Mary Gottschalk: The Writing Process

Last week I posted about my memoir writing process as part of a blog hop. I tagged three writers to post about their writing processes this week, so stop by their blogs today. Writer-editor Jeffrey Penn May  blogs all about writing and his latest book is Eight Billion Steps: My Impossible Quest For Cancer Comedy. Kristin Nador, who also dishes writer encouragements and advice on her blog, is working on a suspense novel. Mary Gottschalk has made a career out of changing careers, and has written a memoir and now her first novel (release date May 1). She is my featured guest today to avoid having her interrupt a series of posts on her blog, A Fitting Place, based on issues brought up in her novel. I enjoyed reading her introspective answers.

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Mary Gottschalk –

What am I working on?

I have just completed my first novel, A Fitting Place, about a woman who finds solace in a same sex relationship after her husband of 15 years leaves her. This unexpected and passionate relationship offers an intimacy Lindsey has never known. Before long, she finds herself ensnared by the same destructive inter-personal dynamics that plagued her marriage. Unable to blame her dilemma on traditional gender roles, Lindsey is forced to look in the mirror as she seeks to define what she wants from this—or any—relationship. Freed from the straightjacket of societal notions of friend, wife, and mother, Lindsey calls on inner resources she never knew she had, as she sets out to build a new life for herself and her teenage daughter. The premise of this debut novel is that opportunities for personal growth are greatest when you step outside your comfort zone. A Fitting Place is an uplifting story of the human potential we all have.

I have now turned to marketing. In the first stage, I’m reaching out through social media as well as my own mailing list to an audience interested in literary fiction that deals with contemporary social issues, including the subject of sexual fluidity. In a second phase, I will reach out to university level programs in psychology and women’s studies as clinics that deal with family relationships and/or issues of sexual identity.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The premise behind both my memoir and my novel is that opportunities for personal growth are greatest when you step outside your comfort zone. From a psychological perspective, the term “comfort zone” encompasses behavior patterns formed during childhood, patterns which may not be productive or healthy in adult relationships. By stepping outside of your comfort zone—whether by choice or by circumstance—you exponentially increase the possibility of personal and professional growth. My writing is also distinctive because I like to utilize metaphors to emphasize the universal themes that underlie my stories:

Sailing Down the Moonbeam (a memoir) – Sailing is a powerful metaphor for everyday life:

  • It is impossible to control your environment, whether it’s the weather or a possible job promotion. You enjoy life much more if you recognize that your control is limited to your own thoughts and actions.
  • Very few things in life work out the way you planned. Expectations leave you vulnerable to disappointment, while living in the moment opens the door to opportunities you didn’t expect.
  • All too often, you end up in a different place that you intended to go, both in relationships and in careers. Our focus should be on the journey, not the destination.

A Fitting Place (a novel) — The metaphor in the title applies on multiple levels:

  • The Biblical notion of “right and fitting” – that some things are just meant to happen in exactly the way they do happen
  • The image of a puzzle – the idea that it takes time and experience to understand how all of the pieces of our life fit together
  • The image of a dressing room – a place where you try on different costumes. In the novel, my protagonist is “trying on” a different lifestyle.

Why do I write what I do?

I have been a risk taker most of my life, not out of an excess of personal courage, but the consequence of a high level of curiosity and low tolerance for routine and repetition. My willingness to take risks has opened some amazing doors for me, including my 3-year sailing journey at age 40 as well as the opportunity to work in several different countries and cultures. A key lesson from all of these experiences, but most particularly the sailing journey, was that control over life—and death—is largely an illusion, and you will be happiest if you focus on making each moment the best you possibly can. My goal, in writing both my memoir and my novel, was to share that lesson from different perspectives.

How does your writing process work?

Like many authors, I go through multiple drafts, but I see the process in three distinct stages.

  1. Development of the story arc. Once I have the story in my head, I will write it down in far more detail than “plot points,” but both the characters and the scenes are relatively undeveloped. After two books, I now realize this occurs because I am, by nature, logical and analytical, and need to be sure the pieces “fit together.”
  2. Developing the characters. My second draft is focused on developing the personalities of my characters—making them sympathetic, identifying opportunities for conflict and tension, and finding their idiosyncrasies. In many cases, it means adding scenes; in others, it means cutting out scenes that are really backstory.
  3. Heightening the emotion. In the third draft, I go through scene by scene, looking for ways to increase the emotional temperature, whether the scene deals with internal or external conflict.

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Mary has tagged Sharon Lippincott, a well-known life writing resource. Stop by Sharon’s blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, next week to read about her writing process.


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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11 Responses to Mary Gottschalk: The Writing Process

  1. Linda, thanks for hosting me on your lovely website … I just love looking at it … and then I start reading, and it’s even better.

  2. Mary and Linda, a wonderful inside look at Mary’s works. I loved Sailing Down the Moonbeam and am anxious to read A Fitting Place.

  3. krpooler says:

    Thanks for featuring Mary, Linda.

    Mary, I appreciate the methodical and introspective approach you use in your writing process. You have packed layers of valuable information into this succinct and enlightening post. Because I have read and thoroughly enjoyed your memoir of all your lessons learned from your sailing adventure, I am looking forward to reading A Fitting Place. Your clarity and sense of purpose are admirable as are the universal takeaways from your work. Thank you for sharing these pearls.

  4. Mary, I love your premise in your writing: That when we step out of our comfort zone we not only find our voices, but the magic of life. Best of luck with your new novel. It sounds as if it has been a journey of heart and soul, as well as one of self-discovery, which is really the greatest gift we can receive from writing as writers. You know I loved Sailing Down the Moonbeam and I look forward to reading A Fitting Place.

  5. You’re welcome, Mary, and thank you to all who stopped by to read Mary’s well-thought-out answers. I’m sure her new book will be a fascinating read!

  6. shirleyhs says:

    Excellent post. Mary, you have studied the genres in which you write and have boiled down that learning for others to consider here.

    I loved this sentence: “I have been a risk taker most of my life, not out of an excess of personal courage, but the consequence of a high level of curiosity and low tolerance for routine and repetition.”

    I can say the same about myself. Do you think you changed from memoir to fiction as a genre in order to keep the learning fresh and exciting?

    • Shirley … I never imagined myself as a novelist, fearing a want of imagination. But I so enjoyed the process of character development in the memoir — the challenge of making my husband and myself come alive on the page — that I wanted to try it again. One I got my characters going, they had enough imagination to go around.

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