Author Interview with Jay Gilbertson: Why He Can’t Leave Wisconsin Behind

Hello Everyone!  It’s a Wisconsin Edition of our Tuesday Featured Writers Series and I’m interviewing Jay Gilbertson, author of Moon Over Madeline Island and Back to Madeline Island.

Jay is a native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Stout, he majored in Hotel & Restaurant Management. Like many folks from cold climates he wanted to live in the tropics and moved to Key Largo, Florida where he worked as Assistant Controller for the Sheraton resort. He returned north in 1993, eventually opening Jay Gilbertson Salon in Minneapolis. He now lives on 80 beautiful, certified organic acres in Northwest Wisconsin where he grows much of his own food, recycles and enjoys life. He and his partner also produce the first pumpkin seed oil in the US, check it out at

Jay was kind enough to chat with my book club recently via skype, and we had so much fun I commandeered him to my blog!  Next year, we’re planning a costume party, just you wait!

Without further ado, LIVE FROM WISCONSIN, please give a warm welcome to Jay Gilbertson!


So Jay, inquiring minds want to know, what drew you to write women’s fiction, or “Lady Lit.”?

For many years I owned a hair salon in NE Minneapolis. My clients were mostly women and I had a large group of single, successful, and very happy clients. Sure, some of them would have enjoyed having someone to share their life with, but there was no desperation. These were/are happy, confident women with fulfilling friendships and little or no interest in chasing the ‘I’m not complete without a man in my life’ mantra.

You shared with my book club that after working in the hotel business for awhile, you decided you either wanted to be a marriage counselor or a hairstylist, why?

I realized that what I found most fulfilling at that point in my life, was helping people help themselves. I was happy to learn that I could accomplish both by going into the beauty business. It was a total win-win. Besides, I never, ever suggested to anyone what to do (with their latest dilemma) I only listened carefully and handed them back what they already knew was the right decision. Most people know in their hearts what the best path is, they just need someone to cheer them on.

You owned and ran the Jay Gilbertson Salon for many years before moving back to Wisconsin. What prompted the switch into organic farming and writing?

First we bought the farm, thinking it would be a weekend get-a-way. That quickly changed and a month after buying the place, we moved here fulltime. I wasn’t quite ready to give up my wonderful salon clients, so I commuted for another six years. Then I was in a bizarre series of car crashes following a sudden ice storm and that was that. Luckily, for me, I was only slightly injured, but the universe was telling me something.

Describe your books in one sentence each. (That is just not possible—but I’ll try)



“Moon Over Madeline Island” is about realizing that it’s never too late to change your life—because life’s waiting and why not take the plunge? It’s also about caring for those around you and standing up for what you believe.

“Back to Madeline Island” is mostly about Eve Moss (the main character) finding her birth-daughter and realizing that life is really what you make of it. It’s also about throwing a kick-ass wedding with a little surprise at the end.

The fabulous thing about your books is that so much of them is based on real life. Your characters, their stories, the places are all materialized from people and places that have interested you. Do you ever worry, “Oh my God, who’s going to read this?” Or does writing from life become more fulfilling than fiction?



Life and fiction is a huge blur for any author worth their salt. There’s really no way you can’t weave your particular reality into your writing. It also allows (the writer) to further delve into issues that are passionate to the writer which (one must hope) will pull the reader in and create a place where both can learn and grow.

What’s the best trait you inherited from your mother?

I would like to hope—kindness.

From your father?

The confidence to do this strange thing called writing.

Your book emphasizes the changing definition of “family.” It’s not just a make up of those you were born with, but rather the people that are around you everyday – friends, coworkers, neighbors. Why did you choose Madeline Island as your setting for the book’s family?

