Do Writers Get Second Chances?

by Peter Leavell, @PeterLeavell

John Howland is forever known to history as fortunate. And with his second shot at life, he didn’t hold back.

Writers, it’s never one and done. You get second chances. And with the second chance, you’ll be all the smarter.

Prevailing winds chilled Howland to the bone. He grasped the rail as the ship lurched, rolled, then dipped, leaving his stomach behind.

He couldn’t know that the Mayflower was poor construction. True, she was only 100 feet long, 80 livable feet (11 or 12 living room couches end to end), and 24 feet wide (about the width of a tight, two-lane road), but that wasn’t what made her lean to the side. What made her pitch was her height—she was small but tall, with two and ½ stories with masts towering into the sky. Her center of gravity was high, and she swayed at alarming angles.

Sailors ran around him, doing things a landlubber like himself didn’t quite understand. He didn’t know they were furling the sails and turning the ship into the wind, a rare act of seamanship, but the howling wind in the lines seemed to calm, and the raging storm offered a break.

Why did he come to the deck? Because the storm up here was better than conditions below.

For 2 ½ months and 3000 miles, averaging 2 miles per hour, the Pilgrims lived in the gun deck, stretching 5 ½ feet, floor to ceiling. Dark and cramped, one 102 men, women, and children shared the tight space with the mast’s base, and a boat that was taken apart to be reassembled in the new world.

He wouldn’t have imagined going on deck the first half of the journey. There had been one particular sailor who would have stopped him.

The sailor had teased the Pilgrims and their ways, using filthy language and crude jokes. The sailor thought the Pilgrims silly. First, the Pilgrims had left King James and his religious oppression for the freedom of Holland, but the economy of Holland was turning the minds of young Pilgrims to pursue money instead of God. They left Holland for the solitude of the New World. The sailor couldn’t imagine why they kept moving. And then there were the strange customs. The Pilgrims didn’t sing hymns (they’re not inspired by God, but written by humans), didn’t celebrate holidays of any sort (not even Christmas). So, he teased them mercilessly.

Then the sailor died of disease. The only death on the Mayflower. God’s wrath on the wicked, the Pilgrims confirmed.

Without harassment, Howland felt free to leave the cramped quarters to take a breath of fresh air.

The ship calmed, but the clouds still scurried low over the mast.

He let go of the railing.

The ship lurched.

He slipped over the side of the Mayflower and plunged into the swirling ocean. He fought the thousands of feet of darkness that pulled him down into oblivion.

He reached for the side of the ship. The smooth wood was slipping by. If it passed, there was no way to turn around and he would drift on the bottom of the sea forever—John Howland’s final resting place. No marriage. No children. Just the end of his earthly existence.

Every inch of the Mayflower that passed, his small chance of survival dropped even lower.

His opportunities were sliding away.

Something touched his arm, a rope that had fallen into the sea and dangled from a yardarm.

He grabbed tight.

Ship propulsion dragged him behind. He instantly plunged ten feet underwater. He held tight.

In a moment, Howland resurfaced. A quick glance told him sailors were pulling the rope, a boat hook ready. Soon, he was standing on deck, shivering in the cold.

God had given him a second chance at life. And he would make the most of it. The girl he liked on the Mayflower—Elizabeth— he married. They had 10 children and 88 grandchildren. Living to age 90, he was privileged to greet them all into the world.

As writers, we find ourselves with second chances, because we fail over and over. Just like John Howland, he found God’s providence in his life, and a little wiser, understood better what life was about. If you’re rejected, know that there are second chances, and you’ll be better prepared to tackle that next project!

SOURCE: Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Shadow of Devil’s Tower

Philip Anderson is a reluctant gunslinger whose fame has spread through the Dakota Territory. He can’t escape his reputation as the hero who took down the entire Maxwell Gang, and he’s even had a popular dime novel written about him. All Philip yearns for is to live a quiet life raising horses and to finally marry his beloved Anna. He’d gladly give up his half of the treasure map his murdered father left behind, but until Jacob Wilkes is captured he can never hang up his gun. Bent on destroying Philip and everything he loves, Wilkes has his eye on the hidden cache. And on Anna.

Just when Philip thinks he might be able to bury the demons of his past, the unthinkable happens and Anna and her family are kidnapped. Riding his Arabian mare Raven, he is forced into the race of his life as he desperately tracks his enemies across the desert. Can he rescue Anna before it’s too late? Joining forces with old friends like Teddy Roosevelt and Running Deer, Philip is pushed to the breaking point. Will he ever be free, or must he make the ultimate sacrifice for those he loves under the shadow of Devil’s Tower?

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at