A Chat With Jacquie Gauthier

Jacquie Gauthier

By Debbie A. McClure

Someone told Canadian ex-radio host, Jacquie Gauthier that we all need to “Find Your Elephant!” When I heard that quote, I had to laugh. After all this is a woman who has literally learned what that means. Imagine falling in love, leaving your country of birth, and starting all over in a foreign country, and in the process, finding yourself. For many years I listened to Jacquie on the local radio station in London, Ontario, Canada, and worked with her on a local Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser. However, I never dreamed she’d roam so far, or that one day we’d be talking about elephants and writing books. Welcome Jacquie!

Q: Tell us a little about your books and how you got started.

A: My first book, The Gift Of An Elephant: A Story About Life, Love, and Africa, really came as a result of my Uncle Ernest, who was a missionary in Africa. When I was a little girl, he gave me an ebony elephant carving. I loved that little carving, and it sparked my life-long love of elephants and Africa. In fact, little did I know that my love for him and the seeds he planted, would sprout much later in life.As a result of my great uncle, I’ve always had an affinity for Africa, and for helping other people. 

I’ve had what I believe is a pretty bumpy ride to where I’m at now, living in Africa with my husband, and my passionate involvement with elephant and African wildlife conservation.  I wanted to share my own personal experiences in Africa and Canada, and the journey that’s lead me here, in an effort to remind people that anything, literally anything, you feel deeply about can happen. But change isn’t easy—I don’t think it’s supposed to be. There is a lot of pain along the way, but if you keep going, keep believing in yourself and pursuing what’s important to you, you can create the changes you need in your life. I also know that Africa changes how you view life, yourself, and others. It’s an incredibly unique place on this planet, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve experienced with others.

Q: Explain how you went from London, Ontario to South Africa, and why?

A: A few years ago, when I was at my personal lowest, I decided to go on a mission trip with Canadian Aid For Southern Sudan. My job there was simple. I was to help the kids create art, assist with the music camp, and help work on plays for the kids. I have to tell you, I loved every minute of it!  

One day I went with a group of people to deliver some medicines and interview refugees not far from where we were staying. That’s where I met Johann, a South African paramedic who was working on a U.N. contract at the time. He is such a wonderful man, and we connected immediately. After we got married, Johann came to Canada on Permanent Residence, but he couldn’t find a job. Oddly enough, he landed a job in Mozambique, so returned to Africa to work. We absolutely didn’t want to deal with a long-distance marriage, so I moved to Africa with him, but I didn’t have the documentation to work. This meant I was going to have a lot of time on my hands, which worried me a bit, but I figured something would come along.  

When we were preparing to move to Africa from Canada, I contacted the television show, House Hunters International. What followed was a crazy, fun experience of having our massive life overhaul and move to a new country, filmed. It was a great experience, and we still get stopped on the street by people everywhere who have seen that episode and recognize us!

The problem for me with moving to Africa was that Johann was required to be gone for as much as a month at a time. Because I had the time, I decided to pursue a long-held dream of writing a book. With the success of The Gift Of An Elephant, I was encouraged to write my second book, Twenty-Eight Elephants: And Other Everyday Miracles.  

I won’t say much about Twenty-Eight Elephants right now, except that this book talks to the many experiences, happenstances, and yes, miracles, I’ve had or heard about throughout my life that have changed me irrevocably for the better.

I also have to say that I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to observe, first hand, the unrelenting, inspiring resilience of the people of Africa who’ve been misplaced by famine, war, and drought, yet are happier than many North Americans. Why? Because they value each other. They pay attention, and care for each other—that’s all they have—each other. I’m convinced that miracles, serendipity, God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it, happen all the time.  

Q: You now collaborate on a highly successful new artistic venture with a remarkable artist in Africa to raise funds, awareness, and build a brand new business. How did you and your artistic partner, Alicia Fordyce, meet? 

A: Alicia and I met at an art show in far off and exciting Hoedspruit Limpopo. Alicia was an exhibiting visual artist, and I fell in love with her work. Long story short; we chatted, clicked, and continued to run into each other socially on several occasions after that. Then I had this crazy idea to do fine art and photography on elephant dung paper, which is an amazing product that really isn’t as gross as it sounds. I’ll explain in a moment. The key thing is that Alicia thought it was a great idea too, so we decided to collaborate on this new art project, which we entitled; Two Girls And An Elephant (see link below). The plan was to start a new business by creating original art, sell it, and at the same time, raise funds and awareness of African elephants and rhinos, who are at an alarming risk of becoming extinct if people don’t do something, like NOW!

