These are insightful questions, and offer a look into my personal history and how my experiences shaped me as an author and an artist.
1. Your journey has taken you from Michigan through Florida and Washington D.C, all the way to Montana. What are your defining memories of each of these places?
2. I was born in Michigan, so it will always hold my earliest childhood memories. Since my father, the noted artist Boyd A Zimmer, died there when I was 6, it is the most defining memory of my life and it shaped my future. One of my strongest memories was shortly before his death, when he carried me out of our house one night after it had caught fire from a lighting strike during a violent storm. Some of my happier memories from the Great Lakes State include sitting in a Sanders Ice Cream Shop enjoying a hot fudge sundae, and spending summers in Traverse City where I played at the lake and picked cherries from the local orchards. A favourite memory is playing board games with my maternal grandmother, “Gram”. Regrettably, a couple of years after my father’s death, my mother remarried, and we moved to Florida. It would be many years before I was able to reconnect with my family in Michigan. Living in Florida was much different from life in Michigan. The intense cold of winter and the overcast days were replaced by sunshine and very warm, humid weather. The extra time spent outdoors provided me ample opportunities to pursue activities that engaged my love of both wildlife and art. By age 19 I was working in conservation law enforcement as a Duty Officer covering a third of the state, where I monitored and controlled the movements and communications of state wildlife officers responding to both routine calls and emergencies. In my spare time l handled all kinds of birds and mammals as a volunteer for the Audubon Society. This included taking many different species of birds into the schools and teaching the children about them. Seeing their faces light up is a memory I hold dear. Eventually, I gave up the security of my law enforcement post to pursue my passion for art. Perhaps it was my bond with my late father, but I always felt that my true calling was drawing, painting, and sculpting wildlife. It was a struggle at first, but eventually I established a reputation for myself and was managing fairly well. A few years later, after I had married and started a family, another pivotal moment occurred in my life. My husband had been recalled to active duty as a United States Air Force Officer, and was stationed at the Pentagon when the terrorist attack took place. My husband, fortunately, survived, but the next six years dramatically changed our daily lives. The demands of a military at war meant precious little quality time spent together, so I put my art on hold and focused on raising our two daughters. When he retired in 2007, we moved as far away from Washington, D.C., as we thought practical, preferring rural Montana and an opportunity to begin a new kind of life. We eagerly embraced the wide open spaces and breath-taking scenery. Designing and building our western home was our first big challenge and the beginning of our new adventure, and that’s really where this story starts.
3. As a mother, what is your view of the world that your girls have grown up in, especially when compared to your own childhood and adolescence? Without going into upsetting details, I will admit my experiences growing up were unpleasant. Therefore, my first priority has been to give my children a happy and safe family life, filled with fun and loving memories. Country life has advantages that I wanted them to experience, and regardless of where we lived, I wanted to raise them with a sense of hope. Stepping into the outside world will have its difficulties, so my goal for my daughters is to have them prepared to face life’s realities while still achieving their dreams.
4. You successfully made the leap from law enforcement to art: a massive change in career path. Was it daunting to take that decision, and if so, what gave you the courage to try? The most daunting aspect was giving up a regular pay check! The transition itself was rather smooth. I had been supplementing my income from my animal and nature drawings. Officers or biologists often asked me for wildlife illustrations and I sold some commissioned artworks as well. When I started to feel the deleterious health effects of years of erratic hours and midnight shifts, I decided to change my life and “retired” at age 23. Most of the people I knew thought it was a huge mistake and I would pay for my error in judgement. But those who knew me well were encouraging. In the end I decided I had developed a well-planned and calculated risk which was worth investing in, and so the next chapter in my life began.
5. Your debut book Go West, Young Woman! marks the start of another chapter in your creative life. How would you describe your writing process? I am fortunate that I can write from my own recollections and perceptions of our family experiences. Sometimes I struggle to find the best way to present a story, but usually it flows from my mind to my keyboard. Whenever possible, I look for the humor in most experiences, and list a few notes in an outline, which makes my writing style very fluid. I prefer to write when it is quiet, but I often find myself challenged to block out the fray around me. Having a cup of tea nearby helps.
6. Which species is your absolute favourite subject from an artistic point of view amongst the various creatures that you have encountered? I find that a very difficult question to answer. I love the birds of prey, with their single-mindedness and focus on the hunt. The colorations in their feathers have always fascinated me and challenged my ability to capture them realistically in my work. I have also spent countless hours with some of the larger cats – Bengal Tigers, Florida Panthers, Western Cougars, and Clouded Leopards. They have so many dimensions to their personalities, but since I now see cougars here in my own backyard, I have grown to appreciate them even more. As an artist, I love to capture that certain look in their eye that portrays their individual spirit.
7. What would be your advice to aspiring conservationists? I would suggest that aspiring conservationists find the area they are most interested in and explore the possibilities. There are many opportunities in the career field: education, law enforcement, biology, marine studies, wildlife rehabilitation, forestry, and of course, art. As an example of the last option, the proceeds from one of my limited edition art prints was used to provide college tuition grants for students in New Jersey who studied conservation. Having a love and respect for nature and wildlife can be a part of your life, but doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make it a career. I recommend they explore groups and clubs that focus on conservation and find one that appeals to their ideals. Volunteer opportunities abound for all ages, but finding that spark of interest and dedication that reaches you somewhere inside is the beginning of a true conservationist.