After fantasizing for over 40 years about writing his first novel, Douglas Young of Gainesville took the plunge.
“To my shock and joy, it turned out to be the most enjoyable creative experience of my life,” Young said. “I loved it.”
With no organization or outline, Young dove into his craft, keeping one story premise in mind — “What would I do if I had a UFO experience?”
Young said he finished his first draft of “Deep in the Forest” within eight weeks during the summer of 2017. Up until his retirement in December 2020, the author had been teaching as a political science professor for more than 30 years, most of which was spent at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.
Young said that he noticed he had become comfortable with his work situation and knew it was time for a change. Dusting off his novel, he started searching for a publisher and set his sights on a new challenge.
“After 33-and-a-half years of being a professor, I decided you know, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do and so much more,” he said. “ … I think really now is the time if ever I’m going to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time writer and novelist.”
On July 19, 2021, Young’s first novel, “Deep in the Forest,” was published by Newman Springs Publishing Inc.
The book follows Elton Peabody, a 35-year-old high school teacher who lives in the fictional Southern town of Cleburne. Shortly into the novel, the protagonist’s life takes a turn when he spots a strange white light shining deep in the forest, behind his backyard.
Ignoring his dog’s barks of concerns about the peculiar glow, Elton decides to inspect the phenomenon. Upon getting close to the light, he becomes enveloped by it and hears a loud hum.
Young said Elton panics, wondering if he has witnessed a UFO, military experiment, spiritual entity or is experiencing a mental breakdown. Peabody passes out and awakens to find his younger brother — the town’s sheriff — and no peculiar glow in sight.
“For the rest of the story, Elton is trying to come to terms with what he encountered,” Young said. “He’s trying to figure out, ‘What was it?’ and ‘Why did this happen to me?’ He’s a shy person and is now thrust into the public spotlight.”
Out of all the locals in the surrounding three counties who saw the bizarre lights, Elton is the only one who had a close encounter. Young said the main character desperately wants his life to return to normal, but the new occurrence eats at him.
“Deep in the Forest” also weaves in several subplots, all connected to Elton and his sighting. Young said the story encompasses family dynamics between Elton and his younger brother, the drama of a sheriff’s election, high school life, friendship, romance, the search for religious meaning and “a lot of light humor.”
Although the first portion of the book may seem like a science fiction novel, Young assures people this isn’t the case. He describes “Deep in the Forest” as a story that doesn’t fit into one genre, offering elements of romance, drama, comedy and more.
Young said he wanted to write an approachable book that even his parents would enjoy. The novel doesn’t include smoking, drinking, drugs, profanity, sex or violence.
“I really think the story is really engrossing,” he said. “I didn’t have any political, religious, cultural, social or professional or any other particular goal in mind when I wrote this. I just wanted to write a really engrossing, encapsulating and riveting story that would keep my interest and the interest of everybody I know.”
“Deep in the Forest” explores several themes, one of them involving accepting ambiguity. Young said the book touches on how “life goes on in spite of all the doubts and mysteries we have.”
“And, maybe we should just learn to be more comfortable living with all this mystery,” he said. “On this little planet, in this vast universe, we can’t possibly know everything, and that’s OK.”
Like many novelists, pieces of Young’s life bled into his writing and into the protagonist’s choices and experiences. Like Elton, Young seized an opportunity that would change the course of his life.
“If we’re honest, we all have challenges, we all have goals, we all have dreams,” Young said. “I think to make our dreams real, we have to do a lot of heavy lifting. We have to do a lot of work, and that takes guts and courage.”