An Interview with Jody Hedlund
1. Why did you write this novel? I wanted to write a series about lighthouses for a number of reasons. First, my state of Michigan is home to the greatest concentration of lighthouses in the U.S. And today more than 120 remain, compared to 500 total for the rest of the nation. Second, I was drawn to lighthouses because I’m fascinated by the women keepers, who have largely been forgotten by our modern world. During the prime lighthouse era, 1800s to early 1900s, most lightkeepers were men. But occasionally women were appointed to the head keeper or assistant keeper position. Michigan has the distinction of having had the most women lightkeepers. During my research, I was thrilled to find a resource that centered on those women keepers—a book by Patricia Majher titled Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service. I loved reading about the approximately fifty women who served as either principal or assistant keeper in Michigan lighthouses. They inspired me to bring their stories to life.
2. Did Love Unexpected involve any special research? Since I live in the middle of Michigan, I’m within only a few hours’ drive from many of the state’s lighthouses. So of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do hands-on research. Accompanied by my two teen daughters and my mom, we drove up the coast of Lake Huron. We stopped first at Sturgeon Point Lighthouse and climbed all the way to the top of the tower. The view over the rocky isthmus and great lake was stunning. Our second stop of the day was at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse. This forty-foot tower and unattached keeper’s house provided the backdrop for my novella Out of the Storm, as well as my novel Love Unexpected (Beacons of Hope series, Book One). The remote wilderness setting drew me to this picturesque lighthouse, along with the stories behind some of the women lightkeepers who lived there in the past. Next, we made our way to the New Presque Isle Lighthouse, which was built farther north to replace the old crumbling one. Thankfully both the old and new structures have survived the passage of time and the harsh weather and now remain as testaments to their once important role in saving lives.
3. What are the historical landmarks and events you incorporated into your novel? In addition to the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse and its keeper cottage, I also used many of the other historic landmarks that existed in the area during the mid-1800s. For example, Burnham’s Landing was an actual place near the Presque Isle Harbor. Starting in the 1850s, the Burnham family acquired large tracts of Presque Isle County’s rich timberland. They provided shelter to ships during foul weather and sold cordwood for fuel to passing steamers. In its early days, the harbor consisted of nothing more than a couple of docks, a general store, a log barn, and several shanties for fishermen.