air Force and we traveled to live in Kansas. I have one distinct memory living there. We lived in an apartment, and the mini-series, "V" was on TV. Sirens blared outside to warn us that a tornado was approaching. My parents rushed to grab what they could, including our brand-new TV (it was our pride and joy!) and headed to the basement. I walked to the spot where the TV had sat, looking out the window to see if I could glimpse this tornado. A minute or two later, my dad rushed back into the apartment, picked me up and carried me down to the basement. It seems in the rush to get the TV out, it took them a few minutes to realize I wasn't with them. I'm not complaining. I would've grabbed the TV first, as well! Before I was carried out, I did get to see what looked like a tornado, but instead of fear, I was in awe. It was far out in the distance, but it was remarkable. When it was all over, no damage was done to our building. In fact, while down in the basement, we discovered we had, according to the locals, over-reacted. We were the only ones in the entire complex that actually responded to the tornado sirens and sought shelter in the basement. But my parents came from a small town, and this was all new territory for them. For me, everything was new territory. And as we moved from Kansas back to Pennsylvania temporarily, then down to Virginia, adapting became a part of my DNA (as I'm sure it is with any "military brat"). My parents (I swear that the song, "Jack and Diane" is based on my mom and dad - they should sue for royalties!) divorced when I was four and I continued to live in Virginia with my mother.
My mother was (and still is) a unique woman. At times it felt like shetreated me like an adult. For example, rarely do I ever recall her telling me I couldn't watch a movie that was on. If it bothered me, well, she'd tell me "perhaps you're too scared and shouldn't watch anymore." That almost always sounded like a challenge to me, so I'd suck it up and dare to keep watching. I don't think she bought in to the whole "TV and movies will ruin your child" belief. I distinctly remember her taking me to see "Jason Goes To Hell" when it came out in theaters. I quickly discovered I had a love for scary movies. But don't misunderstand - my mother wasn't a horror nut. In fact, I can probably recite every line from "Beaches" and "Steel Magnolias." And yes, I cry every time the scene where Julia Roberts collapses comes on the screen. We rocked out to Whitney Houston on long car rides (she was my first moon-goddess). My mother worked hard to make life comfortable for me. And along our travels, both physically and in life, I was exposed to a great deal of cultures and responsibilities that I think many kids my age never took the opportunity to experience. Maybe it's because I was, for the first seven years of my life, an only child. Maybe it's because we moved around a lot. But I found that adventures could be had in corn fields. Parking lots. On swing sets. And even on the roof of my dad's brand-new truck (he didn't agree).
In case you're nosy and really want to know, yes, my mother did re-marry. I was six. Or maybe seven. I can't remember. And I'm too lazy to call her up at this very moment to ask. But my life certainly changed when I was seven, with the birth of my first sibling, Jordan. We were back living in Pennsylvania while my step-dad was overseas. I was having an adventure in the woods (I'll get to that in a moment) while my mother, well, she was having a totally different adventure in the hospital. We were living with my grandmother at the time and there was a vast forest behind her house. My three friends and I explored it almost every day. And on the day of my brothers birth. We discovered a secret tree house. We explored it and concluded that whoever built it was trying to control the woods by making these "forts." We found guns, knives, and weird devices we were certain were bombs (they weren't). And some very naughty magazines. As we were climbing down we were discovered by the owners of the fort, who were probably in their late teens or early 20s, and we bolted. Being a natural runner like my father, I was able to outrun those dumb bastards, as did two of my other friends. I could hear from behind me that my third friend was tackled to the ground by one of the guys. Having to make a split-second decision, I decided to keep running to seek help, as we were clearly outnumbered (and what good we were if we were all captured?). I shouted that I was going to call the cops and followed up with, "I hope you enjoy prison, dickwads." I was such a cocky bastard, even at that age. As I was running out of the woods, thinking my life was at stake, my grandmother was out back, as if she knew I was about to come charging out at that very moment, and started waving her hands, signaling to come home. Well, gramma, that's exactly where I was running. As I got there, I tried to catch my breath and tell her we were being chased, but she broke the news first. "Come on, we're going to the hospital. Your mom gave birth to your new baby brother." I looked up at her, panting and drenched in sweat. What? I had a brother? But I was the only one in the family! Now there's another one? And my mother didn't even bother to discuss this with me? I was...angry. You see, I have two sides of angry. The first, and most obvious, is when I have no issue telling you what's on my mind or what's bothering me. I wouldn't call it a tantrum, as neither of my parents would ever tolerate that. But if I felt I was being pushed to the limit or someone was being unreasonable, yes, I would put my foot down. I don't know exactly where I got it from, but adults never really intimidated me. My peers, yes, they did. Mainly because I wanted to be liked. The other kind of anger, well, I'm told its the worst of the two. I'm very quiet. But you can see it in my eyes. And gramma saw it the very moment anger set it. "Don't you dare take that tone into the hospital, young man. You've got a new responsibility to help raise your new brother and you're going to love having him in your life." Well damn, gramma, that's certainly an ambitious prediction, I thought. With all of this commotion, I completely forgot about the situation in the woods until we were in the car. Gramma said she'd take care of it and thought I was over-reacting. Normally, I'd protest, because for all I knew they were torturing him for information on where we lived (keep in mind, I was seven, okay? Little things seemed much bigger back then, and yes, I over-thought things at times). I entered the hospital, prepared to hate this new addition to the family, but the moment I held him, I felt a new purpose in the world. I was an older brother. I remembered I always wanted a brother. Granted, I preferred to have a brother closer to my age. 1-2 years younger would've been acceptable. Seven years, well, it wasn't ideal. Jordan was a little late, but it's not like that decision was up to him, so I let it go, and he (eventually) became one of my best friends in life.
