Bellevue Professor Pens “The Voice of Melody”
By Dan Silvia
The great white whale has long been a metaphor for obsession. The whale has also been the inspiration for art of all varieties including the great American novel, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” and the basis for that novel, Owen Chase’s first-hand shipwreck account “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex.” More recently, a motion picture called “In the Heart of the Sea,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth as the aforementioned Chase, chronicled the pursuit of the whale.
Add “The Voice of Melody” by first-time novelist and Bellevue University Professor Kaylene Powell to that list. While “Moby Dick” tells of a great sea-faring adventure, “Melody” follows the story of Chase’s family, including wife Peggy and daughter Phebe Ann, and their struggles to carry on with their husband and father out to sea.
“Growing up, I was never required to read ‘Moby Dick’,” Powell said. “I had not heard the story of Owen Chase until a couple of years ago when ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ came out. I saw it in the cheap theater with my roommate at the time. I came home and said, ‘I think I need to write a story about that little girl’.”
Powell dove into researching the subject, reading whatever she could get her hands on. As she read, she only became more intrigued. While she was able to learn a lot about the women in the story, there were also large gaps that would allow her some literary license. She was surprised at the amount of material available directly through the Bellevue University Freeman Lozier Library, and what she could not find in-house she was able to obtain through inter-library loan and the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA).
“The NHA has stuff that's available online, and then there were other documents and things that I could request to see,” Powell said. “I could ask them questions as well. I was kind of living vicariously through their website and doing my research through them.”
From there she started working on her first draft of the novel. After four months, she had it completed. She contacted an editor in Nantucket to assist with the revision process.
“She helped me clean up some historical impossibilities -- mistakes that I didn't know about because I didn't have the time or the money to travel to Nantucket. It was only in my imagination,” Powell said. “One day I still want to get there. I'm writing this all in my imagination. I have friends who have been there and some of them who read the early manuscript said ‘I feel like I'm walking down the street with these people’.”
Powell wrote the novel in a literary style, while not necessarily reminiscent of Melville, in a way that might pay homage to its inspiration.
“It took over my heart, my mind and I wrote it,” Powell said. “It kind of came out of me, I poured it out, and it was wonderful.”
When she had completed the writing and revision process, Powell was ready to seek out a publisher. She tried pitching the book herself to smaller presses to no avail. She received some additional feedback, made a few more revisions, and pitched to traditional publishers once again, but could not find someone willing to take a chance on a first-time novelist. She began researching self-publishing and discovered Concierge Marketing in Omaha, Nebraska. (Omaha)
“I'm going to step out. I'm going to take a chance, risk it, and do it myself,” Powell said. “I felt like Concierge did just a great job on the interior and the cover and everything. They've been so good to work with. They’re helping me a little bit with marketing and that sort of thing.”
The book has received some early buzz with a positive review in the May edition of Midwest Book Review.
“A deftly crafted ‘sequel’ to a classic work of American fiction, ‘The Voice of Melody’ is an extraordinary and engaging novel that showcases author Kaylene Powell's genuine flair for narrative storytelling. An absorbing, entertaining, and at times simply riveting read, ‘The Voice of Melody’ is unreservedly recommended for the personal reading lists of anyone who has read ‘Moby Dick,’ and will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to both community and academic library American Literary Fiction collections,” reads the review.
Powell has three pages of acknowledgements in the book with more than a few of her Bellevue University colleagues earning praise, including Amy Nejezchleb, Tony Jasnowski, Gloria Lessmann, Clif Mason, and Lynette Ingram.
“It’s impossible to do justice to all the people who helped me through this process,” Powell said. “They have been so encouraging to me and have helped me gain confidence in myself as a person, as a professor, as a writer.”