Buy the Book

To order from Amazon, click here. or from Cedar Fort, click here. or from B&N, click here.

To read the first 15 pages, click here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

If "Who's at the Door?" were a movie....

Every once in a while, people say "Wouldn't it be cool if your book was made into a movie?"

Yes, that would be cool!  But it's never going to happen.  No sex. No drugs. No rock and roll.  It would have to be on the Hallmark channel or something.

But just for fun, I decided to put a cast together.  Keep in mind, this is just for kicks.

Michael Rosenbaum as me. I'm the main character after all!

Why I chose him
Rosenbaum could be pensive as Lex Luthor on Smallville, but also funny in his voice portrayal of The Flash in the Justice League cartoon. Most importantly, he can manage the right hair style.

Besides, hollywood makes everyone better looking than they are in real life.

Rosenbaum will have to act slightly more goofy to be an accurate portrayal of myself.  Plus, he'll have to come off a little more naive, since I feel that way about many things whether dealing with religion or life. 

Jensen Ackles from Smallville as Elder Childs.

Why I chose him
Elder Childs was always popular with the ladies (He's married now so hold your horses) and so is Jensen Ackles on Supernatural.  On Supernatural, Ackles plays Dean Winchester, a character known for his social skills and leadership ability. Plus, no one will ever accuse either of them of breaking a camera lens. 

Ackles will need to dye his hair blond, and he'll have to be more wholesome than his tough guy character on Supernatural.  Still, I think he could pull off the role.

Vin Diesel as Elder Dowling

Why I chose him

They've got the same hair style and similar stern expressions.  They are not guys you want to mess with.


Vin is a little old to play Dowling.  He'll also have to pull back on the intimidation factor a bit.  The essence of Elder Dowling is "I'm a nice guy, but don't make me angry." 

Sally Fields as Sister Ruth.

Why I chose her

Every Catholic loves "The Flying Nun" and I even allude to the show in my book.  Sister Ruth was a prominent figure in the religious education of my childhood, and I want her portrayed correctly.
Plus, Sally is now about the age of the Sister Ruth I remember.


Nun (or should I say none?).  Sally Field can fly! She can do anything!

Seth Green as Elder Kelsey.

Why I chose him
The red hair.  Plus, he could pull off the famous "donut incident."  He can be both serious and funny, a must for anyone portraying Elder Kelsey

Green is too old and much too short for the role.  We'll have to use poetic license here.

WWE star Jack Swagger as Elder Bailey

Why I chose him
I used to call Elder Bailey the "Alaskan Mauler" because, although he had a very young face, he was a giant who could be in the WWE.  According to Swagger's stats: he's 6'6"  This is a hair taller than Bailey, but Hollywood always exaggerates.


Swagger will have to come across as likable, and I hope he has some acting skill.

There are a lot more characters I could have picked from, but this list took a LONG time to create.  One notable exception is Elder Luke, who is a big character in the story.  After racking my brain, I just could not come up with an actor who could fulfill the stoic role.

Anyway, I got a kick out of making this list.  I hope you get a kick out of it too. Let's hope James Cameron is watching....

Friday, November 11, 2011

Looking for a great Veteran's Day movie?

Happy Veteran's Day to all the vets out there!

Last year, I wound up writing a story about the stars and creators of "The Way We Get By," an incredible documentary about troop greeters in Maine.  If you haven't seen this film, it's a perfect Veterans Day movie.

The cast and creators were wonderful people--unsung heroes who get little attention, and this documentary is brilliant all the way around.  It was such a blessing to meet and interview these people.

After I finished my interview, one of the creators said they "loved me" because I was such a sweet person. It was so touching that someone who had witnessed and documented such a caring story express similar appreciation for me. I certainly felt undeserving. Below is a preview of "The Way We Get By" from youtube. I highly recommend it. You can get the whole film on amazon here and here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our little escapes

 It's been a while since my last blog post.  Sorry about that.  Time escapes me so quickly, and to that end, I post my next blog entry in honor of Halloween and haunted stories...

Many readers tell me that a good book should help them escape. They're usually pretty vague after that, as if the word "escape" covers it.

It's up to our imagination to guess what so many people want to escape from: their troubles, their cares, monotony itself.

But then I realize that for the writer, it doesn't matter what each person wants to leave behind, only that they want to leave something behind. It's my job to make whatever is on the page more introspective and interesting than the personal problems a reader may have at the moment.

This, I think, is also the essence of Halloween. It's a night to throw-off the mundane, to be less serious, to discard the ordinary.

It seems a little morbid that so many of us want to enter another person's reality in order to gain respite from our own. Whenever we pick up a book, it offers the chance to trade our problems for another person's.

Fortunately for writers most people are willing to make this bargain.

Why spend time on taxes, bills, the dishes, or taking out the trash? No. People would much rather run from Michael Meyers, hunt vampires, or try to survive a zombie apocalypse. Scary stories can make hearts race and palms sweat. When was the last time household chores ignited our need to survive?

So to the goal of escapism, I raise a toast of Halloween cider. For if a good story helps us escape, then what is an author but an escape artist?

Unlike Harry Houdini, us authors don't have to chain ourselves up and get in our underpants to do our job. We can do it from the safety of our keyboard.

