Making of Tail of the Dragon Novel: Taking on “fear” at Moonville and the Mothman of Point Pleasant

Fear is the most abused emotion that potential dictators use to advance their positions.  Anytime an individual or organization of any kind uses fear to attempt to move emotions into seeing their point of view, their argument will be a weak one that contains hidden intentions deceitful in nature.  Overcoming fear is therefore the primary task of any potential modern-day hero and is one of the most prevalent themes in my most recent novel, Tail of the Dragon.  The main character Rick Stevens is a man who has incredible command of fear, and is motivated to respond more aggressively when the strategy of fear is thrown in his direction by forces who seek to rule him.  In order to write about such a character I felt I needed to face down any fears that might linger in my own mind, so I organized a motorcycle trip with my wife and son-in-law across southern Ohio to the extremely haunted Moonville Tunnel in Vinton County, to do some rappelling off that ghost town monument.  Later, we planned to head down to Point Pleasant, West Virginia to visit the 8th Annual Mothman Festival, which is an outdoor exhibition of fanfare to celebrate the framed monster which terrorized the citizens there in the 1966.  For me, one of the scariest books I’ve ever read was the Mothman Prophesies by John Keel which was made into a Richard Gere film many years after the publication.  The non-fiction book was truly alarming stuff and captures wonderfully the very mysterious happenings that occur routinely in southeastern Ohio, where monsters, murders, and supernatural events are rather commonplace.  These endeavors lead to the video below which is Part VI of The Making of Tail of the Dragon the novel.  Click here to see the previous installment.

I have told the story of Moonville in other articles, so I won’t repeat it here but to say that the old ghost town of Moonville just to the east of Athens, Ohio has some strange connection to supernatural elements.  Out of the three times I’ve been there with my family, two of those times involved supernatural happenings.  However, this most recent trip on the motorcycles did not have a supernatural occurrence leading me to conclude that whatever the content of those living in a supernatural realm, they feed off the fears, and anxieties of participants who willingly believe in their schemes.  I have seen ghost-like images and strange things at Moonville, but I have never seen anything that could actually bring harm to people.  Most of the supernatural events occur because they exist outside of our observable reality.  The extent of their power is regulated to the effect they have on the imagination.  Moonville unlike another ghost town that I wrote about in the Kerr City remote Florida ghost town is known for its excessive numbers of teen suicides, grisly murders, and the disappearance of visitors who are easily pounced upon by aggressive individuals who hunt in those remote woods.  The Moonville area is very rugged and can only be reached by a dirt road.  If something happens along that road which is several miles from any civilization, there is nobody to hear you scream.  To me, this is the source of most of the ghost stories.  Young people go there to “feel” something positive or negative, and once there and intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, the ghosts get into their heads and accelerate their imaginations into jumping off railroad trusses, hanging themselves, or committing vile acts against other.  So to go to the Moonville Tunnel means to either surrender to these emotions, or to remain in control of them.

When we left early on a chilly September morning in Ohio with the tinge of autumn in the air, we knew it would be the last major motorcycle trip of the year as the weather was simply getting too cold for long distance riding.  I was nearly finished with the manuscript of Tail of the Dragon and was set to turn it into the publisher by Christmas of that year.  Even though I had a formal invite to publish the book, I still had to go through the process of having it accepted out of nearly 2000 other submissions, so it was not a done deal at the time.  American Book only publishes roughly 80 titles a year, so the odds were still against the novel being put into print.  After all the work I had done on the book over the summer and all the travel which preceded this supernatural journey which has been chronicled in previous “Making Of” submissions, there was a good chance that Tail of the Dragon would not make it through the publication process.  So the anxiety was mounting for me.  It is one thing to engage in a creative process, which is what I had been doing, and enjoying.   It is quite another to begin thinking of such endeavors as a business enterprise, which was the phase that I was at.  I still needed to nail down some of the character traits of Rick Stevens fearlessness, which was difficult to do with the anxiety I was feeling over the publication of the book, so I needed an “EXTREME” situation to bring my own mind out of it.  So my son-in-law and I decided to tackle several supernatural themes on a long day trip to the east.

