A murder in Oberlin sets the stage for a three-part book series that brings the city’s abolitionist past back to life.
Locals will recognize familiar people, places, and threads of history woven throughout John Vanek’s mystery.
The first book, “Deros,” follows Fr. Jake Austin as he confronts a murder in his hometown and the resurrection of buried feelings for the woman he once loved. With themes of forgiveness and self-healing, the story highlights the challenges of life in the crossroads of good and evil.
Aspects of Austin’s personality and struggles are modeled after two priests who became Vaneks’ close friends. When he first met them, he expected to find stereotypes, but when their Roman collars came off, he found they were simply human.
“I was raised Catholic and I had the conception that many people have with their priests,” Vanek said. “I put them up on a pedestal. As I got to know them personally, I realized they struggle with the same things the rest of us do.”
Over a few beers, one of the priests confessed his attraction to a young nun. Vanek watched as he struggled with his commitment to his vows and used this as inspiration to portray Austin as realistically as possible.
He also spent a fair amount of time digging through the Oberlin Heritage Center archives to keep the city’s history true-to-fact.
Some writers outline their stories and follow their notes, but Vanek said he allowed his characters to guide the plot, and was surprised when they sent him in a different direction.
“It took me nine years to write three books. I don’t know if that’s persistence or craziness,” he laughed.
As a retired physician, a large part of those years was spent taking classes, attending workshops, and learning how to write. He practiced medicine for 25 years at St. Joseph Hospital in Lorain, and said all the doctors in the county probably remember him as the guy who always carried a murder mystery while on call.
Publishing the books was an entirely different beast to tackle — Vanek said he faced a lot of rejection. New York agents, if they respond at all, take at least six months to give a yes or no, he said.
Rejections letters from publishers in New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles seemed to follow a recurrent theme: “You have interesting characters and glowing plot, but it’s hard to usher in a new author and I don’t know if I can publish a book about a priest,” one said.
Finally, Vanek found success with a smaller press based in Seattle, Wash.
“Deros” will be released on Feb. 1 and is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. An author meet-and-greet is tentatively scheduled for June at the Oberlin Public Library.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.