The Finger Lakes Region inspires artists to paint and writers to write. The area’s beautiful scenery has been the backdrop for many far-reaching historical events. Long-time resident Emerson Klees began writing in 1993. To date, he has penned thirteen books focusing on the area and its rich past. From Finger Lakes wineries to the women’s rights movement, from the Erie Canal to influential entrepreneurs, Klees has researched and chronicled the people and places that make this locale exciting to explore.
“It is remarkable that the region was the home of so many high achievers,” writes Klees who has lived in the area since the 1960s. His recent book, A Song of the Vine: a Reflection on Life (2011), combines autobiographical stories with examples of historic personalities linked to the Finger Lakes Region who serve as role models of perseverance, determination, and other positive character traits. People like Glenn Curtiss, “the father of naval aviation” and Paul Garrett, “dean of American winemakers” are two such examples. The book also includes background on regional winemaking.
“Its purpose is to, in some small way, assist the reader in making decisions that could lead to a more productive life, such as young adults making career decisions and adults considering career changes, including the unemployed and the underemployed,” writes Klees.
Klees hails from Emporium, Cameron County, Pennsylvania, 50 miles from Olean, New York. In high school he did not care much for literature. Although – ironically – he excelled in literary arts as well as science and math on a career aptitude test. Klees earned a degree in electrical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, served in the Navy, and received an M.B.A. in management from NYU. During his stint in the military he was assigned to the shipbuilding division in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, which he describes in Song of the Vine.
New York City was culturally enriching and his experiences there nurtured Klees’ latent literary side. With characteristic good humor, he tells how on a double date he had little to say when the subject turned to books. To overcome such embarrassment and make a better impression, the 23-year-old headed for The New York Public Library. Over the next few years he read all the classics. However, it would still be some time before Klees put his own words on paper.
“My first attempts at writing were at age fifty,” said Klees, now 77, “but my first serious attempts were after I retired from Eastman Kodak at age 56 and earned a M.A. in English literature (creative writing track) at SUNY Brockport.” His master’s thesis was on the American Pulitzer-prize winning author John McPhee, whose efficient writing style Klees admires.
All his writings reflect a love of history and biography. “My principal readers are individuals interested in regional history; and tourists, as well as local people, interested in learning about the region,” Klees said. He publishes through his Friends of the Finger Lakes Publishing under the Cameo Press imprint. Klees credits the feedback he’s received from a long-time editor as well as literary-friends for improving his writings.
“Emerson is always perceptive,” said friend Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, former Rochester City Historian and herself a busy author. “He takes the human approach to history and sees good role models in the lives of people that we just missed meeting by a few decades.” She met Klees many years ago at a book signing. These days they meet with Rose O’Keefe, another local history writer, and Rich Gardner, a writer who walked around Lake Ontario keeping a diary all the way. “These are the friends Emerson keeps, people he can bounce ideas off of who can read each other’s manuscripts for critiques and people who also know the audience and times,” Naparsteck said.
Looking in, reaching out
Klees built a cottage retreat where he does much of his writing. “Since 1992, I have spent four to five months of the year writing in vineyard country north of Hammondsport and the rest of the year writing in Roches-ter.” The property, on the west side of Keuka Lake in Pulteney offers a view of the bluff and the wide waters of the lake. He dabbled in winemaking after planting twelve rows of grapes, one variety in each, for a total of 72 vines. The vineyard often provided relief from the grind of writing. “When I’d get beady-eyed, I’d go down and work in the vineyard.” Until he tore the vines out in 2001, friends and family came down to pick the grapes. Dr. Konstan-tin Frank, a pioneering regional viticulturist, owned neighboring property. Klees describes conversations with Frank in Song of the Vine.
Not all his books focus on Finger Lakes themes. Klees has authored eleven titles in his “Human Values” series. These feature people who exemplify teamwork, perseverance, motivation and determination, as well as entrepreneurial role models. The newest title, Emotional Intelligence: People Smart Role Models (2012), guides the reader toward self-improvement, focusing on an individual’s Emotional Quotient versus his Intelligence Quotient in achieving success. Examples of achievers are drawn from diverse fields from science to civil rights. “Rather than writing as some authors do about a training program for improving one’s emotional intelligence, Emerson gives the attributes of the emotionally intelligent through brief biographies of interesting people and little known experiences in their lives,” Naparsteck explained, adding, “It’s a ‘people smart’ way to reach an audience.”
Klees willingly shares his expertise. He encourages would-be authors to just get started – and not to be deterred by the daunting task of writing 200 to 300 pages. Of late, he is heartened by increased writing activity he sees. “Since I have lived in Rochester, it has been somewhat of a literary area; however, in the last ten years or so, I have been amazed at the increase in the number of writers in the Rochester region.”
by Laurel C. Wemett