Jude Unobscured: An Interview With Robin Lamont

Lamont, Robin3 bw hi res

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.

TheChain_Cover_R4-1

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.

Jude

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.

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A TIME FOR ACTION

Earthlings group shot

The following is the text of the speech I delivered at Grand Park in downtown Los Angles to a group of animal activists who had just marched in the Los Angeles Earthlings march which I helped organize:

I want to thank you all for coming out here to take part in this event, the idea for which originated in Tel Aviv, Israel and has captured the imagination and fired up the spirits of thousands of activists around the world.  I want to thank you for caring enough about our fellow Earthlings, the animals, to march in unity, to raise your voices in solidarity, to come together as part of a worldwide movement to open eyes and open hearts to the injustice done every day to the powerless and exploited.  I want to thank you for taking action – on this the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington to demand justice for all human beings and the famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who was not content in merely dreaming but believed in taking action, non-violent, direct action, to realize that dream.

Another man who believes strongly in taking action –non-violent, direct action –is Wayne Hsiung. Wayne is a young technology lawyer up in the San Francisco Bay area and a powerhouse organizer who has been instrumental in organizing  Earthlings marches in many cities throughout the U.S. In a post on the Direct Action Everywhere “Liberationist” blog, Wayne has this to say about activists in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements:

Every act of resistance inspired others to do the same. Every word of dissent made it easier for subsequent dissenters to raise their own voices.

  He goes on to write:

We cannot end the murder of our fellow Earthlings, if we do not speak out forcefully against those whose hands and teeth are stained with their blood. And we cannot create a world for animal liberation, if we do not live out a vision of animal liberation (with all the tension and confrontation that entails) in our own lives. If we are not willing — indeed, inspired — to protest.

When Wayne wants your help on some project he doesn’t cajole, he doesn’t coerce, he simply states how your help could be beneficial in a way that just assumes that you, of course, are going to help. He pulls you in. So when Wayne wrote to me last month, asking if I was aware of the Earthlings march and that it would be great to have a march in L.A. and how this would fit right in with my Vegan Street Theater project – I felt the pull. I agreed to help out as long as I had plenty of support with the organizational heavy lifting.

Though animal activism is a huge part of my life and I love doing vegan outreach, I am often more comfortable working in solitude on writing projects such as The Veg Monologues and Vegan the Musical. Except when my writing muscles are paralyzed by a bad case of writer’s block!  At the end of July, I had a three week vacation from my teaching job which promised, I thought, plenty of time to make significant headway on those projects. At the end of the second week, with the days a blur and almost nothing written, I found it impossible to take action.

On August 10th, in a state of inertia, I managed to rouse myself to journey by metro rail out to the Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena for a presentation by Lauren Gazzola, a lead organizer in the Stop Huntingdon Cruelty Campaign here in the U.S. and a SHAC7 co-defendant. A little background may be needed for those of you who may be unaware. Huntingdon Life Sciences, founded in 1951 in Cambridgeshire, England and with labs in the U.K. and the U.S., is a huge Contract Research organization – which means they will test for anyone willing to pay, any product, any  noxious or toxic substance often in lethal doses, on innocent, captive animals. As independent journalist Will Potter points out in his excellent book, Green is the New RedAn Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, SHAC pressured corporations to sever ties with the lab after multiple investigations exposed horrible animal welfare violations. Lauren and her co-defendants worked tirelessly and successfully on the campaign but were eventually convicted of animal enterprise terrorism charges – even though they never committed a violent or even criminal act.

Lauren’s talk was entitled “The Animal Rights Movement Today” but she admitted to her audience that she had more questions than answers. She did say that rather than spending our energy trying to find the best ways to create more vegans, we should concentrate on the best ways to create more animal rights activists.  As someone whose primary form of activism has been vegan outreach leafleting this really shook me out of my torpor. I balked at first at her comment but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Getting people to go Vegan is a given. How though do we take those vegans to the next step? How do we frame the issue in such a way  that they are hungry not only for vegan food but for  animal liberation as well?  How do we get them to see that animal rights is the biggest social justice issue of our time?

