Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Eddie Brophy, author of Nothing to Get Nostalgic About.
FQ: Do you identify with any particular person in the book – Charlie Harris would seem to be a logical choice, but is there someone else?
BROPHY: Charlie is 100% the character I identify most with as so much his personality and his life experiences were inspired by my own. As a young precocious kid, I grew up with several painful insecurities regarding what I looked like, where I came from, and how the rest of the world viewed me. Charlie (as an adult) is very much someone who never stopped feeling like an insecure and scared little boy, something that I still feel like at thirty-three years old. In terms of the other characters? I think the only other person who I could identify with, would be Donald the social worker who was assigned to handle Rachel’s case.
When I was younger, I was told I had a learning disability and spent most of my formative years dealing with school psychologists and special education instructors sequestered in basements and rooms on the other end of the school. The setting in which Donald and Rachel are interacting is very much a call back to when I was in elementary school and having these interviews with an adult who was trying to help me catch up with the other kids. Donald was an amalgamation of those instructors and the father of a best friend I had in high school. He was this very empathetic and compassionate adult, something that was very uncommon for me when I was a kid as most adults treated me like I was trouble or had no potential.
Most adults were very dismissive, and still adhered to antiquated idea of tough love so I wanted Donald to be the antithesis of say Charlie’s father. I think subconsciously when I was writing the interaction between Donald and Rachel, I was also using it as an opportunity to speak to myself at that age using Donald is a conduit between my future and my past. Being the father of two now, something I really put a great deal of emphasis on is treating my young boys as people first and foremost. Donald is also a bleeding heart with a save the world complex, something that I still find myself struggling with as a person who struggles with seeing the good in people while also feeling that everyone has the potential to surprise you with their frankness and integrity.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read Nothing To Get Nostalgic About?
BROPHY: A few months after the book was released, someone I had known since I was a kid had reached out to me to congratulate me on the book and to confide in me about their own personal trauma they experienced as a kid. Immediately I wanted this person to be aware that the book deals with several potentially triggering subjects like PTSD, Molestation, Domestic Abuse, Homophobia, and Suicide. My advice would simply be to trust your intuition and comfort levels when you start reading, while I would love to think this book could offer some sort of solace or refuge for anyone who has suffered profound childhood traumas its also something I know (from personal experience) is difficult to navigate as it can force someone to re-live experiences and events, they have tried so hard (consciously or subconsciously) to get away from.
FQ: Have you ever experienced the kind or degree of visionary terrors that Harris goes through – or do you know someone who has?
BROPHY: I have. I started writing this book in the fall of 2017, three years removed from the death of my father. That spring, my wife and I welcomed our first son Dylan and upon finding out we were having a boy? I went through several emotions and emotional setbacks as the prospect of having a son kicked the proverbial wasp nest awakening several painful memories, I found myself reliving in therapy. The very genesis of the book dates to this afternoon where I had put my son in his highchair and brought him in the bathroom with me so I could shower. When I finished and pulled the shower curtain back, I saw this look on my son’s face that absolutely horrified me.
My son looked SO scared, and he was just sort of staring off into space. I have no idea why, but my immediate thought was, is my father scaring him? Is he taunting him? I don’t know why, but I couldn’t shake this idea that my contentious and horrific relationship with my father didn’t end when he passed from cancer in 2014, but it was now going to resurface through this manifestation that was equal parts my fear of my dad, and my fear of not wanting to be like my dad. I started having these horrific flashes or nightmares of my dad threatening to do horrible things to my son and to deal with that, I immersed myself in this book as a I way to push my self through all the painful memories that I never dealt with as I was self-medicating to make myself stoic after he died and dealing with the aftermath of our last verbal exchange the night before he died.
There was no resolution to be found in him dying, there were simply more scars to learn about and more anger to figure out what to do with. All the while, trying to figure out how to be an exceptional father and how to handle my own demons so they wouldn’t interfere with the life I had vowed to create for my son.
FQ: Your story features a brief ray of hope at the very end; do you envision a sequel, in which that hope falls to pieces?
