Editor’s Note: The author of the “Boy in Black,” Evan Neben is the reporter’s brother.
LEXINGTON — At a small gathering at the First United Methodist Church on Sunday Evan Neben signs copies of a book with a black cover and white lettering on the front. The title of the book is, “The Boy in Black,” and the author’s name is Evan Neben.
Ever since he was in fourth and fifth grade, Neben said he had dreamed of writing and publishing a book. When he was in elementary school, he said he wrote multiple short stories about anything which came to his imagination. After this period, he said he put aside creative writing and would not revisit it until his senior year of high school.
When asked why writing appeals to him, Neben said he always felt he communicated better through writing than with speech, that he could communicate on a much deeper level through the written word.
During his senior year, in December of 2016, Neben began to write once again, the core of the writing would later grow into his self-published book. He said he started creative writing again to “vent his feelings,” about his high school experience.
Neben said in high school it was a conscious decision of his to always be different from his peer group, but he felt like he came off as “uptight or intimidating,” to his peers, he said.
One point in the book Neben wanted to communicate was the fact he was not much different from his classmates and had the same struggles.
“The Boy in Black,” focuses on two high school students, Eric, who, “wishes for something more out of life than the tedium of his senior year high school schedule,” the book states, and Kaine, a new student with a mysterious past.
Making an average high school the setting of the book was a purposeful act to ground the characters in something recognizable.
A part of the setting which may be familiar to the residents of the area is where the book characters live, around a lake, a reference to Johnson Lake, Neben said.
“Living at the lake” is a boast in the minds of the populace surrounding the extravagant waterfront properties, he wrote in the book.
When asked about this statement, Neben said he lived at a home in Johnson Lake for several years but did not personally enjoy it.
Having grown up in a rural area, Neben said he was use to open space and not the crowded area of Johnson Lake, he added he was used to being able to wander anywhere rather than on just one trail.
Making this a part of the setting was another autobiographical part of the book and a way for Neben to express his feelings.
Another tie-in which is recognizable to Lexington residents is the diversity in the book, “it’s not a coincidence most of Eric’s friends in the book are Hispanic,” Neben said.
Neben said he is proud to have grown up in Lexington, surrounded by different culture and ethnicities. “When people grow up together there is not much animosity, especially if you are in school,” Neben said, “You see people for what they truly are.”
When asked more about the setting, Neben said in high school, the young adult fiction setting was awash with dystopian novels like “The Hunger Games,” “Maze Runner,” “Divergent,” etc. He said most teens won’t find themselves in a setting like this and he wanted to take, “a more honest approach to the coming of age story.”
Yet among this grounded setting, Neben added in a touch of the mystic, in the form of an entity which seems like something out of folklore, a “boy in black,” which the title of the book refers to.
This spiritual addition was meant to, “embody the mystery of life,” Neben said. He wanted an element which could stand in for divine guidance, spiritualism, etc.
“I wanted this to be present in a grounded story to show there is more beyond the humdrum day to day of life,” said Neben.
In the book, the character of Eric and Kaine meet, becoming friends, but mystery and buried secrets surface which force the budding friendship to the limit, “at that breaking point is where the concrete and mythical begin to align ,” Neben wrote.
The character of Eric is nearly autobiographical for Neben, he said the character, “could express what I couldn’t in high school.”
The book is, “more or less emulating my high school experience,” Neben said. The character of Kaine offers an opposing viewpoint to Eric’s in the book, and was model on Neben’s friendship with a high school classmate, Chris Rogers.
In fact the title of the book came from a story Rogers had written for a high school class and he and Neben had discussed. Neben said the book sharing the same title was a way of paying tribute to Rogers’ original story.
The central conflict of the book surrounds the character Kaine’s arrival at a new school late in the year and a past which seems to be full of mystery. He said the characters trying to keep secrets or uncover them have consequences which affect the story.
Neben finished writing the book during his freshman year of college, he said the writing flowed together well, but there were days where he wouldn’t write anything and then others where he would tackle an entire chapter. He said he did have an outline which he followed throughout the writing process.
After finishing the initial draft, Neben said he was unsure of how to publish it and sat on his manuscript for a time.
A tragedy would play a central part in pushing Neben to publish his book. On Sept. 19, 2019 Jessica Guerrero, 19 of Lexington was killed in a car crash near Hastings. Neben said Guerrero was, “one of my best friends since 8th grade.”
After her death, Neben said, “he was kicked into gear,” to publish the book.
The book itself is dedicated to Guerrero, “To Jess, my compatriot and friend, whose light I still carry with me wherever I go.”
“I wanted to immortalize her and what better way than through writing,” Neben said, “I thought it was a fitting dedication for such a good friend.”
Neben chose to publish with the company Friesen Press in October 2018 after he did a Google search on “how to publish a book.” He said Friesen Press gave him the best of both worlds with professional guidance coupled with self-publishing.
Friesen Press sent Neben an editor’s manuscript to make sure the plot was sound and to cut out wordiness and other details which may have been unnecessary.
The design and layout of the actual book itself took the longest, Neben said and was an eight week process. In this period he got to decide the cover, font, etc. After this the book went into the company’s publishing queue.
In July of this year, Neben finally got his hands on a physical copy of the book, he said he was proud to have accomplished a goal he had held since childhood.
The book is available on the Friesen Press website or on Amazon, Neben said.
When asked about the central point he was communicating through this book, Neben said, “I felt out of place in school, it plagued me a lot. What I want to communicate is you can conquer anything, life will have its hurdles and it sucks sometimes, but you rise up better than before.”
“After losing one of my best friends, I thought it was even more important that my words reach those who need it most, those who are still forming their identity, or wondering where they belong in this world,” Neben wrote.