DeAnna Knippling makes her Ginger Nuts of Horror interview debut with an in-depth and entertaining interview with Jeremy Hepler about his latest novel The Boulevard Monster.
Native to the Texas Panhandle, Jeremy Hepler now lives in a small rural community in central Texas with his wife Tricia and son Noah. Throughout his life, he has worked jobs ranging from welder's hand to health care assistant, but writing has always been his passion.
Jeremy is a member of the Horror Writer's Association (HWA) and is currently working on his second novel, Demigod Dreams. In the last five years, he has had twenty-four short stories published in various small and professional markets, and in 2014, he placed second in the Panhandle Professional Writers Short Story Competition
His debut novel, The Boulevard Monster, published by Bloodshot Books, is available now on Amazon and you can read DeAnna's review of it here.
I read elsewhere that this is your first novel. Is this really your first novel? My first novel was terrible. What road brought you to writing such a good one? Short stories? Poetry? Deal with the devil? Did you sacrifice your real first novel on a bloodstained altar?
This is actually my second novel that I’ve written. I wrote the first and then entered it on #PITMAD on Twitter— a contest where published authors offer to mentor new authors if they choose your pitch. You then work with the published author for months, and they help you edit and revise your novel. The novel I submitted won a spot. It was a supernatural mystery, but like many new authors, I changed and tweaked it to fit what I (and my mentor) thought agents or publishers would like better. In the end, my story wasn't MY story anymore, so after a few rejections, I put it away. Looking back at it, I probably should consider burning it on an altar, but someday I hope to go back to it and pick out the gems and rewrite it with the darker, weirder elements reinserted like I'd initially planned.
THE BOULEVARD MONSTER is my first published novel, though. I had been writing short stories for years, and once I started getting published in anthologies alongside people like Joe McKinney and Jeff Strand and Cat Rambo, I felt confident enough to start a novel. But after the #PITMAD experience, I wanted to write the story I wanted with no outside influence. Years earlier I had started a short story after I saw a couple of Hugh's Construction trucks parked on a site where a new strip mall was being constructed. Three or four of the workers were standing by the truck, laughing and eating, but there was a separate worker off in the distance behind a porta potty, digging with a small shovel. The digger kept glancing at the others, and he appeared both paranoid and unhappy. I had been brainstorming ideas for an anthology I wanted to submit to,so later that afternoon while my son napped, I started writing a story about the worker, his relationship with the other guys, what he could've been burying, and how that linked to why he looked so paranoid and unhappy. When I reached the 10,000 word mark, I knew it was too deep for a short story and set it aside because I wasn't confident enough to write a novel.When I was ready to start my second novel six years later, I pulled it back out and took off with it.
PS: I've offered the devil a deal, multiple deals in fact, but he hasn't responded, yet.J
One the things that impressed me the most about your story was that you had a simple (although perhaps not easily-written) solution to the problem of people making stupid choices in horror novels: you made your protagonist a genuinely nice guy. Was that intentional?
It was somewhat intentional. I needed Seth to be relatable and likable. I needed him to be believable. Since I was going to tell the story from his point of view and tell all the horrible decisions he'd made, he couldn't be seen as a pure idiot, or evil, or an arrogant asshole. I neededhim to be an everyday guy, a neighbor, someone who would do anything to protect his family or help a friend when he could, in order for the reader to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and pull for him despite his horrific, selfish choices.
Tell me more about where Lurth came from.
Lurth stemmed from the word lummox. When I started the original short story, which I titled FOR LOVE AND MONEY, I began with a description of Seth, labeling him a lummox based on the walking habits of one the construction workers I'd seen that day. As I continued to explore his life, the word lummox blossomed into something that connected him to his mom and separated him from his dad. I like to believe it was Seth's mom who invented Lurth rather than me. It was born out of her love and sympathy for him. She mixed lummox and earth together and named their "secret planet" in order to give them a special place to connect, a home within a home, as well as a place that explained away his dad's hurtful words and actions.
