Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome Mary Gottschalk, author of the memoir Sailing Down the Moonbeam. Mary stops by today for an interview about her memoir and her current work. On Book Review Friday April 26, I’ll post a review of Sailing Down the Moonbeam.
Thanks for stopping by today, Mary. I’ve read your memoir, but I wondered if all your books have a common theme or thread?
Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, defines risk-taking as “jumping off a cliff and growing your wings on the way down.” At first glance, that sounds preposterous. But upon reflection, it is something we all do, all the time. When you change jobs. When you move to a new city. When you get married. When you have children. In each case, you are stepping out of a familiar environment into one that will challenge you in ways you can only guess at.
I find this quote compelling because I believe you learn the most about yourself and your place in the world when you step outside of your comfort zone. Too many of people stay in unhealthy relationships or unsatisfying jobs because they are afraid to step out into the unknown. In my view, growing those new wings is a critical part of the journey to emotional maturity. This is one of the key themes of my creative writing.
Why have you chosen to write about this particular theme?
I first learned the value of stepping outside my comfort zone during the nearly three years I spent sailing from New York to New Zealand via the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean. As recounted in my memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam, I walked away from a “successful” but unsatisfying career, and left behind all of the physical and emotional support systems I’d taken for granted for forty years. As I traveled through uncharted waters—physical as well as emotional—I found myself free to rethink my own social and spiritual values. I didn’t always end up where I thought I was going, but I certainly ended up where I needed to be.
It didn’t take me long to realize that sailing is a metaphor for life and for stepping outside of your comfort zone: the path to your destination is often poorly marked, the route you take depends on external conditions, such as the weather, and all too often you end up someplace very different from where you set out to go.
Although the protagonist in my novel remains in her New York home, she too is forced to cope with the unfamiliar when she has to balance the demands of a distraught teenage daughter and an unconventional rebound romance after her husband leaves her. As she begins to understand why this exhilarating and compelling new relationship – her lover is a woman – threatens some of the values she holds most dear, she also begins to understand her own contribution to the failure of her marriage.
You went sailing in 1985 and then waited twenty years to write about it. Why did you wait that long to tell your story?
I tried several times, between 1985 and 2002, to write a memoir, but those early attempts felt a bit lifeless, as I didn’t yet know how the story ended.
It was one thing to stand on the deck of my yacht and talk about what I had learned and how I had grown, to say that I was no longer going to play “emotional games,” to insist that I wanted to march to my own drum. But those were just words. I had no reason to think the world cared what I had learned or what I wanted. And I had no basis for assuming that I would do things differently once I went back to the world of work and family and friends. It took well over a decade for me to realize that I was approaching life in a new way, and that it was bringing a level of personal satisfaction and financial success I’d never imagined would be mine. I needed the intervening years to get that perspective.
That’s important information to share with others. What’s the best thing said about your memoir by a reviewer?
I have been thrilled by Moonbeam readers who have experienced a “shiver of recognition,” who have come away from my story with a new insight about his or her own life experiences.
Most of my Moonbeam readers are not sailors, and I suspect that many of my novel readers will not have experienced a lesbian relationship. But it pleases me when the social, emotional, and spiritual situations I write about speak to a universal human experience, not the specifics of the sailing world or GLBT [Gay Lesbian Bi-Sexual and Transgender].
What are your future writing plans?
The completion of my novel is in sight, but I have decided to delay publishing it until I can put a solid marketing plan in place, including connecting with potential readers on key issues in the book, such as the dynamics of rebound romances and the impact of divorce on gender identity.
I already have an idea for my next novel, the background of which will be the conflicts between the Catholic Church as a bureaucratic institution and the social and spiritual values held by many sincere Catholics. I do not intend to focus on the pedophile scandal, but rather on the impact of the church’s attitudes toward women priests and nuns, homosexuality, birth control and abortion on real lives. Again, a key theme will be the growth that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone.
I am a contract writer for The Iowan, a general interest magazine that covers a variety of topics in my adopted state. It gives me a great excuse to poke into all sorts of activities I’d never get to see otherwise. I also do occasional contract writing assignments for other organizations around Des Moines.
Thank you, Mary. It sounds as if you’ve always tried to learn from your life experiences and apply them to your life. It’s important to share what you have learned with others, too. Good luck with your fiction. Hopefully, you’ll stop by again when you’re ready to publish the new novel.
About Mary – Mary has made a career out of changing careers. After finishing her MBA, she spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, working as an economist, a banker, and a financial consultant to major corporations. She has worked in New York, New Zealand, Australia, Central America, Europe, and amazingly, Des Moines, Iowa.
Along the way, she dropped out several times. In the mid-1980s, Mary and her husband Tom embarked on the multi-year sailing voyage that is the subject of her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam. Twice, she left finance to provide financial and strategic planning services to the nonprofit community, first in New York and later in Des Moines.
In her latest incarnation, she defines herself as a writer. She is working on her first novel, writes for The Iowan magazine, and lectures on the subject of personal risk-taking.
Mary is active on several non-profit boards in the Des Moines area.
Links to books and social media sites