Personal tragedies inspire local man’s first novel

DeKALB – The lingering effects of a personal tragedy inspired Derek Rempfer to write his first novel.

“I always waited for something to motivate me and drive me to write,” the DeKalb resident said. His new novel, “Hearts Left Behind,” was inspired in part by the unexpected death of his son in 1998.

“Hearts Left Behind” was released as an e-book on July 15. Rempfer describes the 195-page book as a literary mystery inspired by personal events as well as the real-life murders of Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk and Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville in the 1980s. Brian Dugan, serving a life sentence, was convicted of both girls’ murders.

The novel takes place in the fictional small town of Willow Grove, Ill., which was inspired by Rempfer’s childhood in Malta. Malta residents will immediately recognize the descriptions of the village and such street names as Orput, Sprague, Kelsey, Washington, Adams, Madison and Monroe.

In the novel, Tucker Gaines returns to Willow Grove to live with his grandparents after the stillbirth of his son leads to his separation from his wife and daughter. While in Willow Grove, he finds himself engaged in a mystery surrounding the death of his childhood sweetheart.

“I want to challenge the reader’s perception of stillbirth,” Rempfer said.

“Hearts Left Behind” is currently available only as an e-book from but Rempfer plans to change that soon.

“My hope is that it generates enough interest in the online world that I can find an agent and get it published,” he said. He already has begun writing a second novel.

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