Elliot Keel is 18 with an unusual job and an unusual ability. An obituary writer, the non-binary teen is able to interact with ghosts of those they write about. When Elliot discovers the subject of a highly politicalized suicide is still alive, a world of political espionage opens, with access to secrets of the living and the dead.
The character and world in which Elliot operates is the subject of Memoriam, a podcast created and written by Sydney Brooman, Western’s most recent Student Writer in Residence. The fictional podcast Brooman writes and records at the kitchen table takes the form of audio recordings made by Elliot – something of an intentional parallel.
You see, Elliot is Brooman – in a sense.
“I came out as non-binary at the end of March. I didn’t think it would be quite as big a deal as it was. I had half aggressive, identity-politics backlash and half overwhelming support. Suddenly, everyone in my life had an opinion on my identity but didn’t really understand what it was. For a lot of people in my life, I was the first person to introduce them to even the term,” said Brooman, who recently completed an Honors English Language & Literature and Creative Writing degree.
“In media, representation is something extremely important. If I had seen queer people and non-binary people in what I consumed, I would have come to that conclusion a lot earlier. It’s important for people to connect with characters and see themselves represented in things. I hadn’t had a form of media in which I found myself so (the podcast) was like my own identity was being represented.”
After completing their English and Creative Writing courses, Brooman needed an outlet. The idea for the podcast quickly revealed itself because the medium makes for an interesting form for fictional storytelling, one still largely unexplored. This gave Brooman a lot of creative licence, allowing them to conjure up a project with varied characters, story lines and elements of the supernatural.
When the idea of a teenaged obituary writer who can interact with ghosts came to Brooman, it was non-negotiable.
“I knew I wanted to create a podcast before I knew what it would be about. I wanted it to be realistic, but also supernatural and interesting. I thought a teenage voice was interesting to play with; it would be more fun. I was nannying and dragging a kid in a wagon for eight hours a day and it came on me. The idea wasn’t a choice; it was a story I have to tell,” Brooman explained.
“I tried to come up with a project that involved a lot of different people. I could have someone else do the artwork for it, the music for it, the voices for it. But a lot of those things fell through; I ended up trying to do it completely by myself but it ended up, after the first episode, being therapeutic for me to hear myself like that. I’m someone who is pretty socially awkward and I wondered how I would do speaking every week. I got a lot of confidence. It’s a lot of fun for me to do, as well.”
Each episode of Memoriam is roughly 10 minutes in length and is entirely produced by Brooman. The process for one episode requires five days of writing, four to five hours of recording, two hours editing, in addition to the background work of running ads and social media accounts for the podcast. While Brooman feels liberated having complete control and the final say, after the first season is complete – with seven more episodes in the works – they are looking at making the podcast a team effort.
“Ultimately, I was very confident I wouldn’t care what happened; I would be happy if it did well and I would be happy if only my roommate was listening to it because at least I was creating something I wanted to create and I would be able to make it on my own terms,” Brooman said.
“In Episode 5, I got a bunch of friends to voice the main characters. (For characters), I take traits from people in real life and traits I finds interesting. Elliot is very similar to me. Some characters have qualities of me, others have aspects and qualities different from my own that I find interesting. Having grown up in a low-income home, I find it super interesting to write about super wealthy people because it’s something I haven’t experienced and it’s a whole other world to me.”
They put no pressure on themselves in terms of expectations for Memoriam. Brooman is happy to write and explore the podcast medium and see where it can possibly go.
“It’s different from a YouTube video or a music album. Podcasts are pretty widely consumed in some circles, but I wouldn’t call them mainstream quite yet. People are just getting used to the medium and people who do listen to podcasts, don’t generally listen to fictional podcasts. I definitely knew, going in, that it was more of a slow build rather than something that would start hard and fast. But even if one person was listening, I would still be writing it for them.”