If you enjoy books with drama, adventure, excitement, and even a little romance, you will definitely enjoy John Yunker’s new book, The Tourist Trail. If you love animals you will enjoy The Tourist Trail even more. And if you are someone who is passionate about protecting animals and conserving our oceans, then you better run and get this book now!
The Tourist Trail celebrates the everyday heroes who spend their lives doing anything and everything they can do to help animals. In the book, John strategically introduces important issues and messages via an entertaining, non-threatening medium. Talking with John recently on the phone emphasized to me (Cindi Saadi) that this man is on a mission to change the way people who strive to protect the Earth and the animals are perceived. And he wants to do it through fiction.
Talk with John and you will have no doubt that animal rights and environmental activists/advocates are in very good hands being portrayed in his powerful and enjoyable truth-based fiction. And hopefully he will inspire many more writers to join him in creating a mainstream movement of animal rights/environmental fiction.
In our phone interview, John talks about the inspiration behind The Tourist Trail and his passion for educating people about animals, the earth, and the people who strive to protect them. He also shares how pivotal the Animal Rights National Conference was for his personal and professional journey. Thank you, John, for raising awareness through your gift of writing!
*****ALSO – for 2 LUCKY PEOPLE – John is generously giving away copies of his book. See details about how to win a copy of The Tourist Trail at the end of this blog interview.*****
FARM: What inspires you to write?
JOHN: We are in a new heroic age. The heroes in this age are the protectors and the rescuers. The people who devote their lives to these causes and work in obscurity are heroes and heroines. They don’t make a lot of money and they devote their lives to issues that are not very popular. This inspires me to write. It’s what I can contribute. FARM really brought this home for me when I went to the Animal Rights National Conference in 2007. To see so many people from all around the world doing so many things, risking and investing so much of their lives for the animals, was inspirational. Most people don’t know these struggles are going on around the world. If I can create a book that can raise awareness and empathy for how animals and our oceans are treated, then maybe we can get more people’s support.
FARM: What experiences influenced your decision to go vegan?
JOHN: Attending the 2007 Animal Rights National Conference hosted by FARM in Los Angeles was a life-changing experience, to put it mildly. I had been working on my book, The Tourist Trail, since 2004 and had become passionate about the environment and sea animals. I had given up seafood, but was still fairly ignorant about animal issues around the globe. After the first night at the conference, I called my wife and said, “That’s it, I’m done [eating meat/using animal products].” I went there thinking I needed to learn more for the novel, but that event changed my life dramatically for the better and also broadened the scope of the novel.
FARM: What was your primary goal in writing The Tourist Trail?
JOHN: I wanted to create a book that would raise awareness and that someone with no knowledge or interest in animal rights could read and come away changed. It is designed to be a thriller, a literary adventure, and to draw you in without being too preachy. I grew up in the Midwest and was raised to be a meat-eater and not think about what I ate. I understand how difficult it is to think about these things and change the way you view the world. This is the person I hope to reach. I would love for people to read the book and go vegan, but I am also trying to show that these activists are worthy of the great epic novels of our time. Their struggle, taking on these unpopular and unprofitable causes, is heroic. We all like heroes, but we don’t realize they walk among us, are vegan, and are striving to protect animals.
FARM: Tell us about the inspiration behind The Tourist Trail.
JOHN: In 2004, I volunteered with The Penguin Project, helping with the penguin census in Punta Tombo, in the Patagonia region of Argentina. To say this was life-changing is an understatement. Twenty-five years ago this Magellanic penguin colony was almost wiped out as the Japanese were planning to harvest them to use for women’s gloves. A local park ranger and his wife managed to stop it. Dee Boersma (U. of Washington) started doing research to see if the colony was growing or shrinking. Now the colony is protected and is a popular tourist attraction; however, the penguins must now be protected from tourists during breeding season, and from many threats such as fishing and oil spills.
The people who work on behalf of these penguins are unbelievable. They dedicate their lives to these creatures. A number of the researchers have been there for 10 years or longer, doing the important work of counting and tracking these animals. They never tire. The work is tedious and it’s cold. Water is trucked in so they can have one cold shower a week. They are up at dawn and work until dark. The don’t complain and bear scars all over their arms from the penguins. They band thousands of penguins so that they can find out where they are going. They gather this data so that they can present the government with hard proof that the colony is diminishing and is struggling to find food because of the offshore fishing. Without data, the government will favor the fishermen.