BROPHY: This is a great question, and it is a question I was asked a lot when the book came out. I did a ZOOM reading/Q&A the night before Halloween and the most popular questions from that night were if I had entertained doing a sequel so they could learn what happened to those characters, or a prequel so that they could learn more about Tasha. The problem I have with is a sequel is that:
1.) As an independent writer, it feels presumptuous to think that there will be enough readers or that this book is good enough to merit one. I suffer from being a somber pragmatist in that, I fear coming across as pretentious or again presumptuous with my writing. I want so badly for this book to find its audience and because I am an independent author a lot of that is going to come from grassroots efforts as I don’t have the luxury of a larger platform or scores of people around me to influence people to read it.
2.) Because the book ended with that ray of hope, I feel like it would be so unfair to the readers to rob them of that. Absolutely, I could probably sit down and write a sequel in which I contradict all that hope and optimism…but to me? We are living in a world where we seldom get the opportunity to hear, see, or read a happy ending. Something that feels appropriate to mention is that I published a book about childhood trauma right in the middle of a global pandemic, and something that came up a lot with friends or people around me who knew I had a book were...what do you write next? A part of me feels like if you’re reading this book, you’re doing so to get taken away from life for a bit.
Sure, one could argue that my book is SO dark and SO heavy at times, but I feel like I did a surprisingly good job at rewarding people’s time by giving them something to smile about at the end. I would feel awful about rewarding the readers who stuck it out by writing something that would devastate them. I also feel that the ending was as autobiographical as the rest of the book in terms of it coming from my actual life, and right now I’m feeling like my two little boys are the only happy ending I needed and wished every day to have since I was five years old.
FQ: What is your personal connection, if any, to the realm of extrasensory perception and séancing depicted in the book?
BROPHY: The 90s were a VERY weird time. Growing up, my sisters and I were glorified latchkey kids. We had two working parents who...they could not afford after school programs, why would they? Their youngest was me, and they had two free babysitters living in their home in the form of my sisters. No offense to my sisters, but they did a HORRIBLE job of babysitting me. They would turn on MTV or Nickelodeon and sneak out with their friends. Who could blame them? They were teenagers. When you’re a kid and your babysitters decide they’d rather go be kids, you’re left to your own devices. I grew up in a neighborhood with A LOT of latchkey kids who were watching a lot of daytime television and a lot of movies they probably shouldn’t have been.
Keep in mind, this was before social media and the ability to be ubiquitous on the web creating the illusion of having company even if its not tactile. Loneliness in this decade, was actual loneliness. So, you have a scenario where there are no adults, inappropriate television, a wild imagination, and siblings who were obsessed with communicating with dead rock stars and celebrities through a Milton Bradley Ouija board...I often found myself at friend’s houses teaching them to rotate their shoulders in front of a mirror to see the fingertips of their guardian angel (I saw this on Sally Jessy, Geraldo, or my sisters taught me this?) we’d play light as a feather stiff as a board...
The content in the book happened, and I know that sounds crazy...but I know what I saw. Every weekend my sisters would have their strange Goth/Grunge friends over and they’d sit in either the basement or bedroom across from mine lighting candles and playing with Ouija boards or trying to perform seances. Every girl in the 90s wanted to belong to the coven from The Craft, and because I’m from Massachusetts? The influence of Salem and witches is still VERY real, and it did make its way to suburbia specifically after the death of Kurt Cobain. I’ve met mediums, I was either present during seances or heard about my sisters’ experiences...and a lot of that stuff made its way into the book.
Keep in mind, the Harris house does in fact exist and it was very much haunted. The blonde boy was a notorious figure in both my private home life and in my town. Everyone knew I was living in a haunted house, in fact one day I was digging up my backyard and one of my neighborhood friends addressed that I was digging up a dead kid’s toys. I’d like to think I’m a good writer, but I’m not THAT good.
FQ: With regard to this specific novel, what writer would you most closely compare yourself to?
