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Duluth writer Hunter pens environmental mystery

Left, cover of book Clouded Waters--a woman standing on cliff of body of water in the Iron Range, right, photo of author Dianna Hunter sitting on stairs
Tammy Bobrowsky / KAXE
Dianna Hunter
Dianna Hunter is the author of Clouded Waters.

Duluth writer Dianna Hunter’s new environmental mystery highlights real-life issues of copper-nickel mining and the importance of local news reporting.

DULUTH — Duluth writer Dianna Hunter decided she wasn’t paying close enough attention to the copper-nickel mining issues in northeastern Minnesota, so she started researching. And that research turned into her new mystery novel, Clouded Waters.

Hunter is the author of two works of nonfiction, Breaking Hard Ground: Stories of the Minnesota Farm Advocates and her memoir, Wild Mares: My Lesbian Back-to-the-Land Life. Clouded Waters is her new book and first published work of fiction.

The story revolves around main character Susan B. Ellingson (known as SB), a newspaper publisher in the small town of Iron, Minnesota. Ellingson is investigating a missing water scientist and a powerful mining company that has been working to gain favor and permission to dig for copper-nickel in their town. The process could mean storing potentially harmful mining waste nearby — a very real and timely issue in northeast Minnesota.

Hunter noted, “I live in Duluth, so depending on which mine gets permission, flood waters could be coming our way and going out to the oceans of the world via the Lake Superior/St. Lawrence Seaway. And so it was something I thought I should know more about.”

On local news and reporting

One strong theme in Clouded Waters is the importance of local newspapers and local reporting.

Hunter drew on her experience working for the Minot Daily News to inform her reporter and newspaper publisher character SB and her work putting together the local newspaper.

“It came from a place of admiration of what journalists do,” she said. “ … [It] just felt like that was the right kind of person to put in this pressure situation that I wanted to subject my main character to.”

"When there's no one to contest the lies, the truth is going to suffer.”
Duluth writer Dianna Hunter.

The loss of local reporting isn’t just happening in rural small towns. Hunter is seeing this in Duluth as well.

“Our daily newspaper [the Duluth News Tribune] went down to twice a week now, and it comes by mail instead of being delivered. And with the changes in the post office, there are times when we get our Saturday paper on Monday, so it no longer feels like new news anymore when it arrives,” Hunter said.

“Plus, I find very little coverage in it of the City Council or other business of the city that I'd like to know more about — an important part of having a daily newspaper was knowing in a timely way what was going on in town.”

Hunter credits local news organizations like KAXE / KBXE and Marshall Helmberger and the Timberjay for providing local news and information.

She noted that “a bunch of his [Helmberger’s] writing has come up when I've done searches on copper-nickel mining. He's been a big advocate of truth telling and there are still people like him and his paper out there. I'm all for supporting them. … When there's no one to contest the lies, the truth is going to suffer.”

On relationships, grief, and romance

Aside from the environmental mystery aspects of Clouded Waters, there are also some relationship issues, grief and romantic entanglements involved in the story.

As a recent empty-nester, SB is still adjusting to letting her adult children make their own way in the world. She is also still grieving the death of her wife, Ramona, from several years earlier. An attraction between SB and a new resident in town complicates things as the investigation into the mining company heats up.

It seems like a lot to throw at her main character, but Hunter found that aging has shed new light on these issues.

“As I age, I know I get much more concrete understanding of how loss is an essential part of life. What matters is how we deal with it. And how we treat each other through the process,” she said.

Hunter noted she used the story to help show that we can carry our grief, but still learn to open up to new love.

“We carry them with us throughout our lives, and so SB in many ways was carrying Ramona forward in her life and she just needed to come to a place where she realized she could still open up to love, even though that might mean exposing her loved ones to danger and just to the everyday dangers we face anyway in relationships.”

Learn more about Dianna Hunter at her website.

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Tammy works at Bemidji State University's library, and she hosts "What We're Reading," a show about books and authors.