After living and working on Key Largo, Florida, for nearly 8 years in the hotel industry, I understood ‘island living.’ There is nothing like it. The bottom line is; everywhere you go, everyone knows you—everyone. I like that and had listened to my father share stories of his spending all his summers in Bayfield (the port-town for Madeline Island) as a boy, which gave my imagination all the fuel I needed. Besides the lure of island living and all it involves, Madeline Island is just plain beautiful.

My impersonation of Back to Madeline Island’s book cover!


The chocolate mocha cake from Maggie’s!

Madeline is almost a character herself. Many of the restaurants and street names exist! (My book club did a tour of them, and I highly recommend the chocolate mocha cake at Maggie’s!) You did quite a bit of research for this book; what were your favorite spots?

All of them. Once you drive your car onto the ferry and begin your 20 minute journey to Madeline Island, something drops away and the magic begins.

Gruenke’s Bed and Breakfast and Diner (Known for the whitefish liver!)

Marina shot from the ferry ride to Madeline Island

My book club, trying to do an Abbey Road shot. 🙂

Scenes from Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island

Eve, the main character, gets around the island in a rather unusual vehicle. Describe for those who aren’t familiar with Wisconsin Dells tours just exactly what a duck is.


Behold: A Duck (

A ‘Duck’ is an amphibious vehicle originating from WWII. It’s a boat that with the flip of a switch can become an all-terrain vehicle. As a boy I was entranced with them as a land/river tour attraction and figured Eve and Ruby should have one in their barn.

Why not?

I’ve previously written a blog series called Paranormal Wisconsin. Your second book, Back to Madeline Island, has a character with psychic abilities, as well as a haunted cabin. Do you believe in ghosts?

I believe in the possibility and that’s enough for me.

Greenwood Cemetery at Madeline Island

My favorite set of tombstones in the Greenwood Cemetery!

Wisconsin is rich in its history of native tribes, pioneers, and the shipping industry along the Mississippi. What’s your favorite ghost story or urban legend you’ve heard about our state?

Hmmm, in all honesty, I’ve never heard any.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Finish your manuscript, be persistent in your search for an agent, and never, ever, give up.

For your upcoming third book, Full Moon Over Madeline Island, you’re going the self-published route. Why did you choose this over traditional publishing this time?

For many reasons. One; as an author, unless you’re that rare breed of landing on the NYT bestsellers list, you make zip with a traditional publisher. Another is that this time I have the possibility of actually making some money with my writing and it also gives me complete control over exactly what happens next.

“Full Moon Over Madeline Island” is also going to make an amazing movie—watch me now!

Writing is a solitary endeavor, so most writers need support systems and guilty pleasure indulgences to survive the process. For example, I can do extensive damage to all things cheetos, Dove chocolate, mugs of tea, and cheese when I write. And oh yah, I have my ROW80 peeps to keep me on task.  What’s your support system or writing pantry look like?

Secreted away, within hands reach, is a hollow book. It’s kept filled with Recess’s Peanut Butter Cups. When I’ve been a good writer—I unwrap a bunch.

What’s the best thing about living in Wisconsin?

I would have to say it’s the people. I’ve lived in many other states and Midwesterners are, real. They care about their neighbors and the community and it shows.

What are your favorite things to do when you’re not writing?

Reading, taking walks in the woods here on the farm, enjoying sunsets on the porch and sharing a meal with friends.

What books are currently in your To Be Read Pile this summer?
“Aleph,” by Paulo Coelho, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramahansa Yogananda, “Going Solo,” by Eric Klinenberg—just to name a few.

What actor would play you in the movie version of your life?

Oh that’s easy; Johnny Depp.

Words to live by?

Don’t forget to laugh.


Thank you Jay for visiting The Happiness Project!  I had a wonderful time chatting with you for my book club and getting to introduce you to more readers at my blog!  Looking forward to the next chapter in Eve and Ruby’s adventures!

You can see more of Jay by visiting his website, getting recipes off his organic foods site, chat with him on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Your turn!  What else do you want to know about Wisconsin?  Have you ever met any local authors in your own state?  What writing advice have you learned recently?  How are your own writing projects going?  Wanna plan a trip to Madeline Island?  Admit it, you want to drive a duck too, don’t you?

