Sunday, March 3, 2013

#BookChat SAILING DOWN THE MOONBEAM by Mary Gottschalk

Book Description:
With a destination loosely defined as the rest of the world, Mary and her husband Tom, leave behind family, friends and successful finance careers in New York City and embark on a five-year sailing adventure. 
As the voyage takes her farther and farther from traditional support systems, her world becomes more and more defined by forces outside her control. Her travels through often uncharted waters – emotional as well as physical — and remote island communities offer a compelling metaphor for a fascinating journey of self-discovery.

From the Author:
It took me two decades to fully process the implications of the journey covered in my memoir, in terms of both my emotional and my professional development.
One theme for Sailing Down the Moonbeam is the concept of stepping outside your comfort zone — that you learn the most about yourself when you are forced out of your normal routines and habits.  In my case, the sailing journey took me to countries where the language and the customs were unfamiliar and my support systems were very far away.   It had its lonely moments, to be sure, but I was forced — and more importantly, I was able — for the first time in my life to make decisions based on what I wanted rather than what my mother and my boss and my friends wanted me to do. 
A second theme, which I emphasize in my blog, is that the ability to control our lives is, most of the time, an illusion.   I first learned that lesson on the sailboat.  There are no paved roads and the directional signals are often unreliable.  With the ever-shifting winds and currents, getting to your destination requires a series of small corrections that you hope will get you there eventually.   Even so, you often end up someplace quite different from where you set out to go. 
In this sense, sailing is a powerful metaphor for life itself.  You can control the next thing you do, but you can’t control the outcome of anything, even the things you do.  It was a perspective so different from my pre-sailing days in New York, where I spent an enormous amount of emotional and physical energy trying to control things that ultimately couldn’t be controlled … whether I got the promotion I wanted, whether my staff got some report done on time, whether the subway door closed before I got to it.
Both of these themes are, I believe, relevant to everyone, even if they never leave their hometown.
Behind the Scenes: 
I had many years of professional and business writing, but the creative process required for a memoir or a novel was very new to me.  As I look back, there were four stages in the process:
1)  What story did I want to tell?  An adventure story?  A mid-life coming-of-age story? A combination of the two?  I was well into the writing of the book before it was really clear to me.
2)  How to tell it.   I had nearly 400 pages (single spaced, typed) of journals from the trip, including many exciting and colorful experiences.  For example, we spent just over a month in the Dominican Republic.  It was one of the most beautiful and interesting places we traveled during our sailing trip, but nothing that happened there was relevant to the story I wanted to tell.  Thus, there is nothing in Moonbeam about our time there.
3) Character development.  Professional writing requires logic and clarity, not descriptive ability or sensitivity to nuances of behavior.  A reader of an early draft pointed out that, while the story was interesting, the characters—myself and my husband— were flat.  Creating “characters,” even for two people I knew very well was one of the most challenging aspect of the memoir.
4) Truth vs accuracy.  My journal did not include dialogue.  As that is one of the best ways to move a story forward, I had to “make it up” based on my notes about the emotional issues and my knowledge of Tom’s and my own speech patterns.  I was greatly relieved when Tom (by then my ex-husband) agreed the story was true, even if some of the words I put in his were not strictly accurate. 
As a final comment, even though I was a polished professional writer, I learned that there is a great deal of “craft” behind effective creative writing.  From the time I first started on the memoir through today, I continue to take writing classes as a way of improving my craft.

Rachelle … thanks so much for the opportunity to do this book interview.  I’ve enjoyed your questions and hope your readers find this discussion interesting and useful.

Thanks Mary, for sharing your book and writing process with us. Readers can find out more at:

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  1. I enjoyed Sailing Down The Moonbeam enormously, Mary. You succeeded in holding my attention throughout - this coming from a suspense/thriller and historical novel reader. Let's just say you converted me to memoirs. Great interview as always, Rachelle.

  2. Thanks Joan ... I appreciate the compliment, as I know the genres are very different. I do read historical fiction, but I doubt if I've read more than a dozen suspense/thrillers in my whole life. But I will get to The Tangled Web!