A few weeks ago we did a Google hangout interview with Author Jennie Goutet, who wrote “A Lady in France.” She is such an engaging writer I thought my readers would enjoy learning more about her. So if you missed the video here is the transcript from the interview! You can still watch the video by clicking here
- First, tell us exactly how to pronounce your name?
The simple answer is that it’s pronounced “goo-tay.” There’s a nuance to the “ay” part that I have trouble pronouncing myself, but you can’t go wrong with goo-tay.
- How long have you been writing?
I’ve tried to write before, but couldn’t quite get it right. I was trying to write fiction with absolutely no previous training, and the plot was a bust. I started really practicing the craft five years ago when I began my blog. I slowly gained confidence that way, and when I set about to write a memoir, the plot was already in place, which made the whole thing easier.
- When did you first think of writing a personal memoir?
When I started writing about my past in Asia and Africa on my blog, a few people told me I should write a memoir, but I never took it seriously because I couldn’t see how it all fit together. But when I had a miscarriage, I finally saw the thread that would bind my eclectic experiences into one story – and that was my relationship with God. That was the continual thread, and that’s when I began the memoir in earnest.
The memoir is divided into three parts. “A lady unformed” is about my conversion story – the grief I suffered, my travels to Asia and France, and my slow acceptance of Christ. “A lady hard-pressed” is about the character discipline I received in my walk with God. In this section, I also talk about some of the blessings of following Christ, including marriage to a godly man. There are also a couple of chapters on our missionary life in Africa. And the last section is entitled, “A lady rooted and established” and this details the highs and lows of maturity in Christ, including babies and little cottages, along with church troubles and grief. I think everyone will find something they can relate to.
- You went all the way around the world to teach English as a young college grad. What do you think caused you to want to do something like that?
I think I was simply afraid of being ordinary. I wanted to reinvent myself as a way of finding sophistication and self-worth. Instead, I found God.
- When you were younger you reference your strong pride several times, but yet you were dealing with depression and insecurity. How do those opposite traits co-exist?
This is a really great question. I think that depression is not something we can overcome by will alone. Sometimes it needs prayer, sometimes counseling, sometimes medicine. Often a combination of everything is what does the trick. However, pride and insecurity (which are really the same thing) are both something we can control – something we can work towards overcoming as the Spirit makes us holy. We can choose to believe that our worth comes from Christ’s sacrifice, and that makes us no better and no worse than another. And yet, we are so uniquely precious to God we don’t need to clamor and grasp to be noticed. This sober estimate of ourselves is something we grow in in our walk with God.
- I was drawn to the descriptive way you write. How did you learn to describe emotions and your surroundings so well? Were you born with that talent?
Actually, this was probably a direct result of strong “encouragement” from a friend to put more meat on the bones. I sent her my initial draft of the memoir, and she said it completely lacked sensory descriptions. She wanted to feel like she was living it along with me. Once I figured out what she meant (by asking her for examples), I basically started from scratch and added the sensory descriptions that made the reader smell, taste, see, feel the things I did – all of which brought the story to life. Definitely not born with that talent.
- You describe several invitations you feel God sent your way. What do you think caused you to finally accept an invitation? I mean sometimes its trouble that drives us to Christ, what caused you to change from an agnostic person to a total God person?
In my case, I do think it was trouble that brought me to Christ. I was heartbroken over my parents’ divorce, traumatized from a car accident, and deeply scarred from my brother’s brutal suicide. I’m not sure I would have reached out for God if those event had not occurred. But what won me over to God in the end was simply the Bible and the love I found there. It was miraculous and easy to read. Full of answers, and more importantly – comfort. It saved me.
- What did you find hardest about surrendering to Christ?
Ha ha. My will. My stubborn will. I want things to happen my way all the time, and that is simply not part of the package deal we get when we surrender to Christ.
- You write about the challenges of purity in the book. What advice would you give parents or teenagers growing up in today’s world on premarital sex?