Oh, and my friend was not harmed. But my gramma gave the older boys a stern talking-to. And then told me to stay out of their hunting stand, or whatever it's called. Why would someone build such an awesome tree house just to use it to sit and stare out into the wilderness to shoot a deer was beyond me. I felt like a great injustice was being done and asked if we could somehow get ownership of the tree house so we could share it with all the kids. I was overruled.
Not long after Jordan's birth, we moved to North Carolina for six months, and then, right after Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina, we moved to Sumter, S.C. It was my first time experiencing a hurricane, but luckily I was inland. It was still scary, nonetheless, and years later I'd experience a few more, including some strong tropical storms. My step-father seemed like he was always being deployed. The Gulf War hit, and in the middle of the night he left without being allowed to say goodbye. It was a stressful time for us. We were in another new environment - the deep south, recovering from a major natural disaster, and now my mother was alone.
And then some odd things started to happen. By odd, yes, I mean paranormal. I can't say what exactly the first experience was. I'm sure it was subtle. That's how it usually starts, at least according to the majority of people I've met who claim they've experienced paranormal phenomenon. At the same time, religion became a house hold topic. My mother seemed to be exploring the different faiths in the area. Hell, she even made me go to a Southern Baptist Sunday School program for a while. Now, I don't hate on any denomination. And even with one denomination, each church is different. But I will say, I was exposed to a different culture with different views on the world when we moved to South Carolina. When I finally had the courage to speak up about the experiences I was having, my mother consulted with a few friends who were involved with their churches. Ultimately, I was raised Catholic. I remember my mom finally calling my grandfather one night to discuss what I was experiencing. I knew even then, at my young age, that I was freaking her out. I was freaked out. I met with our local priest, and he did most of the talking. It didn't provide any help, but I don't blame him. How does one deal with a child who, on his own, claims he's experiencing some, well, very disturbing stuff? I don't divulge specifics about what happened to me. The motive behind that has changed over the years. It's deeply personal. At some points in my life, I wasn't ready to talk about it. Then, later on, it just felt irrelevant. It was my experience and mine alone. My experiences weren't even traditional in terms of the phrase "being haunted." I've yet to come across any experience that remotely resembles mine, but then again, no two experiences are alike. To wrap up this portion of the story, I'll put it like this: I experienced something. For a while. And for someone my age, it was difficult. Either I was hallucinating on a regular basis, imagining things, or something really bizarre was happening. It became more active at a rapid pace. And then, all of a sudden, it just stopped. No explanation. Well, no definitive explanation. And yes, it haunted me for many years. I wonder what my life would be like if I never had those experiences, real or imagined? Because no matter the explanation, it changed my life. And yes, from that point on, I was known for being a peculiar child. Energetic, caring, creative, sensitive, but now... odd. There was anger there. Like I had been bullied or violated and the perpetrator had gotten away. I wanted to know what happened to me. But for at least a couple years, I put it behind me, or tried as best as I could, and moved on. Puberty hit. Social standards changed. I went to live with my dad for a year, and that didn't work out too well, so I moved back down to start high school in South Carolina. And in that one year, all my friends, it seemed, had changed dramatically. It felt like everything was different. And it was.
High school? Most people say they hated it. Sure, there were unpleasantries. But I made the most of high school. I joined the Debate Club, became a state champion. Joined the high school newspaper and later became its editor-in-chief. I'm proud to say that in my final year in high school we turned that paper in to something students would just throw away to something they would look forward to every month. It was certainly unique. And I promise I'll share a few issues with you.