Did you consciously pace the tension in your book, or just let it flow? I often have to take breaks from thriller books--read a chapter, read something else for a while because the writer doesn't release tension very often, and I get twitchy. There were two places at the end of The Boulevard Monster where I had to put the book down for a moment, but by then I was hooked enough that it was maybe a minute at most. I read this in two sittings, which is rare for me on any book with thriller elements. How did you do it?
I'm glad you enjoyed the pacing and the tension of the climax so much!
When I did the initial writing, the vomiting of the idea, I didn't think about pace or tension; I just wanted to get the entire story out. I let it flow, like you said, but in the editing and revising process, one of the elements I developed and worked hardest on was pace and tension. I tried to make sure that each character and chapter had a driving purpose, and that each chapter and character left you intrigued, wanting to know more. Since my protagonist was working hand-in-hand with my antagonist and they weren't pitted against one another for large chunks of the story, I needed to keep the pace and tension as tight as I could in other areas (Seth's internal struggle, mostly) in order to keep the story flowing, and at times that was my biggest challenge, but also a great learning experience.
Openings: One of the things that I've been trying to point out to people is that in a good book opening, it's very hook-y to explain the rules of your book in an opening. When I read yours, I laughed out loud, because it was almost a textbook case:
My name's Seth Fowler, and I'm not delusional. Not in my understanding of the role I played in the Boulevard murders, or in my understanding of what telling my story can accomplish.
Did you do this on purpose, or was it more of a challenge to see how much of the story you could give away without blowing the ending? What's your theory on the openings of your stories?
I really didn't do it intentionally or as a challenge. My original opening was the first chapter, "Corpse in a Burlap Sack," but after rereading the story, I felt that there was something missingat the beginning. I needed something more. I needed for Seth to give a brief explanation as to why he was sitting in a rundown hotel typing his story on a laptop. I needed him to give just enough to pique interest in Luther and the birds and his role in the Boulevard murders in order for it to be believable. If the reader was to believe he really did write this for his wife and daughter, and that the media and cops were investigating him, I felt he needed to give at least a hint of that in his explanation in the beginning. I wrote and rewrote the prologue probably twenty or thirty times, took it out and put it back in time and again. In the end I felt it had to be included to make the story complete,to make the beginning and the end come full circle, much like Michael Laimo did in DEEP IN THE DARKNESS and Anne Rivers Siddons did in THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR, two great first-person novels where the protags start with an intriguing prologue that hints at what led to their current situation.
When it comes to opening stories in general, I feel like there are many good ways to hook a reader. When I write third person, especially in short stories, I typically jump right into the action, but when I write first person like with this story, I feel like a direct, subtle, personal approach to the protagonist's dilemma can be just as effective.
And last but not least, the bonus question: Is there any note that you'd like to leave your readers on? (Hint: the additional promo question.)
If you want to buy THE BOULEVRD MONSTER, ask me any questions, tell me what you think of my writing, or simply follow my work, here some links you can hit me up on:
I KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD ABOUT ME
You say that I am a madman. You say that I am dangerous. You say that I am the one who has been abducting women, slaughtering them, and burying their corpses all around this city for years. You are wrong, because only part of that statement is true…
I AM NOT A KILLER
I know that you probably won’t believe me. Not now. Not after all that has happened, but I need to tell my side of the story. You need to know how this all began. You need to hear about the birds, but most of all, you need to understand…
I AM NOT THE BOULEVARD MONSTER
DeAnna Knippling is a writer and editor of dark speculative fiction, mystery, and horror. She has ghostwritten over a million words since 2013, and has had multiple short stories published in Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Black Static, and more. She's currently working on a series of cheesy 80s horror novels involving fairies. The first novelette, By Dawn's Bloody Light, about three women who take revenge on a serial killer, will be released July 1. You can find out more at www.WonderlandPress.com. You can also find her on Facebook andTwitter.