"Again and again something in one's own life, or in the life around one, will seem so important that one cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion. There must never come a time, the writer feels, when people do not know about this."
Shikibu Murasaki, The Tale of Genji
I am working on two books, a contemporary adult novel (mainstream/literary) and the first book in a series for middle graders, which, while fiction, is inspired by our 7-year voyage around the world with my husband and two children aboard La Gitana.
You can read more about my novel and our sailing adventures on my blog. Here are a couple of posts:
Cruising with Kids - Dream or Nightmare? (First published in the sailing magazine Latitude 38)
Help Me Celebrate a Writing Milestone(Tells about my novel, From the Far Ends of the Earth)
“La Gitana, Breaking Free” is about a family that sets off to sail around the world on their 51-foot schooner. The book is loosely based on my experiences traveling with my husband and two children on a smaller version of La Gitana when we circumnavigated the globe from 1984-1990.
The main protagonist is Skye McFarley—a sometimes sentimental and always feisty ten-year old—who learns to accept and grows to appreciate her new life at sea, including the deeply complex and sometimes confusing relationships that hold families and friends together.
The story begins when Skye discovers that her flaky parents’ plan to take their four children (10 year-old Skye, 12-year-old Phoenix, and 3-year old twins, Sequoia and McKinley) on a trip around the world isn’t just another one of their “dreams” but fast becoming a reality. Skye tries every way she can think of to convince her parents this is a bad idea, but it’s no use.
Despite her initial resistance, Skye falls in love with La Gitana and finds that living at the marina isn’t such a bad way to spend her summer as her parents outfit the boat for their trip. As they sail out of Ventura Harbor toward Mexico, Skye’s mom promises that if she still think this is a bad idea six months from now, they will reconsider coming home rather than crossing the Pacific. Skye takes heart, and begins looking forward to the new and uncertain adventure that lies before her.
Along the way, Skye must contend with a number of challenges: her changing relationship with a beloved brother whose rocky relationship with her father threatens the harmony on the boat; an eccentric mountain-climbing grandpa who helps crew the yacht to Cabo; a budding friendship with the exotic and troubled Mia, another yachty child growing up at sea; as well as the challenges of life aboard a cruising yacht.
At the same time, Skye comes to appreciate the beauty of life at sea, the rhythms of wind and wave, the dancing dolphins and ancient whales, the incredible abundance of sealife deep beneath the ocean’s waves. And she begins to cultivate a sense of spirituality that connects her to nature and the world around her. In the end, Skye realizes that this life her parents have chosen is now the life she freely chooses, despite its uncertainties and challenges, and inevitable partings.
NOTE: I've finished the second draft of the first book that takes the family from Ventura to Cabo San Lucus. I envision a series of books that will follow the family as they travel through the South Pacific, along the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, across the Indian Ocean and through the Red Sea, and onward through Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Carribean Sea, and finally through the Panama Canal and home again to California. Skye will grow from an awkward angst-ridden pre-teen to a strong, confident young woman, at home in the world.
What happens when a mother who has been holding together a hopelessly dysfunctional family mysteriously disappears?
This story of redemption and renewal is told through the perspectives of the family members left behind who work through their anger and grief, eventually learning to reconnect.
Kay is a "cranky" grad student, who, while distrusting men in general, and her father and brother in particular, has been extremely close to her mother, who now leaves mysterious messages on Kay's answering machine. Mourning her loss, Kay sifts through the shards and debris of childhood memories trying to understand the past and how to trust again.
Cal is a drug addict strung out on heroin who has spent most of his life on the street but is living at home when his mother disappears. He is deeply angry at being left alone with a father he fears, terrorized by the thought he may have caused his mother’s departure, and mystified by the cryptic photographs she mails him. When his father suddenly takes off, he is left on his own with a house to care for and no clue how to do it.
As Walter waits for his wife's return, he plots her course across South America with pushpins on a map as he pays her credit card bills. Then decides to take his own long delayed trip to Alaska, where a new life awaits him.
Cal shivers. He’s standing on the sidewalk in the dripping rain gazing across the street at what he used to call home.
He lets the word roll around in his mind awhile. H-o-m-e.
But the word doesn’t even make sense to him. When did he ever feel at home, anywhere, ever? He stands in the rain gazing across the street at what he used to call home but knows now never was, even though it’s the only place he's ever lived--outside the van, a buddy’s couch, a couple of girls’ beds, the streets and a half dozen or so rehabs back in the days when he thought a fresh start was a possibility.
It feels strange standing here, as if looking back across years into his distant childhood. He can almost see himself there now, tearing up the sidewalk on his big wheel, wrestling with his friends on the lawn, pulling Kay in that little red wagon she loved so much.
He can see them now, see the photo his mother took of them that day when they were young and innocent. Kay in her wagon with her skinny pale knees drawn up to her chin, that grin on her face, her short dark hair like a helmet on her head. And Cal freckle-faced and rowdy-looking, even then, pulling at the wagon, looking across the street at his mom where she stood with the camera, his head cocked and mouth flap open, spouting some sass no doubt. His little skinny body pulling at that wagon, really straining, as if what he carried behind him was a mighty heavy load, leaning so far as to fall flat on his face if the rope slipped. And he didn’t know now if the wagon was really so very heavy, or if he was making it seem so for comic effect.
And there behind them, standing on the lawn, was his Dad, waving a beer in his hand. They used to tease him how when they were young it was hard to find one picture where he didn’t have a beer in his hand, kind of holding it up to the camera, as if saluting the photographer—mom usually, as if saying, hi there, here’s us having a good time, and don’t you forget it.
Only his father didn’t look happy wearing that fou-manchu mustache, the ends dragging down his face like a perpetual frown, that he wore all through the 70s and 80s, the whole time Cal was growing up. You couldn’t even see his lips, with that mustache hiding half his face.
It comes as a revelation to Cal now, how the whole time he was growing up he could never tell when his dad was smiling, when he was happy or sad or mad, because that damn mustache hid half his face. Cal got so he watched his eyes to see what was going on in his head. Were his eyes dark and cold, or tired and empty, or brown and warm? Was the light on or off in his eyes?
What was really weird was when his dad finally did shave off the mustache, it was a week before anyone noticed. They all knew something didn’t look quite right, but Cal supposed they were all so used to looking at his eyes to tell what was going on in his head, no one noticed when the mustache went missing.
Cal reaches up to his face now and realizes for the first time that he’s wearing the same kind of mustache his old man wore when he was young like him. How had he missed that? How had he missed so much?
"We artists must be reconciled with life, and passing through sorrow and pain, know it in all its forms. Upon the ruins of our life, we must build for others the temple of hope and faith: this is our duty."