From tiny Ettersburg, Author Matthew Brockmeyer is just about to launch his latest story into the world. This one, “Nightingale” is part of an anthology of fractured fairytales under the title “After the Happily Ever After.” The book is available starting on Dec. 15 via the publisher’s online store at www.transmundanepress.com/store.html.
“My story is a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson story and takes place in a Eureka brothel circa 1910, back when all of Old Town was a red-light district,” said Brockmeyer by email last week. “There are quite a few historical facts in the story, as well as a lot of things I made up for dramatic purposes.”
The Redwood Times took the opportunity to get to know the local author and find out what inspired him to add this story to the mix. Here’s the author in his own words.
The original “Nightingale” can be described as a story of a leader who covets a false beauty. What made you decide to set your version in a brothel?
Well, in the original Hans Christian Anderson story, the empress shuns the flesh and blood nightingale for a mechanical bird that is encrusted with jewels, even though the song of the robotic bird is not as beautiful as that of the living creature. I found this to be symbolic of how the glitz and glamour of the modern age has caused humanity to favor machines and mass-produced objects over organic and living things. In my version, the empress shuns her loyal pianist for a mechanical player piano. So, I wanted to set the story in a time period when the clash of modernity and old time ways was most prevalent. I found 1910 Eureka to be a perfect setting, a place where trolleys and the first automobiles shared the roads with horses and carriages, often with disastrous results. At the time, everything had to be shipped by boat, making Eureka almost like an island, cut off from the rest of the world. I’ve always found it interesting that all of Old Town was once a red-light district, and that many of the famous old buildings, like the Oberon and Eureka Books, used to be houses of ill repute. So, a brothel seemed like the perfect place for the story to unfold. The madams of the day ruled their houses like queens in a palace, so the analogy appeared quite clear. And, as they say, sex sells. The author notes that there is no graphic sexual content in the story.
Did diving into Eureka’s history inspire any other stories you’re now working on?
Oh, yes. I am at the moment working on a novel that takes place in Eureka from 1890-1900, also involving a brothel. I just find that setting and time period so fascinating, with so many allegorical implications about society and the human condition. I also wrote a short story entitled “The Number of Darkness” that takes place in 1860 and involves the Humboldt Volunteers militia and the Wiyot massacre on Indian Island. A brutal and black time period. It is roughly based on the story of the Coopers, who immigrated here from Prince Edward Island and started a mill outside of Hydesville. You can find that story on the internet if you google “The Number of Darkness,” and if you are not in the mood for reading, there is a narration of it on YouTube that you can listen to. Be warned though, it is a very dark horror story.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered during your research?
That would have to be the February 1885 expulsion of the Chinese from Eureka. After a member of the Eureka City Council was accidentally shot in the cross fire of two warring Chinese gangs or tongs, the entire Chinese population was forcibly shipped to San Francisco and no Chinese were allowed in Eureka until the 1950s. The xenophobia and racism of the era is just mind blowing. The one year anniversary of the informal ordinance was celebrated with festivities and parades that sparked more expulsions from other areas of Northern California.
As a writer, how to do choose to weave in fact and when to use fiction?
That’s a great question, and one I find hard to answer. For me, it’s very organic. I tend to do a lot of research before beginning a project. When I get to the actual writing, I just naturally take whatever facts work for the story and embellish what I need in order to move the plot along and develop my characters.
What’s next for you?
I am currently trying to get my first novel published, a daunting process. It’s a horror/crime story involving the crazy clash of cultures you see in cannabis grows out in the hills. Meanwhile, I’m outlining and working on a rough draft of the story I mentioned earlier. But I’m always working on short stories, an art form I truly adore. I have several stories slated for publication in both magazines and anthologies in the new year.
To follow Brockmeyer’s progress, visit his website at www.matthewbrockmeyer.com or find him on Facebook as Matthew Brockmeyer: The Humboldt Lycanthrope.