I’m sure you can speak much more eloquently on this subject, having gone through it . . . but I think setting the example by being super non-judgmental and completely open and approachable (i.e. not shocked when it doesn’t prove as easy for them as we think it should) – that coupled with actually talking about purity as something beautiful and worthy and admirable is what I find to be essential.
I mentioned in the interview that I also think it’s important to love (and treat naturally) those who are not living a pure lifestyle, whether it be people who are in a homosexual lifestyle or people who are “together” but unmarried. What works against purity, in my opinion, is criticism, judgment and hate because those things are not attractive and they will not attract our children to Christ.
- You talk about your realization that you drank too much and leave readers with the impression that you stopped. Do you still drink? How hard was it to stop?
It was surprisingly easy to stop because of the church culture I was in at the time. It was a little harder coming to France where wine and water are the two drinks offered at the table. But my husband doesn’t drink either, which helps a lot. We serve non-alcoholic wine at communion, and we don’t have alcohol in the house. So we are of the small non-Muslim minority in France that doesn’t drink.
- Your mission efforts in Africa sounded so hard and seemed to accomplish so little. What do you think you accomplished and what is the biggest lesson you and your husband learned from that experience?
It’s true that a lot of our time was spent twiddling our thumbs waiting for government approval, or waiting to return (from Kenya) to Somaliland post- 9/11. But we did accomplish quite a bit in those last 3 months in Hargeisa, opening the maternity hospital and improving the conditions at the orphanage. And I would say that even if I had done nothing for an entire year but sit on my hands, except for the one morning I held a baby orphan as he died, as I was quite likely the only person who had ever loved him in his short life – if I had done only that then the entire year could be counted as a success.
- You mentioned that you were a very successful teacher. Why didn’t you go into that once you returned to America?
Unfortunately, teaching isn’t my passion. It was fun when coupled with an adventure living overseas, but it wasn’t something I could see myself doing as a career. I greatly admire teachers and I am very grateful for them, but I am not one of them.
- I’m a guy who has never been depressed that I know of. How exactly did depression effect you? And you mentioned in the book that the medicine helped. How did it help? I mean how did it make you feel?
Depression is not something you can control. I have a pretty strong personality and if it were something I could just will away, I would have. From my (non-medical-degree) understanding, depression is due to a low level of the naturally-occurring serotonin, found principally in the intestines, and also in the brain. All medicine does is to bring that level up to normal. It doesn’t make you “happy” per se. It just gives you the will to participate in life again and the ability to find solutions to ordinary problems.
- Do you have any advice for couples on how to deal with or overcome postpartum depression? I mean for a guy what can we do to help with that sort of thing?
I think the most important thing a guy can do is to not freak out. Postpartum Depression (PPD) is normal – a large percentage of woman experience it after childbirth. It can cause you to have thoughts of harming the baby or harming yourself. Someone who has always had a stoic (or even sunny) disposition can find themselves weeping all the time with no hope. The best thing a husband can do is to get her help – call the local PPD group and get someone over there who can relate and give her the tools to overcome. Often the very act of calling will simply be too much for the mom, so this is a very supportive act on behalf of her husband.
- Your church sounds so wonderful. Can you explain how important it has been to your faith and has it recovered from some of the troubles you wrote about?
I have a very strong conviction that our faith is not meant to be lived out alone. It is meant to be lived out in a group. For one thing, all of the conversions in the Bible happened in the presence of other people. For another, all of the epistles were written (mostly by Paul) to churches of believers that were all connected through relationships. Sometimes there was exhortation and sometimes rebuke, which is only effective if you are in people’s lives. Our heart is too deceitful to try and remain righteous on our own strength. It just doesn’t work. And that’s where the importance of the church comes in.
Our church has never been perfect, but I would say that we have recovered from a lot of the problems of “hyper-vigilance” and nitpicking over people’s sin, and I think we are the better for it because discipleship is still the forefront of the movement. In the end – after salvation – we are all individually responsible for walking in holiness and righteousness. I’m not sure this is a very coherent answer, but bottom line is – I do love my church and I wouldn’t be where I was at spiritually without it.
