Bob Proehl has long been a comic book and science fiction fan, but hadn’t yet been able to combine the two for a full-length project. But with his new book, “The Nobody People,” Proehl gets to explore both of those realms while weaving in parent-kid relationships and how the world deals with exceptionalism.
The book deals with a father recognizing his daughter holds extraordinary abilities, and then slowly realizing the responsibilities and burdens her powers will foist upon her as she matures, particularly in the face of a government designed to discriminate and oppress people like her, and a public that is scared and shocked enough by their powers to go along with it. She meets others with similar abilities as her own, and they become the Resonants, or the Nobody People.
Proehl’s newest novel follows two previous books, including “A Hundred Thousand Worlds,” a novel that was published in 2016 and was certainly inpsired by his love of comics, and “The Gilded Palace of Sin” in 2008, about the Flying Burrito Brothers’ 1960s album of the same name, part of the 33 ⅓ book series (brief books about impactful albums in music history). “The Nobody People” was released earlier this month and is available now online or in stores.
Proehl said the book’s roots come from the X-Men comic books, which are based on a squadron. Proehl wanted to deconstruct the themes that carry those stories and re-envision them, in a way, through the lens of current events. The concept of a fear of replacement (highlighted by events like the Charlottesville white nationalist rallies) interested Proehl, and he felt he could translate that into the larger plot in a way that would fit well with the X-Men.
“I’ve always been a big reader of science fiction, it’s just not something that I ever thought I’d be able to write,” Proehl said. “There’s a certain high concept element to it. [...] The kind of stuff I was writing was more literary fiction. Then in 2016, when my first novel came out, my agent suggested that I try some sci-fi, and I played around with it for a while and it ended up becoming this book. ”
Life, of course, had an impact on Proehl’s approach to the book and its outcome. His daughter was born while he was writing it, which he said influenced his decision to include more specific personal narratives to go with some of the broader political points he was trying to make with the more comic book-centric themes. The book “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” by Andrew Solomon, a book that touts itself as an assessment of how parents raise exceptional children, played a role in Proehl’s formulation of “The Nobody People” as well. Writing through those kinds of experiences can be cathartic in certain ways, Proehl said.
“There’s always an element of therapy in writing,” Proehl said, who also noted that in order to make created characters connect to an audience, a writer must give them realistic elements—and where better to draw those elements than oneself. “I always feel like I’m doling out personal anxieties to different characters. ‘Oh, you get my work life balance anxiety. You get my becoming an authentic adult anxiety. You get my parenting stuff.’ Then you’re kind of acting like your own shrink.”
Proehl has already started writing the sequel to “The Nobody People,” called “The Somebody People,” which is scheduled for release in Fall 2020. The story was large enough, Proehl thought, that once he found a natural break in the first story, there was ample material to create a sequel. There was no lack of emotional weight while writing the story either for Proehl, who found himself reacting to the story even as it was unfolding before him, a feeling that has continued into the second book.
“I think it’s just a matter of having an empathic connection with the characters you’re writing,” Proehl said. “I’m working on the second book, which is a little more in the hard sci-fi realm, and it goes a little further. I’m getting to write stuff that actually grosses me out, which is kind of cool. It’s always interesting when you can get a reaction out of yourself in the chair.”