Where the Magic Happens


I am happy to introduce a new writer to these pages, Mary Gottschalk. Actually you have already visited Mary’s website if you read my recent post on her blog Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land. But though she is new to my blog, Mary is certainly not a new author, having published a memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam in 2008 and just off the press her first novel, A Fitting Place (May 2014).

Mary will tell you that she and I have competely different life experiences and views of the world, but our writing shares a common theme of willingness to leave our comfort zones.

Mary’s Turn: Unlike Marian, I didn’t grow up in a religious environment or have a close-knit family. I first left home at age 13 to go to boarding school, and never lived at home again for more than a month. The love of my life did not show up until I was in my 60s. Much like Marian’s journey from plain to fancy, however, I have been perennially in search of new ideas and new perspectives. I’ve often had to lose sight of the metaphorical shore in order to find them. Ironically, the most dramatic change in my perspective came when I had literally lost sight of the shore, a day when I was roughly a thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, heading west along an unmarked route. That day, my husband and I were two years into a planned circumnavigation of the world in a 37-foot sailboat. Much as Marian chose to leave her natal community, I chose to abandon a successful New York career in high finance to explore the larger world.

Around the world with Mary and Tom
Around the world with Mary and Tom

Throughout our cruise, we’d often had to trim our sails to unpredictable winds and set our rudder to compensate for erratic currents. We sailed as close to our intended course as we could, but all too often, we ended the day someplace other than where we’d set out to go. As good sailors on a well-fitted sailboat, not much could go very wrong, but we knew that if something did, we would probably die. Life and death were pretty much out of our hands. That watershed day, a sunny afternoon with clear skies and calm seas, it struck me that sailing was a metaphor for life. I suddenly understood that I’d had no more control over my life and death when I lived and worked in New York City than I did while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. And it seemed obvious that if I couldn’t control my fate, I might as well spend my days doing something meaningful and satisfying, rather than wasting precious time and energy trying—all too often in vain—to meet the expectations of others. It seemed equally obvious that if I hadn’t decided to sail away from the metaphorical as well as the geographic shore, I’d still be living under the illusion that I could actually control my life.

It is this last concept—that you grow the most when you step outside your comfort zone—that has been the driving force behind my life as an author. My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.


But few people can quit their jobs and head off into the sunset. I wanted to explore the growth that can take place when a woman stays close to home. In my novel, A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

A Fitting Place Cover Design_293 pages_Cream

Mary asks you, “How has stepping out of your comfort zone changed your life?”

 *  *  *

More about Mary: MaryProfilePic

Mary has made a career out of changing careers. She spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, including consulting projects in New York, New Zealand and Australia. Along the way, she dropped out several times. In the mid-80s, at age 40, Mary and her husband Tom embarked on the three-year sailing voyage that is the subject of her memoir, SAILING DOWN THE MOONBEAM. When the voyage ended, she returned to her career in finance, but dropped out again to provide financial and strategic planning services to the nonprofit community. In her latest incarnation, she is a full time writer. Her first novel, A FITTING PLACE, was released May 1, 2014.  She lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

Contact Mary:






Links to her Books:

Sailing Down the Moonbeam 

A Fitting Place


37 thoughts on “Where the Magic Happens

      1. Mary, Merril is a writer, editor, and independent scholar. Her work has focused mainly on the history of women, sexuality, and culture. She is the author and editor of several books, including Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830, Sex Without Consent, the Encyclopedia of Rape, the History of American Cooking, and the forthcoming Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, I believe coming out this summer.


  1. Mary, you have a way of making “stepping out of one’s comfort zone” sound and feel so logical and appealing. I agree with Marian. It takes plenty of moxie to leave a secure job to sail around the world. The lessons learned on this journey echo a meaningful message to all of us that control is an illusion and letting go of that illusion can lead to finding a deeper purpose and meaning in life. Thank you both. Lovely post!


