Q & A with Kaylene Powell (BA ’01)

What inspired you to be an author, and to be persistent enough to get a book published?

I have dreamed of writing my own book since I was in Jr. High. At that time, I had an English teacher who saw my writing potential and believed in me more strongly than nearly anyone else in my life. I still harbored the dream and look for different ways to fulfill it over the years. But other thing in my life would always crowd out any space or energy for writing a full-length novel. Some people say that finishing and publishing a long book like this only requires discipline and constant hours of writing, forcing oneself to write and produce no matter what. But after this writing experience, I would strongly argue that it also depends a great deal on each individual writer's gifts and personality. I really needed inspiration. And once that inspiration hit, I was indeed swept up in the flow of it and rode the wave. Yes, it took persistence and discipline to carve out and protect the time to do that. But it was something I enjoyed immensely because my heart was so inspired by the story I knew I had to tell. 

Is “The Voice of Melody” your first book to be published? How many have you previously written?

It is my first full-length novel. I have other working manuscripts and at least three novellas and several children's books that have not been published (yet), though they may be one day. I have some poetry currently under review for publication with Blue Mountain Arts in Colorado, and I also have two published sets of English Language Learning curriculum to my name. (I have written a large number of other poems, but mostly to share with friends and family.) Finally, I was published last year as a chapter contributor in the academic volume found here.

Why do you choose to write historical fiction, and have you written in any other genre?

As mentioned above, I have written many things (mostly unpublished) in other genres - non-fiction, academic, poetry, short stories, essays, children's lit, young adult, curriculum design. I am a unique writer in that I don't just write primarily one thing or fit into one genre. Just like I read many different things, I write many different things. During this process, I actually learned more about the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. I started out in a literary style and in the end, I maintained that literary style - based on how I "heard" the story in my head, the period of time I was writing in, and several other factors. Some readers describe my novel's voice as "lyrical" - and I suppose that's my poetic voice shining through in my prose. I wrote historical fiction because this was the story that gripped my heart and longed to be told. 

Also, I've always been a lover of history. It was always my favorite subject in school. There is another NCC connection to my inspiration for this novel. At the time when I drafted it, I was rooming with NCC alum and former food services manager Becky Arnold. On a whim, we went to see Ron Howard's movie In the Heart of the Sea together, and it totally captured my imagination! Later, I sat across from her at the kitchen table and said, "Well, Becky, I can't escape the feeling that I need to tell the rest of Phebe Ann's story." She smiled and said, "Ok, tell it!"  And.....so I did. :) I drafted the whole thing in four months in one and a half notebooks with a pencil, primarily over my lunch hours at my then-job as a writing center consultant. Interestingly, while there were obviously some revisions made, much of the story as it originally came to me scene after scene after scene is still there in its mostly original order and using much of its original wording.

How much research goes into your writing?

That depends on what I'm writing. But in this case, quite a bit. Because I want to represent real, historical figures as accurately as possible where I could and try to be true to the setting's environment and culture in representation, I did a good chunk of research before I began to draft, and continued to fact check and look for more supportive info as I drafted and revised. Notes in the back of the novel discuss this in a bit more depth. I also hired an editor from Nantucket (who also works as an archivist) to read through the manuscript and help me check for additional mistakes or inaccuracies. I really wish I had had the time and money to actually travel to the island sometime while researching or drafting. But I didn't. I still hope to travel there one day. But several readers who have lived on or traveled to Nantucket have told me directly or indirectly that they enjoyed the way I wrote it and felt like I must have been there "walking the island" with my characters.  Well, in a way I was, in my mind and my spirit. The more research I did, the more I saw the underlying evidence for strong faith that carried these characters through incredibly hard times as well as the normal ups and downs of life. And somehow I knew that a part of my life's purpose on this earth was to tell their story in a way that would both highlight that faith and inspire others to cling to a sovereign God in similar ways. I have prayed and continue to pray that God will put this story into the hands of every person He wants to read it - whether that number be few or many - knowing deep in my heart that the themes and characters and words have power to encourage, teach, and speak God's heart of mission to us.

What years did you attend NCC? What was your Major? How does your time at NCC benefit your writing?

1997-2001, BA in Family Life Studies/Ministry.  I think my classes in NCC started to show me many ways in which I needed to refine my writing in general. Also, before I came to NCC, I really hadn't had much of any formal grammar instruction and my grammar needed a lot of help though the writing of all my early papers. Also, my background in counseling studies at NCC shines through in this novel, as it is driven more by psychology and heavy dialog than intense action. Being told from that time period and a female point of view, this seemed completely natural.

Do you have an additional occupation besides author?

Author is my alter-ego and "spare time" work; (it is my dream full-time job).

I am currently an assistant professor at Bellevue University where I teach English and English as a Second Language. My career since graduating from NCC has primarily been in field of ESL/EFL, though I have done other types of work like holding positions in private and public libraries

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I currently live in Bellevue NE. My family currently consists of myself and one spunky guinea pig, Mr. Whiskers. My parents live in Omaha, and my brother (Nate) and his family are in Auburn, NE.