Finding Safe Harbor {Book Club}

Finding Safe Harbor {Book Club}

I have not spent much time at the ocean and have no experience with coastal living. But as we finish up this section of the book, I couldn’t help thinking about the tides.

The waves flow in over the sand and rocks and back out again, a familiar and comforting rhythm. In many ways our lives flow through seasons in a similar way. New babies are born, those we love take their last breath, and all of the ordinary beauty of life happens in between. Seasons change and even in hard times (like 2020, for example), we still find rhythms and the days flow on.

The section we read for today in The Voice of Melody contains all of those things. When we last left Owen Chase and his children, he had gotten re-married to Peggy’s friend Nancy and then left to venture out to sea again. His return at the start of this section brings opportunities to connect with his kids once more, fun parties and family gatherings.

In the space of these four chapters, we travel forward from 1827 to 1837. In those years, Owen leaves and comes back, sometimes staying just a matter of weeks or months and other times for up to two years. Annie starts school, builds friendships, begins working and falls in love. She loses Nancy, gains a baby sister, and deals with Eunice’s betrayal.

It felt like Peggy was often isolated or alone, but I love the relationships that fill Annie’s life. In the rough times she is able to look at the gifts that the Father has given, including caring family and friends. In Chapter 12, in the section for May 1837, these words fill her heart: “Thank you, God. I count my blessings during the walk home, thinking about how faithful He has been to sustain me when I’ve felt like a storm-battered vessel. He has brought me into a safe harbor once more.”

This was especially poignant to me when Nancy died and family members stepped in to care for Annie and her siblings. It didn’t feel like this was a burden to them, and although it would have been good for the siblings to stay together, it seemed like everyone was committed to their care and well-being.

Also, I had been hoping that Annie and Gardner would fall in love! Their friendship through all the years was so sweet as they tended to each other’s hearts in little ways and courageously stood up for one another. Were you cheering for Gardner and Annie? What did you think about the development of their relationship?

I wanted to share a few more thoughts from Kaylene about what the experience of writing this book was like. I hope you enjoy hearing a behind-the-scenes story of how this book came to be!

Writing this book was an experience unlike pretty much any other one I have ever had. As I recount in the end notes, I went to see the movie “In the Heart of the Sea” with a gal who was my roommate at the time. At the very end of the movie, there was a brief scene where Owen met his adorable toddler daughter for the first time. When we got back to our apartment, I told my roommate, “I can’t shake the feeling that little Phebe has an equally powerful story to tell…and that I need to tell it for her.” I did feel deeply moved, but since I have the habit that plagues so many creatives (having a ton of good ideas that we long to do something with but never fully following through with most of them), I didn’t expect to see it really happen…or not to be more than a poem or a short story. 

But I found myself pushed along by huge waves of natural curiosity and motivation. I ordered books and dove into archival research in all my spare moments. As I read, key dates and events stuck out to me, and my notes scrawled concerning those became a loose framework for a plot in my mind. But I really had no idea exactly where I was going. I, the one who so often plans things to death, set out writing with almost no plan at all. 

I bought myself a small notebook, a pencil, and a high-quality eraser at the art store. Then, I started writing. At the time, my day job was a full time, Monday to Friday 8-5 deal, with a one-hour daily lunch break. At the beginning of April 2016, I took the notebook down to the break area with me and started writing while I ate. And every working day after that, for months, I did the same. Each time, I briefly reviewed what I had just written before, looked at the next blank page, listened to the voices of these characters in my head, and wrote what I heard them say/sing and saw them do. Between all of that and a little more writing on weekends, four months later to the day, in early August, with a stub of a pencil remaining and a handwritten mass that had spread into a second notebook, I sat staring at the finished rough draft of the whole book. And nearly the whole draft, from beginning to end, flowed in order, from one scene to the next. Looking back, I recalled how the few moments where I had not known what to write next, the answer had come easily with prayer.

Well, I had done it…I had actually drafted a whole book! What would I do next? Dare I show it to the world? What if they shredded it as poorly written (as members of my writing group later did when first introduced to it)?

I decided to type it and edit as necessary while I typed. Working along in that manner, I paused numerous times to double check my accuracy with historical facts and other details. That process led me to do some additional research through other sources I had previously not known about or fully explored. The unexpected and amazing result was that numerous things I had just written as seeming fiction because I thought they were unknown to us ended up (sometimes weirdly) falling directly in line with in-fact known history. For example, there are some lines and sentiments I wrote between characters in the book that ended up being closely connected to the unique epitaphs on some of these characters’ actual gravestones, though I never saw the rubbed inscriptions on those gravestones until I was doing that editing-stage cross-checking. 

In sum, the story literally poured out of me or flowed through me. And when whole draft was typed, I hired an editor-archivist from Nantucket to proof it for historical errors. She found one set of circumstances in a fictional scene halfway through that was technically impossible given the island’s geography (something I could not know since I have never traveled there). It was an issue I could easily remedy with a little revising. Other than that, however, she agreed that the rest of my work was sound and she, as an islander very proud of her home community, thoroughly enjoyed my take on things in that part of their history. That was, in my heart, about the highest praise I could receive.

I feel so thankful that God gave me this story to tell. I consider it a true gift and often pray it will bless my readers.

We still have one more section, but thank you, Kaylene, for writing this book and for all the work you put into it!

As you think about the everyday, beautiful or tragic events of these chapters, was there one that especially stuck out to you? In what ways have you seen Annie grow through these chapters? Is there something from this section that you are still pondering or holding on to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

We will wrap up our discussion of The Voice of Melody next week!

