The Destiny of T.M. Gaouette
“How did I come to care so much about the Catholic faith?"
Tairi Gaouette repeats this question aloud on an early summer morning as if maybe it is the first time she has ever considered it. She knows that if the question was put to one of the characters in her novels, it would need to be answered before the plot could move forward. Only today, sitting in an interview while her husband entertains the couple’s four children, she is the main character. And tracing the plot of her life backwards does not yield an obvious or suitably dramatic answer to this critical question.
Under the penname “T.M. Gaouette,” Tairi has published three successful young adult novels with Catholic themes; she has four more in the works. But this isn’t something she would ever have imagined herself doing during the journey that has brought her from her birth place in the southeast African country of Malawi to her life as the mother of four children in a small town in New Hampshire.
Growing up, Tai knew little of the stability that she and her husband Peter have provided their kids as home-schooling parents and members of St. Lawrence Parish. When she was still very young, her family moved from the African continent to England, a move that she would later understand coincided with her parents’ divorce. She and her sister would return to Africa for a couple of years with their mother and stepfather where they lived and went to school in Zimbabwe, but they spent most of their lives being raised by their mother in the city of London.
“Growing up in London was an amazing experience,” she recalls. “You can thrive in London, or you can spiral out of control. I loved living in London as a teen, but only because I didn't know God and focused only on myself.” Though she and her sister were baptized as Roman Catholics, the faith meant little to them as they went about their lives and came of age in the bustling city. “I don’t think it meant anything to me other than saying, ‘I’m Catholic’ if someone happened to ask. I know we didn’t live it. It was only in name.”
After finishing high school, Tairi moved to the United States to stay with her aunt in Bedford, N.H. Together they visited schools and “at the last minute I ended up enrolling at Saint Anselm.” Since she always loved writing, she naturally gravitated towards the English Department. She excelled as an English major, reading the essential authors of the English canon and improving as a writer. And though she attended Mass on campus with some regularity, religion was still not a major motivator in Tairi’s life.
After graduation, Tai began her career as a print broker; work that stemmed from having edited the college’s yearbook her senior year. Around this same time, she began to study and practice Kung Fu with a co-worker, eventually earning her Black Sash in that martial art. She also fell in love with her husband Peter and was married by Father Mathias Durette of Saint Anselm Abbey. In retrospect, Tai says, knowing some of the monks at Saint Anselm was important. “They sort of served as a bridge from the Church to me. In relationships and conversations they showed me how to live the faith without having to become a monk.”
Still, nobody who knew Tai during these years would have predicted that she would become a Catholic author determined to inspire a love of God and the Church in teens and young adults. So, while she recounts a plot that took her to three continents, with some predictable and unpredictable turns along the way, the question still hangs in the summer morning air: How did she come to care so much about the Catholic faith?
In Chapter 20 of The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch we can begin to get an answer to that question. Benedict, the book’s main character, has returned from his busy and successful international life to the special place that he had left behind, and to which he has been drawn back. In doing so, he discovers his destiny. Finally able to let go of the paralyzing fears he has carried with him for his entire life, Benedict is able to move forward in faith, and with a clear purpose.
Unlike Benedict and the other foster children who were his companions at Sunshine Ranch, Tai never really had to carry “a great burden within that was shrouded by fear of the unknown, prompted by the fear of their pasts.” But “T.M.” does write and speak with the experience of someone who proceeded through life without a particular purpose, who discovered her own destiny after many years, and who, having now found that purpose, moves forward with a particular urgency; a sort of let’s-get-on-with-it-then British determination.
So when did this author come to care so much about the Catholic faith?
“It was when I got married and had my first child that I really came to see how important faith was, and in particular the Catholic faith. I realized that I didn’t want my children just wandering around aimlessly because you can waste so much precious time. I want my children to know that they have a purpose and that purpose is God.” Providentially, Tai’s determination to make sure that her children know their purpose is the very thing that led her to discover her own purpose as a writer, because after all, it isn’t just her own children that need to be guided and shown their purpose. All young people do. “That’s where these books come from!” she explains.
“Growing up I always had a love for writing,” she recalls. “I experimented with poems and stories, but nothing I wrote had any purpose beyond entertainment. I feel like I went through most of my young life without a real anchor, with no real guide, and I am very intent upon giving my kids a guide,” she insists. “I want them to know that their real purpose is to serve God, to learn what their gifts are, and then put those gifts into service for God and others.”
While the books themselves may be a perfectly integral blend of a mother’s and a writer’s determination, the separate demands of those two vocations inevitably collide. Back in 2012 when she was just trying to finish her first book, Tai posted a reflection on her blog that eloquently captures that collision and subsequent yielding:
“I prepare a snack, send out the dog, clean the kitchen, and change a diaper. My only interruption is to grab a scrap of paper, napkin, piece of gum wrap, anything obtainable for me to safely transfer a soon-to-be renowned phrase or idea from thought.
