2018-02-08 / News

Local author probes guilt in debut novel

Will read from work at library this Tuesday

Author Neal Yeomans reading Wendy Walker’s “All is not Forgotten” at the library Tuesday afternoon. This was among the books that influenced him to write his own debut novel, “The Monsters I Remember,” which is pictured on the bottom right. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Author Neal Yeomans reading Wendy Walker’s “All is not Forgotten” at the library Tuesday afternoon. This was among the books that influenced him to write his own debut novel, “The Monsters I Remember,” which is pictured on the bottom right. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN His name may have naval connotations, but Neal Yeomans is becoming known for his stories that have little to do with the sea surrounding his hometown.

The 28-year-old Cole Street resident will unveil his debut novel, “The Monsters I Remember,” at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the library, 26 North Road. Yeomans will be featured alongside two local musicians, Brenda Bennett and Ed McGuirl.

Before the musical performances, Yeomans will read from his novel, which tells the story of high school students who try to cover up their crime after committing murder. It centers around a teenage boy named Sam, a newcomer to the small town who becomes part of a tight-knit clique of friends.

“It’s all about the insular world these kids create,” Yeomans said. “Something happens at a party and the friendship begins to fray. The kids mostly think with their raw emotions, so they decide to get back at him. One thing leads to another.”

The story is told in flashbacks by David, one of Sam’s new friends, several years after the events unfold. Yeomans decided to construct it that way because it builds suspense, and it allows the storyteller to drop hints about the crime.

Yeomans said the novel is an honest look at people managing guilt in different ways. In David’s case, for example, the remorse doesn’t engulf him until years later, which is when he expresses his grief through hindsight.

“Guilt takes on many shades,” Yeomans said.

While Sam’s induction into the group is an onset for the plot, the book was written as an ensemble piece with no primary protagonist. Yeomans chose David as his narrator because of the character’s position as an onlooker compared to his teenage counterparts. David, who witnesses bullying, is similar to a lot of teens who decide to stay quiet instead of standing up for what’s right.

Although “The Monsters I Remember” is Yeomans’ first full-length novel, he has been pursuing a writing career for nearly a decade. He’s always been an avid reader and began writing his own stories shortly after graduating from North Kingstown High School in 2008.

“I just kind of fell into it,” he said. “I was definitely self-taught.”

He began his literary career in earnest by submitting short stories to the Independent Scribe, a literary journal operated by students at the University of Rhode Island. His story “Annabel Outside” was published in a 2013 edition. During the next two years, Yeomans was published two more times in its pages.

In 2015, he self-published a short-story collection titled “Houses and Backyards.” The 15 stories mostly focused on small-town America with a darkly humorous tone to them. “Annabel Outside,” which leads off the collection, tells the story of a neurotic young girl. “Waiting for the Sky to Explode” is about a family building a fallout shelter in the shadow of nuclear war. The stories became popular in town despite the surprisingly gloomy timbre.

“That short-story collection was really kind of a test for myself,” Yeomans said. “I really just wanted to see if I could write a book. I wanted to write for a long time, but that was the first thing I actually finished.”

Last summer, about a year after the short stories were published, Yeomans began writing the novel. He had it completed within three months. Although it is a work of fiction, Yeomans was inspired by true crime stories, like Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” Another major influence was the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which he used to get into the mindset of writing his teenage characters. The show explores the themes of group guilt and adolescence, which also are central to his novel’s plot.

“The thing that I took away from ‘13 Reasons Why’ was the honesty of it,” he said. “I wanted to write something that was raw and upsetting. We’re not really sure how to look at adolescence. It’s supposed to be a time of change and developing who you are, but it’s also really scary. My book and that show just explore it honestly. That’s what I wanted to capture: A raw, ugly look at it.”

Like his first book, Yeomans self-published “The Monsters I Remember” in November. It is available through Amazon as both an e-book and as a print-on-demand paperback. So far, he has received good marks and helpful feedback through online reviews and literary forums. He’s also been in touch with New York Times best-selling author Mary Kubica, who is planning to review the book on Goodreads.

“On a whim, I sent letters out to different writers who I admired growing up,” Yeomans said. “She was one who wrote back and asked me to send the book to her.”

Yeomans hopes his novel ultimately will gain the attention of a proper publisher through word of mouth, both on the Internet and through readings like Tuesday’s. That event came together after Donna Fogarty, the library’s director, invited Yeomans to read his book there because she liked “Houses and Backyards.” Yeomans will read from a few sections for about 20 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer session. McGuirl, an Irish folk guitarist, and Bennett, a former member of Prince’s Vanity 6 ensemble, will follow shortly after.

Yeomans wants to establish himself as a local writer. In the meantime, he has kept his day job in the deli at McQuade’s Marketplace. While writing the novel, he balanced these gigs through careful time management.

“I got up every morning early, wrote for four hours, and then I’d go to work,” he said. “I treated it as another job. That’s how the book got written.”

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