Q: Tell us about your artwork.

A: Well, we started out thinking of doing prints of Alicia’s paintings and my photography (another passion of mine) on high quality art paper and elephant dung paper . We planned to sell the prints to tourists visiting the area. Of course Alicia and I have the original art, but we weren’t sure it would be as big a seller as it is. Actually, it’s doing exceptionally well! Some of our original art has been exhibited at the Lion Sands Ivory Lodge in Saubi Sands, an absolutely incredible hotel that’s often called “one of the best hotels in the world”, which sits right on the banks of the Sabi River .  

Q: Okay, I gotta ask; what is dung paper, and how do you use it?

A: *laughs* It’s made from elephant dung, or poop. You see, elephants have poor digestive systems, so what remains is mostly grass. The grass is boiled in caustic soda, then water is added to make a paste, which is then spread out on a screen and left in the sun to dry. As you can imagine, it’s a very organic look and is an amazing medium. We work hand-in-hand with a local paper-maker to have the it refined to our precise design specification, which is thinner than what they would normally produce. 

The advantages of this product is that it has such an organic look and texture. This makes it completely different from anything else out there. We like to tell purchasers that this is a great way to bring an authentic piece of Africa home with them, and it is!

The disadvantages of the dung paper are very few. Alicia loves painting on it, however, I will say that printing on it is a bit more difficult, and supply is limited. In addition to larger pieces, we also do greeting cards, book markers, etc., all at different price points of course.

Q: Who benefits from the sale of the artwork?

A: We donate 10% of the proceeds from sales of the artwork to Elephant’s Alive South Africa. 

I’ve also become very involved with a local (African) organization, Wild Shots Outreach, which teaches kids how to use a camera to create beautiful images. It’s imperative we educate the country’s youth about what’s happening in their own backyard regarding the elephant, rhino, and other wildlife populations. They’re the future, so if they can learn to connect to nature, they’re far less likely to be swayed into becoming poachers later in life. They’re also taught the importance of preservation, and where each animal on the planet fits in with it’s natural habitat. Every animal impacts the environment and other animals around it. It’s a domino effect that’s in serious jeopardy of collapsing in several areas.

Q: Tell us a bit about the importance of elephant conservation. Why should people outside Africa care?

A: 36,000 elephants are brutally murdered every year. That’s 96 elephants A DAY, or one every 15 minutes, which is completely unacceptable!

You see, the elephant is what is known as a “keystone” species. In other words, it’s survival impacts the other animals and habitat. When an elephant knocks down a tree, leafy greens are accessed by smaller animals who otherwise wouldn’t have that food source, and the tree itself becomes a nest or hiding refuge for other animals. When an elephant walks in mud, then that mud solidifies, it creates a natural water bowl for smaller animals. Their droppings mean new seeds are delivered to new locations, conveniently encased in fertilizer. 

There are so many ways the African elephant impacts it’s habitat in a positive manner. That’s why I’m doing what I can to raise awareness and funds to help out. Did you know that elephants cry, form complex matriarchal societies, and mourn their dead? These animals matter in a very significant way, and people can definitely do a lot to help end poaching. Can you imagine a world without these majestic, intelligent creatures?

Losing any species off our planet is scary, and potentially dangerous, in ways we can’t even predict yet, but time is our enemy. Things have to change, or in 15 years—15 years, we won’t have wild African elephants at all! A few years ago, scientists predicted that we had maybe 20 years left to protect and preserve the African wild elephant, but it’s happening much faster than originally thought. Awareness from the rest of the world is part of the answer. After all, if people don’t know there’s a problem, we don’t know how or why we need to correct it. I think the answer is in educating young people about nature and the ripple effects. The fact is, many children living close to Kruger National Park have never seen an elephant. This means they have no affinity for the animals. For the adults of a community village, poaching means money—more money than they’ve ever seen before. It’s hard or impossible to say no to that kind of offering, especially if you have a family to feed. When there’s no understanding of why the elephant is important, there’s no reason not to take the money. If people the world over would stop buying ivory, there’d be no demand, and no need to slaughter the animal. Again, it’s about education on many levels. 

Another organization that’s doing its part on behalf of education is “Nourish”. They’re working on building self-sustaining communities to banish poverty. By focusing on early childhood development, food security, English literacy, environmental education, conservation experiences, and entrepreneurial training, they’re making significant inroads with the people living in and around the wildlife areas and game reserves. Teaching the people about how they can benefit from tourism for years to come by helping to preserve it, is a key factor. 

Q: How can people reading this help?