"Finally, I’m onto my beloved chore, staring at my impending bestseller while my boy plays by my feet. The older two are in bed and my time has come. I read prewritten words in an attempt to transform my mind into one of a novelist’s. Distraction comes soon, however, when I feel little hands grabbing at me. I try to type faster, frantic to finish a thought. What was it, again? It’s too late. I’m no longer a writer. I’m a mountain that must be scaled. Little grunts indicate the magnitude of his mission and it’s too endearing to ignore.
"I surrender to his command and drag him onto my lap, hoping he’ll be entertained by the words appearing before us. I regain my literary composure, but soon my sleek lines of literary genius are tainted by an intrusive ‘g,’ followed by a roguish ‘p.’ The meddlesome letters continue appearing, accompanied by impish giggles, and my only response is a desperate, ‘no sweetie,’ ‘don’t touch,’ while maintaining as much patience as my deteriorating mood allows.”
Eventually the errant g’s and p’s of these small meddlesome fingers gave way to the crisp and engaging prose of “T.M.” whose readers have offered her praise from as nearby as her parish, from around the country, and from at least as many continents as she has lived on. “From page one,” writes one on-line reviewer, “I was pulled into this extremely moving novel about a young boy in the foster care system, unwanted and hurting, and how God draws him to himself by incredible and quite surprising events.” Another praises how the author, “describes each character with such love and truth that the reader comes to know them and love each of them.” And still another exclaims, “This book took me completely by surprise. From the amazing dialogue to the raw emotions it portrays and captures it is a wonderful read from the first to last word.”
Tai’s most recent novels have received similar praise, one reviewer calling Freeing Tanner Rose, the first book in the four part series she is working on, “one of the best Catholic Young Adult Stories I have read…The pace and intensity in this story was gripping. I barely put the book down and read it in two extended sittings. When I finished this novel, I was really wishing for more.”
Freeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith are part of the Kung Fu and faith series on which Tairi is presently at work. Recall that earning a Black Sash in Kung Fu was something she did soon after graduating from college, and today the whole Gaouette family participates in Karate classes at St. Lawrence. "I’ve been told that Kung Fu-and Catholicism is a fascinating affiliation,” she says, “But I’ve never been asked why I chose it. My reasons go far beyond the fact that both myself and the main character, Gabriel, are devoted to our faith and love Kung Fu. What Gabriel gets out of Kung Fu, he puts into his faith, such as physical and emotional strength, discipline, modesty, and balance. Kung Fu is also an external manifestation of his internal devotion.”
As a writer, Tairi continues to draw inspiration from the classic Christian authors of the 20th century: Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton. She also has a particular admiration for the way Ernest Hemmingway could make a simple scene come to life so vividly. For contemporary inspiration and support she turns to her fellow Catholic writers at Catholicteenbooks.com who provide assistance to one another both technically and spiritually in helping to supply Catholic youth with quality, spiritually edifying novels. While she works on the next two books in the Kung Fu and faith series, she also works to promote her books and cultivate an ever wider audience of readers. Meanwhile there is life amid the vibrant Gaouette tribe, among whom Tai can count two recent converts, one to the church and one to her fiction. Her husband Peter became a Catholic the Easter before last, and her oldest son Darius recently finished reading The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, “and loved it!”
“My kids know more about the faith than most children. I’d love all of them to be stronger in their faith than I am,” Tai says, noting that “Everyone’s trying to make the Catholic Church cool so that young people will stay active in their faith, but the Catholic Church is already cool. I want my books to show that the Church is cool. Everything we need to know to live a good life is in scripture and the Church,” she says emphatically. “Everything is there. Scripture is a guidebook to life, to love, to relationships, and everything else.
“And the Church gives us these amazing sacraments, all instituted by Christ himself, to strengthen our faith and help us along the path to salvation!” she says with the urgency of one who had to travel thousands of miles across three continents and finish her formal education before she finally found her purpose. “To my great mortification, Father Gerry at St. Lawrence called me out during a homily one Sunday,” she recounts. “He said that my writing is my ministry. That really stuck with me.
“These books are all learning experiences for me and I hope they are for others. One reviewer of Destiny said that many will find this to be a book that will stay with them for quite some time. Well, that’s what I wish for. I want teens and young adults to remember them, be impacted positively by them, and find hope in them.”
And that – give or take a few plot points – is how “T.M.” – a New Hampshire author with African roots, a lingering British accent, and stomping cowboy boots – came to discover her destiny, a destiny that she pursues amidst a hundred small interruptions a day, one fervent word, sentence, paragraph and chapter at a time.