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Interview with Ron Hutchison, Author of Latitude 38

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Author Ron Hutchison graduated from the University of Missouri in 1967 with a degree in journalism. He has worked as a reporter, editor, and columnist at newspapers in Texas, California, and Missouri. He was employed by Sun Oil Company as a public relations executive, and later operated his own advertising and public relations agency. He created the board game ‘Sixth Sense’ in 2003. The game was sold at independent bookstores nationwide. Since moving to Joplin in 2007 from New Mexico to care for her elderly mother, he has written dozens of Op-Ed pieces for the Joplin Globe on social issues ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage. He lives in Joplin, Missouri.

Q: You’ve had a long career in journalism and public relations. What made you take the plunge and write your first novel?

A: Actually, this is my second novel. Santa Fe Crazy was published in 1999. I became sidetracked for the next seven or so years with a board game I created and marketed called Sixth Sense. I didn’t really begin writing full time until 2007.

Q: Please tell us about your novel, Latitude 38.

A: Latitude 38 is a love story set in the future. It plays out against a backdrop of swirling social and political change, and tells the story of Diego Sanchez and his wife Adriana, a couple deeply in love. Their world is shattered when Adriana is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After gut-wrenching deliberation, they opt for doctor-assisted suicide. Wee problem. Crippled by decades of blistering partisan debate over the questions of euthanasia, gun control, capital punishment, school prayer, and same-sex marriages—and fearing total anarchy after the bloody Pro-Choice riots a year earlier—the United States is now two separate republics and the border between them is closed. Because Diego and Adriana live south of the border, where doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, they must flee north, across the 38th latitude, where euthanasia is not only legal, but mercifully encouraged for people with terminal illnesses. Any doubt they had about making the perilous trip is removed when they learn the government south of the 38th latitude secretly mandates that terminal cancer patients be given placebos to fight the pain.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

A: The 38th latitude divides the United States into halves. It seemed a natural title. A country being carved up is not new. European countries have been sliced and diced many times over the past 100 years, as have Middle East and Far East nations. The January 2007 issue of National Geographic Magazine reported that in the preceding two years more than 600 changes had been made to the borders that define the world. Remember the Soviet Union? What was once the second most powerful nation on the planet is today 15 separate countries. To think the United States is immune from such geographic restructuring is arrogant and naïve. The breakup of the Soviet Union was caused in large part by economic factors — the Soviet Union went broke. Given our mounting debt, the same thing could happen here. However, it is not debt that will be our undoing; we have the means to fix that. No, it is the uncompromising ideological division that will cause our demise. At first glance, one might see this disintegration as a Republican vs. Democrat tug-of-war. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals the division to run deeper than mere political affiliations. It is polarization at the gut level, one that trumps party loyalties.

Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: When I moved to Joplin, Missouri in 2007 to care for my elderly mother, I was asked by the editor of the Joplin Globe to write Op-Ed pieces for the newspaper. I had worked at the Globe many years earlier as a reporter and later as an editor. Latitude 38 was a consequence of these editorials. Oddly, I had never shown an interest in social issues until I began writing the Op-Ed pieces in 2007. I can’t explain my sudden interest. I’m reminded of David Seidler’s acceptance speech at this year’s Oscars. He won for Best Original Screenplay with The King’s Speech. The 73-year-old playwright cracked that, “My father always said I’d be a late bloomer.” Perhaps, like Seidler, I’m a late bloomer because at 70 I now have the personal discipline, intellectual honesty, and cast-iron point of view to succeed at writing.

Q: Describe your main characters, Diego and Adriana. What makes them compelling and why should the reader care about them?

A: Diego and Adriana are deeply in love. Diego has lived a sheltered, adventure-free life, and he questions his ability to successfully make the dangerous border crossing. But Adriana’s welfare is at stake, and he pushes himself to limits he once thought impossible. The story is told through his eyes. Although she is dying, Adriana is selfless; she cares more for her husband’s welfare than her own, and encourages Diego to conquer his inner fears.

Q: You explore some heavy social themes in Latitude 38. Could you discuss some of them?

A: The ideological philosophies separating Americans today are more poisonous than those dividing Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or Sunnis and Shites in the Middle East. I realize that’s a bold statement, but sadly, I believe it to be true. Regardless of the issue here in the U.S., the two sides refuse to give a hair’s breadth. It is this malicious impasse that compelled me to write Latitude 38. Although I broached many social issues throughout the story, I allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the fair-mindedness of each issue, whether it is abortion, capital punishment or gay rights. Nobody likes to be preached to. I’ve tried not to preach.

Q: What was your greatest challenge while writing the novel?

A: I tried to remain philosophically neutral. It wasn’t always easy. I wanted the readers to draw their own conclusions about the consequences of a strict law-and-order society.

Q: What are your writing habits like? Are you disciplined?

A: I write six hours a day, seven days a week.

Q: How long did it take you to write the book?

A: About a year and a half. The story went through many revisions.

Q: Tell us about the publishing process. Was it difficult landing an agent and/or finding a publisher?

A: Finding an agent was difficult. I was fortunate to have made the connection with Leticia Gomez in 2008 when a Hollywood film company called Antibody Films optioned a three-book middle-grade series I had just written. I didn’t have an agent at the time. I found Leticia, and she represented me. Later, she represented Latitude 38, but found the going rough with traditional publishers — they told Leticia that Latitude 38 was too controversial. That’s the beauty of e-publishers. They allow writers more editorial flexibility. As a consequence of this, e-book readers have a much greater story selection.

Q: What’s next for Ron Hutchison?

A: I have two other novels in the works.

Q: What is your best tip for aspiring authors?

A: Write.

Thanks for this interview!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.