    1. Memoir writers like you, Kathy, have plenty of moxie too. “Writers Bare All” could be a snappy definition of many memoirists. After all, what genre of writing requires so much vulnerability? So happy to see your reply here. Thank you!

      Readers, next week you will be introduced to Kathy and her inspiring story right here on “plainandfancygirl.” Kathy too stepped out of her comfort zone in a totally different way.


      1. Thanks for your generous words, Marian! I think we all have unique ways of stepping out of our comfort zones. I’m looking forward to being your guest next week and it just so happens that Mary will be my guest on May 22…a wonderful circle , don’t you think?


    2. Kathy … thanks for bringing “moxie” back into my vocabulary … but as Marian notes below, you’ve got lots of it as well. It’s been a pleasure sharing our writing adventures.


  2. Great work, Mary and Marion. And it’s not just for this blog post. It goes for living lives that are exciting and meaningful! I’m reading your novel now, Mary and loving it!


    1. Do you have the soft cover or Kindle version? I concede to reading from a screen on a plane, say, but at home I like to cuddle with a “book” book. Thankfully, both of Mary’s books are available in either style. Her new book has gotten rave reviews too.


    2. Oh .. you do know how to make an author’s day … having people read your book makes for good stats, but having people “love” them is what makes it all worthwhile. Thanks so much for leaving a positive word.

      And I checked your website … it somehow seems familiar, but I’m not sure why … I know I’ve been there recently.


  3. There are many ways to step out of the comfort zone – philosophically and emotionally are two of them. Writing a memoir is both a statement and an act of courage for many reasons and within the genre we can explore roads taken and not taken. As writers the ONLY path – and our job – is to step outside the comfort zone. Marian, it’s great to see you hosting Mary. I admire her work.


  4. Susan, I saw you recently pictured with Sonia Marsh, Kathy Pooler and Jerry Waxler on the Women’s Writing Circle website. I can certainly relate to two of the intertwined themes: writing one’s story does not guarantee huge royalty checks and “connections . . . can lead to real people, real time.” I have discovered so many wonderful writers pointing the way with their own rich stories along with valuable tips for beginning memoirists like me.

    I live by Dana Sitar’s mantra: “Even if writing isn’t a money-maker for you, you deserve the freedom to take it seriously.” And so I shall.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Both Mary and I appreciate it.


    1. Marian, Thank you for your kind words.

      I probably should clarify something. I have made a living by being a professional writer my entire life, primarily as a journalist. Since the royalty checks for my memoirs have at times been small, I always encourage other writers to look at ventures branching off their writing, including events, speaking engagements, book signings, offering workshops, etc. I am also a developmental book editor and assist others in getting started on the road to writing their story, not just through one-on-ones but through our Women’s Writing Circle read arounds and critiques, which I do charge a small fee so that the women feel they have “some skin the game.”


      1. I appreciate the added information, Susan. Writers, whether journalists, editors, or memoirists do well to diversify – not having all of their eggs in one basket, I take it. I guess this includes being savvy in knowing where and how best to expend one’s energy. Who said writing isn’t work. Fortunately, I love it!


  5. Even as I was reading this I was thinking about how it is a metaphor for life, so beautifully described by Mary.
    I also think it important to step out of the comfort zones from time to time and do things differently. There is such a wide and open world out there yet to be discovered which, if we stay within the circumscribed limit, will remain closed. Mary’s story shows this .. will check it out on Kindle.
    Thank you Marian for highlighting this. I’ve just returned from serious walking and hiking in the Wellington mountains – an hour outside Cape Town – and discovered a world of beauty and grandeur I did not know –


    1. Some day I may see your beautiful country. I’d love to join you on that mountain hike.

      Mary is a master of metaphor. You will enjoy both books. Thank you for reading and commenting once again, Susan.


    2. Susan … thanks for leaving a note, and the link to your website … I was fascinated by the A-Z of aging … I only got through 2 just now, but will definitely go back and read through them.


