West Chester’s Brian Zepka Is A Literary Rising Star

Brian Zepka

Zepka’s Queer Sci-Fi Novel Optioned by Disney+

Brian Zepka Appears At Barnes & Noble Devon on June 10

by Melissa Jacobs

It wasn’t until he went to Brazil that Brian Zepka really understood the impact of his book. He was there to appear at an international book festival and celebrate the Portuguese publication of his debut novel, The Temperature Of You And Me. It had already been a whirlwind trip with VIP treatment all the way, including a car, driver and luxury hotel. Better than all of that was what Zepka felt when he saw the long line of readers waiting for him at the festival.

Brian Zepka

“It was mostly queer kids like me, and although I didn’t know any of them, I felt connected to them,” Zepka said. “There is a big gay culture in Brazil and that feeling of acceptance was overwhelming. It was almost surreal. At that moment, I realized that I had never fully experienced that feeling.”

Zepka, who grew up in West Chester, was not public about his sexuality until long after he graduated from Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown. Now 32, Zepka is proud to be in the forefront of queer, young adult literature. The Temperature is the story of teenagers Dylan and Jordan with a sci-fi twist, a Romeo-and-Romeo tale that speaks to the precarious passion of first loves.  

Brian Zepka

Optioned by Disney+ and in development to become a TV series, The Temperature is a coming of age story – but it is not a coming out story. That’s been done plenty of times, Zepka said, and it puts the focus on the heteronormative world’s acceptance of homosexual relationships. Instead, Zepka focused on the relationship between the young men. “Putting queer characters at the forefront was the angle I wanted to take,” he said. “The main character is gay, open and out of the closet at the beginning of the story. At the same time, he’s figuring out how to be romantic with people.”

Zepka imbued Dylan, his lead character, with the endearing insecurities and anxieties that are typical of most teenage romances. “He feels like he’s behind the pace of his peers, who are going to dances and having relationships,” Zepka said. “You think when you come out of the closet, everything is going to be perfect. But there is a lot of processing still to do. You have to figure things out, just like everyone else has to.”

Brian Zepka

That’s one of the messages Zepka conveys when he speaks to readers at places like West Chester’s Ruston High School. “It was cool to connect with the kids and see them catch the local references in my book,” Zepka said. “A lot of them sent me sweet messages afterwards. I don’t feel like a role model, but I like making my presence known. When I was younger, I didn’t know a single gay person and didn’t see any gay adults. That didn’t help my identity.”

Zepka’s identity as a writer came to the forefront after he completed graduate school. While pursuing his career in public health, he spent his free time writing fiction. The Temperature is the third manuscript he completed. Because he wrote it while working full time, Zepka had to create a writing regimen. “What works best for me is writing in long binges of time,” he said. “If I block out a whole weekend, I can be very productive and get my head into the story. With The Temperature, I wrote the first 20% over a year, working on it Saturdays here and there. The last 75% I wrote in a month and a half.”

Brian Zepka

Like many fiction writers, Zepka outlines his plot. “The outlines I do are bullet points of events – beginning, middle, climax,” he said. “But then I write to connect the dots. I like things to develop on their own.”

Characters have their own outlines, too. “When I read my own drafts, I felt there was some confusion in the characters, or that some of the characters were reacting in ways that didn’t feel authentic,” he said. “So I’d go back and flesh out their character profiles to make sure I knew their emotions and what was going on with their lives. Anything that felt off, I changed.”  

Brian Zepka

When Zepka finished writing The Temperature’s manuscript, he shared it with his core group of friends – but not his parents. “I wanted them to read it for the first time as a hard cover book,” he said. “I thought it would be cool for it to happen that way.”

As for the Disney+ project, Zepka said it’s in the early development stage. “I met with the producers a few times and talked about visions for it,” Zepka said. “I don’t have final say or approval on anything, but I have a great relationship with the producers and I look forward to them bringing my characters to life. I can’t wait to see them.”

Meet Brian Zepka and Main Line Tonight’s editor Melissa Jacobs at Barnes & Noble in Devon on Sat., June 10 at 1 pm for a book signing and live Q&A. Find event information here.

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