I think the answer is a revolutionary shift in how we conceive of ourselves in relationship to non-human animals. It is essential, I believe, that we open our eyes to the fact that all sentient beings on this planet are, indeed, Earthlings. Earthlings are not commodities, they are not things, they should not be slaves.  Earthlings are living beings, subjects-of-a life, each one of us with an interest in staying alive, in avoiding pain, in experiencing pleasure, joy, companionship, comfort.  We must all coexist on this planet. Just as it is imperative that human beings must stop battling and killing each other, we humans must stop waging war on our fellow Earthlings, the animals. We must stop causing them needless pain. We must stop seeing them as means to our own ends. We must stop  global warming, environmental destruction, poisoning the water, polluting the air, raping the land, not just because of the negative consequences for humans but because we are defiling the home of our fellow Earthlings.

Make no mistake: this is, indeed revolutionary stuff, especially in these days when taking action to save the earth, to liberate the animals is viewed by those in power as terrorism.  But it is absolutely necessary, now more than ever,  to open our eyes to what is happening and to take action. As Will Potter writes at the end of Green Is The New Red:

In history books, injustice is always so easily recognizable, social struggles are buffed to a Hollywood sheen so that the characters are either pure good or pure evil and the necessary response is equally straightforward.  But at the time? At the time it’s not always so easy to see.

Do we take off the blindfolds and see the injustice that is done to our fellow Earthlings or do we remain blind to their suffering? Do we take action, do we protest, do we cause a disturbance, do we openly resist so that others will be inspired to do the same?  Do we truly live out our vision of animal and human liberation? Or do we just hope for the best as we go to the next vegan potluck?  Now’s the time. The time for action. Non-violent, direct action. Action designed to open eyes. Action designed to draw others to the cause, not push them away. Action designed to open cages. Now is the time to act – for the sake of all the Earthlings. Thank you all, once again, for taking action!

A CIRCLE of COMPASSION

Here’s a short, short story I wrote a couple of years ago (you’ll notice outdated topical references), not without its flaws but worth a read!

broken circle

A CIRCLE of COMPASSION

by

R.C. Curtis

After pilates, the four of them went out for lunch, Elizabeth, Marcy, Kim and Joanne, the four happy gals as Joanne had once dubbed themselves, though none of them could remember exactly why. They went to the El Cholo there in Santa Monica because it was close by and because Marcy was craving a margarita. Elizabeth worried about Marcy, noticing how much she drank each and every time they went out. She knew, of course, that it was none of her damn business, but still – you should show concern for friends, you should care.

But a margarita did sound good to Elizabeth – that and a nice chicken enchilada.

The place was nearly empty, yet they had to wait about ten minutes before being seated. Of course Joanne started in on the poor hostess, a wisp of a thing with big brown cow eyes who looked all of seventeen and ready to cry at any minute. “Listen, sweetie, you’ve got four hungry, thirsty broads here who would prefer a nice comfy booth but will take any one of the empty tables here. What’s the hold up?” The hostess patiently explained that they were expecting a large group any minute and suggested that Joanne and her “party” could wait at the bar.

Joanne was just starting to go off on this not being much of a party when, thank God, a table opened up. Then the four of them were ensconced – it was a booth!— the margaritas arrived and the chips and salsa, and then they were all yakking away, four very happy gals indeed.

“I swear, if you bring up Tiger Woods one more time . . .” Marcy, on her second margarita, was hollering so that everyone around them turned to stare.

“Shhh!” said Elizabeth, stifling an embarrassed giggle.

The waitress came, for the second time, to take their order and now they were finally ready. Marcy ordered the combination number one — a cheese enchilada and a beef taco – and another margarita, por favor. Elizabeth asked for the Enchilada Suiza. Joanne ordered the Carne Asada (“with mucho carne, sweetie!”)

“I’ll have the vegetable fajitas, please,” said Kim, at twenty-six the youngest in the group, younger even than Elizabeth by a good seven years, with a shyness to her that, along with her small, soft voice, made her seem all the more like a little girl in the company of jaded older women.

After the waitress left, Joanne leaned her ample bosom over the table and said in a loud stage whisper, “Oh shit, Kim – – – are you going vay-gun on us??”

