By the Light of the Moon
new Madeline novel explores hard-to-discuss topics
Eau Claire native Jay Gilbertson is a beekeeper, pumpkin seed oil producer (the nation’s first), hospice volunteer, and an ex-salon owner, but he is most well-known as an author. Gilbertson refers to his genre of writing as “Lady Lit,” mostly aimed at women in their 30, 40s, and above. Gilbertson wrote Moon Over Madeline Island in 2005 and Back to Madeline Island in 2006 about quirky, lovable characters and rarely discussed issues. His third book in the series, Full Moon Over Madeline Island, was just released. A lucky discovery by Gilbertson’s “wonderful agent” brought this manuscript to life when it was found in the bottom of a box after it was believed lost in a tragic house fire several years earlier. Although this book is the third in a series, it still stands alone as a novel that can be read out of order with the others. Gilbertson says he is most proud of this book because of the way his writing style has changed since the previous novels after he went to a writing workshop that was held – appropriately enough – on Madeline Island.
“I really want to express the independence of women and how there’s not this neediness that they need a man. (That) drives me bananas.” – author Jay Gilbertson
The story focuses on Eve Moss, a 47-year-old single, independent woman and her best “gal pal,” Ruby. The two women live in a cottage on Madeline Island where they have an apron-making business. According to Gilbertson, “A lot of the story unfolds when these characters talk to each other. … And they’re all ‘characters.’ ” Some of the main themes that run throughout this novel are that of relationships and women’s issues that are conventionally difficult to talk about such as miscarriages, teen pregnancy, and adoption.
“A really big issue that I like exploring is birth children finding their parents later in life,” Gilbertson says. “I want to express that we need to talk about these things ... mostly because I’m a voracious reader and I think this is a theme that isn’t being covered enough and I felt like there was a place for it. Elizabeth Berg touches on a lot of similar things in her novels. … She writes a lot of themes of women and relationships.” Having owned a salon in the Twin Cities for about 20 years, much of Gilbertson’s inspiration for the type of character he portrays and the types of issues discussed in his books came from some of his beloved clientele at the salon, which he misses dearly. Inspiration also came from his family: “I’m just this huge women’s advocate. I have a very strong sister and mom, I have a great dad too, but I really want to express the independence of women and how there’s not this neediness that they need a man. (That) drives me bananas.”
Eve, Ruby, and other characters, such as next-door neighbors Howard and Johnny – who are probably the best example of a “loving relationship” – demonstrate these themes through their experiences. Because there are few platforms for discussing such topics in the real world, Gilbertson says he created a forum for them to finally be talked about. “It’s neat in a way that I’ve touched people like that, but I also feel kind of responsible,’ he says. “So I created a space in fiction that they can go or call in.”
Although this novel has a satisfactory ending, the author has intentions of continuing the series as long as there is interest. “I always want to not really end it. I want the reader to have a feeling of resolution, but I did at the very end kind of say ‘and…’ so I can write a next one.” After reading this book, Gilbertson has several hopes for readers: “I’m wanting them to hope for another one and start conversations. It’s a good book club book because I do touch on a lot of issues. I encourage people to Skype me into their book clubs. … I really want people to, I guess, just consider some of the themes. And there are a lot of good talking points. … We really need each other. It’s really important to have some community of some sort.”
Full Moon Over Madeline Island and other books by Jay Gilbertson can be purchased at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., on Amazon.com, or on the author’s website, jaygilbertson.com.