meet thomas mills

Having reached the far, far, faaaaar side of seventeen, I can see now how troubling it was for my parents to hear that, regardless of the possibility of receiving university scholarships, I was planning on making my way in the world of music. “College?” I asked when they brought it up, as if the idea had never occurred to me (and, to be fair, it probably hadn’t).

“Well, yeah,” they said.

“Thanks, but no,” I said back. I probably laughed in that special, condescending way that only a teenager who knows more than his own parents can. “I’m going to be a rock star.”

I may have gone for the soft sell and used the world musician instead. The memory’s hazy this far out.

But that was the gist of it.

I don’t remember how the rest of the exchange went. They probably laughed back at me in that special, condescending way that only parents who know the exact lunk-headedness of their teenager can. It would have made total sense if they had.

It’s what I do now that I have teenagers of my own.

I like to think I’ve earned that.

At any rate, as it turned out the world wasn’t ready for the synthesizer equivalent of a U2-INXS hybrid band featuring a mouthy kid with a super-sweet rat-tailed mullet and a $1200 Yamaha keyboard with a broken middle-C key.

Needless to say, college won.

So did my parents.

And ultimately, so did I.

Meet Thomas (Tom) Mills, Ty’s father and the straight-thinking parental backbone of Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing. He’s stoic and no-nonsense, doing his best to ensure a solid post-high school future for his son in the heartbreaking wake of losing his wife to cancer — and in spite of the ever-widening rift between him and Ty.


“You’re going to gig with the band instead of working? That’s your plan?”

I nod, but I still won’t look at him. “So far.”

“And what about school?”

I chew the toast as loudly as I can and flip to Sports as he waits for my reply. “As of today, the GPA is at three-point-seven-nine. I think that’s pretty good for now.” He won’t be able to argue with that, which is the only reason I said it. I slurp my coffee again, dragging it out just as long as I possibly can. He just glares at me, hoping I’ll add something relevant so he can throw in his next line. I’ve read somewhere that most people don’t listen to hear; they listen to respond. We’re totally there. It’s such a childish power struggle that defines us.

But, it is us. No doubt.

Finally, I look at him. “What do you want me to say here? I’m not going to Conservatory; if I’m going to do music, I’m going to do what I want with music – not what you want.”

“And what about your mother wants?” Oh fuck. What a bastard.

What a total bastard.

I start on the eggs. “She’s gone, Tom. She doesn’t have a say anymore.” It practically kills me to say that.

He slams his fork down in his big blockish fist. Everything on the table jumps and shifts. “She has a say in everything that happens to you, whether she’s here or not.” He’s not simmering anymore. He’s boiling over. “And she left money for you to use for school…with the intention of you going to school. Because you need to finish school.”

This again.

This always.

I surprise myself by keeping cool. “I could always use it to support myself until the band breaks big. You know…school of hard knocks. That’s educational, right?” How passive-aggressive of me. Sometimes I hear myself and wonder why he doesn’t just beat the shit out of me.

I would.

“It’s not gonna happen, smartass.” He doesn’t swear, generally. When he does, I know I’ve pushed him as far as he’s willing to go. There’s a pattern than comes next. First, he’s going to point out the obvious – again. “The money is for school.”

“Yeah. So I’ve heard.”

Now he’s going to lay down an ultimatum. “You either use it for school, or you don’t use it – period.” Heard this before, too.

I make that I couldn’t care less face I’m famous for. “Fine. Let it sit there.”

“Not fine.” Now he’s going to issue a directive that totally negates the ultimatum. “Pick a school. Conservatory’s out, so pick something else. University level…community college. Pick something.” It’s been this same argument for the last six months. To be fair, it began with a lot less pressure from him, and a bit more agreeability from me.

But you can only hear something so many times before you’ve had enough.

“No thanks. Think I’ll just wing it for now.” I grab the rest of the toast, sling my backpack over my shoulder and slide toward the door. “Have a great day at the shop, Tom.” This is the moment where it gets complicated.

He doesn’t say goodbye. He doesn’t curse at me.

He doesn’t respond at all.

He sighs instead. It’s angry, it’s disappointed. It’s despairing. That single breath contains a lot.

I know how much is in there.

I sigh just like that all the time, now that she’s gone.


It’s a wonder Tom doesn’t blow his stack with Ty, huh? The things we put up with from our kids. Good thing we love them like we do.

The wonderful February Grace, whose forthcoming novel Of Stardust I’ve had the astounding privilege of editing, was kind enough to interview me about the new book. Hop on over to her awesome blog Pitch-Slapped (ha!) and learn a little more about the inspiration behind Songs. She asked some fantastic questions… thanks for the opportunity, Bru! While you’re there, poke around and find out all about her. She’s a wildly talented, thoughtful writer with a true appreciation for craftsmanship in storytelling, and genuinely sweet soul on top of it all. Her steampunk novel Godspeed is available over at the Amazon. You should definitely check that out, too.

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing will be released on Tuesday, September 3. If you’d like to give it a little “want to read” love over at Goodreads today, I’d be much obliged.

Songs Cover Large



  1. Thank you for your generous praise, good sir, you are much too kind. It was a blast having you visit, we will have to do it again sometime!

    Thanks, too, for another amazing excerpt from SONGS! I can’t wait to read it.

  2. I can totally relate to this story! I left home at eighteen to meet the Beatles and Save The World with my seventeen dollar guitar and two equally untalented girls. You can imagine the rest. Love the title of your new book Songs of Phenomenal Nothing. Best of luck – go save the world since I failed!

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