Kim looked like she wanted to slip under the table but took a breath and answered, ” I don’t know, Joanne. I mean I’m just thinking of making some changes. I’ve just been reading this book by Jonathan Safran Foer . . .”

“Wait, ” blurted Marcy, “I know, didn’t he write that novel that got made into a movie a while back. Something about light . . . The Unbearable Lightness of Being?”

“No, you ninny,” shot back Joanne, “that was, what’s his name – Milos Forman.”

“Kundera,” replied Elizabeth.

“Who you callin’ a kundera!” chortled Joanne.

“Milan Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” said Elizabeth. “Milos Forman is the director.”

“He directed Unbearable Lightness of Being?” This from Marcy.

“No, that was Philip Kaufman.”

“Oh, I didn’t know he was also a director. He’s a good actor!”

“I think you’re thinking of Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

Everything’s Illuminated,” said Kim.

Joanne leaned back and belched. “Not quite,” she said, ” I think some of us are still in the dark!”

“That’s the name of his first book” said Kim. “The book I read is called Eating Animals.”

“Here, here,” declared Joanne, raising her empty margarita glass, “I’m all for that!”

“Anyway, in it he talks about extending our circle of compassion to include all animals, even the ones we think of as food . . .”

Just then the waitress arrived with their orders.

Joanne rubbed her big hands together. “Speaking of which, let’s eat, ladies!”

“How about that poor Brittany Murphy, huh? ” said Marcy, “Jeez just, what, thirty-two. What a shame!”

“But I wasn’t finished,” sputtered Kim.

“Kim, sweetie, girlfriend – let it go. APB, darling: no one’s interested.”

“Joanne!” said Elizabeth. “Joanne, that’s terrible.”

Preparing lamb cutlets that night, in the kitchen they had recently remodeled –she loved the new granite counters! –Elizabeth thought about poor Kim. She was so idealistic, so sweet and yet such prey to the caustic sarcasm of the Joannes of the world. It was like Kim was an innocent little lamb and Joanne was the wolf. Elizabeth immediately saw the irony of what she was doing and what she was thinking but didn’t allow herself to dwell on it. Didn’t even dwell upon the memory of her horror when she was a little girl of five, about the age of her son Bobby, and her mother told her that the delicious meat she was eating was lamb. How she had run crying from the table. How it took her a long time to accept the fact that we actually eat animals, that sudden realization. But isn’t acceptance of such things part of growing up? I mean, come on, animals eat animals, we can’t fly off the handle about such natural things. Like those horrid people on the Promenade showing those graphic videos of animals being slaughtered. And with little kids being exposed to such stuff. But these nuts didn’t care what harm they did to such innocent, impressionistic kids. Such awful images! Talk about lack of compassion. The poor little things. The poor little things.

Bill called from the other room when he heard the sobs coming from the kitchen. “Honey, are you okay?” No reply. “Honey?” Then, finally Elizabeth answered.

“Dinner’s ready,” she said.

END

To You, Who Care: Forever Onward

To you who find my activism a source of amusement; who chuckle over my commitment to the cause of compassion; who smugly deride my desire to make the world a kinder place: I say, go ahead and laugh.  One day we may share a laugh together over how much you have changed your mind.

To you who patronize me, who patiently explain to me the way the world really works and why my work is all for naught: I say, I am not a child.  I am not playing at make-believe. I am using my adult head and my adult heart to bring about real, lasting change. But maybe you don’t understand how the process of real change really works.

To you who try to shut me up and shut me down; who try to stop me from stopping you and all the evil that you do: I say, realize it is not just me. One day we will all shut you down for good.  One day a millionfold voices will drown out your lies; a millionfold hands will tear down your torture chamber; a millionfold eyes will see you for who you really are and will also see the millionfold alternatives that are out there.

And to you, who know me and care about me and what I care about; who know that I am far from perfect but that I am determined to do the best I can to act upon my ideals, to truly “walk my talk;” to you who love me and support me, even when I make mistakes; and especially to you who walk arm-in-arm with me down the path to liberation and justice for all: I say, thank you.  And forever onward!