Behind the Book: Up in Lights Winner

50 submissions, 5,000+ votes, and 5 panelists. One book, up in lights. 

Sit down with the winner of the digital billboard in Times Square, Paul Lanner, a passionate bookmaker dedicated to giving voice to those sometimes overlooked. 

We discuss Lanner’s motivations for entering the Up in Lights contest, advice for aspiring bookmakers, and how he plans on celebrating his success. Most importantly, Lanner shares why his nonprofit, Haunters Against Hate, is more critical than ever. 

The Book of Haunters, Volume 9

Your Book of Haunters won the Up in Lights contest! How does it feel to be selected? 

I am truly overwhelmed and elated. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a book I put together would end up on a billboard in Times Square. 

What motivated you to enter the contest? 

I am really proud of the Book of Haunters series and how much it has affected and helped the lives of so many haunters, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community. I figured it would be a wonderful way to expose Haunters Against Hate to more people outside the haunt community, especially during what is happening currently in the country and the attacks against us. 

Your nonprofit, Haunters Against Hate, has an important mission. What should readers who aren’t familiar with your organization know about it? 

Haunters Against Hate was formed after the Orlando Pulse tragedy when some very vitriolic statements were made against the LGBTQ+ community in the haunt industry. A group of haunts decided to come together and show solidarity for the community, and Haunters Against Hate was formed. I took the idea and ran with it, eventually creating what is now an official nonprofit organization. Since that time, I have traveled to haunts around the world, promoting inclusivity and acceptance and helping LGBTQ+ youth organizations across the U.S. 

Inside the Book of Haunters, Volume 9, with two haunters on either page

Why haunting? Share your experience with this vast community. 

Haunters are probably the least scary people you’ll ever meet. We are one big extended spooky family that sticks together and looks out for each other. The one thing we are very passionate about is our craft and artistry. I was a haunt actor in my spare time for many years, until the formation of Haunters Against Hate, and the fun and excitement are unparalleled. “We are the weirdos, mister,” as Fairuza Balk says in the film “The Craft.” And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Can you describe the process of creating this book from start to finish? 

Volume 9 is the second volume dedicated to female haunters in the industry. I announce on my social media pages that I am accepting submissions for the book, and then pore over the vast amount of pictures I receive and select the best. After that, I have the actors submit a questionnaire and tell me what haunts they work, their character, and, for this particular volume, what it is like to be a female in the haunt industry. The answers are enlightening, surprising, and sometimes aggravating. But Volume 9 gives a voice to all the powerful females in the haunt community, in front of—and behind—the scenes. 

Many bookmakers struggle with self-promotion. Not you! Your book got an incredible number of votes in the public vote. How did you get that engagement? 

I am always promoting Haunters Against Hate, and keep all the followers up-to-date on what is going on with the organization: what events, conventions, or haunts I will be attending. So when this opportunity arose, I asked the haunt community to show their support, and they more than delivered. 

Tell us about your experience using Blurb to publish. 

I have used Blurb for every volume of the Book of Haunters that I have created. Blurb has been helpful in answering any questions I have ever had about the composition of the book. I work in packaging design, so I understand, for the most part, what is needed. 

The most important thing to me is the quality of the book, and Blurb has consistently delivered above and beyond. In fact, that is always a comment I receive about these books, how gorgeous they look. 

This is volume 9 of your series! How has your bookmaking changed from volume to volume? 

Most of the volumes are open to any haunters, but I like to vary the volumes with special groups within the haunt community, like LGBTQ+ haunters or POC haunters. I want everyone to have a voice and to be able to tell their stories. 

In fact, the next one will be haunters and their pets! I keep the basic concept the same, but the questions will vary. For example, in the LGBTQ+ volume, the actors tell their coming out stories, what it was like, and how the haunt community has helped them. 

What advice do you have for aspiring bookmakers looking to publish their own work? What about promoting it? 

Passion is the key. Without passion or love for what you do, it is fruitless. When you see an end product that you can be proud of, it makes all the hard work, endless hours, and doubts worth it. When you have that passion, nothing can stop you. And it makes you excited to promote it because it’s something you are proud of and want to share. 

How do you plan on celebrating your success in this contest? 

A Broadway show. I am originally from NYC and have not been home in ages. So a show is a must, a bagel with lox and cream cheese, a corned beef sandwich, and a slice of Sicilian pizza. And to see friends and family I’ve not seen in many years. 

Is there anything we missed that you’d like to share? 

With all these anti-trans, -drag, and -LGBTQ+ bills happening across the country, Haunters Against Hate is needed more than ever. Especially to show youth that they are always welcome and accepted and will always have an extended family there to protect and encourage them to be who they are. I did not have that growing up, and if I can help one young person to feel like they belong, my job is complete. 

And I can happily say that I have been able to help many young people feel empowered. It makes all the hard work worth it to hear, “Haunters Against Hate has made me feel like I’m not alone in this world.” 

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