- What do you hope readers take away from A Lady in France?
Oh, I have to say I hope they will love it! J I hope they feel kinship – that they’re not alone in their struggles – and that they will see what a glorious God we have in heaven.
- What is your writing process? Do you have to have complete quietness and be alone? Do you need a beautiful view or music? What gets your creative juices going?
Yeah. I have three kids. And a dog. If I can grab twenty minutes while they’re plunked down in front of the TV, I’m golden. My standards are so low. But some peace and quiet really does help with creativity, along with the occasional vacation to renew my sense of wonder.
- What are a few of your favorite books?
Apart from the Bible, which I almost don’t mention since it’s more than just a book, I was very influenced by Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and all of Jane Austen’s books, notably Pride & Prejudice. I love Georgette Heyer – The Unknown Ajax to choose just one of her 50 books. I giggled through Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad and loved The Idiot by Dostoevsky. There are so many – I like to read.
- What is your next project? Are you writing anything now?
As a matter of fact, I am. I took a huge plunge and am doing a book-length series on my blog, called The Viscount of Maison Laffitte. If you feel like getting lost in my little fictional romance/mystery, you can read it for free, starting with Chapter One http://aladyinfrance.com/um-chapter-one/. I plan to publish it when completed.
To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I can pull it off (the whole not-good-at-plot debacle) but this is a good way to keep me accountable and keep me writing.
Readers can get a copy of “A lady in France” by clicking here:
And… since we are talking to “A lady in France,” I thought a Tour de France photo would be fitting!
After I lost that monster smally I was disappointed. He was so close and he got away, but when you are fishing, as in life there is only one thing to do- keep casting. You can’t catch a fish staring at into the water with your pole across your lap.
We kept hugging the shoreline and throwing our lure into every crag and good-looking fish hideout we could see. Dad and I led and Courts and Grant followed. We did catch server nice Pike that we knew would make for a tasty fish fry that night but no big small mouths.
Our goal was Bald Eagle creek and we were getting closer. It was still a cloudy and overcast day and the fish were biting so I was excited about getting to Dad’s “secret” spot where even Mom had caught big fish. When we finally saw the creek I changed lures to a giant yellow rooster tail (Mom said that’s what she caught all her fish on there in 1980,) as Dad gave me the final instructions on being ready to catch fish. He said Mom almost caught a fish on every cast 20+ years ago, which added to my pressure.
As we started up the mouth of the creek there was a huge rock on our right side and Dad said, “We always catch one here.” Right after he said that I made a perfect cast to the edge of that rock and sure enough hung a nice Pike. That made me a believer on how much of a honey hole Bald Eagle Creek was.
Dad kept paddling and advising me on where to cast and I kept catching fish. The water was really shallow and we could easily see the bottom as we headed upstream. The grass and lily pads were thick against the edges and the Pike were sitting underneath them and attacking my lure with each cast. The trick was to cast as close to the grass as possible without getting hung.
We tried to stay quiet and cast without snagging but there were several casts where I threw to far and caught the brush. Each time Dad would have to paddle over to my snag and he would say, “You can’t catch fish getting hung up,” or he would add, “Your as bad as your Mom at casting, can’t you cast any better than that?”
Courts and Grant followed us up the creek and Grant was having a ball while pulling them in. I don’t know how many we caught but we started throwing the “small” ones back. We finally reached a point where the water was so shallow we had to stop and Dad parked our canoe so we could hike up to Beaver Creek and check out the Beaver Dam.
It was only a few hundred yards to the Beaver Dam but there was no trail and it was an adventurous hike through rocks, brush and millions of mosquitoes. I took my pole hoping to catch a monster fish in the Beaver Pond and when we reached the dam it was a beautiful pond that looked like it should be full of very large fish just waiting to be caught by an adventurer brave enough to blaze and trail through the brush and mosquitoes. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a bite.
