Friday, June 28, 2019

#54 Inside the Emotion of Fiction's THE DEVIL'S WOODS by Brian Moreland

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****Brian Moreland’s THE DEVIL’S WOODS is #54 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? The Devil’s Woods – while writing the manuscript over many years it was titled Skinners. Then a series using that name came out, so I changed my title to Tricksters, which reflected the Native Canadian mythology. Eventually, I chose to title the book based on the nickname for the haunted forest where people keep disappearing.  

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Yes, The Devil’s Woods was originally published by Samhain Publishing in December 2013. The next year an audio book version was published by Audio Realms. I eventually got the rights back. The novel was published a second time in June 2017 by Rising Horse Books.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? A very early version of this novel was my first manuscript that I wrote when I was 19, a freshman in college. It’s the book I cut my writing teeth on. At age 21, I attempted to sell it to a publisher, but was unsuccessful. The novel wasn’t good enough yet. I stayed persistent. Over the course of the next 20 years, I revised, edited, and did research for the book. At times I put it aside and wrote other books. I believed in The Devil’s Woods and kept improving it. The mystery, characters and monsters evolved many times over into something very different than my first manuscript. After successfully publishing two novels, I eventually sold The Devil’s Woods. I was 45 when it finally released.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? I began writing this novel in college at the University of Texas at Austin back in 1988. I didn’t own a computer yet, so I would go to the school’s computer room. Imagine a room full of thirty students sitting at old IMB stations. I reserved a computer and wrote for hours until they kicked me out at closing time. This was before Windows, so MS Word was a black screen with green letters. I wrote the first draft in a creative frenzy during my freshman spring semester. I printed the manuscript out on dot matrix paper where you had to rip the perforated edges off. I was so proud of writing my first novel (all 113 typed pages), I took it to a printer and had it hardbound. Over the course of 20 years, I worked on countless drafts of this novel in many places, at every home I lived in. I wrote part of it while living in a college dorm, a noisy frat house, a dozen different apartments and houses. I completed the final polished draft at a friend’s cabin in the woods where I like to do writing sabbaticals.  I wish I had photos of me writing. All I have is one from a book signing at a horror convention in Las Vegas the year The Devil’s Woods first released.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Over the years, my writing habits have been all over the place. I wish I were more disciplined and wrote every day. 
     I’ve mostly written in creative sprints a few days or weeks, then I’d get distracted by client work (to pay the bills) or personal matters or socializing (writing can be a lonely business). I also like to binge-watch Netflix, go to movies, hang out with friends, watch sports, and go hiking. There were times I went days or weeks without writing, especially after finishing a manuscript. 
      My best writing time is early in the morning (before dawn), when I’m most creative and able to focus. I’ll write for a few hours before it’s time to shift to client work or other tasks. If I’m on a writing roll, I’ll write for 8-12 hours, making myself take a break to eat, go for a walk.  
     I’ll also write before bed, so I wake up eager to continue from where I left off. That helps me get into the writing zone where the words and plot ideas just flow. Sometimes I listen to movie-theme soundtracks to put me in the right mood. Often, no music at all. I’ve brainstormed handwriting in a journal and on index cards. I write on my laptop. I drink coffee or protein smoothies in the mornings and water throughout the day.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? The Devil’s Woods is part ghost story, part mythical monsters-in-the-woods mystery thriller that involves three siblings, Kyle, Eric, and Shawna Elkheart. When they were children, their mother took them away from their First Nation Cree Reservation. They’ve been estranged from their father, an archaeologist obsessed with the legends of a nearby haunted forest. Now, as troubled adults, the siblings return to the Reservation to heal old wounds and face the horrors that haunt their nightmares.  

