When did you decide you would write a book about your experience?
I began writing on our first passage, from Los Angeles to Nuku Hiva, articles for the Santa Barbara News-Press, which paid me $10 apiece for the stories. I began turning these stories into a book in Rabaul, New Guinea, when Sea Magazine asked me for a full-length manuscript.
This is a true story from personal experience! How is the writing process different from the writing of fiction?
In some ways fiction is easier, because in writing fiction you are not constrained by fact.
How long did it take to write How the Winds Laughed?
The first draft (crossing the Pacific) I finished in a little more than a year. The manuscript then sat in a box for more than 30 years, until I resuscitated it and ran it twice through my critique group. Then Molly Tinsley and I honed it for 14 more months.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Getting rid of extraneous, unimportant details-shaping the material into a story.
The title of the book comes up in the very first chapter. Can you say a bit about the meaning of it and how you chose it?
On a wagon bound for market
There’s a calf with a mournful eye
High above him there’s a swallow
Winging swiftly through the sky
How the winds are laughing
They laugh with all their might
Laugh and laugh the whole day through
And half the summer’s night
This Joan Baez folk song, one of my favorites when I was in college, goes on to say
But whoever treasures freedom
Like the swallow has learned to fly
The calf’s bondage, and the swallow’s freedom, epitomized for me the meaning of our trip.
Do you still keep in touch with the people you met along the way?
Father Fletcher, who left the priesthood, married, and had two children, visited us in California in the 1980s. Mike Thurston, who married an Australian woman, had two children, and sailed around the world 20 years after we did, visited me in Santa Barbara in the 1990s. Pete and I, divorced five years, sailed back to the Marquesas Islands in his 40-foot Owens cutter with our nine-year-old daughter Addie and seven-year-old son Peter in 1984. And Pete and his mother went back to Abaiang in the 1980s.
What do you think was the strangest thing you did? Strangest thing you ate?
Probably making love in the caldera of a volcano tops the list. And whale washed up on the reef.
How did this experience change your life?
It made me look at my culture from the outside in and permanently exterminated my need for television.
What is the most important lesson or take away you would like for the reader to remember?
The people we met, by and large poor, gave of themselves and what little they had, which gave me hope that all of us on the planet can live in peace and harmony.
Would you recommend this trip to another young married couple? You and Pete divorced after sharing this experience, yet you dedicate the book to him. So, the two of you must have weathered more than storms and interesting experiences at sea. What does he think of the book?
In the way in which we made the trip, no I would not recommend it. It was so physically demanding I couldn’t do it now. And the constant worry about money, and not being able to fix broken equipment, as I said “weighed on me like a stone.” Pete isn’t entirely happy with my portrayal of him but, when I asked him if he thought it was fair, he said yes.