Rappelling at Moonville is something my family had always wanted to do.  The tunnel itself cuts through a steep hillside and runs through where the ghost town used to reside.  It’s an interesting engineering feat for a group of people who built the tunnel during the period of the Civil War.  The town Moonville lived and died due to the mining of iron for the war, as the area was rich with iron mines which appear to be connected to the supernatural happenings—something to do with effect on gravitational waves and how the mind perceives them.  I would attribute this heavy concentration of iron to the heavy reporting of ghosts in the buildings at Ohio University at Athens just a few miles away, and the swarm of Big Foot sightings that occur in the area.  I am happy with the footage I was able to get during the event.  It takes viewers on an interesting journey across the face of the tunnel in a way that only a rope can provide.  It really gives an appreciation for how human beings were able to create such a tunnel in the first place before modern excavating equipment large enough for a train to travel through.  The area at the time of Moonville’s rise to power was one of the most remote places in The United States, yet people built the large tunnel essentially by hand.

For whatever the reason, whether by reputation, or some chemical reaction in the brain caused by the iron deep in the ground, or actual inter-dimensional beings that use such places as points to and from other planes of reality, Moonville is an intimidating place.  On a previous visit my family took to Moonville around midnight, we found local college kids camped out in the tunnel attempting to brave their fears against the supernatural with collective reassurance and drugs.  They dealt with that subtle hostility of the place with chemical evasion and communal reassurance.  But on our motorcycle trip to Moonville with all our equipment packed on the back of our bikes, we were pretty much alone.  We had the tunnel to ourselves with only the ghosts to witness our time there.  That made rappelling off the tunnel a unique experience that is not easily duplicated.

We had no obvious paranormal encounters on this visit to the Mooville Tunnel.  Other than the obvious uneasy feeling that accompanies the place, it was a peaceful and beautiful day.  The ride to the tunnel was long, and cold as the morning air had been very chilly, in the lower 40s.  My wife stayed cold well into the afternoon.  After a few hours of rappelling my son-in-law and I warmed up and began to sweat a bit.  By mid-afternoon, the temperature was up to the mid-seventies as we found our motorcycles where we had parked them along the dirt road in Vinton County from the short hike into the hills to the tunnel entrance.  The railroad which ran through the area is now long gone as the only real relic from the period is the tunnel and some dilapidated old railroad bridges that travel west across a swampy lowland.  Our next destination was the Mothman Festival at Point Pleasant, West Virginia about an hour’s drive to the south.

We arrived to a town packed to the rim with people coming to see the various paranormal oriented exhibits celebrating the haunting of the mysterious Mothman who appeared there the year leading up to a major bridge collapse that killed many from the town.  The Mothman terrorized members of Point Pleasant solidly for 13 months up to the bridge collapse.  It is an excellent example of one of the largest group hauntings in American history.  For me, coming to the actual site was a way to put sights and smells to the words painted on my mind from that terrifying book, which is excellent.  The book, unlike the Richard Gere film, went even further than just the strange Mothman creature into the realm of the paranormal.  In the book, Keel covered many mysterious elements that ended up becoming major motion pictures elsewhere.  The movie Men in Black produced by Steven Spielberg was a comedy look at an actual phenomena that took place in Point Pleasant during the Mothman huantings, leaving many to wonder who the government looking Men in Black really were.  They behaved like FBI, or CIA agents, but proved to be something else altogether.  Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and appears to have read The Mothman Prophesies in his youth, because his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind seemed deeply inspired by The Mothman Prophesies.   Close Encounters took place on the Indiana, Ohio border in the same general region of the country and to this day, no filmmaker has made a better movie on the subject of unidentified flying object sightings than Spielberg’s Close Encounters.  Much of activity that occurred in Close Encounters actually happened at Point Pleasant during the Mothman hauntings.  For a solid year between 1966 to 1967, journalist John Keel chronicled some of the craziest paranormal activity ever recorded in one area with the exception of Area 51.  I always believed that some of the U.F.O. activity was from experimental aircraft at the relatively nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but only a few of The Mothman Prophesies U.F.O. sightings could be explained away with experimental aircraft.  There seems to be more to those stories that defy observable explanation at this current time.

Whatever it was, the entire town has found a way to relieve their tension over those events, and that is to have a festival every September to celebrate the strange happenings.  For me, it was haunting to look at the actual buildings and locations first hand as I read about them in the book. It was difficult to imagine why such a remote place had provoked so much paranormal activity, but it had.  To me the huantings at Moonville and Point Pleasant over a long period of time had common elements that were directly related to the region.  There is something dark and menacing in those places.  The locals don’t notice it much as they have only ever known such fear present in their lives.  But for those who come from outside that area, the tinge is easy to detect.  Standing on the banks of the river at the Mothman Festival I spoke with my son-in-law about The Yellow Creek Massacre which was a brutal killing of several Mingos by Virginia frontiersmen on April 30, 1774 which was one of the main incidents that contributed to Lord Dunmore’s War.  That terrible incident occurred nearly where we were standing as outlined in a favorite book of ours, The Frontiersman by Allen Eckert.

