A few months ago, I had the great fortune to be a Visiting Artist at New York Mills Regional Cultural Center. The center is located in New York Mills, a tiny, wonderful town in the middle of rural Minnesota. Despite its small size, New York Mills has a vibrant arts scene. The Center hosts concerts, art exhibits, classes, and a gift shop stocked with crafts by local artists. It also has a Visiting Artist program. Each artist is in residency for 2-4 weeks, living alone in a cheerful yellow house near the center of town.
My residency was scheduled for 4 weeks in November and December 2016. I flew from Boston to Minneapolis, rented a car, and drove the three hours to New York Mills. As soon as I set foot in the artist house, I felt a sense of peace and excitement. There was a scrapbook filled with journal entries from the artists who’d stayed there before. The house had a small kitchen, a bedroom, and two work spaces with large desks, perfect for writing. Once I’d stocked up on groceries, I holed up inside (frigid temperatures helped!) and wrote, drafting about 100 pages of my novel-in-progress. I met lots of interesting, friendly people around town–artists, writers, the local baker, a taxidermist. I learned about dark house spear fishing and the local boat factory. I also held a workshop, participated in a reading, and visited 3 English classes at the high school. It was a fruitful and creative month.
I kicked off 2017 as a featured reader in Timothy Gager’s Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, MA. The other readers were poet Michelle Y. Burke and memoirist Rita Zoey Chin. I really enjoyed reading and learning about their work!
Finally, my talented photographer friend Kate Kearns took some lovely photos of me and my book last fall. I’m just getting around to posting them now because I’ve been preoccupied by several life changes, including a move. But, finally, here they are!
This semester I took a fantastic class about land trusts and land conservation in the United States. One of the final readings was especially unsettling. It’s called “The illusion of preservation: a global environmental argument for the local production of natural resources” (1). The author, Mary Berlik, argues that the United States indirectly causes significant deforestation around the globe. The reason? Many forests in the U.S. are protected, but Americans still consume huge amounts of lumber and wood products.
Berlik takes Massachusetts as a case study. Massachusetts is one of the most densely populated states, yet it also has a large amount of forest cover (2). This forest is the product of new growth, coming after a period in the 1800s when Massachusetts was clear-cut for agriculture. Although logging continued into the 20th century, the volume of timber harvested has steadily decreased.
Twenty-first century Massachusetts residents hold strong environmental values. Anti-logging attitudes are among their cherished beliefs. Meanwhile, U.S. imports of lumber have tripled over the last several decades. Between 1965 and 1997, the average American home size increased by 44%. Approximately 15% of wood consumption in the country is used for home construction. The result is this: Massachusetts harvests much less wood per capita that Japan, Switzerland, France or Germany, yet it consumes more than all of them—not just a little more, but more than twice the per capita consumption of its closest comparison, France.
Massachusetts residents resist timber harvest in their own state, but their demand for wood means the products have to come “from somewhere.” These “somewheres” are countries around the globe. The United States imports hardwoods from tropical countries, which are often home to fragile ecosystems and great biodiversity (3). Exacerbating the problem is the fact that these countries often have fewer environmental protections. They may also have less advanced equipment, which cannot process lumber as efficiently and leads to wasted product. In short, the “not in my backyard” attitude leads to greater environmental devastation elsewhere. Berlik has some strong words on this subject:
Notably and hypocritically, the protectionist attitude often fails to address the link between high levels of domestic consumption and the unavoidable impacts this imposes on the global environment, especially beyond US borders. In addition to the tangible issue of whether humankind can live sustainably within the earth’s ecological limits, there is an environmental question of whether the burden of natural resource production should be placed on remote and oftentimes fragile landscapes, and the intriguing sociological question of whether affluent citizens might alter their patterns of resource consumption if the environmental consequences of this behaviour was apparent in their own backyards.
It’s not quite as simple as allowing sustainable harvest on Massachusetts public land. Much of the forested land is privately owned. Local regulations complicate the issue, with different towns having varied logging regulations. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, anti-logging sentiments run high.
Reading this, I wondered how many people equate “logging” with “clear-cutting.” It is possible for a forest to be sustainably managed, such that most growth is left standing and only certain trees are harvested. Education about global wood production and sustainable forestry could change this situation, since Massachusetts residents are already inclined to care about the environment.