While in high school, and with the age of the Internet upon us, I discovered something called ghost hunting. I literally spent weeks devouring everything I could on the subject. And then read books. I wrote Ed and Lorraine Warren a letter in my teens after reading about them. I told them how much they inspired me and that I hoped to one day work with them. I never heard back, but as some of you may know, Lorraine Warren and I eventually became very close and worked on many cases together. And we forged a life-long friendship that I cannot begin to describe. It didn't hit me right away when I first met Lorraine that I had once written to her and "wow, it came true!" No, it just dawned on me sometime during season one of "Paranormal State" when we were talking together on the back porch while working a case. She was talking about her thoughts and I was listening and then it just clicked. "Ryan, remember when you were 14-15 and wrote her a letter? You're now traveling the country doing case work with her!" It was a cool moment, indeed.
Now here comes the part that many of you may know all-too-well. Obviously, I could write a very dull book about my life, from my first romance, to teenage angst, etc. etc. But that's for another time, another place. I wanted to go to Penn State University. My aunt and uncle, whom I considered the coolest people on the planet, went there. I had visited the university a few times with my mom and it just seemed to be the place I had to go to. I can't really explain WHY I wanted to go there so badly. Because it wasn't just to copy my aunt and uncle. For whatever reason, I just knew I had to go to Penn State. I WANTED to go to Penn State. I was an ambitious person, but I always spread myself a little too thin. I was involved with clubs, the newspaper, and even a few amateur investigations, so my grades weren't stellar. Yet somehow, I got in.
My mother allowed me to go on the condition that I go to a branch campus the first year and live with my aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh. Fine with me. Now, most people tend to want to stay near home or go where their friends wanted to go to college. All my friends were going to Winthrop, University of South Carolina or College of Charleston. But, I was used to traveling. Every other summer I'd spend with my father, and so I'd have an entirely different life for 3 months out of the year, then another one when I'd return home for the other 9. Plus, I wanted to get out there and explore. Doesn't mean I wasn't intimidated. But I wanted it more. And so, on July 14, 2000, I moved to Pittsburgh. I'm sure I don't have to explain to you how different Sumter, S.C. and Pittsburgh, P.A. are. But it was exciting. I was living in a city. Yes, with my aunt and uncle, so it felt like I was still on a leash a bit. But, it was still exciting.
After a year, I moved to the main campus at University Park, PA (or State College, PA). Now, State College is no metropolitan area. But the size of the main university is quite intimidating. At least in Pittsburgh, I lived with my aunt and uncle and cousin. Once I transferred to the main campus, I literally knew no one. And was 600 miles away from home. It was scary. After interning at the local newspaper my first summer from college in Sumter, I packed everything I had in to my Ford Tempo and drove up to State College to meet my roommates for the first time and then go to college in a brand-new town. I got in around 3am, and met my two roommates, Steve and Steven. The third, Donnie, I'd meet later, and thank god for him. Because he was an outsider like me. The two Steve's already knew one another. Donnie was new as well.
"SO I FOUNDED THE PARANORMAL RESEARCH SOCIETY, DEDICATED TO HELPING OTHERS WHO WERE HAUNTED LIKE I WAS..."
So, most of you know me from A&E's "Paranormal State." They say great things have small beginnings. Well, I suppose you can say that about this particular story. I never had ambitions to lead my own society, at least not when I created PRS. I created PRS because, quite frankly, there was nothing around to help me pursue my passion in exploring the unknown. And for me, paranormal research was kind of personal. It meant a lot to me. Was I made fun of for pursuing this path? Most definitely. Did people try to talk me out of it? Absolutely. I gave up a promising career in journalism (even getting a job offer at a major newspaper) due to all the time and effort I put in PRS. It was no cake walk. In fact, it was almost always hard, hard work. I had no materials nor resources to go off on in creating a society, let alone the experience I felt was lacking in my life. I was hoping someone would take me under their wing and guide me, teach me and help me navigate through this field. But it wasn't in the cards. I was told there were over 600 student organizations at Penn State. I thought to myself, "there has to be one that delves in to this area." There wasn't. Not at Penn State, and not at other universities within a few hundred mile radius. I quickly made a casual friend, as it's quite easy to make friends at a place like Penn State, where everyone comes alone from somewhere. And after hearing me bitch and complain for two weeks, she finally interrupted me and said, "why don't you just start one?" I explained why I couldn't. I lacked the experience. The knowledge. But she counter-argued, "seems to me you're the most knowledgeable person around here. So either you do it, or you just have to sit around and wait for someone else to do it. And who knows when that will happen?" Well, I was done waiting. So, I looked in to it. I got all the paperwork from the Student Activities department, and in early-to-mid September, I flyered the campus as much as possible promoting a meeting for a new club that I tentatively called the "Paranormal Research Society." Then September 11th happened. We all know things changed after that. There was an immediate shock, but then the aftermath took many years to see. Nevertheless, I decided to move forward with holding the meeting as originally planned on September 16th, 2001. Three people showed up. One was my friend who was there just for support. Half-way through the meeting, a young man named Matthew burst into the room excitedly and asked if this was for the paranormal club. I said yes. Obviously I had no idea that at that moment I found my first counterpart. He and I would spend the next couple years building PRS.
