Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lust, Hunger, and Terror in the Canadian Wilderness

My latest novel, DEAD OF WINTER, is a historical horror thriller set in Canada during the blizzard season of 1870. The story is based partly on true events and an old Algonquin Indian legend that still haunts the Great Lakes tribes to this day. It’s also a detective mystery and even includes a couple of love triangles, since I am also a fan of romance and steamy sex scenes.

The Victorian mystery takes place near the end of the 19th Century at an isolated fur-trading fort deep in the Ontario wilderness. Inspector Tom Hatcher, a troubled detective from Montreal, recently captured a deranged serial killer, the Cannery Cannibal. Gustav Meraux is Jack-the-the-Ripper meets Hannibal Lecter. Even though the cannibal has been locked away in an asylum, the case still haunts Tom, so he has moved out to the wilderness, bringing his rebellious teenage son with him. At the beginning of the story, Tom has taken a job at Fort Pendleton to solve a case of strange murders by a cannibal more savage than Gustav Meraux. Some predator in the woods surrounding the fort is attacking colonists and spreading a gruesome plague—the victims turn into ravenous cannibals with an unending hunger for human flesh. In Tom’s search for answers, he discovers that the Jesuits know something about this plague. My second main character is Father Xavier, an exorcist from Montreal. The Vatican sends the priest to Ontario to help Tom battle the Devil’s Plague.

While indeed a work of fiction, I wanted this book to feel real and authentic. Throughout the story I interweave several facts I pulled from history books and an interview I did with a descendent from a Canadian Ojibwa tribe. During my research, I came across some unexplained stories that the Ojibwa and Algonquin tribes all around the Great Lakes region, including Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, and Minnesota, feared a supernatural creature that lives in the woods and stalks people every winter. The tribes migrated every year because of this superstition. This legend also spooked the white fur traders, like the men of Hudson’s Bay Company, who lived in isolated forts all across Canada and traded with the Indians (now called First Nations). In my novel, Fort Pendleton is a fictitious fort named after one my characters, a tycoon by the name of Master Avery Pendleton. When the mysterious killings start plaguing the colonists living within his fort, Pendleton hires Tom Hatcher to solve the case. Tom teams up with an Ojibwa tracker and shaman, Anika Moonblood. She doesn’t believe the killer is a man or animal, but something much more terrifying. In the book, everyone in the neighboring Ojibwa tribe is spooked by the stalker in the woods. I studied the customs of the Ojibwa people of that era, as well as shamanism, and put much of what I learned into the book. To authenticate my priest characters, I studied Jesuit history, demonology, and countless cases of real priests performing exorcisms. From the scriptures I gathered on battling demons, I could probably do an exorcism myself, not that I would ever want to.

As I researched Canada’s legendary evil spirit even deeper, I discovered an article about a real isolated fort in Quebec where all the colonists went crazy and turned cannibal. In the late 1700s, a Jesuit priest who visited this fort documented the case in his journal, describing the deranged colonists as possessed by the devil. This is all factual and documented by the Catholic Church. I also did extensive research on the history of frontier life in Canada in the 1800s. During the long winter months, cannibalism became a way of survival for isolated villages that ran out of food. After consuming human flesh, people often turned insane, or what the Jesuits would describe as “possessed.” Sometimes soldiers would arrive at a fort to find that all the colonists dead except one man, who survived by eating the others.

While my novel is definitely a horror thriller, I mix in other genres like the detective mystery and romance. As Inspector Hatcher hunts for a backwoods serial killer, two women residing at the fort fall in love with him. One is his boss’s wife, Lady Willow Pendleton, a spoiled debutant who hates her cheating husband, Avery. The other woman is Anika Moonblood, the native tracker who has been assigned to work with Tom. Theirs is a love-hate relationship, because Tom only sees Anika as a heathen. To make matters more complicated, she is Avery Pendleton’s mistress, albeit against her will. While Tom feels burning desires for both Willow and Anika, getting involved with either has dangerous consequences, for Master Pendleton is not a man to cross.

I had a blast writing DEAD OF WINTER and I hope you enjoy reading it. My imagination was running wild at the time. I also enjoyed seeing the mystery unfold. When I write, I never know how a book is going to play out. I have a general idea that gets me started writing, but most of the time I’m solving the riddle right alongside my detective. I did my best to make DEAD OF WINTER the scariest book that I could write, while igniting not just fear and terror, but all the emotions to offer readers a truly visceral experience. I am grateful that Samhain Horror released my novel and I’m excited to share this story with readers. Enjoy the adventure!

DEAD OF WINTER is now availble in paperback and e-book.

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Brian Moreland writes novels and short stories of horror and supernatural suspense. He lives in Dallas, Texas where he is diligently writing his next horror novel. You can communicate with him online at http://www.brianmoreland.com/ or on Twitter @BrianMoreland.

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