Interview with a cult expert

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Reverend Jabneel Crouch, fictional author of the book HOW TO BECOME A CULT LEADER IN 50 EASY STEPS. Reading the instructional guide was a life-altering event for one of my main characters in BEAR, and I thought it would be interesting to delve into the mind of the author of such a powerful and trans-formative piece of literature.

Reverend Crouch agreed to meet for a few minutes in the Interfaith Meditation Room of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport terminal, in Northeast Pennsylvania.

CA: Do you have a cult following?

RJC: I’ve sold over thirty copies of my book.

CA: Where are you originally from?

RJC: Why is that important? Is this going to be a fluff piece?

CA: Okay, well, have you ever been arrested?

RJC: I was born in Kalispell, Montana.

CA: Oh, really, I have friends near Kalispell.

RJC: Fascinating. Perhaps I should be interviewing you about your life on Facebook.

CA: Okay, so what inspired you to write 50 EASY STEPS?

RJC: Do you have any cigarettes?

CA: I’m sorry, no, and this is a non-smoking building.

RJC: I got the idea while eating pudding. Vanilla pudding.

CA: Right, you wrote that Step Forty-one was to always have plenty of vanilla pudding.

RJC: Much of life is about comfort foods. Vanilla pudding is easy to make and a joy to share with people dealing with difficult times.

CA: Is that why you’ve been holding a grilled cheese sandwich?

RJC: What are you talking about?

CA: Okay, well, is there any particular step more important than the others?

RJC: Besides vanilla pudding?

CA: Yes.

RJC: If I had to choose, I’d say number eighteen and number forty-seven. To always act as if you know exactly what you’re doing is incredibly important.

CA: You mean to show confidence?

RJC: Yes, exactly. And when things go wrong, be swift in assigning blame.

CA: With all due respect, that seems a bit of a cop out.

RJC: I don’t appreciate your hostile tone.

CA: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.

RJC: How many copies has your book sold? Let’s move on to some real questions, if you have them.

CA: Your book jacket mentions a guarantee that anyone following each step will become a cult leader. Of the thirty people who’ve purchased your book, isn’t it true that none have gained any sort of cult following? Isn’t it also true that you’ve just made a few bucks off people already down on their luck?

RJC: Billy Wayne Hooduk has over a hundred followers! He leads a flock from a traveling circus that’s holed up down near the Jersey shore. I guess you missed that in all your research, Geraldo.

CA: Billy Wayne is a character in my book, Reverend.

RJC: It sounds like a terrible story. No wonder it hasn’t sold any copies.

The interview ended at this point. Reverend Crouch produced a previously stubbed out cigarette butt from his coat pocket and lit it with a wooden match he struck along the back of the meditation pew. I last saw him strolling out toward the tarmac blowing smoke rings and eating the grilled cheese sandwich.

About colealpaugh

Cole Alpaugh's newspaper career began in the early 80s, starting with small daily papers in Maryland and Massachusetts, where his stories won national awards. His most recent job was at a large daily in Central New Jersey, where his "true life" essays included award-winning pieces on a traveling rodeo and an in-depth story on an emergency room doctor that was nominated by Gannett News Service for a 1991 Pulitzer Prize. Cole also contracted with two Manhattan-based news agencies, covering conflicts in Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Thailand and Cambodia. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, as well as most newspapers in America. Cole is currently a freelance photographer and novelist living in Northeast Pennsylvania, where he spends afternoons in a virtual running race around the equator, and evenings watching his daughter's magical stage performances. You can find him online at
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