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Jun 22, 2010 1:00 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Gothic on the East End

Jun 22, 2010 1:00 PM

The outline of a large cat clinging to the outside window, its tale curling playfully underneath a shelf of books on the sidewalk, signalled the identity of Bridgehampton’s Black Cat Books.

Inside on Friday afternoon, an intimate group of friends, family, browsers and book lovers munched on fresh vegetables and flipped through the pages of “Dog Boy and other harrowing tales,” a new collection of short stories by Sag Harbor resident and author Erica-Lynn Huberty.

In just a few minutes, the pouring of champagne into plastic glasses would signify the official launch of Ms. Huberty’s latest work.

The book is composed of six short stories told in different voices: a middle-aged male prisoner in Montana in “Dog Boy,” the title story; an 8-year-old child in Bridgehampton in “Counting Sheep”; a 20-year-old girl in the 1800s in “The Dream.”

“I wanted to take the traditional Gothic format of the 18th and 19th centuries and do something modern with it,” Ms. Huberty said in a recent interview.

Although the stories do not share a common plot, there are several common threads binding them together. “There always seems to be this relationship between humans and animals,” Ms. Huberty said, noting that both inhabit the same space and are often forced to get along. From cats to sheep, animals make an appearance in every story.

The collection spans a career of 19 years for the author, starting out with “Dog Boy,” written while Ms. Huberty, now 42, studied creative writing at New York University in Manhattan, and ending with “The Dream,” the first chapter of a novel in progress, “The Crewel Wing,” which the author finished a draft of seven month ago.

The inspiration for “Dog Boy” came while Ms. Huberty was sitting in her Manhattan apartment watching “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and doing homework. The talk show host was discussing a Texas prison where dogs were being used in some sadistic punishments for inmates. “You have to think, ‘what do you have to do to make a dog do that?’” Ms. Huberty said.

At an early age, the author began to tell stories, recalling writing when she was only 4, “Mrs. Willis And Her Cats,” a story about a feline giving birth to 24 kittens that she illustrated herself with stick figures. Her drawings have since improved and her artwork has been on display in New York City and in galleries across the East End.

“Stories have been the greatest part of her life, well, the greatest pleasure,” said her mother, Gail Gambino. Her father, Richard, is also an author.

One thing readers won’t see depicted is a celebrity-centric version of The Hamptons.

“I’m not writing ... the public’s perception of what ‘The Hamptons’ is,” Ms. Huberty said. “This is as authentic as possible.” Part of that authenticity derives from such devices as setting one of the stories in a farmhouse that she envisioned as being at the corner of Millstone Road and Scuttlehole Road in Bridgehampton.

The elements also play an important role in the stories. “There is a certain harshness to the weather out here, especially in the winter, that can be sort of unnerving,” Ms. Huberty said.

Ms. Huberty published the book with the help of iUniverse, a self-publishing company. But after receiving the manuscript, a representative of the company called and explained that the manuscript was being boosted to the “Rising Star” division. Rising Star selections are presented to national, regional and local booksellers. “It’s not a self-published book anymore,” Ms. Huberty said.

After the book debuted in May at the New York Book Expo, Black Cat owner Dawn Hedberg approached the author about a book signing and launch party. The two have sons the same age and have been friends for years. “I really do what I can to support local authors,” Ms. Hedberg said.

Struggling in the wake of the economic downturn of the last two years, the bookstore was set to close at the end of March, but Ms. Hedberg renegotiated and signed a new lease that will keep the store on Main Street for another year, according to her husband, Michael Kinsey.

Standing near the fireplace in the bookstore, Southampton resident Gabrielle Selz, an acquaintance of the author, ran her fingers over the front cover. “I like the idea of Gothic tales mixed with the ordinary Long Island world,” Ms. Selz said.

Although Ms. Huberty acknowledged that the stories are a bit “creepy,” the author discounts the notion of them being horror stories. “It’s more literary fiction then genre fiction.”

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