Guest post by Frank Wheeler Jr., whose debut novel, The Wowzer, came out this week.
I first met Jerry, the main character in The Wowzer, while I was writing a different novel. I couldn't get his voice out of my head. Without knowing it, I'd mimicked the storytelling style of my great-uncles from Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Then, as I was reading a book of Ozarks folklore, I came across a description of the Wowzer, this monster that lives out in the woods. Walking through my uncle's patch of woods in Oklahoma, I would sometimes imagine what could be out there hiding from my vision. Same thing when I crawled into a small cave in another uncle's yard in the hills outside Fayetteville, Arkansas. I wondered what kind of eyes down in the dark were looking up at me. I thought about what it would be like to tell a story from that perspective.
Jerry was always quite a dangerous character, but when I started identifying him with the Wowzer, he became like something out of a folktale. I believe that most monsters or villains in fiction can be grouped either as the thing you're afraid of, out in the darkness—or as the darkness you're afraid of in those you know, perhaps even in yourself. The Wowzer provided just the right angle to give a story to Jerry's voice.
But the voice didn't hold up the first time I tried writing it. It had to be in dialect. It had to sound like a story my uncles would tell me. Theirs was the voice I needed in my ear to create Jerry. So I used Vance Randolph's books on Ozarks dialect and folklore, and I modeled the dialect as closely as I could on his research. But the style always came back to my uncles.
The Wowzer is about a man capable of unimaginable violence; a man who desires to be the monster in the woods, rather than be afraid of it. But it is told in a voice I find intimate and familiar, the kind I would expect to hear out in the woods in Oklahoma or down in a cave in the Ozarks. I suppose I've made the monster family.