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
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