We headed back to our canoes, stretched our backs and headed back down Bald Eagle Creek. After a very long day sitting in the canoe it felt good to get up and walk around, but the mosquitoes were so bad I wanted to get out in the breeze over the water where they didn’t bother us as much.
We had another fun time catching fish all the way down the creek and we were almost back to the big rock with Courts and Grant in front of us when Grant hooked his biggest fish of the trip. He was trying to pull it in and his drag was screaming while Courts and Dad were coaching him on the finer points of fish catching. I took the camera out and got the whole thing on film.
It was late in the day so we headed back along the same shoreline for our campsite. Dad kept paddling and I kept fishing but I was anxious to get back to the spot where I had hung my monster small mouth. I wanted another chance at him and thought maybe he would bite again or his wife or his bigger daddy would be there to jump on my line. Dad caught a few Walleye and I hooked a Pike or two as we got closer to the “spot.”
A couple of coves up when we were really close to shore I made a short cast off the point of a cliff that didn’t look very special and hooked a fish. I was trying to reel him in, but my drag kept slipping and Dad looked at me and said, “Son, you need to tighten that drag some or you’ll never get these fish in.”
I was thinking he was right and about that time he exploded out of the water and I understood the reason the drag was slipping, I had another ginormous smallmouth on the line. As soon as Dad saw him he told me to get the net. This time the handle was out and ready and I wasted no time in getting the net and scooping up my trophy small mouth!
He was BIG and I was happy!! All the disappointment from losing that other smally was washed away. I very carefully put him on the stringer and after that all I wanted to do was get back to camp and show Courts and Grant. Of course after I calmed down I told dad that even as big as my current smally was, the one that got away earlier was even bigger.
It was a somewhat uneventful trip back. Dad caught another small walleye and we had to paddle against the wind across the last part of the lake to get to our campsite but I wanted to weigh and measure my fish.
Dad left his fish scale at home because he thought it would be too heavy to trek in. At his age every ounce was a burden so we didn’t have an accurate way to weigh my monster. I got a 5 Pound bag of potatoes that Mom had sent and held them in one hand and my fish in the other. They seemed about even to me and Courts double checked my accuracy and confirmed the weight. It measured almost 19 inches and we estimated it was 5 pounds.
I can tell you it made for a giant fish fry. I love fish and I have eaten a lot of good fish in my life, but I don’t think fish can ever be as good as they are after a long day on the Boundary Waters. There is something about frying some fresh fish that were just caught out of a lake that is so clean you can drink the water straight out of it. Frying up fresh fish in pure coconut oil that have been dipped in Mom’s secret cornmeal mix is as good as it gets!
Click here to watch video of Dad Frying Fish
We had a wonderful evening sitting around our campfire and ate fish till we couldn’t eat any more as we watched the sun set in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. I learned that when the wind blows out of the West and it’s a cloudy overcast day, GO FISHING because fish do bite best when the wind blows from the West! Next year I will volunteer to carry the 2 oz fish scale into camp.
Each morning Dad would get up early and take Courts out in a canoe and they would fish. I would get up, find a nice rock to sit on, read the Bible and thank the Lord for such a beautiful place. It seems like when there are no phones, TV’s, or radios, it’s easier to talk to God. It just seems like he can hear you better and I know I can hear him better with all the cares of life on hold.
After that, I started pancakes while Grant built a fire. Like most young boys, Grant loved building fires. He hunted wood, chopped wood and kept the fire going even in the rain. It was sure handing having a boy like Grant doing such a good job finding wood to keep the fire going. Dad and Courts got back about 9:00 a.m. and we finished breakfast.
It was an overcast day and the wind was blowing out of the west. Dad has always repeated that old wives tale that says, “Wind from the East, fish bite least. Wind from the West, fish bite best.” Well I never really thought much about it, but this trip to the BWCA has me believing.
