By Annette Hinkle
Stories about things that go bump on dark and stormy nights may not be to everyone’s liking. But for writer Erica-Lynn Huberty, the tradition of Gothic literature is not only her cup of tea, it may also turn out to be her bread and butter as well.
Huberty recently published “Dog Boy and Other Harrowing Tales” a collection of stories that are evocative of the age old tradition of moody writings involving woe, warning and fateful turnings. She will be at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor this Friday evening at 6 p.m. to read from her book.
“All the stories in this collection have threads in common,” she explains. “They are really drawn from this pretty rigid literary tradition of Gothic literature. It started in the late 1700s as a reaction against the French Revolution and the violence there and also as the enlightenment era was shoving Catholicism aside a bit and making fun of the superstitious nature of religion.”
Ghosts that inhabit mansions and a wing no one can enter because the lady of the house died there is a prime example of the genre says Huberty, as are women in distress, bad weather patterns that thwart foes, secret documents and howling animals that predict unsettled times.
Huberty’s short stories may be evocative of the genre, but her unifying theme is not the time period, rather, it is human experience as it relates to people and places across time. Through unpredictable events or odd coincidence, in the end, something leads these characters to a place of deeper reflection.
“These were all inspired by very different ideas and circumstances. They all have a mysterious element to them and obviously a bit of a creepy element,” says Huberty. “I like to use the word ‘haunting.’ It’s something that stays with you and gnaws at you and maybe gets to you later on.”
And Huberty admits that she has experienced enough odd things in her life, or knows people who have, to give her plenty of material for her stories.
“I don’t need to go looking for strange stories,” says Huberty.
She also points out that she didn’t want to write a parody where every story in her collection took place in an old house in England. “I realized that this could inspire a story set in a prison in 1988, or one about a French homeless women in Père Lachaise Cemetery in the 1960s,” she notes.
Many of her writings take place in England, Ireland and Scotland, places where she has family or has visited and having firsthand knowledge of the places in which her stories are set is important to Huberty. Two of the stories in her book take place on the East End, including “Counting Sheep” which is set at the farm on Scuttle Hole Road and Millstone Road where Huberty and her husband once rented a cottage. The story is about a girl, her mother and a herd of sheep who must make it through the great hurricane of 1938.
Huberty wrote “Dog Boy,” the title story in the book, 20 years ago was inspired by a real event that piqued her interest when she heard about it on a news talk show program. It was the story of a dog training program at a prison out west that was designed to provide a therapeutic bonding experience between the prisoners and the dogs.
“It went awry and the guards started allowing the dogs to track and attack the prisoners,” says Huberty. “Prisoners had trained the dogs to track, then the guards used the dogs to track escaped prisoners. They would use the prisoners as bait. I thought it was an incredibly complex statement on the relationship between inmates and authorities and also between humans and dogs.”
“So I used that as inspiration and wrote the story as if from the voice of the prisoner,” she adds.
Ironically, years later when Huberty went back to the story to edit it for this collection,, she found it was impossible to find any evidence of the news story having ever existed, even on the Internet.
“I remember calling ABC to try and get the transcript of the show with no luck,” she says. “I decided to Google ‘prison dog tracking programs,’ all these things came up, inmates’ photos with the dogs wearing holsters. Most of them were very benign and training for state troopers or guide dogs.”
“The initial incident went under the radar. Now it sounds like something that I could have made up,” she says. “But I didn’t.”
Another story in the collection which Huberty says she’ll likely read at Canio’s is “The Black Cat,” and it is the most autobiographical in the collection.
“It’s the most modern story and is in the voice of a woman who could be between 20 and 30 living in Vermont, which I did at the time,” says Huberty. “I had a decision to make about the life of one of my cats, and it haunted me for years later in this recurring dream I was having.”
“So I wrote the dream down and thought, let’s take it to an extreme level. What if this wasn’t a dream and I had to create characters and plot around it to make a story?” she adds. “Sometimes I’ll start with an idea and it sounds great, but it needs characters and if it’s not an interesting plot it won’t work.”
“I’m a firm believer in the rules of the story,” adds Huberty. “Not that it can’t be experimental, but you’re not just writing for yourself. You’re writing to reach other people and make them think, or maybe just entertain them and come to a universality.”
Erica-Lynn Huberty reads from “Dog Boy and Other Harrowing Tales” at 6 p.m. this Friday, October 29 at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor. For details, call 725-4926.