You do meet the most interesting people in the most unusual situations. A few years ago while cleaning out my closet, I listed an old typewriter on an online classified site. A few hours later, I received a reply from Zack Metcalfe for the item. I had since been following Zack on several media sites and reading some of his writing. He has been keeping busy in the last few years and has published a few books, including his most recent work, Bring Clouds to the Kingdom. Zack was kind enough to enlighten us all about what is new in his life by answering a few questions for me here.
1) First off, could you give a bit of a outline of Bring Clouds to the Kingdom?
“Two men are pulled from their places in time and discarded in a strange future, where sand abounds and sorrow is universal, and here they exercise supernatural talents to shape a dying world. One gives birth to empire, exploiting the remnants of the human race as brick and mortar to realize ambitions from centuries past. The other corrals what life remains in an attempt to drive back the sand and build a kingdom of green, repurposing the desperation of his fellow human beings to recreate the Earth he once knew. These visions, lofty and indomitable both, prove incompatible.”
This is the description you’ll find on the back cover, but I’m of the opinion this book defies any true summary by virtue of its strangeness. In essence I have two characters, one personifying old ideas and the other personifying new, simplifying the crises of our time in their conflict. It follows this theme to surprising depths and I’m immensely proud of it.
2) Goodreads.com has this book listed as your second work of fiction. Is writing fiction something you enjoy doing? If yes, why?
If we’re counting properly this is my ninth work of fiction to date, the first six being self-published and the latter three at various stages of professional publication. Bring Clouds to the Kingdom is number eight.
I adore fiction writing because it unties my hands. If I wanted to discuss the issue of climate change using non-fiction for example, writing a story for a local newspaper let’s say, I can only tell people the available facts and hope they care enough to imagine the future on their own. But with fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite them to witness it. By telling them a story, I can bring issues to life and accomplish more than I ever could with non-fiction.
3) What are you reading right now? Who are your favourite writers?
Right now I’m reading Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway and Resurrection Science by M.R O’Connor. I try to have a work of fiction and non-fiction going at once, one to keep my writing sharp and one to keep me informed, respectively.
My favourite writers are Ernest Hemingway, Tim Flannery, Carl Sagan, Jane Goodall, Jack London, Farley Mowat, George Orwell, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Daniel Quinn, Harper Lee and I suppose Mary Shelley.
4) How long did it take you to write Bring Clouds to the Kingdom? How did you get involved with Iguana Books to publish it?
This novel, or novella, if you like, took one year and seven months to finish. It was originally twice its present length as I was trying to cram too many plots into a single narrative. I finally cut out the majority of it and the result was a surprisingly linear tale which I sent to Iguana Books in the fall of 2015. They told me it was weird in all the right ways.
5) Your biographies have you listed as a environmental journalist. Do you add themes of environmentalism to your works of fiction?
Yes, without fail. For me fiction writing is as important a tool as journalist for raising public awareness. But I always aim to spin a good yarn regardless.
6) Are you working on any new fiction right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I’m presently working on a full length novel which explores the potential of resurrection biology, the science of reviving extinct species. The technology has make extraordinary leaps in the past decade but the only reference most people have to it is Jurassic Park. That bothered me so here I am. This novel tells the story of people rebuilding the ecosystems we’ve destroyed in the last two centuries in a way I hope is engaging.
7) Have you done any public readings of your work? If yes, is that something you enjoy doing?
I’ve done two public readings in the past but not yet for this book. I will in time.
8) Again, your biographies have you listed as growing up in Ontario but now living in Halifax. How do you like living there? Are there special cultural items/event/places in Halifax that inspire you to write?
I grew up in Ontario then followed by journalism career to Prince Edward Island for a couple years. Two years ago I moved to Halifax to join the environmental movement and there’s no doubt these places have each inspired their share of my work. I never would have written book number five, Abel, without the red sands and solitude of West Prince County, PEI, nor would book number seven have seen the light of day without the bus terminals of Halifax West and the rocky landscapes surrounding my apartment. It’s difficult to say which aspects of Atlantic Canada inspired what, but my best writing has been done here on the coast.
9) You seem to have an active role on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those apps. in relation to your writing?
I think of social media as a necessary evil, to be frank. I’ve always enjoyed the big stories and big topics most of all, and fighting for attention on those bite-sized platforms can be exhausting and reductive, but it must be done. I have things to say I think people need to hear and that’s often where they look for enlightenment. So it goes.
10) We first met when I sold you a typewriter via an online classified site. Do you use a typewriter for your writing? If yes, why?
I remember buying that typewriter. The last typewriter manufacturer in the world had shut down a few hours beforehand so I immediately scoured Kijiji. I still have it, too.
Word processing software is superior in every way to a typewriter but I keep one around for one reason above all – power outages. They are rare but when they happen, I have the pleasure of lighting some candles and hammering those outdated keys. I refuse to ever be without writing equipment and on those few occasions when my computer wasn’t an option, my typewriter became indispensable. Wrote most of a newspaper on it once, during a three day power outage on PEI while a snowstorm made all roads impassible. My fingers were bruised by the end and it felt wonderful.