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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Awesome Authors: Michael Young

I'm starting a new feature on the blog, an occasional series called Awesome Authors where I interview fellow writers.

We kick off the series with Michael Young who is not only the author of "The Canticle Kingdom" but also a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I don't know about you, but I am thoroughly impressed.

One of the first bloggers I ever chatted with was Mike. He's a great guy and very friendly. He's currently holding a contest over at his blog where you can win a copy of his book.

Check it out at

Now on to the Awesome Author himself!  

Mike, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is world famous.  Please tell us how you joined such a respected organization.

Joining the choir was something I’ve sought to do since I was a child. However, you cannot try out until you reach age 25, and so I knew growing up that I had a long time to practice. I did everything I could to get ready, including singing in every choir I could, and taking private voice lessons.

Then when I turned 25, I thought it was time to give it a try.  The process is a very long one, with three rounds, including a taped audition, a two-hour theory test and a live audition. After that, you have to sing in a training choir for four months.  If you get through that okay, you are made a full member.  I started the process in July 2009 and was made a full member in May 2010.

What does being a member of the choir entail?

The biggest thing is the weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast, which has been going on every Sunday for 82 years.  We usually practice on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings for two hours apiece.

We do a number of other big concerts during the year, including Christmas and Easter, and have a recording project or two.  We also sing for the General Conference of the LDS Church every April and October. Every other Summer, we also go on tour for a week or two. All in all, a very busy schedule.

What are some aspects of being in the choir that most people aren't aware of?

For one, not everybody sings at every event.  There are about 360 members of the choir and we are expected to have an 80% attendance record.

I also people don’t realize how many behind-the-scenes volunteers it takes to keep the choir running. There are people who serve in the wardrobe, the music library, seating and many other capacities.  Oh, and there’s an English Handbell Choir that’s part of the choir as well.

What's your favorite memory of the choir experience so far?

That’s a hard one. Probably helping to make a recording of the Choir for my first time. It features just the men of the choir with some great music.  Another one that stands out is singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus six times in a row for a recording.  

What's your favorite Christmas song to sing in the choir and/or on your own?

  The choir sings this amazing version of “The First Noel” that I love.  Alone, I love stuff with good tenor notes like “O Holy Night” and ones that aren’t sung as often like “Lo How A Rose E’re Blooming.”  

You're also the author The Canticle Kingdom.  Please share the premise of your book.

It is about of kingdom of people who live inside of a music box, but do not know that yet. There is one family however, who knows the nature of their world and is tasked with playing the music from the box to affect people in our world.

For example, when their queen in old and a new queen needs to be appointed, they play the box and a woman who hears the music from it is drawn into this kingdom and made the new queen.  This needs to happen at the beginning of the story, but the family has forgotten their duties and the box has fallen into disrepair.  

How did you come up with the idea for a magic kingdom inside a music box?

That's a good question.  This one just popped into my head while I was working at Target during my first year at college.  Most of my ideas enter at strange times when I'm not really looking for them.

How long did it take you to write the book?

About a year for the first draft.  I was attending college at the time and so I could only write here and there. I could probably churn out a first draft much more quickly now.  

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

Drawing all the story threads together effectively in a way that does not confuse the reader.  

Can you describe your writing process?

I start out developing a general outline with “mile markers” of things that I want to happen. Then I just get going on the first draft.  I set a weekly goal for myself about how many words I want to write and then break that up into my daily portion. I write everywhere, even when I don’t have a computer to fill in those little times.    

What advice do you have for other writers?

Slow and steady pays off.  You will get to be a better writer by doing it just a little every day and brainstorming new ideas while you are doing menial things like waiting in line at the grocery store, or doing the dishes.  I’ve had some of my greatest lightbulb moments while doing menial tasks.  

On a personal note, congratulations on the birth of your new son! Tell us a little about your family.

My wife Jen and I have been married about five years and have two sons, Jarem who is two and a half and little Bryson who came to us on November 1st.  We are all very musical and love good books.  (I guess the jury is still out on Bryson, but at least Jarem does.)

The doctor’s let us know that Bryson has Down’s Syndrome, which was surprising to us, but we’re excited to get to know this sweet little boy.  

In the spirit of the season, can you share one of your favorite Christmas memories?

  That would have to be spending Christmas Eve with a little German family in a tiny village. They only sing “Silent Night” or “Stille Nacht” on Christmas Eve and then give out all their presents.  It was so simple and sacred that it has always stuck with me.  

How did you wind up spending Christmas in a tiny village with a German family?

  I was an LDS missionary at the time and they were a family from our congregation who invited us to their house to spend Christmas Eve. It was especially nice because I was so far away from home.   

When your two sons are grown, what do you want them to remember about their childhood Christmases with Dad?

I hope that they remember the fun Christmas music and traditions we made together, and the thoughtful gifts I made them. I always take time and make homemade gifts that I think mean a little more.  

What kind of homemade gifts do you make for your sons?

 I did a painting for a son of Winnie the Pooh that now hangs in his room.  For my sister this year, I made a compilation of piano music that I had written and wrote a new song for her.  She always said how much she liked listening to me play my songs.  I think it will be easier to make stuff for them once they grow up a little more and their interests become more apparent.

What was your favorite Christmas present as a boy? 

I'll have to admit it was a Super Nintendo. My brothers and I spent many a bonding moment over Mario and Zelda.  I think playing video games expanded my imagination a bit. (Though I usually did it in moderation)   

[Editors Note: Mike may not have been aware that the Sega Genesis was the superior console at the time due to its X-Men, Streets of Rage and Pirates of Dark Water games.  Please forgive him]

What do you want for Christmas this year?

What I’d really like is for another one of my manuscripts to be picked up.  I’ve got a few out there, so it could happen.    

What's in the future for Michael Young?

Many creative things.  I’ve planned out a number of book projects as well as projects for the stage that I’d like to see get out there. Lots of good times with my wife raising my two boys and many great performances with the Tabernacle Choir.    

Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

I would just encourage those who want to pursue a hobby that the time is now to get started.  If you invest the time, you can create things that will uplift others. That’s the best feeling.

Thanks for being my first awesome author, Mike!


  1. Thanks Dan! I will admit, Streets of Rage is an awesome game.

  2. The super nintendo was still the better, hence the decline of sega.

  3. Great interview. It's fun to learn more about you and what it's like to be in the Tabernacle Choir (my secret dream). I bought your book for my kids for Christmas. Can't wait to read it myself.

  4. Stellar interview, Dan. Thanks for doing it and asking the MTC questions. I have others for Mike, but not here.

  5. Mike, Streets of Rage 2 is one of the best games out there. I still have my Genesis hooked up and play it on occasion. I was just joking with you too. Remember the 16 bit console wars of the 90s?

    Tyler, Sega and Super Nintendo both declined because the formats changed. It's why we have Playstation and Wii.

    Angie, I'm glad you liked the interview and thanks for your interest in my blog! I'm a newbie in this blogging world.

    Marsha, Thanks for the compliments. I just checked out your blog, and it looks awesome! I love reading about other authors.

  6. This was great. Thanks for sharing. I've always wondered how people got into the Choir. I would never have guessed that there are so many members.