Even if the state increases its wood production, it will not make much progress unless consumption drops. This is the fundamental problem. Getting people to consume less is very, very hard. Consumerism and overpopulation are the root causes of most environmental problems. Overpopulation can be addressed through poverty alleviation, education of women, and availability of birth control—not easy tasks by any means, but concrete objectives that have been studied and observed to work. Consumerism is trickier. How to you get people to stop buying things—without forcibly reducing wealth or abridging freedom? That will have to be a topic for a future post.
1. Berlik, Mary M., David B. Kittredge, and David R. Foster. “The illusion of preservation: a global environmental argument for the local production of natural resources.” Journal of Biogeography, vol. 29, 1557-1568. Blackwell Science, 2002.
2. At the time of the paper, 62% of Massachusetts land was forested. I assume the percentage has gone down since then. Massachusetts is undergoing rapid development. In my once-quiet hometown, new developments are springing up all over the place. Which leads to another question. Could sustainable lumber harvesting add value to the otherwise “valueless” tracts of land that are marked for development? It would provide revenue without leading to the strain of population growth.
3. The United States imports softwoods from Canada, which presumably does not have as much environmental impact as imports from tropical countries. However, Berlik does not offer a breakdown of hardwood/softwood percentage in U.S. wood consumption, nor an analysis of how increasing sustainable timber production in various states would address this. It seems the most important question is whether the U.S. could supply its own hardwoods. Supplying its own softwoods—assuming the logging operations are well-managed—could increase sustainability, since it would decrease shipping distance.
I am thrilled to share Compulsive Reader’s review of PALE HEARTS. Reviewer Ruth Latta had many kind things to say about the book. She also took the time to write in detail about some individual stories. The stories she focused on were somewhat different than the ones that occupied the greatest part of my attention, and it was refreshing to see the book through someone else’s eyes.
I particularly appreciated the assessment that “the fifteen thought-provoking stories in Pale Hearts are both literature and entertainment.” I’m starting to realize that I sit right in the middle of the great supposed “literary” and “genre” divide. I love Melville, Flaubert, and Faulkner. I also love Stephen King and Michael Crichton. I find a lot of so-called literary fiction pretentious and boring, while many great genre fiction books are overlooked by the literary world. Some of my favorite contemporary authors, like Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, and Donna Tartt, are people who don’t fit neatly into genre/literary distinctions. I hope I can achieve that balance in my own work.
Calling all central Minnesota writers and readers! Join me this Thursday for a writing workshop and reading at New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in New York Mills, MN. Here’s the workshop description from the Cultural Center’s website:
Join author and visiting artist Emily Eckart for an interactive writing workshop. After discussing basic elements of fiction common to all stories and novels, participants will get to try their hand at creating characters and story settings. After the workshop, Emily will read an excerpt from her new book, Pale Hearts, to kick off the Center’s monthly Open Mic night (7-9pm). Both the workshop and Open Mic are free to attend and open to all!
The workshop runs from 6-7, and afterwards there’s an open mic from 7-9. All ages and levels of experience are welcome to attend!
It’s been a fun first month for Pale Hearts. My first reading was at Trident Booksellers in Boston. The atmosphere in this bookstore is especially nice because they have a cafe, so reading attendees can relax with a glass of wine or a snack. Although I had a cold, I forged through and had a great time. I’m so grateful to all the enthusiastic people who came!
Next up was a book signing at Richards Memorial Library in North Attleboro. I was there as part of their Local Authors Fair. It was wonderful to meet other authors from the area and see their books.
In other news, Pale Hearts is now available at Norton Public Library. Richards Memorial Library will also be adding a copy to their collection. I was so excited to see my book right in the middle of Norton’s new books shelf.
It’s great to see Pale Hearts listed in the library catalogs. (Also, how fitting that Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” comes up as a related result!) If your library is part of the SAILS network in Massachusetts, you can request Pale Hearts. But you’ll have to wait–the book is currently checked out!
Pale Hearts is out in the world! The books are printed, orders have shipped, and my first book signing went wonderfully yesterday.
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.
In other great news, Pale Hearts made it to the shelves of Harvard Library! I’m very thankful for and excited about this development.
Putting a few copies on my personal shelf realized a lifelong dream.
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-lover, 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.
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.
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.
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!