This month, we look at another young adult fiction novel – and yet another novel set in South Africa. Thanks to Stormbird Press and author Gila Green for the interview and essay. Stormbird Press, one of Dragonfly’s affiliates, is a new publisher in Australia. As an imprint of Wild Migration, Stormbird is deeply connected to the global environment movement. Wild Migration is a not-for-profit conservation organization that has worked around the world for years to build participation capacity among wildlife scientists, wildlife policy experts, and civil society to secure international wildlife conservation.
About the Book
In No Entry (Stormbird Press, 2019), Canadian teenager Yael Amar signs on to an elephant conservation program and comes face-to-face with violence, greed, murder, and the taste of a very real danger for all of us: elephant extinction. The story takes place in South Africa’s famous and breathtaking Kruger National Park.
Yael vows to devote herself to saving the planet from human greed and is set to learn all she can about ivory poaching when she accidentally encounters a murderous poaching ring taking place below the surface of her newfound paradise. She receives a second blow when she discovers that her idol, Clara Smith, the prestigious and well-respected program director, profits from blood ivory while preaching about the sanctity of wildlife. Yael is forced to decide on a new mission: expose this poaching ring to the police or return to the safety of her normal life – before she becomes their next victim.
On her journey, she is accompanied at times by her conservative, naive boyfriend, David, and at other times by her new brash best friend, New Yorker Nadine Kelly. She is inspired by her African guide, Sipho, a poverty-stricken artist, professional park ranger, and ultimately, her partner in risking her life.
As Yael is forced to confront the ugly face of elephant slaughter, she grieves the loss of her brother Ezra, who was murdered in a terrorist firebombing before the novel begins. It is this grief that gives her the strength to confront the evil men who would empty Africa of every last elephant to fill their own pockets.
Chat with the author
Stormbird: Tell us a little about yourself, including your interests and hobbies.
I am very proud of my children, and my greatest pleasure is to spend time with them. That turns out to be a lot of time, but it’s well worth it. After my family, my second love is, of course, writing. In addition, I love power walking, yoga, pilates, nature, travel, hiking, cooking, and I’ll never say no to a day off at a Dead Sea spa.
Stormbird: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your work?
Before I wrote No Entry, I searched for something to take my writing away from the Israel landscape. There’s plenty to write about Israel and the Middle East, but after writing three books playing with those settings, I wanted to expand my canvas.
I have a writing partner who once told me that writers are really just writing the same book over and over again with different characters. I didn’t want to be one of those writers!
At the same time, I have always known one of my writing strengths (I have plenty of weaknesses too, structure anyone?) is location. I believed changing location would immediately alter my characters. Characters derive from location and not the other way around; though many writers begin with characters, I always begin with location in time and space.
And it worked! As soon as I delved into Kruger National Park, got caught up in the trees, birds, and animals, my characters changed too, and the expansion I was looking for took place. It gave me a breather from what I’d been writing about for years, and I loved it. I’m looking forward to the sequel. Yael will be back, and Clara’s not too happy with her or Nadine!
Stormbird: Who are some of your favorite authors and how do you feel they impacted your writing?
As an ex-literature major, I admit I was once snobby about books. I only read what is known as literary fiction for decades. It took me a while to realize that was a big mistake. Now I read everything, well, almost everything. I’ll never be a big fantasy or science fiction fan, but I’ve learned to really enjoy writers like Neil Gaiman, someone I wouldn’t have looked at when I was twenty.
As a Canadian, I grew up on Canadian literature and love the Canadian writers we all know, such as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Atwood was also born in Ottawa, by the way, three years after my mother was born there, so that might be one of the reasons I enjoy her. She grew up in the same place and time period as my mother. Alice Munro grew up not far from Ottawa, too, and in a similar time period.
Both of these writers influence me to this day. I honestly couldn’t list all the writers I love and who influence me, but some of them are Leonard Cohen, Truman Capote, Bernard Malamud, Flannery O’Connor, Joan Didion, and Joyce Carol Oates.
I was once published in Fiction Magazine alongside a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, and I was thrilled to pieces. To this day, I wonder if she ever read her courtesy copy and noticed my story. It’s hard for me to believe she would, but I can dream. Joyce, if you’re reading, please let me know.
Stormbird: There are some scary moments in No Entry. Did you struggle with how graphically to write the discovery of the poached elephant scene or the violent scene with the poachers?