BROPHY: This is another GREAT question and one I was asked a lot during my reading. Truthfully? I make a lazy comparison. Because I’m a lifelong Massachusetts resident and horror fan, the garden-variety knee-jerk answer is...Well, Stephen King. I say that’s a lazy answer because this story wasn’t directly inspired by Mr. King or any of his books, although I’m sure someone could point to IT, Carrie, or Pet Sematary and say...oh come on man, you’re totally a King fan. I am, but I don’t really have a novel or writer I could compare myself to. Comparisons scare me because I don’t think I could ever hold a candle to his legendary work, or brilliance, but if I’m pressed to answer this question...probably King, and V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic, I have never read the book or seen the movie.
When my publisher asked me for cover ideas, I immediately told them...Flowers in the Attic. When I was 10, my mother and sisters were watching the film in our living room while I slept with my door open down the hall. All I had to do was HEAR the film and it scared the absolute crap out of me. I was in our local library one day and I spotted the cover...and I don’t know, some strange correlation happened where I saw this spooky cover and remembered the audio from the film and just thought...this sounds and looks like what I am living. That is pretty screwed up to think about considering I was 10.
FQ: Although the book is riddled with fears and violence, what are the positives that can be gleaned from it?
BROPHY: The kids and the friendships in that book are and were VERY real. I wanted this book to be a love letter to those kids. Many of whom succumbed to addiction, or suicide because of how we grew up. As sad as that is to admit, the positives are the fact that those friendships stood the test of time and those friendships were still possible despite the ennui many of us felt, the alienation we wanted to get out of, and the fact that we related on the surface as...we’re all scared kids from messed up homes. I grew up in an era where everyone knew whose dad was beating the kids, the mom, whose parent walked out on them, or who was gay and trying so desperately to hide it because they did not want to get beat up or ostracized from the community or their own family. A LOT of incredibly sad stories, but the friendships were amazing, and we all took care of each other and none of us gave a damn about what society was trying to indoctrinate us to believe.
I am so proud to see so many of these kids (now adults) have finally embraced who I always knew they were when we met, and they are finally able to love themselves. I love that as a kid from the 90s where homophobia, racism, sexism, and bullying were so rampant, I see a culture refusing to continue the mistakes of their predecessors and instead focus on inclusion and fighting for everyone to have the right to exist and get the same opportunities at happiness and prosperity that were robbed from them decades ago.
FQ: Will your next book embrace or depart from the realm of fear fantasy?
BROPHY: I grew up a MASSIVE science-fiction nerd as a kid. I read more Starlog magazines than Fangoria. I had told a few people that after this book, I think I have to walk away from horror because now that I’m the father of two young kids, horror just fills me up with SO much anxiety. Ironically, I’m almost done with my next manuscript. I make a point to call it a manuscript because I have no idea if anyone is going to want to publish it. It is embracing an iota of fear fantasy but largely is a sequel in tone and connective tissue I suppose. The idea came from publishing this initial book and realizing I have two sons who are living in an alternate reality from my own.
I grew up with a mother who would sit at her typewriter depressed and drunk, giving me every excuse why she couldn’t write the great American novel or why no one would want it. I may no have written the great novel, but I refused to go quietly. I thought I had some interesting stories to tell and managed somehow to do it. I grew up raised by defeatism, whereas my kids are growing up seeing my book in a Barnes & Noble, being asked to sign it by a clerk, and answering these interview questions. This is all they know. Is me, with a book...they have no idea how depressed I get wondering if anyone is reading it, if it’ll open the door for future books or a career at either writing more, or teaching. All they know is what exists.
They have no idea what drunk and depressed and feeling sorry for me looks like, because it doesn’t exist. I get depressed, and I often wonder...can I do this again? But it doesn’t stymy the process, now I just let it motivate me to try even harder and who knows? Going back to your question about a sequel...this book is largely autobiographical with a few creative liberties taken, that I wouldn’t want my sons to think...dad is going to completely destroy this perfect ending for the sake of creating a more compelling or dramatic continuation. No, I just found a different narrative to indulge and that’s what this next book is turning into.
If it gets published? Awesome! That would be great. If not? I broke the cycle for my kids. That’s probably the happiest ending of all.