One day in Punta Tombo, there were about a dozen of us eating lunch on the rocks, watching the penguins coming and going on the shore. Looking at the long shore of rocks, I had a vision of someone washing up and a naturalist discovering him. I returned home and wrote a short-story based on that vision. The story won an award and was published, but I wasn’t ready yet to let go of it. So I expanded it into a novel, which after numerous drafts became The Tourist Trail.
FARM: Why did you choose to focus on penguins?
JOHN: Penguins are great animals to focus on for a lot of reasons. As was explained to me, penguins are sentinels of the ocean. They are extremely sensitive to changes and so as we learn about them, we learn about the state of our planet. It’s also hard to meet someone who doesn’t like a penguin. I wanted to make the connection between penguins and the food on our plate. The food we feed to farmed salmon, for example, is being taken away from waters where the penguin feed. We take food from one species to feed another. There is no ethical or guilt-free seafood.
To really see what penguins deal with is incredible. They struggle to make a living, traveling hundreds of miles to get food and raise their chicks. A penguin couple acts as a tag team and if one gets caught in a net and dies, it will likely destroy the family as the other mate will have to leave to save his or her own life. A colony can be decimated very quickly.
FARM: Do the characters in the book represent real people?
JOHN: Angela seems very real to me, but she is really a collection of voices. Aeneas is a mythical figure inspired by Paul Watson. Ethan has a fair amount of me in him. And so does Robert, whose character goes through a transformation, just as writing this book was transformational for me.
And then there is the penguin character, Diesel, who was inspired by the real penguin, Turbo. Turbo is a special little guy in Punta Tombo who really took to the researchers. You can even pet him and he does not bite. He knows the people and comes when his name is called. He likes to hang out with the humans and tries to come into their offices. Turbo even has his own Facebook page and every year people wait for an update on his page to make sure he returned safely.
It’s hard for people to not get attached to Diesel/Turbo. It seems that when there are a lot of a certain kind of animal, we tend to think of them as alike and it can be easier to not care about them as individuals. But the minute one has a name and a personality, people begin to realize that they could all have a personality, a family, challenges, and histories. Just as farm sanctuaries are introducing animals as individual personalities. We are all very good at compartmentalizing. But I think we are getting to an age where those distinctions are going to be hard to uphold.
FARM: What kind of feedback have you received from people who have read the book? How is the book doing overall?
JOHN: Overall the responses have been very positive. I am self-published and it’s been going quite well. I’ve also been approached by a Korean publisher and it would be amazing to get it published overseas. After reading the book, even some of the most conservative people have paused to think more about the ocean. Some people told me they cried. One person said it was too traumatic and a few people could not finish it. But a lot of non-animal rights people picked it up because it sounded interesting and really liked it. That’s the best review of all.
FARM: What do you think the animal rights cause needs more of?
JOHN: The thing about both animal rights and the environment is that there is not enough fiction that focuses on these causes. If an activist is included in fiction, the character is typically portrayed as a wacko. I believe this has to change. I did find an agent for this novel and I was heartened to see that my book did not get rejected anywhere because of the animal rights theme. However, publishers are afraid to take chances, which is why the book did not find a home. However, once a few books do break through, then publishers will begin to pay attention. But we need to prove there is a mainstream market. I think it’s impossible to not see animal rights being one of the great mainstream issues of our generation and the next one. I’d like to encourage more writers to write about animal rights and environmental issues.
FARM: Do you have any projects you are working on currently?
JOHN: Yes, I am working on a loosely-related sequel, so stay tuned! Also, my wife, Midge Raymond, and I have formed Byte Level Books, which is dedicated to publishing books with a world view. We are currently looking for submissions from writers of animal rights or eco-lit. My wife is a full-time creative writer and we previously worked together to write a book with an environmental theme. We know there are so many voices out there and we want to help get those amazing stories out into the world.
Visit The Tourist Trail Web site to learn more about the book or to order copies. You can also connect with John on Facebook and on Twitter @touristtrail or @bytelevelbooks. You can reach him by E-mail at email@example.com.
~ Cindi Saadi for the FARM Blog
BOOK GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
For your chance at winning a free copy of The Tourist Trail, please complete the following 2 steps: (before March 2nd)
1) In a comment to this blog, please answer the following questions:
a) What is the title of your favorite animal rights novel? (except for The Tourist Trail, of course :-))
b) What type of animal rights novel would you like to see published? i.e. what type of story-line
2) On FARM’s Facebook page find the entry about THIS BLOG POST, then please post a comment to that post with your answers to the same 2 questions above.
**Extra) And for extra chances to win – Send a hello tweet to @FARMUSA and @Touristtrail and mention this blog post!
The two winners will be selected on MARCH 2nd, so enter soon!