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November 8, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Kevin Doyle knows fear. He knows exactly what to write to make hair on the back of your neck stand up and your breath get shallower. But for his first published novella, he’s breaking away from his usual genre.
One Helluva Gig, a 15,000-word e-book, is what Doyle calls mainstream fiction, and it’s one of his only stories with an ending that doesn’t leave readers terrified.
The novella begins with the death of Rob Jeffers, a rock star of Elvis Presley status, then goes back to the beginning of his mega-celebrity career. His life is told from the point of view of a young reporter, Frank Peters, and his many articles about Jeffers. Peters was the first to interview Jeffers back when he was a nobody musician.
Doyle, who lives in Columbia, has been interested in penning eerie stories since he was 19. As a young writer, Doyle’s go-to plotlines were scenarios dripping with gore. Looking back, he says he has progressed from the in-your-face scare to a more subtle approach to fear. “Somewhere down the line, I slowly started to figure out that the most horrifying stuff is what you don’t see,” Doyle says.
Doyle’s approach to fear is understated. References to shadows and haunting victims allude to deeply disturbing events, such as the dark figure who’s never identified in “The Tempter in the Shadows.”
When he’s battling writer’s block, a flip through the encyclopedia or a scroll through the idea folder on his computer often does the trick.
The inspiration behind Doyle’s tales come from what he sees around him. Once while driving through Iowa, Doyle noticed a lone wall standing in the middle of an otherwise empty field; it led him to create a story called “Visage” in which the curiously placed wall draws the protagonist into a terrifying encounter.
After reading his sinister stories, it’s difficult to imagine Doyle working as an English teacher for Westran High School in Huntsville. Teaching juniors and seniors was never something Doyle thought he would pursue, but these days it’s what pays the bills.
Friends and colleagues who have read Doyle’s work have seen a different side of the teacher and author. “It was surprising because that is definitely not the demeanor that comes across with his students and here in the workplace,” says Matt Burton, vice principal of Westran High School.
The switch from writing dark short stories to longer, less frightening fiction wasn’t something Doyle intended to do. It just followed the pattern he has fallen into.
“My shorter pieces tend to be horror,” he says. “The longer pieces, the books I’ve done and everything, tend to be straight mystery or suspense.”
After One Helluva Gig, Doyle’s next project is another suspense story that is currently in the editing process. It will be the fifth book he has written and the first full-length novel, he hopes, to be published.