22 responses

  1. Great write-up, Jess! Thanks for refreshing my memories of our bookclub’s fun weekend! Love your blog, too, by the way!

    1. Thank you for setting up the skype interview with Jay, Dorie! What a fabulous few days away! Now, if we can just get rid of those mayflies! Yech!

      1. Yes—Thank you Dorie; you all are a riot. What a great group.

  2. PS – I loved Quinlan’s “Blessings”, by the way!

  3. Great interview! I wonder if I know of the salon Gilbertson owned…

    I wish him oodles of success. *raises “pop” glass ;)* His books sounds inspiring—same for his insight for writers.

    1. He has pictures of his old salon on his website. Wouldn’t that be a small world if you’d been there?! Thanks for coming over, August!

  4. Love the interview and would love to meet, Jay! Definitely want to visit Madeline Island! How far is it from you, Jess? Maybe a trip to Wisconsin is in order for next summer. I also have a friend who lives in Madison, WI – 3 birds with one stone!

    I also need to read Jay’s books–they sound wonderful. His advice for writers is spot on and he’s an inspiration too! Thanks for bringing him to us, Jess!

    1. Oh yeah…wanted to say, I love that your book club ladies are “trying” to do the Abbey Road walk. 🙂 Very cute!

      1. They were terrible at taking direction! Finally, I just snapped the photo. LOL. Such funny ladies.

    2. You should do a road trip of Wisconsin! We’re a beautiful state! Madeline Island is probably a good 6 hour drive from me, but it is a beautiful drive through a lot of rolling green hills. And the island itself is part of the Apostle Islands, 22 in total. The water of Lake Superior is the clearest aqua blue I’ve ever seen with soft white sand. So fresh and gorgeous! Perfect for a writing retreat!

      1. Okay, it’s going on my Life List for next year!

  5. Jay sounds like my kind of author. I’m adding his books to my towering pile! Thanks so much for the great interview. Love the photos of your book club … if we lived closer a book club/bridge club reunion would be a must!

    1. They would all love you! Many of them are in a bunko club too. Do you play that?

  6. Hats off (glasses clinked) to Jess for such interesting questions.

    Enjoyed the entire process and hope to come back soon…

    Keep reading!!!

    1. You’re welcome anytime, Jay! Looking forward to trying your pumpkinseed oil at bookclub next month!

  7. Karen McFarland | Reply

    Take me to Madeline Island, quick! Fabulous interview Jess! I can see why you went after Jay for a guest post. What an inspiring author! Thank you Jay for sharing your personal experience and to you Jess for being such a gracious host! 🙂

    1. Thanks Karen! What sweet remarks. Jay is a hilarious and generous writers. Adored having him chat with our book club and visit my blog. I can’t wait for his next read! I hope it involves more ghost stories. Can’t believe he doesn’t know any urban legends from our state! Me thinks I’ll have to introduce him to a few. 😉

      1. All I have to say to that, Jess, is YES!

  8. […] It’s been a really rewarding one having had CJ West, Patricia Sands, and now Wisconsin Writer Jay Gilbertson all guest on my blog!  And guess what team?!  I talked Kait into doing it too!!!  […]

  9. […] keeping with the week’s trend, featuring Wisconsin writer Jay Gilbertson, I’m sharing my favorite guilty pleasures of my home […]

  10. […] Jay Gilbertson, Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James, and Red by Kait Nolan.  I also coordinated an author interview with Jay, and have one next week with […]

  11. […] “All the books we read are so serious!”  A cry heard on numerous occasions at book club.  Our group substituted in some summer fun when we read local author, Jay Gilbertson’s Moon Over Madeline Island and Back to Madeline Island.  We got to skype with the author and I interviewed him here! […]

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