Yes. I wanted the book to be aimed at young adults because I believe they are the generation that needs to know – and most in the West don’t seem to be aware that their grandchildren might not see elephants, except in the odd zoo. They will be the most affected by animal extinction and we, as adults, have a responsibility to tell them.
I believe a novel with an admirable heroine and a little romance thrown in will reach more young people than a non-fiction book. So, yes, there is some violence, but it’s very tempered because I definitely took the audience age into account.
The truth is I believe less is more. There’s no need to sensationalize the scenes. Elephant slaughter in plain language is enough. In addition, there’s a sub-theme of terrorism in the novel because violence is universal. I purposely made the terrorist event happen in Canada because I wanted to get the message across that senseless violence doesn’t just happen in Africa or the Middle East. That attitude might allow some of us to feel off the hook. It happens everywhere, and we all have to make sure we are part of the solution or there won’t be one – and that thought is too devastating to imagine. I refuse to go there, and No Entry ends on a victorious note for a reason.
Stormbird: Thank you so much, Gila. It has been a pleasure spending time with you. All of us No Entry fans are looking forward to meeting Yael again in your sequel.
Gila Green On Why She Travelled to Hotspots in Africa
My fellow Ottawans, residents of the world’s seventh coldest capital, accused me of having an affinity for “hotspots” after I’d lived among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel, and spent six months in South Africa, all by the age of 23.
At the time, I hadn’t appreciated how challenging my “coldspot” worldviews would serve me as a writer. My senses savored scenes I couldn’t have imagined; a ride on a downtown bus with strangers who thought nothing of asking you to hold their babies while they paid the driver; delicacies like halva (gourmet sesame bars), silan (date honey), and tehina (sesame paste) in the grocery store; the tribulations of trying to pay a bill in a different country (in Israel, it is unfathomable to me how many people sit for hours at the post office to pay their monthly utility bills); or the shock of trying to renew your Canadian visa in South Africa.
We traveled to a government office in Soweto that had every window shattered. We would have phoned ahead to make an appointment, but the phone cables had been dug up and stolen long before we arrived. Despite being the only one in the queue for Tourist Renewals, I waited hours to be informed I had to come back tomorrow.
For all of our wealth and education in the West, there’s a concerning stereotyping of other parts of the world. Since I completed my journalism degree in the early nineties, negative news has increased in both intensity and frequency. Studies show news outlets worldwide have become gloomier from the late 1970s to today.
“As long as bad things have not vanished from the face of the earth, there will always be enough incidents to fill the news, especially when billions of smartphones turn most of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents,” laments psychologist and author Steven Pinker.
That’s bad news for all of us and for writers in particular. If we avoid the Middle East and Africa because of the negative stereotypes (death, war, hunger), or write only from those points of view we see presented in the major media outlets, we betray the truth. We are guilty of neglecting the warmth, development, and the positive conservation efforts that are being done to preserve the globe for all of us. For more of this to happen, more of us from coldspots need to warm up.
Wild Elephants in Africa
From Dragonfly and news sources: Just recently, new export laws proposed at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) mandated limits on the export of wild African elephants. According to National Geographic:
The capture and sale of live elephants has come under increasing criticism as scientists have learned more about the complexities of elephant behavior and intellect. Elephants often refuse to leave their sick or dying behind. They’re smart, social creatures with family bonds that last a lifetime. And in recent years, evidence has stacked up that they use tools, work together to achieve common goals, mourn their dead, and are capable of empathy. During certain times of the year, African savanna elephants are highly gregarious, with hundreds gathering together.
The ban limits the capture and sale of wild elephants; Chinese and American zoos can no longer buy them. Though the sale of elephants from some African countries was already banned, it was easier for South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to export to overseas zoos. The new measure protects wild elephants even more.
According to World Wildlife Magazine:
In 1930, as many as 10 million wild elephants roamed huge swaths of the African continent. But decades of poaching and conflict have since decimated African elephant populations. In 2016, experts estimated that Africa’s elephant population had dropped by 111,000 elephants in the span of a decade. Today, there are just 415,000 elephants across Africa. While elephant poaching is trending downward, with significant declines in East Africa, poaching continues to steer the species dangerously nearer to extinction.
Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change(Routledge). Mary lives in Nova Scotia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.