On her website, Linda Greenlaw describes the story in her latest book, Lifesaving Lessons, as her “greatest battle with nature.”
The description knocks expectations way up; at one point, Greenlaw was America’s only female swordfishing caption (she’s since stuck to lobstering), and, thanks to a box-office hit, she’s well known for her efforts to save her sister ship, the Andrea Gail, in the real-life version of The Perfect Storm.
Her past books include New York Times bestsellers like Seaworthy and The Hungry Ocean, which are real, first-hand accounts. She’s written a bit of fiction (about fishing) and a few cookbooks (Recipes From a Very Small Island and The Maine Summers Cookbook), as well.
But this latest project is quite different from anything Greenlaw ever wrote before. Lifesaving Lessons: Notes from an Accidental Mother is about how, seven years ago, Greenlaw unexpectedly became a single mother to a teenager.
“I thought it was a story that needed to be told,” Greenlaw said in a phone interview. “My memoir books have done well, and the people who enjoy them are always asking, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ It seemed like a good time to write the story, and it was very fresh in my mind at the same time.”
The book was released a year ago, but Greenlaw’s just making her rounds in New Hampshire, first with a stop at the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford April 27, then at Gibson’s on April 28. The paperback version was released on March 25.
“A lot of people describe this as a departure. I guess in a lot of ways, it is. But I write about my life in my books, and this is a part of my life,” Greenlaw said.
The book starts with Greenlaw’s meeting Mariah; seven years ago, she hired the young teen to help with her summer fishing operation. Mariah was staying in Maine with her uncle, who at the time, was thought to have saved her from an existence of poverty, drugs and abuse at her prior home. Only a few years later did the coastal community discover Mariah was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of this uncle.
Mariah’s stay with Greenlaw was temporary at first. She need a place to sleep, and Greenlaw had a spare bedroom.
“The community learned of the realities of her situation with her former guardian, and everyone’s eyes opened. They said, ‘She can’t go back to him, and you’ve always wanted kids, you take her,’ thinking it would be temporary,” Greenlaw said.
It’s true, Greenlaw always wanted children; she wanted something more than what she described as this “very selfish existence,” but she’d never imagined starting with a teenager. She was also single at the time (though she tied the knot with a boat builder last September).
So, Greenlaw’s solitary life as a fisherwoman and writer was shaken up, to say the least, when she filed to become Mariah’s legal guardian.
“I didn’t adopt her,” Greenlaw said, not that there’s much difference. “I say in the book that it’s more difficult to go to a pound and get a puppy, which is frightening, actually, to think about somebody becoming a legal guardian with so little thought. … My daughter came from a very abusive situation with her past legal guardian, and it’s really sad that nobody did any kind of background check on the guy.”
Mariah, now 22 and studying at Champlain College in Vermont, was a difficult teen, but Greenlaw was a fish out of water, too.
“I didn’t realize how difficult it would be until I became her guardian. … Looking back now, I can laugh at how difficult it was, but there weren’t too many laughs at the time,” Greenlaw said. “It was all very foreign to me.”
Though she’s honest about just how tough it was to raise a troubled teen, Mariah was very much on board with the book.
“Obviously, I got her permission before I started writing it,” Greenlaw said. “She has been very supportive and mature in her wishes for it.”
This summer she’ll be hauling lobster traps because it doesn’t require her to be at sea for 30 days. Lobstering is also more conducive to good writing, which has become her primary form of income — though it’s not something she particularly enjoys doing.
“When I’m lobstering, I can write in the mornings, trap in the afternoons. … I can’t wait till lunchtime to put it away and do something I enjoy.”
As seen in the April 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.