We paddled up across Bald Eagle Lake, which is the lake we were camped on, and then we turned to the east and fished up the north side of that big cove. We went right back by our first campsite on this route. We picked this location because Dad said that back when he brought Mom to the BWCA they fished that cove all the way back to Bald Eagle creek and that Mom caught more fish that day than ever before. Dad also added, “I caught my biggest northern ever at the end of this cove.” That had Grant, Courts and me all excited and ready to hit that cove!
The great thing about fishing with Dad this year was he let me sit in the front of the canoe while he sat in the back. He likes to catch walleye, so he would let his line out and troll while he paddled. This allowed me to fish without having to paddle, unless he got hung. I was living the life of Riley up at the front!!
We rounded the first outcropping and turned into the big cove and I started fishing. Dad had given me a hard time about bringing a big dip net I bought, because he said in all his trips he never brought a dip net. I’m an optimist so I packed it in anyway. The only problem with this net was the handle had a release button that had to be pushed to get it all the way out. I had it in the canoe but I had not released the handle yet. This would prove disastrous!!
Another major concern was my lure. That morning when we were rigging our poles dad had me put on the red and white dare devil he caught his big northern with over 20 years ago. I told him I didn’t want to use that one, because if I got hung and lost it, I would never hear the end of how I lost his best lure. He insisted so reluctantly, I put it on while I said a prayer that God would not let me lose this lure.
We fished about ½ mile along the shore as dad paddled, but had not caught anything. We came to a small inlet that had two big rocks sticking out with some water in the middle between them. It was the kind of spot I just knew a big fish was in. I was a little worried about the cast because occasionally I would over cast and hit the rocks and dad would rib me for scratching the paint off his best lure.
I carefully flipped the pole and made a great cast with the dare devil landing perfectly between the rocks where my dream fish was waiting. Sure enough, WHAM, something hit that lure and the fight was on! I started reeling him in not knowing how big or what kind of fish he was. I could feel the front of the canoe pull to the right as he took a run out to open water. Courts and Grant were also to our right and they watched the whole episode.
Just like the old days dad was coaching me and by this time I knew he was big. He was getting closer to the canoe and dad said, “Wow, he is big you better get the net.” As I was reaching behind me with one hand trying to grab the net he jumped out of the water and that’s when we could tell it was the biggest smally we had ever seen. The small mouth bass get big up there and they have a brilliant gold color to their bodies. Even though it was a cloudy day I can still remember the brilliant shine to his scales as he leaped out of the water on the final jump.
I was reaching for the net, he leaped, we saw how big he was, the hook came out and he was gone. I just sat their staring at the now calm water that was being thrashed by my monster smally just a second ago. It was so sad and it happened so fast. Courts chimed in about how big he was and dad said, “Wow that would have been the fish of the trip, if you would have caught him.”
I just sat there gazing at the water, but after a few seconds I quickly made another cast between the rocks… nothing happened. He was gone and I had missed my chance. Of course, they now started ribbing me about my net not being ready and how I had let the state record smally off the hook. I just kept quiet, kept casting and made sure the net was ready for the next one.
I’ll have to finish this post later. There was a lot of action on day three and it will take more than one post to cover it all.
As I said, our first day we had perfect weather. No wind, lots of sunshine and a perfect day to arrive and set up camp. Did I also mention that I caught the first fish that day? It was a good thing we had nice weather because that night it started raining and the temperature dropped. We were all thankful to have the camp set up. I was sharing a tent with dad and unfortunately, our tent leaked. This was the same tent that leaked back in 1982 when he brought me to the BW the first time.
This time I had a nice iso mat to sleep on and I only used a Pancho liner because it was so warm. Thankfully, my sleeping bag was rolled up and didn’t get wet. In 1982 we were on the lake fishing and Dad wouldn’t let me put my poncho on because he said I could get dry cloths when we got back to camp. Of course when we got back to camp my bag and cloths were soaked. This year all my stuff was dry, but Dads bag did get wet.