 Here is the synopsis:
Fear wears many skins.
     Deep within the Canadian wilderness, people have been disappearing for over a century. There is a place the locals call “the Devil’s Woods,” but to speak of it will only bring the devil to your door. It is a place so evil that even animals avoid it.
      When their father’s expedition team goes missing, Kyle Elkheart and his brother and sister return to the abandoned Cree Indian reservation where they were born. Kyle can see ghosts that haunt the woods surrounding the village—and they seem to be trying to warn him.  The search for their father will lead Kyle and his siblings to the dark heart of the legendary forest, where their mission will quickly become a fight for survival.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt?
I’m including an excerpt of the prologue. The story kicks off with Kyle, Eric, and Shawna’s father, Jon Elkheart, searching the infamous woods for the missing people from his expedition.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.
British Columbia, Canada
Lake Akwâkopiy Cree Indian Reserve
Five days after the tragedy, Jon Elkheart returned to the forbidden forest. With a vengeful glare, he challenged the looming wall of aspen, spruce and vine-choked pines that guarded this unsacred land. The only entrance was a trail that disappeared into a black hole inside the jungle-thick brush. The darkness within Macâya Forest was an impenetrable void, a shadow world of shape-shifters, and yet its mysteries beckoned him.
There are places in the world where lost spirits never rest, Elkheart thought with a coppery taste in his mouth. And man is considered prey. Standing by a swamp at the edge of the rainforest, he peered through the scope of his assault rifle, searching the woods for sudden movement. He listened for the slightest snap of a twig or brush of a leaf. The June morning was still and windless, as if all of nature sensed what he was about to do.
You should turn back. You can’t do this on your own. The scholarly part of Elkheart understood this logic. As an archaeologist, he had always put his research first, above all else. Until this last mission went haywire. Now the guilt and anger pumping through his veins would not let him rest. You have to go back in there, spoke a voice that was not ruled by logic. You have to find Amy.
Elkheart looked up at the sun creeping over the mountains. Clouds drifted across the valley, as if shielding the forest from the approaching light. Soon only the tips of the branches pierced the white smoke. Stretching out his arm, he turned a small video camera toward his face. “June 10th, 7:00 a.m. My name is Jon Elkheart. I am a professor from the University of British Columbia. I am also one of the last surviving members of the Lake Akwâkopiy Cree band. Most of my people abandoned this reservation years ago. Those who stayed behind have suffered nightmarish visions from a forest that has haunted our reservation for more than a century. A week ago I led a documentary film crew and four mercenaries into Macâya Forest, an uncharted patch of rainforest located at the northeastern tip of the reservation.” A heaviness burdened Elkheart’s chest as he remembered that tragic night. The screams and gunshots echoed in his mind and guilt twisted his guts. “Most of my crew was slaughtered by something that attacked us from the woods. My assistant, Amy Hanson, was taken alive. I’m going back into Macâya Forest to search for her. I pray the spirits of my ancestors will guide me.”
Never enter Macâya Forest with impure thoughts, Grandfather Two Hawks had warned. You must call in your animal spirit guide and enter with the heart of a warrior.
Elkheart blessed a large knife with an elk-horn handle. Grandfather had given him the hunter’s blade on his thirteenth birthday after killing his first elk. He had eaten the slain animal’s heart and earned his name. Now, Jon Elkheart dipped two fingers into a coffee can of elk’s blood and wiped red streaks across his cheeks, as if a mask of war paint could channel the ancient warriors of his tribe. The ceremony did nothing to settle his nerves. He faced the mouth of the forest where few men had survived before him. “This time I will not run.”
Nervous whimpers broke the silence. Elkheart’s German shepherd pressed against his leg. He stroked his dog’s bristled neck. Should have left him back at the cabin. “Scout, run on home.” He shooed the dog. “Go on.” But Scout refused to leave his master’s side. Elkheart sighed. “You’re just as foolish as I am.”
Taking a deep breath, Elkheart sheathed his knife. He gripped his M4 Carbine. The semi-automatic assault rifle had belonged to one of the mercenaries who had died for this mission. Trying not to think of the soldier who had been decapitated, Elkheart turned on a flashlight that was attached to the barrel. A long beam pierced the dripping green-gray gloom that shrouded the rainforest. Wary of every sound, he passed through the threshold. His dog followed.
As Elkheart crept down the narrow path between spiky pines, firs, and cedars tangled spruce, ghostly voices filled his head, pulling his thoughts in every direction. His Cree ancestors would not give him peace until he returned to these unsacred woods and exposed its secrets.
A blanket of dew covered the bracken and surrounding leaves. Only splinters of sunlight lanced the dense canopy. The morning fog drifted between the trees, making visibility even more difficult. Elkheart could only see a few feet around him.
Scout sniffed along the ground a few feet ahead, a silhouette in the haze. They weaved between trees, crossing cold-water creeks and climbing up fern-covered hills. The darkness faded into a gray gloom, as the morning sun finally filtered through the tops of the trees.
