Tag Archives: novelist

This abundant life | Letters to the Future: The Paris Climate Project

I just flushed my toilet with drinking water. I know, you don’t believe me: “Nobody could ever have been that stupid, that wasteful.” But we are. We use air conditioners all the time, even in mild climates where they aren’t a bit necessary. We cool our homes so we need to wear sweaters indoors in summer and heat them so we have to wear T-shirts in mid-winter. We let one person drive around all alone in a huge thing called an SUV. We make perfectly good things — plates, cups, knives — then we use them just once, and throw them away. They’re still there, in your time. Dig them up. They’ll still be useable.

Maybe you have dug them up. Maybe you’re making use of them now. Maybe you’re frugal and ingenious in ways we in the wealthy world have not yet chosen to be. There’s an old teaching from a rabbi called Nachman who lived in a town called Bratslav centuries ago: “If you believe it is possible to destroy, believe it is possible to repair.” Some of us believe that. We’re trying to spread the message.

Friends are working on genetic editing that will bring back the heath hen, a bird that went extinct almost 80 years ago. The last member of the species died in the woods just a few miles from my home. Did we succeed? Do you have heath hens, booming their mating calls across the sand plains that sustain them? If you do, it means that this idea of repair caught on in time and that their habitat was restored, instead of being sold for yet more beachside mansions. It means that enough great minds turned away from the easy temptations of a career moving money from one rich person’s account to another’s and instead became engineers and scientists dedicated to repairing and preserving this small blue marble, spinning in the velvet void.

We send out probes, looking for signs of life on other worlds. A possible spec of mold is exciting — news conference! News flash! Imagine if they found, say, a sparrow. President addresses the nation! And yet we fail to take note of the beauty of sparrows, their subtle hues and swift grace. We’re profligate and reckless with all this abundant life, teeming and vivid, that sustains and inspires us. 

We destroyed. You believed it was possible to repair.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.

Canadian writer Alice Munro wins Nobel for literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2013 was awarded today (Oct. 10) to the Canadian author Alice Munro, called a “master of the contemporary short story.”

Munro grew up in Ontario, where her mother was a teacher and her father was a fox farmer. She studied journalism and English at the University of Western Ontario. She married in 1951 and settled with her husband in Victoria, British Columbia, where they opened a bookstore.

Munro began writing stories in her teens and published her first book-length work in 1968.

She is primarily known for her short stories, including some LGBT-themed pieces, and has published many collections over the years. Her works include “Who Do You Think You Are?” (1978), “The Moons of Jupiter” (1982), “Runaway” (2004), “The View from Castle Rock” (2006) and “Too Much Happiness” (2009). The collection “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” (2001) became the basis of the film “Away from Her” from 2006, directed by Sarah Polley. Her most recent collection is “Dear Life” (2012).

Munro, according to the biography from the Nobel prize committee, is “acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterized by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov. Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts – problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions. Her texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisive events, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surrounding story and let existential questions appear in a flash of lightning.”

Alice Munro currently resides in Clinton, near her childhood home in southwestern Ontario.

On the Web…

A link to an Alice Munro story in The New Yorker, 


Out novelist Anne Laughlin brings her mysterious ways to Milwaukee

Chicago lesbian novelist Anne Laughlin has added another honor to her distinguished career. Her novel “Runaway” (Bold Strokes Books) was selected recently as a 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist.

“Runaway” is a mystery with romantic elements. It follows Chicago-based private investigator Jan as she searches for Maddy, a suburban teenage runaway. What begins as a seemingly ordinary case soon develops into something more. Maddy’s possible connection to a radical group echoes something from Jan’s past that she had hoped to leave behind her. To make matters worse, a passionate workplace romance with Jan’s new boss Catherine threatens to derail not only her investigation, but also the life she has worked so hard to keep concealed.

I spoke recently with Laughlin.

You’ve racked up a number of awards for your books, and “Runaway” is also a Lammy Award nominee. What’s your opinion of awards?

I’m morose when I lose and convinced someone made a mistake when I win (laughs).

“Runaway” and its predecessor “Veritas” are both mysteries. Do you have a favorite lesbian mystery writer?

Katherine Forrest, JM Redmann, and an Irish writer no one here’s heard of – Ingrid Black. Val McDermid mainly writes for a mainstream readership, but she usually has a strong secondary lesbian character or two in her books. I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty of others.

How much of Anne, if any, is in Jan?

I’m not consciously aware of any part of me being in Jan Roberts. Her background is unique and makes her a singular personality. Plus, if I say that Jan represents a part of me, it feeds the assumption that there’s a part of me in every main character I write. While this may sometimes be true, it’s a problematic presumption when I write erotica (laughs)!

“Runaway” deals with a variety of topics, including militia groups, survivalists and disaffected suburban youth. What inspired you to write about those subjects?

I wrote the prologue to it as an exercise, liked it quite a bit, and then appended a plot that plausibly stems from it. Why that prologue dealt with a teenager escaping an isolated Idaho survivalist camp is a complete mystery to me, but it left me with those three topics – teenagers, militia and survivalists. I wasn’t aware these were topics I wanted to write about, but I had a lot of fun doing so. The research was fascinating.

I hadn’t previously given much thought to LGBT folks involved in militia activity, but those characters exist in “Runaway.”

My guess would be that gay people in the survivalist/militia world are as rare as a woman wearing trousers in Afghanistan (laughs). But we should also assume they do exist, as we do everywhere. My character Kristi, a member of a survivalist group and aware of her sexuality, is somewhat of a desperate follower from a desperate area of rural Michigan. Her sexuality is the not the first need of hers that has to be met.

You also cover the subjects of workplace romances and infidelity.

In the world of genre lesbian fiction – and I generalize here – the first subject is common and the second is considered taboo by many. I think we all know that workplace romances and infidelity are not uncommon in the real world, often in tandem. In lesbian fiction, infidelity strikes a deep chord, and not in a good way. Readers simply don’t like it, especially in romance. There are two things that I think soften the blow in “Runaway.” The book is meant to be primarily a suspense story with a love story secondary to that, and I make it clear that Catherine’s relationship back home is all done but for the shouting. 

Do you have plans to write about Jan in other books?

It’s possible, but there are no plans for it now. I need to ponder the fact that there were a lot of negative responses to Catherine. Should I keep her the same or dump her? Rehabilitate her? Have her make Jan’s life miserable, or set Jan free?

If there was a movie version of “Runaway,” who would you want to play Jan?

My partner Linda and I took this one on together, including doing a search on the Internet for actors between the ages of 35 and 45. Truly, not one actor came leaping to mind. I usually don’t have the clearest idea of what my characters look like. We came up with Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron and a younger Jody Foster and Sharon Stone, all butched up a bit.

Who would you want to play Catherine?

Catherine needs to have a feminine presence and also be able to take down an armed man single handedly. Claire Danes? A younger Sigourney Weaver or Annette Bening? Honestly, this is the hardest question you’ve asked me (laughs).


Anne Laughlin takes part in a group reading by Lammy Award finalists, including C.P. Rowlands and Chris Paynter, beginning at 2 p.m. on May 4 at Outwords Books, Gifts & Coffee, 2710 N. Murray Ave., Milwaukee. Go to www.outwordsbooks.com.