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The Story behind Of Stillness and Storm by Michèle Phoenix

Please join me in welcoming Michèle Phoenix to the blog today as she shares the story behind Of Stillness and Storm. Here’s a little bit about the amazing-sounding book.

“I felt torn between two worlds. Each with its own mystery. One more captivating than the other, but the other more real and breathing.”

It took Lauren and her husband ten years to achieve their dream—reaching primitive tribes in remote regions of Nepal. But while Sam treks into the Himalayas for weeks at a time, finding passion and purpose in his work among the needy, Lauren and Ryan stay behind, their daily reality more taxing than inspiring. For them, what started as a calling begins to feel like the family’s undoing.

At the peak of her isolation and disillusion, a friend from Lauren’s past enters her life again. But as her communication with Aidan intensifies, so does the tension of coping with the present while reengaging with the past. It’s thirteen-year-old Ryan who most keenly bears the brunt of her distraction.

Intimate and bold, Of Stillness and Storm weaves profound dilemmas into a tale of troubled love and honorable intentions gone awry.

Wow, Michèle. What inspired you to write a book like this?

As an English teacher, I was constantly telling my students to “write what they know.” That’s exactly what I did in Of Stillness and Storm. My parents were missionaries to France for forty years, and I lived surrounded by devoted Christians whose hearts were in the right place, but whose priorities were sometimes obscured by their zeal to reach the unbelieving. Lauren and Sam—with their laudable strengths and deplorable flaws—are composites of the family friends who populated my childhood.

To be honest, I’d wanted to write a story set on the mission field for some time, but lacked that illusive but crucial spark that becomes the impetus to sit down and start typing. I had bits and pieces floating around my mind—hints of personalities and shades of conflict—but it wasn’t until 2012, when I traveled to Kathmandu for the first time, that the novel began to crystallize. I was struck by the beauty and brokenness of Nepal, and I saw in its desolate landscape and difficult living conditions a metaphor for the toll an honorable but reckless ministry can take on good people.

A story centered on a missionary couple’s personal journey from their first encounter to their moment of reckoning in the monsoons of Kathmandu quickly emerged from the geographical symbol.

I’ve never been someone who carefully crafts characters before the writing begins, so much of the initial process is just waiting around for them to reveal themselves to me. When Lauren first spirited her way into my mind, she carried with her the weight of a past I couldn’t wait to explore. The evolution of her marriage to Sam was a story I strove to treat with unflinching honesty. Describing the degradation of her bonds with a son she loved so fiercely was an aching exercise in resisting the urge to settle for happy endings. And Aidan’s reappearance in her life? A complete surprise, even to me. He emerged with those four simple words—is it really you—as I sat in the dark with my laptop one night, just as he did for Lauren in the story. And all of a sudden he became a pivotal influence in her journey and a galvanizing presence in her grappling with purpose and identity.

Of the books I’ve had published so far (there’s one more coming in September 2017!), this is the one that was the hardest to write. Though the first drafts of other novels took me just three or four weeks to pour out, this one took me months. And here I’d thought familiarity would simplify the process! There were times when I wanted to scratch it all and find another story to tell, but there was an intensity to Lauren’s “occupation” of my creative spaces that I couldn’t quell. So I powered through.

Once I found the courage to share what I’d written, early feedback wasn’t all encouraging—though it was exactly right. When my college writing professor, who had volunteered to read an early draft, sent a rather bluntly-worded email to me, I realized my best intentions and efforts were not paying off. “I’m past chapter eight,” she wrote. “What will keep me reading? Is it coming soon?”

Oh, the temptation to throw in the towel—or throw out the Macbook! I set the manuscript aside for several weeks, perhaps hoping that leaving it unattended would cause a sort of literary fermentation to happen that would miraculously elevate the novel from boring to readable. When the period of mourning (and rebelling and responsibility-deflecting) was over, I set to work deconstructing and reconstructing what I already had, shifting some scenes and deleting others, and generally distilling the book to its most basic, focused form.

Of Stillness and Storm was born.

Born in France to a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle Phoenix is a consultant, writer and speaker with a heart for Third Culture Kids. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own advocacy venture under Global Outreach Mission. Michèle travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, mischievous students, Marvel movies and paths to healing. Learn more at michelephoenix.com Twitter: @frenchphoenix

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Thanks so much for being with us, Michèle!

5 Comments

  1. In a world where money was no object, I’d like to visit Russia. Love the history and architecture.

  2. I would love to visit New Zealand.

  3. I would love to visit Norway. I know my great-grandfather came from there. My family has his journal describing life there and then his journey by ship into New York. I would love to visit where he came from.

  4. Not really exotic, yet the lush green is a form of exotic to me. Would love to visit Ireland.

  5. Would love to spend a month or more exploring Greece.