Tag Archives: Iguana Books

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

A Complex Novella with Strong Concepts | Review of “Bring Clouds to the Kingdom” by Zack Metcalfe (2016) Iguana Books

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We have often talked about the duality of human nature. Left and Right. Male and Female. Urban versus Rural. Ying and Yang. Yet the concept may be a bit more complex than the simple terms we use to illustrate them with. That is the thought I kept recalling as I read Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom.

Page 1-2 Prints in the Snow

Two men walk through the snow. Before and behind them is evergreen growth, mountains and biting cold. They wear thick coats woven from layers of lion hide and the dense fur is pulled and pushed by the wind.

A footprint in the snow, leading toward the mountain in the north.

He kneels over the print and sees five toes. He waves over the other man, who likewise kneels and sees.

“Do you think Abraham was here?” one asks.

“Who else would be in this wretched place without shoes?” replies the other.

They stand and one addresses a metal box strapped to his waist. On it is a button, a light and a bell. The button is pressed once and seconds later, the bell rings seven times. They nod to one another, then continue north, following the prints.

These prints, mostly snowed over, are difficult to follow. North is their only guidepost. The mountains grow taller as the men approach and the wind sometimes throws back their hoods. Snow gets into their coats and boots, quickly melting and soaking their skin. One man trips and the other stops to help.

The faint howling of wolves is carried to them in the wind. They both go still . . .

Another howl comes, this one closer.

Another howls, this one farther.

Silence.

Metcalfe has written a complex and detailed story here about not only climate change but also one which explores human nature. The plot deals with two men pulled from time and placed in the future where the world is dying and sorrows are universal. One man builds an empire, using bricks, mortar and manipulation to gain and keep his power. The other gathers what life still exists to build a kingdom of greenery and harmony. This two visions bitterly contrast each other on what is left of the Earth.

Page 34-35

At the tree line, observing this network of tents, is Assir. He is thinner and dirtier than he has ever been, and his feet are bloody. Exposing his pale skin to the fullness of the sun hurts him.

He moves with the utmost calm, so much so he is overlooked by the labouring masses, who themselves are better cleaned, better fed and better focused. He joins them under the tents and watches them mix the sand with charcoal and mud.

People pass him, bush shoulders with him, without seeing the wretch of a man in their midst, his lips cracked from thirst and eyes red with exhaustion. Digging tools and potted plants are exchanged among the people with such routine that a flower is accidentally thrust into Assir’s hands. The force of the exchange nearly knocks him down, but he remains upright, his gaze fixed in front of him, his thoughts lost in a dream.

Slowly, he looks down at the flower. It’s small, with two wax green leaves and yellow petals spotted with orange. The soil in which it lies is marginally darker than the sand and is wrapped in dried seaweed.

This fragile example of life weighs on Assir, more in mind than in body. He looks again at the masses of people  . . . and collapses.

Metcalfe has certainly created a novella with deep ideals wrapped up inside a narrative. It is a complex story but one when an honest reader completes it, will ponder carefully some of the thoughts and images in it. And that is what a good narrative should be about.

Page 69

“Conquest and war and the horrors they bring about are  . . .  simple. They are the refuge of cowards and bullies and bastards. To survive and live in harmony with the world . . . requires the greatest courage of all. To create life rather than destroying it is  . . . godlike.” Assir cranes his neck and observes the young forest surrounding them. “This forest and the people who built it have worth. You and I . . .have none. You’ve abandoned your moral compass in despair and enabled these murderers. I beg you to find it again.”

Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom may be a complex read but it is one with concepts and ideas worth considering. It does what good literature should do.

*****

Link to Iguana Books’ website for Bring Clouds to the Kingdom

Link to my Q&A with Zack Metcalfe – “(W)ith fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite (people) to witness it”

“(W)ith fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite (people) to witness it | Q&A with author Zack Metcalfe

Kingdom

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.

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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.

*****

Link to Iguana Books website for Bring Clouds to the Kingdom