Chief Logan was a good friend of the English-speaking settlers in the region and was away on a hunt but his wife Mellana, his brother Taylaynee, Taylaynee’s son Molnah, and Taylaynee’s sister Koonay were among the slain. Koonay was also the wife of John Gibson a prominent trader between the English and various Native American groups who at the time of the massacre was on a trading expedition to the Shawnee.

The Greathouse group lured the Mingo group under Taylaynee into their camp with a promise of liquor and sport. Then they sprung an ambush on the Mingos and shot them dead. After the killings many of the bodies were mutilated. In a particular brutal killing Jacob Greathouse ripped open Koonay’s abdomen and removed and scalped her unborn son. The only member of the first group who was not killed was Koonay’s two-year-old daughter who was eventually returned to the care of her father, John Gibson, after she had for a time been in the care of William Crawford.  To me, the coincidence between the two events, the killing of the Mingo group in 1774 and the terrible events of the Mothman haunting in 1966 along with all the crazy UFO sightings and the mysterious Men in Black were somehow connected.  Such a concentration of strange events in the same area not to mention the collapse of the Silver Bridge right before Christmas at the end of the 13 month Mothman hauntings killing 46 people on December 15th 1967 are more than a coincidence.  Fear lives on the banks of the Ohio River in Point Pleasant, West Virginia for reasons that extend deep into human logic and history.

The travel to these places I didn’t expect to solve any of those lingering riddles.  However, I did want to get a sense of how Rick Stevens in Tail of the Dragon would deal with ever-present fear, as he contended with a legal system representing the entire country coming after him during the greatest car chase in the history of car chases.  I’m not a very skittish person by nature, I am used to a certain amount of ever-present danger.  But it is quite something else to put the mind into the kind of situation that Rick Stevens finds himself involved in during the events of my novel.  Studying the people of Point Pleasant at the festival, and climbing around in the deep woods of the Moonville Tunnel actually set my mind right on the issue.

We returned home later that evening well before the sun had set.  The experience was surreal.  We had traveled nearly 400 miles that day yet I was writing that night the final touches of Tail of the Dragon to meet my submission deadlines.  The trip had moved so quickly that it seemed like we had never even left that day.  My anxiety over that deadline had evaporated after the hard ride realizing that fear is really just a state of mind.  My family had stepped over fear and had a nice trip that day in the land of the supernatural.  What we discovered was that most of what anyone has to fear is mostly in the mind, and it is easy in such states of consciousness to see how silly it is for society to build their entire civilization on “fear.”  Ultimately Rick Stevens in Tail of the Dragon lives his life beyond the grip of fear which infuriates the “fear monger” controllers represented by the police and their puppet master politicians.  When Rick stands before a judge in Tail of the Dragon with the threat of life imprisonment for defending himself, he behaves with a level of confidence and fearlessness that is simply unfathomable in modern society.  But to tell a story of real freedom in the human mind, it is “fear” that must be overcome, and for Rick Stevens he must deal with the worst of it in Tail of the Dragon. 

It is this premise against fear that eventually helped the novel jump out over those thousands of other manuscripts to become published, so the work was well worth it.  Fear is the means that is used to control massive portions of the population whether the fear is generated from a supernatural source or a political fear monger.  The intent is the same, to control the behavior of individuals away from freedom and toward tyranny.  Rick Stevens in Tail of the Dragon is committed to living his life without fear, and this causes him great danger from those who insist that he stay under their control.  But like the ghosts of Moonville, Ohio, the real fear that the authorities have to impose on Stevens is only mental.  Once it is realized that man is superior to the ideas of the infantile authority driven dictators of politics and power it is soon discovered that real power is really generated among the human race in their ability to generate, or deny fear.  If a person develops the ability to live beyond the realm of fear, they will discover how foolish such notions used to be for them, and they will find freedom there to greet them.  It is on that side of the mental spectrum that readers are discovering such freedom through the life of Rick Stevens.  A life without fear sets the mind into the kind of focus which is rare in the history of mankind, a life that Rick Stevens achieved with a $20 million dollar muscle car in a car chase to end all car chases, in the novel Tail of the Dragon.

Now, here is a clip from one of our previous visits.

Rich Hoffman

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