Talking to Linda Greenlaw

Posted on: November 10th, 2010 by admin No Comments

I had the chance to sit down with Linda Greenlaw, author of seven books, including three best-sellers, The Hungry Ocean (1999), The Lobster Chronicles (2002), and All Fishermen are Liars (2004). Also, she is featured with her crew in the Discovery Channel television series, “Swords: Life on the Line.”
She has defied long odds with successful careers in both fishing and writing. We met to talk about that before a reading she gave at Jabberwocky Bookstore in Newburyport, Massachusetts. It was the beginning of her summer tour to promote her latest book, Seaworthy, which is about her return to being a swordfish boat captain after 10 years close to shore.

Kurt Mullen: When you were getting into fishing in college, what was the response from your peers? Did you ever feel any pressure not to do it?

Linda Greenlaw: From my peers at college, they were nothing but encouraging, because you know kids that age. They like anything different. Or they’re like, Yeah, go for it.
And I didn’t meet any resistance on the boat at first because I signed on as a cook. And I suppose, you know, that it was acceptable to have the girl do the cooking on the boat.
But fortunately, for me, and everyone else involved — because I couldn’t cook, and I lied to get the job – one of the regular crew members hurt his back one of the very first days of the trip. He was really hurt and he went into the galley and took over the cooking duties. And I had to replace him on deck. And that was fine by me. I loved it.
And I didn’t meet any resistance because they needed me to do a job on deck. And I know how to work. So I didn’t have any problem keeping up. Eventually I learned all the different jobs on the boat. I stayed on the same boat for a long time and worked my way up.

KM: Would you say it was that first summer when it really took hold of you?

LG: Absolutely. Yes, the first trip.
We were doing a combination of long-lining and harpooning then. And harpooning is definitely what kind of gets you in the heart. It’s a very exciting fishery. It’s a sight fishery. You are literally looking for a single fish. It’s very primitive.
I think, with fishing in general, people either love it or hate it. Like, [on] a long trip, you take first-timers and, getting ashore, it’s either Argh, I’m never doing that again. Or, you just know it’s what you’re going to do.

KM: How about becoming a writer? I mean, when you were in college you were studying English and also government, did you think you’d ever write a book?

LG: No. I never aspired to doing any writing. It’s kind of funny. I majored in English primarily because I enjoyed reading. I had confidence in my ability to write in this way. I knew that, with exams, if I could write essays — kind of bullshit my way through things — I could always get by. Whereas, if I took a lot of math and science, I’d really have to have correct answers, and I wasn’t so confident about that.
So that’s really why I majored in English. And I double-majored in government thinking that, I don’t know, I had this idea – and I’m sure my parents planted the idea – that, Oh I’d want to be an attorney.
Well Colby doesn’t have any pre-law, so English and government seemed like a good combination to launch you into law school.

KM: Did you have a knack for storytelling that you knew of then? Or was it something you developed later?

LG: I definitely had a knack for telling stories.[…] I can’t tell you if that was pre-fishing or not but definitely, I’d come off a trip and tell people stories about that trip. Because it’s just so fascinating, and it’s something most people just don’t know anything about.
I’d go back to Colby College, and I’d been on the Grand Banks all summer? It was just something that nobody had any idea about. So they were all fascinated with it. They were like, Wow, where were you? How far away from shore? And how big were those fish?
And so everyone was very willing to hear my stories. And it’s encouraging — you know, if you want to tell stories — to have an audience.

KM: How about the danger? Was your family trying to dissuade you from fishing?

LG: Not at first. Nobody did at first. After I graduated from college and [continued to go] fishing, my mother was beside herself. And my parents always worried about me because it was dangerous.
But they really, really, really were upset that I was going fishing after I graduated, because they felt that I was wasting my education. I used to hear a lot of that, about the need to get a real job. Like fishing wasn’t real. And like, fishing wasn’t a place for an educated young person…It was just always, you’re educated, and it’s nice you earned money for college that way — but really?

PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4