Month: October 2016

Dispatch from book launch

Pale Hearts is out in the world! The books are printed, orders have shipped, and my first book signing went wonderfully yesterday.

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I’m so grateful to the readers who stopped by!  I was impressed to hear that someone already read the entire book on Kindle.  Thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives to say hello, and thanks especially for buying the book.  I am truly appreciative.

My next event is on November 7, when I’ll be reading at Trident Booksellers in Boston (7 pm).  I’m looking forward to it!

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In other great news, Pale Hearts made it to the shelves of Harvard Library!  I’m very thankful for and excited about this development.

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Putting a few copies on my personal shelf realized a lifelong dream.

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Positive steps in Plainville

As I wrote in a recent blog post, many “small” towns in Massachusetts are no longer looking so small.  Rampant development is destroying our open spaces.  Farms are replaced by malls and condos.  This  is problematic not just for landscape lovers, but for all town residents.  While development is often heralded as bringing in short-term income through taxes, it costs the town in the long run.  Service costs for new residential developments eat up most of the new tax revenue.  Meanwhile, the town must cope with increased congestion on the roads and in the schools.

Fortunately, many town residents are starting to see open space as a public good, as important to quality of life as schools and libraries.  In Plainville, a developer wants to build 55 houses on a 103-acre farm on the town’s rural west side.  Outcry from Plainville’s residents persuaded selectmen to vote to buy the property.  Not only will town ownership keep the space open for public enjoyment, it will also save Plainville from the strain of a crowded schools and roads.

However, all is not saved yet.  A town meeting will decide the final outcome.

Advertising, Nature, Escapism

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Source: By TerjeN, Creative Commons License (CC By 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Lovers of northern landscapes may have seen pictures of the Trolltunga in Norway. It’s a literal “tongue” of rock that overlooks stark cliffs and shining water. Many pictures of the Trolltunga feature an individual hiker solemnly gazing upon the scenery.

As a hiker and nature-love, I have dreamed of visiting Norway.  I want to see the fjords and experience endless summer nights.  After learning about Trolltunga, I thought it might be the perfect hiking destination.

Then I did some more research.  A quick search online reveals dozens of the cutesy photo-op people have invented for Trolltunga.  There are yoga poses, group jumps, newspaper readers.  A rock band staged a rehearsal there.

I started to wonder how many people actually visit this place.  It turns out that only a few honest photographers show what the scene really looks like.  The landmark is too famous for only one hiker to be present at a time.  In reality, a large crowd waits at the base of the tongue while each individual gets their chance at an epic photo.

I experienced a similar phenomenon while traveling to Western Brook Pond in Newfoundland.  It’s an inland fjord that is featured in all the Newfoundland tourism photographs.  The scenery is stunning–or at least it should be.

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Source: By Tango7174, Creative Commons License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In reality, it’s the most crowded place in all of Gros Morne National Park–probably because of all very same tourism photos.  Not only is it crowded, there is a cafe built right at the end of the fjord, as well as a noisy tour boat that blasts its commentary on loudspeakers as it motors through the water.

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The cafe–deserted only because the boat tour just left. A crowd was here moments before.

A few signs near the cafe helpfully inform you that the rare, fragile ecosystem of the inland fjord is now threatened due to boat traffic.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t expect crowds.  I have no more right to enjoy a place in solitude than anyone else who scheduled their vacation on the same day.  Everyone wants to see beautiful places.  As the population of the world increases, it’s a simple fact that there will be more people everywhere, even in scenic, isolated spots.

And yet it still feels like there’s a disconnect between our photographs and our reality, one more insidious than a few prettified tourist brochures.

(To be continued…)

Halloween Stories

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With Halloween a few weeks away, it’s the perfect time to read some creepy short stories. Here are some of my favorites:

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs – A haunted monkey’s paw gives this family whatever they wish for…with a twist.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates – A creepy guy shows up at her house. What should Connie do?

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor – A family road trip goes horribly wrong.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe – A murderer is haunted by guilt.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson – A seemingly normal small town turns out to have a dark secret.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – A confined woman descends into madness.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle – A woman’s twin sister dies under sudden and suspicious circumstances.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle – A mysterious beast causes some suspicious deaths. This one’s actually a novel, but I had to include it because it’s so terrifying.

My new story collection, PALE HEARTS (now out in Kindle and paperback), has a few stories that are Halloween-worthy.  In “The Grechtzoar,” Jimmy has to hunt the dangerous monster that  killed his best friend.  In “Unhanding,” John’s hand is stolen by an imposter.  Mysterious disappearances, vacant houses, and a possible kidney haunting round out the generally creepy atmosphere.  Check out my new events page to attend an upcoming reading!

Creeping land development in suburban Massachusetts

“Projecting forward current land-use trends for much of the United States yields a bleak vision in which protected lands form islands of twenty, forty, or at best a few hundred acres in polluted seas of asphalt or lawn.” —Richard Brewer, Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America

Last weekend, back in my hometown for a few days, I drove down a road that has always been lined with forest.  Norton is a small town an hour outside of Boston, distinguished from the city by its beautiful woodlands and wildlife.  Although not rural, the community has maintained much of its small-town feel.  Main Street, one of the busier stretches in town, has two churches, a library, a few schools, and two pharmacies.  The rest is mostly residential.  While a few developments feature bland McMansions right next to each other and not a tree in sight, much of the town remains wooded.  Most of my childhood was spent outdoors playing in these woods–climbing trees, spying on animals, exploring.  It would seem that most of the town is already built up, with just enough buffer between houses and developments.  I believed this situation was static, until recent events showed otherwise.

Oak Street is a narrow, winding residential road.  It goes past farms and woods.  It’s a picturesque road, one that hasn’t changed much in the twenty-six years of my life.  A few days ago, I was shocked to see this:

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A huge swath of the woods has suddenly been chopped down, apparently making way for a new development of condos.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Houghton’s Farm is slated for development into an industrial park.  The farm has been there since 1959.  The town plans to re-zone the land from agricultural into industrial use.

The land is particularly valuable for commercial interests because of its proximity to Highway 495 and Route 123.  It is a convenient location for businesses.  The businesses will bring jobs and tax revenue to the town.

In a document summarizing the proposed re-zoning, the town claims that about 23% of the land in Norton is permanently protected open land.  Interestingly, this claim was put in near the top of the summary, as though to defuse any criticism about accelerating land development.

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These fields will become the home of Norton’s newest industrial “park.”

It is natural that the town Selectmen are interested in generating revenue.  However, it remains unclear whether overall development plans for Norton in any way account for the preferences of town residents, and whether they adequately account for the costs of such development.  For instance, while new residential developments increase tax revenue, they also introduce substantial costs in the form of increased congestion (which leads to increased road repairs, etc.), increased costs of town services, and strain on the school system.

Additionally, land development lowers quality of life.  No one is happy to see open spaces eaten up by new malls and businesses.  People living in Norton have often chosen this town exactly because it is a small town.  We do not want our surroundings to become too cramped, too citified.  Yet it seems that developers have the main say in whether our town becomes more and more city-like, removing our woods and fields while crowding our space.  Rampant development will change the character of our town irrevocably.