Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 11:46 AM on Wednesday, July 20, 2011

'Who says life is fair?'

Anchor Point writer publishes philosophical memoir

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

The idea of Hugh Littrell's book, "Who Says Life is Fair?" (Authorhouse, February 2010) might be called a roman a clef, French for "novel with a key." In a roman a clef, names of characters get thinly disguised and are based on real people. Based on his life, Littrell's book is more memoir than fiction, and has a structure like a matryoshka doll.

Take Littrell's pen name, James C. Wilson. Writing as Wilson, in the introduction Wilson tells of meeting a man at a men's support group, Jack Hamilton, who tells him the story of Phillip Temple. The book, subtitled, "The Story of a Loving Dad, His Life, His Losses, and How He Came Out a Winner," concerns Temple's life and challenges. All of them — Wilson, Hamilton, Temple — are Littrell.

"The purpose of the fictionalization is to protect the privacy of the people in the book," he said. "All of the names of anybody good or bad in there are different."

Place names also have been changed. In the book, Seward stands for Homer, for example.

A retired state worker, Littrell, 67, lived in Homer in the 1980s, and moved to Kenai and then Anchorage to work for the state writing adjudications for the Alaska Department of Labor. He returned to the lower Kenai Peninsula after retirement and lives with his wife Juanita off the North Fork Road near Anchor Point.

"I love this place," he said. "It's one of my favorite places I've ever been. I ended up leaving because it was hard to make a living here."

The inspiration for his book came after Littrell struggled with estrangement from his son and daughter after his first marriage ended in divorce and he later remarried and converted to Catholicism. Littrell had always shown writing talent, he said people told him, and had wanted to write books. "Who Says Life is Fair?" took him six months to write in first draft and two years through revision and editing.

"It was kind of a spiritual mission that I had," Littrell said of writing the book. "In addition to being what I think is a good story, it's a message to the world about how you can have a joyful life despite the worst things that can happen to you."

The last chapter lays out Littrell's philosophy on doing that. He has a 17-point checklist of principles, from things like "Look for and focus on the goodness in others" to "exercise and eat right." Reading the checklist can help people be happy, Littrell said.

"Being a happy, joyful person to some degree is a matter of skill," he said. "Being that happy is not that complicated. .... It has to do with the principles that are laid out in the book."

Calling himself "a joyful person," Littrell said he's also lucky to have a genetic, optimistic outlook on life.

"Basically, I'm one of the happiest people I know," he said. "I have a wonderful life."

Now that he's got the writing bug, Littrell has started a novel, "Personal Justice," a thriller about revenge inspired by Charles Bronson movies and the Jodie Foster movie, "The Brave One."

"I like those kinds of stories where people take care of it themselves," he said.

Even if "Who Says Life Is Fair?" isn't a big success, Littrell said he's satisfied with the message he's conveyed.

"That's what I think is my contribution to the human race," he said. "That will be my legacy, even if I sell only 1,000 books."

"Who Says Life is Fair?" is available at the Old Inlet Bookshop and the Homer Bookstore, and as an e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.