MOXAHALA – A Perry County resident is making a splash in the fiction world with his first published novel, a supernatural thriller set in southern Ohio.
Bottom Feeders, published by Sunbury Press’s Hellbender Books imprint, features a mysterious prison inmate who may or may not be the incarnation of Satan; the domineering new warden, who discovers the inmate has been locked away for years in a hidden cell beneath the facility; the warden’s wife, who has begun to fear that her abusive ex-husband may be a serial child killer; and the couple’s young son, whose ominously skillful drawings seem to depict the gruesome torments of the murderer’s victims. It’s a dark and twisting tale, and full of surprises.
It’s also a hit with readers. Author Jerry Roth reported in an interview late last month that Bottom Feeders had been one of Sunbury’s best-selling digital titles for several months, and at one point had reached number five on Amazon’s list of its most popular supernatural thrillers.
“Usually for a first-time novelist, you’d be hard-pressed to even get 100 sales, but the public has taken to it,” Roth said. “So I’m over the moon that people are enjoying it.”
Set in Pataskala in Licking County, the book aims for a southern Ohio sense of place, Roth said. It helps that he once lived in Pataskala and wrote for the local newspaper there. And for an author who wants to cultivate a gothic, supernatural atmosphere, it would seem hard to improve on Roth’s current lodgings; he and his wife and three children live in the St. Pius Catholic Church in Moxahala, built in 1908. After the church closed it was purchased in 2000 by a couple from Thornville, who renovated it into a home.
“We were actually planning to move down south, but we saw it went up for sale, and we were like, ‘We can’t pass this up – to live in a church?’” Roth recalled. “It’s amazing. So we kind of snatched it up, and fell in love with the area.”
A graduate of The Ohio State University who studied English literature, Roth has made his living writing, as a journalist, one of the head sportswriters for the Disc Golf Pro Tour, and now as a pharmacy writer. But long before that he was drawn to storytelling.
“I’ve been kind of a closet writer since I was a little kid,” he explained. “I remember when I was a kid on the school bus I would make up stories, and tell a different story every single day on the way to school and back.”
Though he’s a fan of horror, citing Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Anne Rice as inspirations, Roth said he doesn’t limit himself to that genre.
“It happens that my first one published was horror, but I kind of just write whatever inspiration hits me,’ he said. “A book that’s coming out this June is actually a science fiction thriller. And about six months ago I finished a novel that is an urban fantasy. So I kind of run the gamut with my interests.”
As befits a man with an English lit background, Roth also confessed under questioning that his portrayal of angels and demons in Bottom Feeders owes something to perhaps the premier treatment of that topic in the language, John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
“Yeah, you got it,” he said. “He was a big influence on me.”
Even with the supernatural characters, however, Roth said, he was less interested in generating chills than in “grounding” them in recognizable psychology – his devil, for example, seems to suffer from some serious father issues.
“We live in a kind of a world now where a lot of people are still religious, but they’re not really in touch with the history of the Bible, and aspects of the different characters in it,” he explained. “So I thought it’d be great to kind of re-examine that, and give people another look at, basically, the history.”
Roth will be holding an author event via Zoom for the Perry County District Library at 5 p.m. on June 23. For more information, visit https://tinyurl.com/mf8vbrf7.