There is no doubt for many of us that we consider environmental issues very important. But grasping what those issues are specifically can be very difficult for us to define. Zack Metcalfe is a strong believer in the environment and his work in journalism gives him insight into the problems of the world around us. But Metcalfe wants us also to deeply care about the environment too and he uses fiction as a means to explain to us what exactly those concerns are. Metcalfe recently answered a few questions for me about his latest work.
1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for “The Sky Was Copper Blue?”
1) This is the story of Madelyn Hathaway, a photographer-for-hire who spends her days covering weddings, birthdays, protests and the like across the Halifax Regional Municipality. She is exceptionally talented, but the monotony of her work drives her to the forests of Nova Scotia in search of creative fulfillment. And she finds it.
Nature photography challenges her and gives her the most important photographs of her career, not because of their quality but because of their contents. From her perch in the municipal park behind her family home, Madelyn rediscovers something lost to Atlantic Canadian wildlife a century before her time.
In many ways this story is about environmental empathy – Madelyn’s frightening realization that other living things are as thinking and feeling as ourselves, and equally entitled to prosperity. Through the lens of her camera, she considers the past and present of non-human life for the very first time, and inherits her share of the guilt for having destroyed so much of it.
2) It has been a only a short while since “Bring Clouds to the Kingdom” was released. Did you encounter any differences when writing the two books? Was there anything specific that inspired you to write “The Sky Was Copper Blue?”
It’s funny that I should write two books at once and finish both in the same week, and they couldn’t have been less alike. All books present their challenges and the last one we discussed, Bring Clouds to the Kingdom, was especially trying for reasons of plot, but The Sky Was Copper Blue took an emotional toll rather than a creative one. I wrote it quickly – perhaps two months start to finish – but it was downright disheartening to get into the mind of my main character. I cried through most of the last chapter, for example. As I admit in the book’s Afterward, at one time or another I’ve felt exactly as Madelyn does. Bring Clouds to the Kingdom, on the other hand, was mostly fun fiction.
The Sky Was Copper Blue was inspired directly by my first year in Halifax, working full time with the environmental movement and facing the threat of extinction up close. The empathetic awakening endured by Madelyn is modelled on my own experiences from that time; the details are different, of course, but the underlying themes are all borrowed from my life in the city.
3) Is there anything specific you are hoping that “The Sky was Copper Blue” will accomplish? Any particle message you are hoping to get across?
Above all I want readers to go outside, so embrace the natural world in whatever way they see fit, and to know that what’s in front of them pales in comparison to centuries past. We might find beauty outside today, but this planet’s most awesome achievements no longer exist, which is a key theme in this story. It’s a sobering realization and an important one.
I also want to encourage the same empathy discovered by myself and Madelyn. In the book’s dedication, while writing to my goddaughter Amelia Jean Rutherford, I say it best: “Expanding our borders of empathy to include all living things is the most difficult and worthy challenge I can think of. I hope this story helps you accept and overcome this challenge for yourself.”
4) You mentioned in your last Q&A with me (Link) that you were hoping to do some public readings of your works. Have you had a chance yet do that yet?
Neither book was available to me until recently, in bulk, anyway. My copies will hopefully be arriving soon, at which point I’ll begin planning my launches. If my courage holds, I’ll try readings in Halifax, somewhere in southern Nova Scotia and probably Prince Edward Island.
5) So what is next in your publishing career? Are you still working on your novel about resurrection biology?
In recent months my time has been consumed by freelance writing for local publications, which is very rewarding, but whenever possible I continue work on my resurrection novel, yes. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on anything this lengthy so progress is slow, but I dare say it will make a fine piece of fiction. I don’t expect to finish it until well into next year, so savour these novellas; they’re all I’ll be delivering for a while.
With my last few projects I’ve caught myself building upward, so to speak. I tend to finish one story then write another with the same theme, nurturing it once more with different characters and circumstances. With each new story my core theme gets stronger, taller and better. The Sky Was Copper Blue was my foundation stone and another novella of mine, Things Most Beautiful (unpublished), expanded on the same idea except better, I think. While they’re not sequels by any description, I do think of them as belonging to a series. My resurrection novel is the final installment of that series, as yet untitled.