I could also write an entire book about the history of PRS. But I'll say this. It was hard work. I learned a lot of lessons. I learned quickly that peoples interests in the paranormal were/are diverse. And not everyone has the same goals. And that's fine. But PRS needed to choose a standard. A formula, or a mission statement, if you will, to follow. And so we decided to structure it similar to that of an academic institute, mixed with journalism, law enforcement and even military structure. We quickly realized that in order to investigate the paranormal, we needed to set a new standard. You couldn't just walk in and suddenly investigate with us. So we created two sides to the society. One, the general society. We held meetings once a week, and discussed various topics. To be a general member, all you had to do was pay your $10 member fee and attend at least one meeting a month. To be an investigator in the first department we formed (FIR - Field Investigation & Research), you had to take a semester of training, much like taking on an additional college class, which included classes every week, quizzes, five exams, a research paper, and then shadowing on two cases. We were building the structure as we went along. Somehow, amid the chaos and just making the best choices we could, magic happened. PRS quickly grew.
We first started to gain notoriety after we assisted the local police department in a missing persons case. We brought in a psychic to help with the case, which had pretty much gone cold. It got a lot of media attention as the police department was one of the few to openly admit that they were accepting help from a psychic. Two producers looking to do a show on police and psychic work contacted us and they created a special/pilot based on this case. It later aired on CourtTV (later re-branded TruTV) as "Psychic Detectives." We were cut out of the episode but nonetheless, we were a part of that start.
Then came UNIV-CON, an ambitious project. I wanted to create a academic-based paranormal conference. The first one was small. But by the seventh, we were attracted thousands of people across the world, and taking up most of Penn State's lecture spaces for the weekend. It quickly became a staple for the town, people knowing that every October, you could expect thousands of paranormal enthusiasts to descend upon State College to attend. It was - and probably still is - the most diverse paranormal conference attempted to this date. Sadly, after "Paranormal State" took off, we just didn't have the time to keep up with it, as it became a full-time endeavor to itself.
By 2004, we were suddenly getting hit up by the press in the September-October period from journalists looking to do special-interest pieces for Halloween. It started off small but by 2004, major papers were calling us up, even 20/20. And then, in 2005, our world changed when we were quietly brought in by the Roman Catholic Church to consult and document a case that would later receive the approval from the Bishop to bring in an exorcist to perform an officially sanctioned exorcism. For nearly ten years we took a vow of secrecy in order to protect the family. In 2014, the family came out with a book, so the secrecy finally ended. It involved the (now) former Commissioner of Pittsburgh, and some of the witnesses even included the former Mayor and some other very well known people. The exorcism was conducted by Father James Lebar, the chief spokesperson and exorcist for the U.S. And once again, I could write an entire book on the events surrounding this and another case we were brought in to investigate in the same area, but, that's for another time.
PRS grew. And since it's part of the university culture, our members came and went, all contributing to its growth. In 2002-2005, we started getting inquiries about starring in our own TV show, or being a part of some paranormal TV show concept. As hard as it may be to believe this, and as tempting as some of the offers were, I had to go with my gut, and turned them all down, or in some cases, I expressed interest but they (thankfully) went in another direction. They weren't for us.
In mid-2005, I was contacted by a producer, Betsy Schechter, who wanted to build a show around what WE did, as opposed to presenting a show idea and put us in it. I decided to entertain the idea and give it one shot. After all, I was approaching graduation, so why the hell not?
We offers from different networks and ultimately we went with A&E's offer to shoot a pilot at the end of 2005.
"THIS IS PARANORMAL STATE."
