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July 19, 2022

Q&A with Brian Lebeau, author of A Disturbing Nature

Learn more about the new serial killer thriller A Disturbing Nature with author Brian Lebeau's interview.

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book cover of serial killer thriller A Disturbing Nature by Brian Lebeau
May 2022; Books Fluent; 978-1953865496
ebook, print (496 pages); thriller

What inspired you to write A Disturbing Nature?
A vivid dream in the spring of 1989 was the inspiration. Seminal moments from my life converged, leaving me with some tough questions and an outline for what would become A Disturbing Nature. The primary subject was a young, Black man whom I traded baseball cards with between nine and eleven years old. He was a decade older and intellectually disabled due to a seizure suffered in elementary school. In the dream, I recalled nasty remarks made by my friends as I'd walk back up the hill after he and I had traded cards at the schoolyard's front fence. I also remembered being accompanied by my father the few times I visited his home. I got out of bed that morning following that dream and jotted down several pages of notes. Over the next thirty years, the story evolved to include additional characters, a more complex plot, and increasingly dark themes. Before that dream, I believed I would be a writer. Afterward, there was no doubt.

What are the primary themes in A Disturbing Nature?

The first of two primary themes in A Disturbing Nature explores the separation between man and monster. Because we live in an age where social presence is a misguided measure of self-worth, it's easy to forget the hypocrisy of presenting a version of ourselves to the outside world while concealing an alternate one. As the story unfolds, two extreme characters struggle to maintain images very different from those they know intimately. Told through the voices, experiences, and memories of these two polarized characters, A Disturbing Nature mirrors Post-World War II America, and their unlikely and unavoidable attraction speaks to the thin line between hero and villain, man and monster. 

The second theme concerns the heredity of prejudice, the hypocrisy of privilege, and paying for the sins of our fathers. The experiences of the book's two main characters raises questions around who can determine guilt, how society should punish those assigned blame, and when guilt finally gets washed away. 

A Disturbing Nature took a long time for you to write. Were there any advantages to taking your time?

The biggest advantage of taking four-and-a-half years to write A Disturbing Nature was the luxury of stepping back and reflecting on the characters' personalities and the intense elements of the story. Even in fiction, a lot of soul-searching goes into the honest portrayal of a character, or at least as honest as you can place yourself. There are parts of Palmer and Mo's stories that come from my own experiences, and even if they may not be as intense, they still require genuine introspection. Finding these similarities was a great deal more grinding, but also much more rewarding. At times, I became emotional as I sought to gain insight into a character based on something from my past. The path of recollection and self-discovery was long as I fleshed out and finally wrote A Disturbing Nature, and the journey was difficult because there was much to absorb and endure.

What are the sources for your characters, and how did they emerge?
Everyone I encounter contributes, in some way, to my worldview and the characters I create. Interactions with past and present friends, coworkers, employees, colleagues, and even acquaintances are all subject to assessment, interpretation and incorporation, as needed. Because everyone has good days and bad days, and each of us is capable of great warmth, alarming disinterest, or worse, I'm able to extract many extreme personality traits and behavioral patterns from those around me. For the most extreme personalities like serial killers, I combine research with deep introspection, peering inside to the dark thoughts I've had in my life to create relatable characters—ones the reader can empathize with even if they are the most villainous. It's fair to say everything I witness, and experience, presents source material for my characters.
What can you tell us about the two main characters readers will meet in A Disturbing Nature?

 Maurice "Mo" Lumen is 24 when he arrives in Rhode Island. As the result of a childhood "accident," his mental and emotional maturity is permanently that of an 11-year-old. Forced to move from his last home in Virginia, Mo must adapt to a new environment, working his first job and living without family for the first time. But, while Mo tries to focus on the good, he can't ignore the words and actions of others, threatening to resurrect the accusations and secrets he thought he’d left behind. 
Chief Investigator Francis Palmer is a hunter. During his 20 years with the FBI, he's helped solve the most notorious mass murderer cases, from The Boston Strangler to his most recent, The Campus Killer. Along the way, Palmer has created an alter-ego, The Beast, to get inside the mind of monsters. Now, he struggles to prevent The Beast from consuming him. Over the course of a three-and-a-half-week investigation closer to home, Palmer will be forced to confront his past, his failures, and his greatest fears, The Beast threatening to take control.