Not only did it rain that night, but we woke up to a cold downpour that morning. We hung up a tarp to keep us dry, but the wind was blowing hard, which made the rain impossible to avoid. We couldn’t build a fire to cook breakfast and once we were wet it was cold. Times like that are what make camping miserable. That’s when Dad said he thought he was getting to old to come up there and hike in. He said I would have to bring everyone up next time. I was thinking I don’t want to come up and sit in the rain next
time either. Thankfully the rain stopped, but the sun didn’t come out and the wind started really blowing. That made us even colder but it did dry everything out, and it blew the mosquitoes away.
The wind made big waves and we tried to head out on the lake and fish but it was just to rough. We made it to a small island about 1/2 a mile from our campsite and used it for a wind break. When we were behind it the wind was blocked and it was nice, but once we were unprotected from the wind it got rough on the water. With two guys in a canoe who weighed… hmmmm lets say a lot, it was a bit scary with the big waves.
So we stayed on shore and took a nap with no mosquito’s bothering us while we enjoyed the afternoon. We did fish from our campsite, but didn’t catch much. Then Courts, Grant and I found a trail and hiked to another cove that was blocked from the wind and did some fishing. Grant caught the biggest lake perch on our trip in that cove. After that Grant got hung and lost the only lure we had so we decided to hike back and Courts thought he knew a quicker way through the woods that would come out on a different trail.
I don’t know if you have ever hiked through woods that have never been logged and probably have never had a human walk through them but it is rough. Tress were blown over everywhere and the moss was thick and spongy. There were pockets of stagnant water that served as mosquito maternity wards. While we wondered around on this “short” cut we were sweating and being attacked by mosquitoes. After quite a while we ended up on a high spot overlooking our cove and campsite so we took another “short” cut through the woods, got off track, overshot our campsite and ran into the same trail we started our journey on.
Fortunately it was a short and easy walk back to our campsite because Grant was getting tired. Dad was wondering where we were because we had left him sleeping when we went on our hike. Once home we started dinner and ate fresh caught fish some grilled potatoes and red beans and rice.
Finally, we read a Proverbs and had our devotional then turned in about 9:00 p.m. when the sun went down, hoping for better weather in the morning.
Here are two short videos, one of us in the rain and one showing how big the waves were.
My dad will be taking my brother Courts and his kids Grant and Luke along with my brother-in-law Chris Taylor and his son Samuel and me and my son Will to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in July. I thought I might post a little bit about how our last trip went in 2011. The boundary waters are a group of natural lakes on the Canadian and Minnesota border where you have to hike in and they do not allow engines or boats. It is beautiful and the water is so clear and clean you can drink it right out of the lake.
What the rules mean is that you have to carry everything you need for the week including your canoe. Our first hike or what they call a portage was a 280 rod jaunt (about 8/10 of a mile) into the Boundary water Canoe Area (BWCA) from the road. It took each of us two trips to get both canoes and all the food, equipment and gear to the water. I carried our 64 pound canoe on my shoulders with a food pack on my back for my first trip then I jogged back and strapped two packs on the front and back of my body with several other things in my hands. Needless to say that was a good workout, but I was pumped up and full of energy with all the excitement of getting there.
We then paddled all the way through three big lakes to our campsite. It was about a 4 mile trip, which was another good workout. First, there was Little Gabro, then Gabro, then into Bald Eagle. There were some rapids going into Bald Eagle and with all our gear in the canoe we had to get out and carry it over a few rocks and into Bald Eagle Lake. Of course once we got to our campsite and unloaded everything we decided we didn’t like it, so we scouted around and found a better one and had to reload everything and transport it over to the new site. All in all, it was a full day of hiking, paddling and loading gear.
It is a long drive from Missouri to the Boundary Waters. We stayed in Ely, MN the first night and woke up early the next morning to do the portage and set up camp. The 2011 trip included dad, Courts, Grant and me.
Here is a short video of us in Ely, Minnesota.