In early 2006, we shot the pilot, and in the summer of 2006, after graduating, we received the greenlight from A&E to go to series. They ordered 13 episodes. Beforehand, I decided to continue my education so I was still a student, and now, I had to juggle two tasks: school and doing PRS full time while a documentary crew filmed us every week. It meant doing cases 1-2 times a month to 4 times a month. And a strict schedule. It was bizarre. As we filmed, no one knew who we were. They wrote in to us asking for help, and we asked if they were okay with allowing a documentary crew to come in with us. So, we chose our 13 cases and we filmed from November 2006-February 2007. And then it was done. And we waited. And then, in the summer of 2007, A&E ordered an additional 7 and told us our show would premiere in December. For me, that was an eternity. Most people wondered if the show would ever come out.
But it did. And in a big way. A&E spent millions promoting it. And overnight, on December 10th, 2007, I went from a private Penn Stater and paranormal investigator to TV celebrity. Over 2.6 million people tuned in, and that doesn't include repeats afterwards. And the ratings held.
We shot for five seasons. During the fifth season, I became an executive producer for the show, hence going from just having a crew follow me, to now working behind-the-scenes in creating the show with the footage. It was a very bizarre and challenging job. I had to wear several hats. On one end, I was just doing my job and people were documenting it. And then I had to switch hats and think of how to turn this footage into an episode. I even directed a couple episodes, but ultimately, despite how fun it was, I felt it put me in a difficult position. How can I direct and be the subject of the show? I tried to take a step back in the episodes I directed, but "Paranormal State" was guided by my direction. Where I went, the cameras went. I didn't dictate that. When the show first started, I had no idea what it would ultimately look like. And yes, I was most definitely uncomfortable with being the face of an entire major cable series. But, it was an experience nonetheless.
I'm proud of "Paranormal State." There was nothing like it and there still isn't anything like it on TV. To me, that's a sign of originality. I believe it was ahead of its time. Some look at it and simply think it's over-stylized. Others think we're frauds who fake everything (really? If I was going to fake the show, I'd go balls-to-the-wall dramatic with having spirits pop in frame and drag my investigators down into the basement or something). And then some understood that our show, which is an interpretation of our investigations, touched upon sociological, cultural, psychological, emotional, spiritual and deeply personal issues. It is ultimately a show about humanity. And how the dead teach us lessons about life. You can consider the paranormal tales as metaphors, if you will. But the bottom line is, whether they lived in a trailer park, or in a mansion, we showed a diverse field of Americans who believed they were experiencing the paranormal. Whether you believe in the paranormal is irrelevant; there are people who are experiencing SOMETHING, and that's what we went in there to try and explore, because no one else was willing to help them.
After the fifth season, I decided not to return to "Paranormal State," mainly due to exhaustion. It ended up being a prophetic decision, because I would later need to take a couple years off for health reasons.
WHERE AM I NOW?
Good question. If you know, fill me in! :)
I published my first book in 2010. It was a best-seller, and also, in the book, I "came out" with my sexuality in a chapter that dealt with my struggles with my faith. The media seemed to focus heavily on that aspect. But, it was certainly a first. A paranormal investigator celebrity/thingy was now coming out of the closet and talking about faith and spirituality. The gay media was very kind, but even I could tell they trouble fitting me in to a category other than "another famous person comes out." It certainly sparked a lot of debate for some time about sexuality and faith/religion. After all, it's still something heavily debated to this day. I never wanted to come out, but it felt right in telling my story and I was also angered because, at the time of writing it, more and more reports of underage suicides amongst gay teens were popping up in the news. Without a doubt, being told they were bad people, or going to hell, or being bullied, played a large factor in their suicide. I dream of a time when coming out is not really a big deal anymore. I did what I felt I could do within my power, and was surprised to find a new fanbase. Gay men and women (and youth) coming to me and asking questions about my faith and spirituality. And of course, commending me for coming out. For the record, it's hard to take those compliments. I'm a human being who just happens to have his face on your TV once a week. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life and I'm bound to make more. It was and still is intimidating when people write to me because they say they look up to me, whether it's because of my notoriety as a paranormal investigator, or because of being out, because of my faith, etc.
I am writing two books at the moment. One fiction, another non-fiction. At times I freelance as a journalist when I feel I come across a story that needs attention (for example, I covered the Sandusky Scandal by interviewing the victims for the Huffington Post and NPR).
And yes, I'm currently exploring the possibility of returning to TV with another paranormal docu-type show. Taking a few years off was good to get a change of pace. So, we'll see what happens.
I have other things going on, and feel free to check my site to learn about them.
Oh yes, and I have an awesome dog named Xander. He's part Rhodesian Ridgeback/Lab. And I currently reside in State College, PA (Go Penn State!).