Writer Chris L. Terry explores the troubled setting where his debut novel Zero Fade is set in this photo essay. The house in Richmond, VA is where Terry learned about adulthood and masculinity.
My novel Zero Fade takes place in Barton Heights on Richmond, Virginia’s North Side. It’s set in 1994 and, unbeknownst to the main characters, they live in my grandparents’ house, where my father grew up and where my parents, sister and I briefly lived after moving to Richmond that same year.
I was fifteen when we moved from Massachusetts, in search of cheap rent and work for Dad. Being stuck with my grandparents in a small house in a rough neighborhood confirmed what I’d been saying for the last year: Adults don’t know shit.
This was in conflict with how cool I thought my father was. He was the guy who’d let me play my NWA tapes in the car, then at home, he’d pull out the Isley Brothers 45 that Dre sampled. He’d tell me the sex scenes that got edited out of the Bond flicks on TV. Even when he ended me and Mom’s arguments by grounding me, he seemed to understand where I was coming from. But, sharing meals with this frustrated man in his childhood dining room, where we were for lack of other options, made me temporarily forget “It’s Your Thing.”
That house on Hanes Ave. represents family history and all of its conflicting ideas about adulthood and masculinity. I needed to set Zero Fade there. Even if the story (about a thirteen-year-old boy getting over his own homophobia as his uncle comes out of the closet) isn’t autobiographical, the location and the feelings are.
During the time it took me to write Zero Fade, both of my grandparents died, my father and aunt auctioned the house off and stopped speaking, and my parents lost the house that they were renting on Southside. I finished the novel in September of 2012, while my family was fighting, my parents’ financial issues bringing other resentments to the surface. I’d wake up early to write before work, hoping that my morning wouldn’t be tanked by an angry email. The more shit that went down, the more I wrote, determined to manipulate history and place until they made sense to me. Until they rippled forward and made the present problems disappear. It didn’t work.
In August, my wife and I were in Richmond for my book tour. Barton Heights haunted me from jump. A shooting in the neighborhood was featured in an episode of The First 48, watched over morning coffee at my in-laws’ suburban house. Then, before the reading at Chop Suey Books, we drove to Barton Heights to take photos. The day was bright and hot, like the August that my family spent there, but things looked different – painted due to gentrification, and misshapen due to my memory. Walking through a grass alley that I thought was paved, I noticed that the building where Kevin’s best friend David lives in the book is actually a two-flat, not a four-flat, and I realized that I was now an adult, and that I too did not know shit.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some of those photos, with notes on how I got the places wrong in the book.