The two primary characters in A Disturbing Nature are very different. Why was this important to the story?
Mo Lumen and Francis Palmer occupy opposite ends of the intellectual and emotional spectrum as the story begins. However, when they are reluctantly set on a collision course, their thought patterns and motivations converge until they become barely indistinguishable. The histories and environmental conditioning of these two extreme characters—one highly educated from an urban setting in the north and born into a privileged family, the other from the rural south with an intellectual disability and a blue-collar upbringing—are the focus of A Disturbing Nature. Their parallel stories illustrate how the heredity of sins—prejudice, greed, and lust—and the hypocrisy of privilege—intellectual gifts, inherited wealth, and an insatiable thirst for power—enable exploitation in many forms, because everyone is only a stone's throw, or a generation, from becoming a monster.
Why did you use an omniscient narrator?

I employed an omniscient narrator to ensure honesty and empathy. The omniscient narrator in A Disturbing Nature allowed me to become a character in the story, compelling me to look into the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind to evaluate the damage I've done in my life willfully or unwittingly. It also revealed character psyche and motivation—more than the characters could reveal themselves—allowing scene, setting, and backstory to advantage the reader. The gaps filled in by the omniscient narrator encourage the reader to consider how the environment around us—the people and places, histories, and experience—conditions the personal demons we harbor and how we wrestle with them. Introducing characters burdened by history, inheritance, and poor judgment exposes the various ways we hide our demons from others—sometimes even from ourselves—and entices the reader to hypothesize what it might take to become a monster themself. So, the omniscient narrator provides greater insight into the fragile psyches of the characters and offers a better understanding of the mechanisms by which we control the inner beast.

With the many investigations and profiles of serial killers, why this story now?

Because empathy and finding common ground are foundational in today's culture of inclusion, they need to be tested at the extreme—in the context of society's most dangerous personalities. As elements of criminal profiling have crept into popular culture through news media and entertainment, the public's fascination with serial offenders has sparked greater interest in psychoanalysis and behavioral patterns. A Disturbing Nature employs an investigative storyline to explore the evolution of the extreme character psyche, challenging the reader to abandon the safety of their removed perspective and identify with the characters through eerily similar thought patterns. Empathizing with the likes of a serial killer requires we make ourselves vulnerable, forcing us to acknowledge our deepest secrets and confront our inner demons. Accusing the monster that stands before us is preferable to disclosing The Beast within—the one we keep hidden. And the demons we fear most are often the ones we can't see. That's why this story now; to empathize, find common ground, and candidly investigate ourselves.

Why did you choose the serial killer model/metaphor to get your point across?
The story came to me in a dream—a nightmare based on memories unfolding like a thriller—so I knew from the start it would be set during the 1975 Red Sox march to the world series and involve a serial killer prowling around southern New England. While the symbolism and residual storylines were developed over the next three decades, the primary themes—the thin line between man and monster and paying the price for the sins of our fathers—were established immediately as I sorted through the questions arising from the dream. Once I finally started writing many years later, the story evolved a great deal, most notably with the addition of a second primary character. Because the thought patterns of two extreme characters are very distinct early on in the story, before becoming as indistinguishable as the imaginary thin line between man and monster at the end, the serial killer model seemed appropriate.

Buy A Disturbing Nature at Amazon

One month after The Beatles arrived, with much fanfare, in America, Brian Lebeau was born, unceremoniously, in Fall River, Massachusetts, home of the infamous Lizzie Borden. After being awarded an “A” in high school English once and denied a career in music for “lack of talent” repeatedly, he taught economics at several colleges and universities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island before moving to Fauquier County, Virginia, to work as a defense contractor for two decades. In the psychological thriller “A Disturbing Nature,” Mr. Lebeau merges three key interests: a keen fascination with everything World War II, a morbid curiosity surrounding the motivations and mayhem of notorious serial killers, and a lifelong obsession with the Red Sox. A Disturbing Nature is Mr. Lebeau’s first book.

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