Lori Hahnel is the author of two novels, Love Minus Zero and After You’ve Gone , as well as a story collection, Nothing Sacred , which shortlisted for an Alberta Literary Award. Her work has been nominated for the Journey Prize three times and has appeared in over forty publications in North America, Australia and the U.K. Her credits include CBC Radio, The Fiddlehead, Joyland and The Saturday Evening Post. Lori teaches creative writing in Calgary.
Lori Hahnel is another author I met through Betty Jane Hegerat who encouraged me to attend Lori’s launch at Memorial Park Library in Calgary for a new collection of stories, Nothing Sacred, she had published. I also went to see Lori for a writing consultation while she was the Canadian Authors’ Association writer-in-residence in Calgary. I learned A LOT during that all-too-brief session about not only writing short stories but also submitting them for publication in various literary magazines and websites. Lori Hahnel was one of the four authors who took part in the very first literary salon I organized. One aspect of her life Lori did not mention in her brief bio above is her lifelong connection to music: “Descended from a long line of music lovers, Lori Hahnel is the author of three previous fiction collections. During the early days of Calgary’s punk scene, Hahnel was a founding member of The Virgins, a power-pop punk group that carved its place in Calgary rock history as the city’s first all-female band.” (Thistledown Press) Not surprising then that music figures large in Lori Hahnel’s writing. I had purchased and read Hahnels’ most recent book, After You’ve Gone, and had it with me at the trailer in Ontario. When I was in Kincardine one day to go to the library (of course!), I passed a busker on the main street. I applauded when he had finished singing the song then asked if his guitar was a National. “No,” he replied, “It’s a Dobro, an original my father gave to me. But how do you know about Nationals? Do you play guitar?” No, I told him, but I’d read a book written by a friend in Calgary in which a National guitar is part of the plot, and there’s a photo of one on the cover. So the very next time I was in Kincardine, I took my copy of Lori Hahnel’s book with me and asked the busker to pose for a photo I could send back to her. (I also developed an appreciation for the music of Django Reinhardt after reading this novel!)
After You’ve Gone is the story of two generations of musicians, a jazz grandmother and a punk granddaughter, who each struggle with balancing life, love, and art in their respective eras. The novel opens in 2007 with Elsa Taggart and her ex-husband watching their son’s convocation from Seattle University. The events that bring about this everyday moment are unveiled in a series of spirited flashbacks that move convincingly between Elsa and her grandmother. Lita and Elsa’s lives are revealed in a procession of parallel events.
In 1935 Regina, Lita, a young woman of gypsy ancestry, develops a passion for playing the guitar. Encouraged and wide-eyed she joins a Regina jazz combo and begins a life that she couldn’t imagine and didn’t expect. From the first moment that she falls in love with the group’s lead singer, to the dark moment of his death, Lita’s fate is sealed.
In paralleled abandon, Elsa in 1983 has become the lead singer/songwriter and guitarist of Speed Queen, a Regina punk band. Her boyfriend Mark Taggart is also in a punk band. In love with the music scene, with each other, and their new baby, they decide their musical prospects would be better in Seattle than in Regina, a move that will prove to bring about significant changes.
Though fifty years exist between Lita and Elsa, their circumstances reflect and conform to the lives they have chosen. The daunting risks of the musician’s life coupled with the pursuit of intimate relationships lead to the heartache and grief that comes with such adventure. The pain of rejection and betrayal has to be managed, just as the responsibility of commitments must be maintained.
After You’ve Gone vibrates with authenticity: two eras, two young women caught up in the giddy thrall of love and music and feckless men. — Lee Kvern, author of The Matter of Sylvie and Seven Ways to Sunday
What Lori Hahnel is working on now …
I write a lot about music, and about old movies and the people who watch them, and these are both things that interest me. I almost always write about Canadians, although my current project is a historical novel set in 19th century Germany. It’s about Clara Schumann, the composer and pianist who was the wife of Robert Schumann and muse and lover of Johannes Brahms. My love of Schumann and Brahms’ music led me to this story, but I’m also interested in Clara’s life as a woman artist in the 19th century. As well as the love triangle aspect! ~ from an interview with Eda Lee, Writers’ Guild of Alberta, Jan. 9, 2019.
For more information about Lori Hahnel, her books, writing, and teaching, please see her website.
Lori Hahnel was a guest on my Reading Recommendations blog on Oct. 2, 2014.