January 26th: Chapters 13-15 and Postlude

In February we will be reading Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman. Here’s a short summary of the book:

Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China. With the Sino-Japanese War waging around her, she struggled to bring the basics of life and the fullness of God to orphaned children. Time after time, God triumphed over impossible situations, and drew people to Himself. The Little Woman tells the story of one woman’s determination to serve God at any cost. With God all things are possible! (From Amazon)

Here’s the schedule for Gladys Aylward:

February 2: Chapters 1-4

February 9: Chapters 5-9

February 16: Chapters 10-13

February 23: Chapters 14-18

Photo by Mark de Jong on Unsplash

9 Comments

  1. Rachel Kahindi January 20, 2021

    I was so happy when Annie bumped into Gardner and he confessed why he’d been avoiding her! Everytime she had tried to find him to take about how terrible things were at home, and he wasn’t around, I was a little afraid he was going to get married to someone else.

    I really admire Annie’s resilience and perseverance – and her foundation of faith in God.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 22, 2021

      I know! That moment when they found each other and were honest with each other made me really happy. 🙂

    2. Kaylene Powell January 22, 2021

      Rachel,

      Thanks for those thoughts. Gardner and Phebe Ann’s relationship is another spot where I had to take come creative liberty because history tells us that they were married and when each of them died, but existing records do not tell us how they met or even Gardner’s occupation, from what I could discover. So, I wove that part of the story together from my imagination and what I heard in my mind as I drafted. Interestingly, we have no record of Gardner being attacked by a dog, but when I was in the typing/editing process, that’s something I came across: two news articles from Island news sources at the time. One bit was talking about how Matthew and Nancy’s son had died so young, and the other was talking about how a rabid dog had wondered into town and been a threat to the citizens until someone was able to kill it. That’s when I felt assured that though we have no record of the two dog threats I included in my book actually took place, there would have possibly been such threats to these characters or during their time. Really glad you enjoyed this section.

  2. Bayta Schwarz January 20, 2021

    The scenes I found quite haunting were when Annie was harassed by various men at different times. Thankfully there was always someone to protect her but we all know that in real life, that’s not always the case. It just makes me so sad that there are so many girls and women who live with that constant fear. I am so incredibly thankful that only one place I lived, I felt I had to be hyper-aware of my surroundings most of the time.
    In a slightly similar vein, the reality of so many women dying in childbirth is very sobering. Living in this day and age, and in countries with good healthcare, it’s easy to forget…

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 22, 2021

      Bayta, thanks for pointing out those series issues. I lived in a place where I had to be hyper-vigilant too, and it takes a toll. I have a friend who is my age who lost his mom from childbirth complications. It is amazing how many strides we have made in medicine, but I also know that not everyone has access to the best care and resources in different parts of the world. It has always made me sad that something beautiful that God designed for women- to bring life into the world- can also be so dangerous.

      1. Kaylene Powell January 22, 2021

        Bayta and Sarah,

        Thank you for sharing your comments here. Indeed, that is not always the case. I tried to express both sides of that issue also with characters like Delia Ripley and Sadie. We know from their stories (though both girls are completely fictional, as far as I know), that many girls and women have not been so fortunate to escape unharmed. Even in our own day and age, such threats are very real, even in our own countries of origin. This is another area where I hoped readers would consider how the fundamentals of life as well as life in a fallen world have not really changed much at all even though these story characters lived two hundred years before our present time. I wanted readers to be able to relate to all the basic elements of their humanity. Similar to the childbirth issue. Certainly there are still women who walk a hard road through pregnancy or birthing with medical complications. Therefore, we live today and are thankful for every day of life we are given. I appreciate your insights shared. 🙂

  3. Michelle January 26, 2021

    I had hoped that Annie and Gardner would wind up together. And then remembered since this book is based on historical facts, that the perfect romance ending might not happen. 😉I thoroughly enjoyed following their journey.
    I had a pretty serious postpartum hemorrhage when my son was born. And then had a second bleed, six days later when I was at home in a rural village. So reading of Nancy’s death gave me some flashbacks. I had thought at the time that I was likely to not survive. So so many women have died in childbirth over the centuries. And it’s tragic how high the numbers still are in undeveloped areas. Our ministry is a medical one. We have struggled to do our best, but sometimes it is still so hard to lose patients when we know that if we had been in a first-world environment, we would not have had such losses. While we have seen huge drops in mortality over the last decade, we still had a few hard hits losing babies last year. It certainly helps to be able to process in the light of eternity. I love how Kaylene weaves faith and hope throughout the tragedies of this particular story. Sadie truly is one of my favorite characters. I love how down to earth and yet heavenly minded she is.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 26, 2021

      Michelle, thank you for sharing your story! I can’t imagine the fear of not knowing if you would survive, or the pain of watching those you are working with suffer or die. We do have hope, and we share that hope with those around us, but we still grieve, don’t we?

    2. Kaylene Powell January 28, 2021

      Michelle,

      I also appreciated the thoughts you shared — and am likewise sorry to hear about the scary time you faced. I can only imagine how hard and nerve-wracking that must have been for you and for those who love you. So thankful you survived it, but mourn with you for those known who have not survived. Reading your reflections made me think back to a time when first readers gave me feedback and asked if I had done medical research before writing some of those related scenes. Apart from my historical research, I had not. So, while I did not mean to give you or other flashbacks, the writer in me is grateful to know that I wrote in a realistic manner even though I don’t have a deep knowledge of the details of the medicine and science behind it all. I’m also glad you loved Sadie. She was completely a figment of my imagination but I love her too. Many readers have favored her, and I think she is deserving of that favor, especially for her balanced character as you aptly described. 🙂

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