  6. Oh how fun to meet Mary — thank you for the introduction. I love that your writing shares a “common theme of willingness to leave our comfort zones.” I applaud the courage and fortitude it takes to do that. After reading this post, I’ve definitely added Mary’s books to my reading list.

    Mary asks “How has stepping out of your comfort zone changed your life?”

    Five weeks ago we sold our home, packed up lock-stock-and-barrel, and moved 1,700 miles across country, leasing a home (sight unseen) for three months while we look for a home to purchase. It’s been an amazingly wonderful adventure!


    1. Laurie … kudos on “just doing it” … an important figure on our sailing trip advised that “the best experiences will be those you didn’t plan for.” Sounds like you’re having one of those experiences. I look forward to seeing you on other sites.


      1. Laurie, you are such a zippity-doo-dah kind of girl. If your other readers were like me, they got whip-lash trying to hang on as you traveled from Illinois to Idaho in a matter of days. What a travelogue you have. I suppose we’ll hear more about it in “Tuesdays with Laurie” in the coming weeks.

        I’m glad you met Mary today, Laurie. If you zip through books the way you travel, she’ll have to write another one – and soon! As always, thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  7. Mary and I follow each other on Twitter. I’m glad to know more about your daring approach to life and her books. Your piece here is inspiring.
    I was tossed out of my comfort zone when my husband died after 40 years together. I’d had big adventures before, but this one required the most courage and faith. I’m still experimenting with daring things. For example, I applied to do a TEDx lecture. Organizers called me in for an interview and told me I’m in the running. Can I give a 10-15 minute talk with no notes and keep it together? If I get the chance, I’ll say yes and find out. I’ll know in June. If this adventure leads to nothing, I’ll knock on another door. Thanks Marion and Mary.


    1. I have admired your courage in writing about your loss. I also have appreciated your support of my blog these past few months. And I’m glad to know that you are already acquainted with Mary and her books.

      There is no doubt in my mind that you can do the lecture because you are open to challenges. But you said “If this adventure leads to nothing, I’ll knock on another door.” That reminds me of this hopeful quote from Emily Dickinson I saw recently: “Not knowing when the dawn may come / I open every door.” Here’s to doors that swing wide open for you, Elaine!


    2. Elaine .. how nice to see you in another venue … and one that got me to explore beyond the simple twitter feeds …. I will read through your recent blogs and look forward to your book on love and grief. Good luck on the TEDx talk (pretend you’re talking to friends and it will be a piece of cake.)


    1. You know a thing or two about getting out of your comfort zone, Fiona: A Brit living in Sweden since 1996. Came here as a so-called love immigrant. Add to that (almost) trilingual, a writer and agile with the camera. I’m glad you met Mary today.


  8. Sorry it took so long to leave a comment here. I was on the road and away from my computer most of the time. So much fun to see two writer friends sharing their stories, both life stories and writing stories, here. Mary, I enjoyed your first book very much and have observed your skill in both description and structure. I hope to read your second also. I also appreciate your generosity in sharing tweets of the work of other bloggers. Marian, I am so glad you have found these friends. As you continue to move out of your comfort zone, you will find Mary and the other commenters amazing companions. I certainly have.


    1. Shirley .. how nice to see you here … gives me an opportunity to tell you how much I enjoy your occasional writing prompts. I think the friendship network we’ve developed over the past year is quite remarkable, and I am learning from all of you … even as I understand how many experiences we share despite our very different backgrounds.


    2. I am surrounded by mentors like you Shirley, Mary, and others with wonderful published writing and goals that I myself aspire to. We all stand on the shoulders of others.

      By the way, I have printed your itinerary for reference. I understand how difficult it is to stay in touch online when traveling combined with other obligations. I will experience this push/pull when I travel to PA in June and then a separate trip to the NC mountains soon.


Thank You for Leaving a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s