Mike Answers Questions
When did you first realize that you wanted to write a book?
In 1977, when I returned from the sailing trip, I already wanted to write a book. During medical school, I began to write. I wrote three or four chapters. I put it away because of lack of time and because I was somewhat discouraged by my writing. I started again about 20 years ago. I picked up where I had left off. My writing style was still bad. It was quite stilted and boring. One reason was that I would rush while I was writing and never really felt relaxed enough to become truly inspired or to think clearly. This time I thought that I could do better, and I think that I did.
How long did it take to write the book?
The research and the writing took about five months. The editing occupied another five months. Finalizing the book layout, cover, and so on took an additional month.
What are your writing quirks?
When I read back what I have written, I always read aloud. If it doesn’t flow naturally or sound right as I hear it, I change it.
Why did you choose to self-publish your book?
I like to be in control of my own projects. There are too many uncertainties working with a publisher including finding a willing publisher, negotiating a fair contract, dealing with deadlines, and being overly influenced by strongly opinionated editors. I found self-publishing to be almost stress free.
What does your family think of your writing?
My wife Laurie has been working from home during the pandemic while I was writing. She does not appreciate that I appropriated her study where I use the desktop computer to write. Laurie has been an invaluable assistant. She spent countless hours helping me edit my manuscript from beginning to end.
My son and daughter live far away and were not involved with my writing on a day-to-day basis. My daughter read the book and said that “it sounds just like” me. My son has not yet read it.
My sister read the book and said that she couldn’t put it down.
What do you think makes a good story?
For me, a “good story” needs relatable characters, a clearly described setting, and some events that are not mundane. A “great story” is written to elicit a strong emotional response in the reader, for example, laughter, sadness, fear, discomfort, satisfaction, or anger.
Are you still in contact with your crewmates Louis and Clark?
Clark and I have remained in touch very sporadically, only once every few years. He knows that I’ve written this book though he has not yet seen it.
Louis and I have remained close friends. He lives a mile or so away. We frequently speak by phone. Occasionally, we walk our dogs together. When the weather is good we go on kayaking trips or sail together. We also do some woodworking projects together.
Do you still sail?
Yes. I primarily daysail and cruise on Lake Michigan aboard Joliba, our Ericson 38.
What are the challenges of writing a memoir based upon incidents that occurred over 45 years ago?
I attempted to put myself back into each event … trying to relive incidents in my mind. The challenge was finding fidelity between my recollections and the actual events. My memories were frequently mere slices of reality, that emphasized only the highlights while disregarding the details. I tried to inhabit my 22-year-old self to summon what I originally felt and experienced. I have always been a daydreamer. Sometimes while writing, emotions returned so vividly that I was able to unearth memories that I had long suppressed. Though filling in the details was a challenge, I think that I was ultimately able to reconstitute most events accurately. Written records, letters, logbooks, and the Internet were a big help.
Did you discover anything surprising while writing your book?
One surprise involved learning through the Internet what became of people I knew in 1976. Learning that some members of the cruising community who were much older are still alive came as a surprise. Another surprise has been that so many people have expressed interest in reading my story.
Share something that is not in the book.
After I submitted the manuscript for publication, I exchanged emails with Clark. He related a story that I had not previously known. Our last stop before the 3000-mile Pacific crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas was a small uninhabited anchorage called Post Office Bay. Tradition for over 100 years was for passing vessels to leave mail in a barrel mounted on the beach, so that vessels traveling the opposite direction could pick up any letters left in the barrel and carry them back home. This originated in a time when no other communication was possible. In accordance with tradition, we left some unstamped postcards in the barrel. When we departed this uninhabited spot for our Pacific crossing, there was nobody to see us off. No one would have known of our point of departure or the date that we had left. Had we been lost at sea, no one would ever have known these things -- except for an un-stamped postcard that eventually made its way to Clark’s grandmother in Iowa … 20 years later!
What is the significance of the title of the book, Taken by the Wind?
Our boat was named Rhiannon. “Taken by the wind” was a line from the original Stevie Nicks lyrics of the Fleetwood Mac song, Rhiannon. I chose the title not only because of that obvious connection, but also due to the ambiguous meaning of the phrase “taken by”. The reader may interpret these words to mean “conveyed by,” “captured by,” “attracted to or charmed by,” or “cheated by.” Perhaps they all apply.
What do you hope readers take away from reading the book?
I hope that my book conveys my motivations, my emotions, and a realistic impression of my experiences during the voyage. Depending upon their backgrounds, I expect readers to each take away something different. I hope that my story inspires people to dream boldly and pursue great adventures.
What was the highlight of writing the book?
As a first-time author, the biggest highlight was holding a printed copy of the book in my hands for the first time.
Did you ever take breaks while writing the book to dance? If so, when did those breaks generally occur?
Funny you should ask. I actually did get up to dance in the room on a few occasions. When writing about a specific location, I frequently searched for the specific music that I listened to in 1976 while in that port. For me, music has a way of evoking an extraordinarily strong memory of a time and place. Blasting some of those songs as an interlude to writing induced me to get up and dance around the room. Fortunately, no one was ever around to see it.
Why did you write the book?
The subject of my book is a year-long voyage that became one of the most meaningful and inspirational years of my life. It changed my perspective of the world. I wrote to inspire others through my experiences. I want a new generation to understand what sailboat cruising was like half a century ago. I also want people who have known me in recent years to see a side of me they may not have known. As a very private person leading a somewhat sedentary life, I want to share an honest record of something that I did.
Additionally, over the years whenever I have told an acquaintance, coworker, relative, or friend about the journey, the common response has been, “you should write a book.” So, I finally did!
Your memoir recounts a journey. What was the highlight of the journey?
Undoubtedly, the highlight was arriving safely at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas after navigating by sextant for 24 days over 3000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. It was fitting that we arrived on New Year’s Eve.
What was going on in your lifetime while writing the book?
I wrote the book during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was recently retired. It was a very stable period for me. The book became my focus as I had fewer distractions than at any other point in my life.