The chupacabra is just a legendary monster, but what if it weren't?
That's what author Michael Hebler, owner of Newport Beach-based Night After Night Publications, asks readers in his new 300-page novel, "Night of the Chupacabra," the first in a five-part series.
"It's such fascinating folklore, and it's only growing by leaps every day," Hebler said of the creature, whose name translates to "goat sucker" and was originally reported in the 1990s in Puerto Rico.
The fictional Western-thriller, set in a post-Civil War backdrop, follows a father hunting the legendary beast to right the wrongs committed against his family, Hebler said.
"This story is very relationship-heavy," he said. "The primary love story is that of family and the relationships created between characters. Father and daughter. Husband and wife."
But the bond within family is not the only relationship that grows throughout the novel's progress. The protagonist begins to understand the chupacabra too, Hebler said.
"I wanted a story where a man developed a relationship with creature that is also a horrific symbol and I wanted other people to not quite understand this relationship," Hebler said. "I thought that was more effective than a relationship with someone who is just a killer."
This unusual plot twist hooked Hebler's editor, Joe Palmer.
"This animalistic killer transforms into this thing that you're almost rooting for at end," he said. "Almost like the original Dracula, you see this character humanized. You know it's not doing the right thing according to our world, but you know why it's doing it."
However, there's more than just the chupacabra that breathes life into this story, Palmer said.
"The main character, Drake, you see where he's coming from — he's a deformed, broken hero," he said. "[Hebler] really does step up in the traditional Western sense and even takes it a step further, especially in humanizing the chupacabra itself. There are some great lessons and morals in there. It's not what just could be a simple revenge story; it's a human story of despair and redemption."
The first installment was released in October and is available though major booksellers online and MichaelHebler.com for $16.95 in paperback and $4.99 in e-book. The rest of the series will be released each following fall.
The short story "Hunt for the Chupacabra," which introduces readers to the series, is available online for download or as an audio file at Hebler's website.
But if you're ready to leave Halloween behind, Hebler has written a story on another popular legend: Santa Claus.
"The Night After Christmas," published in 2010, takes readers to the North Pole after Santa gets home from his busy Christmas Eve ride, Hebler said.
He's also planning a few more children's books and other novellas for the young adult audience, he said.
"I just love creating characters that have multiple layers to them," Hebler said. "And maybe they do something that you don't quite expect to them to do. I love the thrill of anticipation and plot twists; there are five good ones in 'Night of the Chupacabra' that I can think of."