Untying his green parka, Elkheart loosened the hood to cool off. Sweat soaked his black-and-silver hair. Slightly winded, he inhaled the pine-scented air. A branch shook above him, dropping pinecones onto his shoulders. He jerked the rifle upward. An owl swooped from its perch and disappeared into the mist.
Elkheart released his breath. Okay, stay alert. Be ready for anything.
Steadying his rifle, he stepped through a thicket. Large fern leafs and dangling vines made his efforts difficult. Only the twisting path separated the trees and underbrush enough to travel through the woods. To venture from the trail would be like wandering into an uncharted jungle.
The fog thickened. Smokey plumes circled his feet, covering his boots and the moss-covered trail. Scout began to fade in the mist. Elkheart bird-whistled the German shepherd to come back. Elkheart’s heavy backpack burdened his spine. Easing the pack off, he leaned against a tree. Scout sat on his haunches, watching the forest.
Fishing into his backpack, Elkheart retrieved his video recorder and a bottle of Stoli. The vodka had been a birthday gift from Wynona, his…what? Ex-girlfriend? No, their relationship had never been that formal. Ex-drinking partner was more fitting. “Friends with benefits,” his students would say.
Studying the clear liquor, Elkheart felt a brief tightness to his chest, remembering the drunken, lust-filled nights he and Wynona had shared before the whole mess started. He still loved her, still caressed the empty spot in his bed where she once slept. But some pasts just couldn't be healed. And Wynona’s wounds ran deep as canyons. Letting her image fade, Elkheart swallowed a gulp of vodka. He glanced around warily, thumbed the camera’s record button.
“So far, so good. I’m about a half mile deep and all’s quiet.” Elkheart paused to listen to the forest a moment, turning his camera toward the surrounding trees. “For over a century, my people have feared Macâya Forest. The landscape here is different from the woods that surround the reservation’s compound. Here, the trees tower to enormous heights and intertwine with one another as if trying to conceal something the land never wanted man to discover.” He gazed up at the giant trees, the sacred elders, wondering if they were listening. He felt as if eyes were watching him. “I’m about a quarter mile from the strange ruins my team and I discovered before their deaths. I only got a glimpse, but what I saw was beyond belief. I should be there shortly, where I hope to find Amy. If I come across what killed my crew, this time I’m prepared.”
Elkheart hit the stop button. A strong wind blew along the trail, and the fog began to swirl. He half expected an ancient trickster to emerge from it. Or a threat much more real.
Elkheart rubbed the antler handle of his knife, drawing courage from his spirit animal. When that didn’t work, he drank another fiery gulp of vodka. He then slipped his backpack over his shoulders, grabbed his rifle and stepped toward the swirling fog. Scout sniffed the trail a few feet ahead.
As Elkheart grew closer to the ruins, his asthma kicked in. The fifty-year-old professor started wheezing. Fear paralyzed him as questions rolled through his mind.
What the hell are you doing here? Why is revealing the secrets of this forest worth more than your life?
Part of him wanted to return to Vancouver with the evidence they had found. He had plenty of artifacts and footage to open up an investigation. He would be on CNN and every major talk show around the world. Time and National Geographic would cover his story. He would finally be respected in his field, and more importantly, earn the respect of his three grown children. But Elkheart couldn’t leave Amy behind. He took another step, a warrior’s vengeance surging through him. He jerked his rifle at a sudden sound. Low, huffing grunts.
Scout growled.
Elkheart tensed, raising the rifle. “Shh, boy.”
The shepherd silenced, but remained poised to attack.
Ahead, something lumbered through the pines with heavy footfalls that sounded like a grizzly. But this predator had run off all the bears from these woods.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? While writing this opening scene I got into a heightened state of suspense. I felt every emotion Jon Elkheart was feeling as he combed the woods in search of a young woman he cared deeply about. He felt a deep regret that he’d failed his expedition team, when he knew the dangers. He’s failed a lot of people, including his kids. In spite of fearing what he might encounter, Jon Elkheart is driven to risk his life to expose the secrets of this forest.  

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I only included half of the prologue. Unfortunately, I do not have any marked-up rough drafts.

Other works you have published?
The Witching House
Darkness Rising
The Seekers
Shadows in the Mist
Dead of Winter
The Devil’s Woods

Anything you would like to add? Later this year, I plan to release a short story collection and novella called They Stalk the Night. I’ve also completed two more books (Tomb of Gods, a novel and Savage Island, a novella) that are currently going through the publishing process.
     Brian Moreland writes a blend of mystery, action-adventure, thriller, and horror. A gypsy spirit who loves travel and adventure, Brian is currently vagabonding around Florida, enjoying the sunshine, beaches, palm trees, and writing scary books. (Right:  Brian in the Fall of 2018)
Follow on Twitter: @BrianMoreland


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