Robin Lamont has had a remarkably varied career. She was a Broadway actress best known for her lovely, thoroughly ingenuous performance in Godspell in which she sang “Day by Day.” She went on to become an undercover investigator for a PI firm, investigating manufacturers of counterfeit goods, and then assistant DA for Westchester County, NY before becoming an author of suspense novels. Her most recent novel, The Chain, is the first book in The Kinship Series. It’s central character is animal rights investigator Jude Brannock who arrives at a small North Carolina town to retrieve video documentation of the abuse of pigs at a meat processing plant and rapidly finds, as they say, more than she bargained for.
You and your husband are both vegans. You have stated elsewhere that after reading Gail Eisnitz’s book, Slaughterhouse, you were stunned and compelled to educate yourself about the cruel treatment of animals. It seems that seeing inside a slaughterhouse through the lens of this book made you question your own complicity, or at least your own ignorance regarding animal suffering. Is that what caused you to go vegan and if so, how soon after reading the book did this happen?
My husband Ken has been a vegetarian for forty years and about three years ago went completely vegan. He introduced me to the realities of animal suffering, but I was initially resistant to learning about it, although I began to make some changes in my diet and in the food I cooked for the whole family. Like many, I suppose, I started with humane this and that; cooking more vegetarian, etc. It was around that time that I decided to write a single suspense novel that centered around an animal rights investigator. In preparation I read Gail’s book Slaughterhouse.
The book had an enormous impact on me. Before I was finished I decided that I was going vegan. Like so many, I had no idea what went on in factory farms and slaughterhouses everywhere. And once I gave up animal products, there was no need to keep my eyes closed anymore. I began to do more research, look at undercover videos, attend conferences … and the more I looked, the deeper my commitment to becoming an animal advocate became. And I knew that I wanted to create not just a single book, but a series that could expose mainstream readers to the world of animal abuse and exploitation.
So you went vegan fairly recently? When was this? I’m also wondering about your statement that you “had no idea what went on in factory farms and slaughterhouses.” Was this before reading Slaughterhouse or before Ken introduced you to the realities of animal suffering? Or did your initial resistance to learning about it keep it from fully sinking in?
All of the above. Ken did introduce me to the realities of animal suffering on factory farms. He kept a copy of CAFO on the living room table and he’d talk about factory farming now and then. But he never tried to hammer anything into me, which I appreciate. I think everyone has to come to their own realizations by themselves. When I read Slaughterhouse, I realized that the animal suffering went even deeper than I had imagined. It wasn’t bad enough that animals were raised in horrible conditions, their final hours were also brutal. It brought the entire animal agriculture nightmare to a complete circle.
I know many vegans who “get it” in a single experience or realization. For me, it happened a little at a time. Indeed, I’m still learning about the places and ways that animals are hounded and abused, and this knowledge, I think, affects changes in my outlook on the world every day.
You’ve said that at the age of 11 you decided to become a writer and that throughout your different careers you never stopped believing in “the power of good stories.” Could you elaborate on this and on how you are using the power of fiction to educate people about animal protection and animal rights?
I’m a story junkie. As a kid I read voraciously, adored movies and plays, particularly those that told complex and emotional stories (still do). I can’t imagine anything better than getting caught up in a tale in which you absolutely HAVE to know what happens next, particularly when the tale draws you into a world you have never known before. When I was studying to be an actress, we were trained to create internal “stories” for the characters we played .. details that might never be spoken aloud, but would give the character depth and interest. This carried over when I worked at a private investigations firm and did undercover work. There it was crucial to create a “cover story” that was not only believable, but would be intriguing to the people from whom we were trying to get information.
Later, after I went to law school and became a prosecutor, the idea of “stories” still applied. After all, trials themselves are missions to get to the bottom of competing versions of events. And the way an attorney presents facts in an argument or legal brief can make or break a case – in and of itself requiring a kind of creativity.
I didn’t actually try my hand at writing books until I left the DA’s office. But I knew that I wanted to write suspense novels. We came up with the idea for The Kinship Series as the most natural way to both do what I loved (creating stories) and get the word out about how animals are treated.
I have to tell you that after reading The Chain, I have fallen in love with Jude Brannock, though, unfortunately, I’m probably outside her age range. She is, of course, a fictional creation of yours, though inspired by real animal rights investigators. What was the process for you in creating Jude and investing her with her own personality while at the same time using her as a vehicle for expressing your own feelings about the treatment of animals? And did she ever start taking the story in directions you had not planned?
I love that you’ve fallen in love with Jude. That’s what every novelist hopes for, that the reader is captivated by their main character. Before I even started the book, I had a sense of who Jude is. Many animal advocates that I’ve met have been through some kind of difficult life experience. Perhaps that is where empathy comes from – being able to relate to the helplessness and powerlessness of animals. Certainly that is true for Jude, although sometimes she is not aware of it – her focus is the animals. Her passion drives her, and in some ways it serves her well, in some ways it can trip her up. But that’s what makes her human.
The Chain introduces Jude. And in the second book which I’m working on, I’m diving deeper into who she is and what makes her tick. I imagine she will evolve in future books. Indeed, she must. One of the elements, to me, of a good story is that the protagonist be put into situations that so test her, that in order to prevail some personal realization is necessary. A character that doesn’t learn anything, for my money, isn’t all that interesting. The trick in a series is to keep the main characters fluid and growing, but still keep them familiar to the reader.
Tell us more about The Kinship. Will we get to know more about the inner workings of this organization in future books?
Absolutely, more of the inner workings of The Kinship will be revealed. There are other investigators, other players in the animal rights community. The good news about a fictional animal rights investigator is that there is no end to the worlds where she can expose how animals are treated. The bad news is: there is no end to the worlds where animals are abused. Factory farms, fisheries, laboratories, rodeos, circuses, the fur industry, pigeon shoots, it goes on and on.
You must know that there are many readers like myself who are very anxiously awaiting the next book in The Kinship series, about wildlife hunters and a corrupt government program. Anything else you care to reveal about it, especially what Jude will be up against? And please, please, when will it arrive?
Many activists may be aware that the re-introduction of the wolf to Yellowstone Park was met with incredible animosity from ranchers and hunters. There are still many groups out west who would like nothing better than to see all wolves eradicated again (they were just about extinct until placed on the endangered species list). In this next book Jude is going undercover in an Idaho town where enraged wolf opponents are in a battle with conservationists trying to maintain the wolf population. She will learn about the corruption that is rife in Wildlife Services – a federal branch of the USDA, which is killing thousands of predators (like the wolf) with horrific trapping and hunting methods at the behest of the ranching and hunting lobbies.
And without giving too much away, Jude will reunite with an old love. They both want to save animals but don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to a how to go about doing it. She’ll be struggling with her own feelings as much as the volatile situation in Idaho.
As for when it comes out … hoping for release by the Animal Rights Conference in LA this summer.
Wonderful interview! We’re really looking forward to reading The Chain!