Erica-Lynn Huberty

Erica-Lynn Huberty (Philippe Cheng photo)
Erica-Lynn Huberty (Philippe Cheng photo)

By Annette Hinkle

A Conversation with Erica Lynn Huberty who reads from her latest work, “Watchwork, A Tale in Time” at Canio’s Books this Friday with proceeds from book sales benefiting Peconic Habitat for Humanity. The fictional story is set in an old factory — much like the Bulova building in Sag Harbor — which is undergoing renovations to become luxury condos.

What inspired you to write this story?

About two winters ago after the watchcase factory had started the clean up, the project stalled for a while. We were driving past at night and my son, Liam, who was 9 at the time, said, “You should set one of your ghost stories in that building. It’s a good place for it.” I thought that was interesting. It made me think of the stories the building already holds and I wondered if they finished the building and turned it into what they hoped to, would the spirits of the past life still be  retained?

The story alternates between present day and the late 1800s. Tell me about the juxtaposition of the time periods and the characters in both.

The first story takes place in present day in a fictionalized Bulova Watchcase factory with a local guy in his 30s who is out of work gets a job doing clean up in preparation for the luxury apartments. I wanted this guy to be someone here any reader might recognize or know.

Because I know they were scraping everything away in stages to get to the original pine planks and brick walls, they will unearth things in the process. Not only is there evidence of vandals and kids drinking, but also some of the things left over from the previous lives of the building. The second story is set in 1896 and is about a young woman who works in the factory. I actually made the factory a hybrid of Bulova and the Fahys factory.

In your story, there is a tragic fire at the factory. How fictionalized are the details in the story?

I did a lot of research and read first hand accounts of other factory fires like the Triangle fire. The Fahys factory did have a fire which was really tragic and it burnt to the ground. The fire would’ve been previous to the time I set the story and the job description of the women working there would have been later. The watchcase factory we see now was completely rebuilt and was built specifically in mind with that never happening again, which is why it’s making lovely apartments. Big windows with lots of light and the “H” shape of the building and several stairwells.

The theme of the story is people forced to defer their dreams and take manual labor jobs in order to survive — both then and now. Could you talk about that theme and how it relates to your perception of the East End?

I’m in my mid 40s and I think those of us who grew up out here did so in a time where dreams did seem possible. It was very possible to leave here, come back with a college degree to work in our parents line of business. This was a place where you could live very comfortably surrounded by nature with people you knew in a small town and make that work. You didn’t have to be extremely wealthy.

Since the crash in ‘08 I’ve watched the standard of living for most of us decline significantly and of the new money go up tenfold. This whole area is a microcosm of the larger economy. The food pantry is feeding more people than ever and houses are selling for $10 million and up. Living here year round you get a visceral sense of Occupy Wall Street. It feels like your life everyday.

When I went in to see the old factory, they were accommodating and nice, but it was jarring and the purposing of it is not for the benefit of the whole community. That has deeply upset me and other people. I don’t think anyone didn’t want that building repurposed, cleaned up and renovated. It’s been an eyesore and safety hazard but I don’t think what the village allowed was in the best interest of the year round community. I do believe the village board didn’t do enough for affordable housing.

Which is why I’m guessing proceeds from book sales of “Watchwork” will benefit Peconic Habitat for Humanity.

I saw that the watchcase developers and the village had struck a deal [where the housing trust will recieve $2.5 million in lieu of brick and mortar housing]… It’s an absurd idea of how wealthy the wealthy get to the extreme.

My fear is they’re about to do it all over again with the complex right under the bridge that will block the sunset view from Main Street and have no affordable housing units at all.

If anyone is doing anything out here it’s Habitat for Humanity and I decided to have the proceeds go directly to that rather than a housing trust that hasn’t funded any affordable housing thus far.

On Friday, December 13, 2013 at 6 p.m. Erica-Lynn Huberty reads from ‘Watchwork, A Tale in Time” at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street Sag Harbor. Proceeds from book sales benefit Peconic Habitat for Humanity.