A: *laughs* Donate! Support a charity, buy a product, (like our art) that helps the people living in and around the African elephants and other wildlife, to become more self-sustaining. When you do, you create your own ripple effect, even though you may not necessarily see it first-hand. This actually goes for all wildlife anywhere in the world. What you see us doing in South Africa, can be adapted for other areas of wildlife in need. This our planet. We created these serious problems, but we can fix it too. We just have to do it together.

By sharing my personal experiences in my books, I hope to inspire others to take on new challenges, and recognize the connectivity we are all a part of.

Website: http://www.twogirlsandanelephant.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacquie.gauthier.5

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacquie-gauthier-10983a16/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jacquie-Gauthier/e/B014V288DS

Instagram: jacquie_gauthier_author

Nourish: http://www.nourishnpo.co.za/

Elephants Alive: http://www.elephantsalive.org/

Wildshots Outreach Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wildshotsoutreach/

Ivory Lodge Game Reserve:  https://www.sabi-sands.com/lion-sands-ivory-lodge.html

 

 

 

 

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A Murder of Crows

Murder_of_Crows_cover_(322x480)

As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. But do our feathered friends also have an inside track on felonious foul play? In her latest release, A Murder of Crows, Jan Dunlap’s protagonist – Birder/high school counselor Bob White – wrestles with hypnotized students, wind farm controversy, faculty secrets, and rare birds to unmask a murderer.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with some background on your journey as a writer and the moment you knew that this was something you wanted to do.

A: I fell in love with the idea of being an author the first time I walked into a public library. I think I was in second grade, and I was entranced by the fact that you could find a book about anything in a library. I wanted to write a book to put up on those shelves!

When I was in high school, I wrote for the school newspaper, and I so enjoyed the writing that I took an English/Communications major in college, then went on to work professionally in Public Relations and advertising. I really enjoyed research and interviews, so I thought I would always be writing non-fiction, and for many years while I was raising my children, I freelanced for regional and national magazines writing about personal spirituality. I also wrote a humor column for my local paper based on raising my children. I admired Erma Bombeck so much, and her columns helped me stay sane as a mom, so I latched onto that style of writing: conversational and tongue-in-cheek.

One day, I finished reading a novel, and it was so poorly written, I decided I could do at least as good a job as that author had done. I guess you could say my pride got the better of me – I had to give it a try. I discovered I really liked inventing characters and witty dialogue, so I decided I’d find a niche and see if I could land a book on a shelf somewhere.

Q: Were you a fan of the mystery genre when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors that you admired?

A: I read all the Nancy Drew books, but then lost interest in mysteries until I discovered Tony Hillerman when I was in my late 30s. I’ve always loved the Southwest, and I loved how Hillerman wove the Native American culture and the land itself into his novels. That got me hooked on mysteries. Nevada Barr has that great sense of place, too, and I always learn a lot of natural history from her books. I liked that educational component in both Hillerman’s and Barr’s writing, and I try to do that same thing in my books, but with birds and conservation.

Q: How did you go about honing your writing and storytelling style?

A: Writing a humor column for about five years really gave me the practice I needed to find my voice. I turned out a weekly column, and even though the columns were short, I labored over them to hit exactly the right tone. I read books by authors whose style I admired – like Janet Evanovich (her Stephanie Plum series) – and authors whose craft impressed me – like Steve Berry, David Baldacci, John Grisham – and studied how they developed plots and tension. I actually outlined entire published novels to better understand the structure of a story!

Q: There are lots of subgenres of mystery writing – the P.I., the amateur sleuth, police procedurals, cozies, capers, locked rooms, noir, suspense, howdunits. What category does A Murder of Crows best fit and why did you choose it as the best vehicle for your plot?

A: A Murder of Crows, like all the Birder Murders, is a cozy. When I was trying to find a niche for writing novels, I knew I wanted to write about birders solving murders, but I wanted it to be a humorous series, so the cozy subgenre seemed ideal. My books are more driven by the characters than the plot – one of my booksellers calls them ‘mystery light,’ which is exactly what I was aiming for. I want readers to have fun when they read my novels, not get stressed out!

Q: So what inspired you to mix birds with murder?

A: My younger son went on a birding trip when he was in high school. It was the dead of winter, and I knew he’d be in remote locations. Being the overprotective, nervous mom I was, I worried something dreadful would happen to him, and I wouldn’t be there to help. The worst thing I could imagine was an injury and freezing to death. And then I imagined something else: my son finding a dead body! I realized it would make a great mystery if birders found bodies in these remote places they go birding.

Q: Are you a birdwatcher?

