Friday, January 30, 2009

Hail and Farewell

I welcome 2009 because it brought a new president, in whom I have much hope.

I shrink from 2009, however, because it brought the departure from New Orleans of Laura Joh Rowland, a good friend whom I shall miss greatly.

You know as much as I do about our new president, and the hopes of the voters who elected him. I shall focus instead on my friend, whose departure I bemoan. Laura has moved to New York due to her husband's job change.

I've known Laura since 1993, when I joined SOLA, the local chapter of RWA, a national writers' organization. Laura was already a member and she made her first book sale that year (Shinju, first in her Sano Ichiro mystery series). For a long time we were mere acquaintances, but over the last eight years we became friends. Since 2001 we've belonged to a writers group that meets once a week. Over those years I've seen Laura nearly every Monday--she was a faithful attendee and rarely missed a meeting. I had the chance to get to know her, and everything I discovered about her is admirable.

Laura is, first, a fine person, kind, loyal, honest, hardworking, and conscientious. She has a serious demeanor, but underneath an antic sense of humor and a fine wit.

She is, second, a true artist, creative in many ways. As an author, she's had 14 books published (13 in her Sano Ichiro mystery series set in 17th century Japan, one so far in her Charlotte Bronte mystery series). She's a fine writer, with a wonderful skill at taking us back into a historical setting and making us see, hear, feel, smell and taste it. Her characters live and breathe, as if in the room with us. Her plots are fiendishly clever.

Laura is generous in sharing her knowledge with fledgling authors, and encouraging them to become productive writers. She regularly gives talks to groups of writers as well as readers, and presents programs at writers' conferences. For more than 10 years she mentored a critique group in New Orleans that had been started by the noted science fiction author George Alec Effinger. She always has a fresh perspective to offer on one's work; her advice is cogent, succinct, and as valuable as gold.

Laura is a painter, too, and plans to pursue that talent with serious study at a major art school soon. She faithfully took painting classes for years while in New Orleans, and her work decorated the walls of her home in New Orleans. (I wish I'd asked her to paint one for me.) Last year the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts gave her a special award for "exceptional promise, discipline, and selfless devotion to the fine arts."

Laura now resides in one of New York's five boroughs, outside of Manhattan, in a busy neighborhood full of people speaking other languages. The population in her new neighborhood is mostly Korean immigrants. (Laura, a third-generation American of Korean and Chinese ancestry, says for the first time in her life she's part of the majority ethnicity.)

What wonderful grist for a writer's mill. I know she'll enjoy all the opportunities and excitement that New York has to offer, but oh, how we'll miss her here in New Orleans.

Ave atque vale, Obama and Rowland.