Tag Archives: environmentalism

Deep Empathy from a Small Novella | Review of “The Sky Was Copper Blue” by Zack Metcalfe (2016) Iguana Books

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Literature works wells when it brings to light a universal thought or emotion that we all have yet never have considered. A story should cause a reader to ponder and reflect on that emotion, then use it as a catalyst for discussions with friends, family, audiences, etc. That has been the hallmark of many great pieces of literature and that is the formula that Zack Metcalfe has used for his novella The Sky Was Copper Blue.

Page 2-3

Madelyn adored this slice of wilderness, even now before the sun had given it colour and charm. The forest was quiet, every sensible living thing still asleep, and in spite of her thick clothing, Madelyn was cold. For a fleeting moment, thoughts of her warm bed returned to her.

The sun was fast approaching the horizon, and with it came a symphony of birds. They began timidly at first, taking turns shyly breaking the silence, but soon broke out into a full-hearted chorus.  With renewed enthusiasm, she opened her Tupperware container and withdrew her digital camera. It felt strange to bring her equipment out here, but the heft of the camera was comfortable and familiar in her hands. Placing the camera’s strap around her neck she then withdrew her tripod, set it up and attached it to the base of her camera.

The sun broke the horizon and bathed the forest in red and yellow light. Golden hour had begun.

Madelyn remained very still as he scanned her surroundings. With patient fingers she played with the settings of her camera and toyed with her lens’ manual focus, framing the fleeting beauty of the early morning in its viewfinder. Then she took a shot.

Metcalfe has enveloped a unique range of human emotions into his story of Madelyn Hathaway. Readers can easily relate to her fatigue of her job photographing weddings, birthdays and political protests. But even more so, readers can empathize with Madelyn going out into environment and exploring the natural beauty that exists in the world. And most definitely, readers can relate to Madelyn’s thrill and excitement when she finds something thought lost to history in her exploration of nature.

Page 28-29

The kitchen table had become a lab desk, a place of clinical observation which Terrance and Madelyn didn’t dare disturb. Instead they began to cook, preparing the promised stir-fry without a word between them. Only the sizzling of veggies and the ruble of boiling noodles combated the silence. The food was ready and scooped onto plates when Joan began crying softly in front of the computer Roger’s eyes were red too, but he wore a wide smile.

Food was brought to the table and Madelyn pointed Terrance in the direction of the wine bottles. One was uncorked and four glasses were produced.

“Who…” Joan began, struggling with the words, “… who sent these to you , Terrance?”

Terrance stopped in the act of pouring the wine and looked up.

“No one, Joan. Madelyn took them.”

Now Joan turned to Madelyn, who had just sat down. In her eyes was surprise and gratitude, perhaps even adoration.

“Madelyn … you saw these birds?”

“Just yesterday.”

“And you had a camera with you?” Joan closed her eyes and shook her head, embarrassed. “Oh, you’re a photographer, damn it. Of course you had a camera, I remember Terrance mentioning that. I’m sorry. I’m flustered. Do you remember where they were?”

“Yeah, they’re in the park behind the house. I can show you…”

But Joan’s lip had begun to quiver.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m making a perfect fool of myself.”

Terrance laughed sympathetically.

“Joan,” he said. “Don’t worry. If that’s the case, you’re among fools.”

While Metcalfe may have included his knowledge of environmental issues in this story, it is his passion and his personal feelings that make this story so profound. Yes, the plot includes facts and concerns that stick in the reader’s mind as they read the book but it is the emotions, desires and passions of the characters that breed empathy with reader, causing the story to be a memorable one.

Page 42-43

“What made you go out there?” asked Terrance, lying on his side and looking toward Madelyn. They were only black outline to each other in the dark room.

“It started the day I brought Joan out to see the pigeons,” said Madelyn. “I started to feel like … if I wasn’t trying to save the species then what was the point? I knew that couldn’t happen unless I found some more of them and so I went looking. I guess I felt helpless. A little stupid too.”

“Now how do you feel?”

“Scared. We’re so close to doing something important and I’m scared we’re going to screw it up. Or maybe I’m scared other people won’t care enough to do something about it. I don’t know. I’m a little out of my depth with this stuff.”

Zack Metcalfe has used a great deal of personal passion in his novella The Sky Was Copper Blue and it shows. The book has all the hallmarks of a good piece of literature including breeding empathy into a reader about an element of the human condition. Well worth reading.

*****

Link to my Q&A with Zack Metcalfe – “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”

Link to Iguana Books website for The Sky Was Copper Blue

 

“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” | Q&A with author Zack Metcalfe

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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.

*****

Link to Iguana Books webpage for The Sky Was Copper Blue