A: I am! Most of my birdwatching takes place on my porch, though. We’re lucky enough to back up to a preserved piece of forest and marsh, so I get lots of varieties of birds passing through my yard. I’m not at all a dedicated birdwatcher like my protagonist – I have yet to drive hours in hopes of seeing a specific bird in the wild!

Q: Do you have a favorite feathered focus?

A: I love Bald Eagles. Every time I see one flying, I have to stop what I’m doing and just gaze at it. The grace and power of that bird is awe-inspiring for me.

Q: Conservation themes are a recurring theme in your books. What kind of research goes into this?

A: A great deal! I do extensive research on conservation issues to be sure I cover both pro and con sides in my novel. I do a lot of online investigating, I read books, I interview experts in the field, I watch videos. I find it all so interesting, I wish I could put more of the research into my books, but I always have to balance what is necessary to the story, and what is just interesting information.

Sometimes I turn up really funny anecdotes to include. For instance, in A Murder of Crows, I was researching complaints about wind farms, and found a few stories about folks who insisted that the frequency of the turbines gave them hallucinations, so they wanted to sue the wind farms. The complaints, it turned out, were fabricated in hopes of getting financial settlements. That’s the kind of material I love to work into stories.

Q: Tell us about your protagonist and the skill sets he brings to the table?

A: Bob White, as an expert birder, is a skilled observer, so he notes details others might miss as he tries to solve murders or mysteries. He’s also a sensitive listener, and as a high school counselor, he’s trained to problem-solve and listen to his gut instinct when it comes to the human element. He’s also very likable and non-threatening, which often can catch his antagonists off-guard to his own benefit.

Q: If your books were turned into a television series, who would play the lead?

A: Tom Hiddleston has the height, the smile, and the likability.

Q: How much of your books are based on real places and real people?

A: A lot! I love writing about real places both to give readers a grounding in reality and because then I get to go there myself in order to capture it on the page. Many of my characters are composites of people I’ve met: my protagonist, Bob White, is partly a combination of two high school counselors I know, my son, my husband, and me. I really enjoy creating new characters, too, because I start with one very human trait and build from there.

Q: Do your characters ever talk to one another – or, for that matter, to you – inside your head?

A: Just a minute – let me check with them, and I’ll get back to you. (Pause) Yes, yes, they do.

Q: Have they ever surprised you over the course of writing their actions and conversations?

A: All the time! Here I thought that as the creator of the characters, I got to call all the shots, but being an author is like being a mom – they don’t always listen to you or do what you want them to do! I know I’m controlling too much when I find myself stuck in the progress of my plot. That’s when I realize I’ve written all of us into a corner, and I need to go back and really let the characters drive the plot, not me. Sometimes, I’ll read a piece of dialogue I’ve slaved over and then delete it all, because it’s not the character’s voice, it’s mine. Like kids, characters can be really stubborn when things don’t go their way.

Q: How did you go about making the all-important decision of who would publish your work?

A: It was the process of elimination. I spent almost three years querying agents to represent me to a national publisher, but no one took me on as a client. After several agents said that no one was interested in birds – even though it’s one of the fastest growing hobbies in America – I decided to try a small publisher in Minnesota since we have a very active birding community in the state. I researched regional publishers (no agent required) and found North Star Press, Inc. of St. Cloud. They focused on books with a Minnesota tie-in, and my publisher herself was a birder, so she was very enthused about the project. That was five books ago.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing world that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Writing is the easiest part of a writer’s task – once you’re published, you need to devote enormous amounts of time and energy to marketing your book. I wish I’d written all 12 books in my series before I’d gotten the first one published because I’m always behind now on writing!

Q: What do your five children think about their mom’s mystery-writing career?

A: They are all totally supportive, and help me out by being my first readers and critics, teaching me more about social networking for marketing, and encouraging me to keep at it. As long as I don’t embarrass them in print, they’re okay with my writing. Although I think one of them once said I was using writing as a passive-aggressive outlet…

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m writing book #6 in the series right now. It’s titled Swift Justice and will be out in 2014. I’m also planning a trip to the Rio Grande Valley to research birds and settings for book #7.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: I love hearing from readers at my website www.jandunlap.com and often work into the books the ideas they share with me. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, where I pin images and ideas for upcoming books to give readers a sneak peek into what’s ahead for Bob White. Finally, I do write a brief humor blog on my website to give visitors a weekly laugh. And my publisher does offer free Kindles of my books on occasion: the third book in the series, titled A Bobwhite Killing, is going to be free on Kindle at Amazon.com July 10-14, 2013. It’s a great opportunity to try out a Birder Murder and get to know Bob White and the world of birding!