(Photo Credit: Meagan Myhren-Bennett)
Tessa Taylor arrives in 1870s Upper Peninsula, Michigan, planning to serve as a new teacher to the town. Much to her dismay, however, she immediately learns that there was a mistake, that the town had requested a male teacher. Percival Updegraff, superintendent and chief mine clerk, says she can stay through winter since they won’t be able to locate a new teacher before then, and Tessa can’t help but say she is in his debt. Little does she know that Percival will indeed keep track of all that she owes him.
Determined to become indispensable, Tessa throws herself into teaching, and soon the children of the widowed lighthouse keeper have decided she’s the right match for their grieving father. Their uncle and assistant light keeper, Alex Bjorklund, has his own feelings for Tessa. As the two brothers begin competing for her hand, Tessa increasingly feels that someone is tracking her every move, and she may not be able to escape the trap that has been laid for her.
Jody Hedlund is a best-selling and award-winning author who loves history and happily-ever-afters. She makes her home in Midland, MI with her husband and five children. When she’s not writing another of her page-turning stories, you can usually find her sipping coffee, eating chocolate, and reading.
This is now the sixth book that you’ve written with a Michigan setting. What draws you to write stories set in Michigan?
I’ve lived in central Michigan for the past sixteen years. All but one of my five children have been born in Michigan, and this is where I’ve raised my family. So Michigan definitely has a special place in my heart.
Not only has it been a wonderful place to raise a family, but it’s also a beautiful state. Michigan is a peninsula and is bordered by 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, giving it approximately 3,200 miles of shoreline which is the most of any state except Alaska. Michigan not only has lots of beaches and sand dunes and hiking trails and state parks, but it also is home to the most lighthouses.
Aside from the beauty of the state (which makes for very picturesque book settings!), Michigan has a rich history due to the lumber and mining era that attracted many settlers to the state, but also attracted plenty of colorful and dangerous characters as well.
All that to say, Michigan is full of wonderful, interesting, and fascinating stories of real life people. I’ve only begun to touch on some of those people, and I hope that I’ll be able to bring more of them to life in the future.
The heroines in the first two books actually live in lighthouses. In Undaunted Hope, the heroine is a school teacher. Why did you decide for her to be a school teacher instead of a light keeper?
As I researched the area and the Keweenau Peninsula, I came across the diary of a real school teacher, Henry Hobart, who lived and taught in Clifton which was just a few miles down the road from Eagle Harbor. He wrote a detailed account of his life as a school teacher to the mining children.
I loved reading his diary and learning about all he experienced, especially those unique things that came with being in such a remote area of Michigan and living among the mining community.
I used many of Hobart’s experiences in Undaunted Hope. For example, he boarded with a Cornish family, the Rawlings, and Mr. Rawlings was a prominent mine engineer and mechanic. So I had Tessa board with this particular family. Hobart faced many hardships like bedbugs, lice, scarlet fever, the harsh winter, and much more. So again, I had Tessa experience many of those same things.
Eagle Harbor itself has an old one-room school house now known as the Rathbone School House. While it’s no longer in use and serves as a museum, during my research trip I was able to visit it. I used it as the inspiration for the school house in this book.
In your other lighthouse books, the heroines are inspired by real women keepers. Did you use a real light keeper as part of the inspiration for the heroine in Undaunted Hope?
Most of us gravitate toward the stories that glamorize lighthouse life and honor the women who served in them. That’s only natural. And I hope in my other two books in this series, I give those women the laud due to them.
However, I didn’t want to neglect the women who served in lighthouses whose experiences weren’t quite as glamorous, who served even though they disliked the duty. One woman in particular inspired this book. Her name was Cecelia Carlson McLean who was married to keeper Alexander McLean who served at various lighthouses around Lake Superior. When she was interviewed later in her life, Cecelia was very forthright in stating that she hated lighthouses, that they were lonely places, and that she’d had to sacrifice a great deal to live in them. She claimed that if she had to do it over, she wouldn’t choose life in a lighthouse.
Of course her story made me think about the many hardships that light keeping entailed, especially for women–the extreme isolation, the lack of luxury, and the constant threat of danger. So out of Cecelia’s hardships, I created Tessa and tried to imagine the underlying motivations for what might cause someone to hate lighthouses. Although I had Tessa work through some of her fears and dislike of lighthouses, I’m sure most women like Cecelia took their resentment of lighthouses with them to the grave.
Do you base the villain in Undaunted Hope on a real Michigan criminal as you do in previous books? If so, who did you pick this time?
The villain, Percival Updegraff, is based on a real rogue from Michigan history, Albert Molitor. Molitor lived in Rogers City and ruled as “king” over his wilderness lumbering community. He controlled who was hired and fired. He had a company store and held a monopoly on all food and merchandise.
He was also a sexual predator. Since he had so much control over the people who worked for him, if he took interest in a woman, he would walk into the woman’s house and order her into bed. If she refused or resisted, he’d fire her husband and force the family to leave the company owned home.
He “ruled” this way until the people in the community finally revolted. They held secret meetings to plan to overthrow him. And while it took a couple of attempts, they attempted to assassinate him. He was mortally wounded and eventually died which finally freed the town of his cruelty.
What do you hope readers take away from Undaunted Hope?
I pray that this story will encourage readers with renewed hope. Just like Tessa, I hope that readers will find the strength to face their fears. We all have things that frighten us, and many times we find it easier to run away from those things that scare us. Sometimes, however, God calls us to walk directly into that thing we fear most. He wants us to know that during those times, he’s there walking right beside us and that he’ll help us come out on the other side stronger as a result.
You have a fourth lighthouse book releasing in June of 2016. Can you tell us a little bit more about this story? Is it connected to your first three lighthouse books?
The fourth book is titled Forever Safe. Like the others, it can completely stand alone. There’s no need to read the others first to enjoy the story.
However, the main character in Forever Safe does make an appearance at the end of the third lighthouse book, Undaunted Hope. I won’t say who it is, so that I don’t spoil the surprise for those who haven’t read Undaunted Hope. But I hope that readers will be excited about this particular character getting a story in Forever Safe.
You have a busy publication schedule in 2016! In addition to Forever Safe, can you tell us what other books we have to look forward to?
My second young adult novel, A Daring Sacrifice, releases in March. I’m super excited about this reverse twist on the Robin Hood story set during medieval times.
Finally in October, my second historical will release. Following in the same vein as my Luther and Katharina book, I will be bringing to life another historical couple. I hope to reveal the couple, title, and cover in the next few months!