For the writer, then, there's a little escapism too.

You didn't think the readers had all the fun, did you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

Quick update/Happy 4th!!!!

It's strange how quickly time goes by when you're blogging. 

I gave a public reading of "Who's at the Door?" at the Gardiner Public last week and had 25 people attend.  It was a great experience, and several LDS expressed gratitude for my willingness to write a human interest story about them.

Next up, I have a reading at the Bangor Public Library July 14.

Until then, I hope everyone has a chance to enjoy their Independence Day.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mormons in the Media, but can the paper really tell us the "facts"?

It's being called "The Mormon Moment." 

Thanks to Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, the media is covering Mormonism with a whole new gusto.  You can take the Mormon history quiz at the Huffington Post (which I aced because I'm that slick) or you can read the Newsweek article "Mormons Rock" or if you're in New York, you might even check out The Book of Mormon musical.

Mormon Times' writer Lane Williams isn't all that impressed with the attention.  His column at Mormon Times laments the recent coverage stating that "there seemed little new beyond recycled news frames of the last few decades."

But the larger question is, how much can the media really tell us?  Religion of any sort gets terse treatment in the news.  We can only get the overview in a two minute segment or even a ten page article.  There simply isn't space to get into the nitty-gritty.

And let's face it, with Mormonism, there's a lot of nitty-gritty.

There are a lot of "facts" that get disputed over and over.  As a church investigator, I looked into the history of the Book of Mormon people.  I wanted to know about the possible existence of the Nephites, but what I found was an endless debate over every detail.

Eventually everyone sounded like the adults in Charlie Brown.  "Wah Wah Wah Wah."

It seems that few (if any) non-Mormon scholars believe that the Nephites ever existed.  Why?  For one, the Book of Mormon mentions lots of things that were not known to be in America during pre-Columbian times. 

Perhaps the most famous example has to do with horses. The book mentions horses, but most scientists say there were no horses in the Americas at that time.

But don't say that too loud or apologists like Michael Ash will remind you of 100 reasons why a horse could be a tapir or a deer or another animal that you may have never considered to be what Joseph Smith translated as "a horse."

I doubt the media will ever cover debates like this. Why?  Because these stories don't sell papers.  It's a tempest in a teapot, and no one cares.

In fact, a single article on Mormonism could never do the topic justice. It's a richly layered subject that involves personal faith, archeology, DNA, and personal histories of men who didn't want everything they did blasted to the public (google Nauvoo Expositor). 

Expecting a newspaper to cover all that seems naive to me, especially when so many elements of Mormon history come with baggage.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Virgin Mary...Surfing?

I don't love graffiti, but I do love the Surfing Madonna mosaic that has recently popped up in California.
(Actually, it's been there since Good Friday, but I just found out about it.)

At first the mosaic seemed to spring up out of nowhere, and it was quite a mystery.  But it was the kind that California residents loved.  Apparently, the artist was so clever that he disguised himself as a construction worker doing maintenance.  Check out the news story this video:

The artist has more recently come forward.  His name is Mark Patterson, and he's not even Catholic.  Instead, he says he felt inspired to bring attention to the cause of saving the ocean. You can see it clearly says "Save the Ocean" on the side of the mosaic.

See an interview with the artist at this link: 

Despite the wonderful art this man crafted, the problem is that the city is calling it graffiti because he didn't get permission to do it first.  To me, that really was pretty stupid...or was it?

Had the piece gone in a museum, would anyone have talked about it? 

This man clearly wants to bring attention to his cause, but it's being overshadowed by the religious symbolism in the photo.  I've already read some comments from Catholics who say it's inappropriate, but I happen to like it.

The image of the virgin is clearly based off "The Virgin of Quadalupe."

 As the story goes, the Virgin Mary appeared to a Mexican man named Juan Diego in 1531 and told him to build a church.   The local bishop didn't believe the story, so Diego asked Mary for proof that he saw her.  She told him to place some roses in his cloak.  When the roses were removed, the above image on his cloak.

Now I actually prefer this image, which shows Juan Diego as well.

Now that I know about Morminism, I can't help but see the resemblance to Joseph Smith and the First Vision, which seems to be the most popular image among Latter-Day Saints.

Anyway, I hope the surfing Madonna stays, and I'll be interested to see what happens next.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I'm in the Salt Lake City Weekly

Well, not really me, but my book is!

The Salt Lake City Weekly justgave a positive review of "Who's at the Door?" stating:

Harrington is at his best when discussing how learning from the missionaries is similar to Catholic catechism classes with a nun named Sister Ruth he attended as a child...Who’s at the Door... demonstrate(s) the journey can be just as interesting to read about as the destination

Go Sister Ruth!   She's one of my favorite characters in my memoir but rarely ever gets a mention.  In fact, I wish I had written more about her.

I actually added Sister Ruth and the catechism scenes halfway into writing the book. I wanted an extra layer to change pace from all the missionary scenes.  I'm glad good ole Sister Ruth gets a mention.

This reviewer compares my book with another one about LDS Church Prophet Wilford Woodruff. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Love those Libraries!

I've started scheduling a library tour around Maine, and I'll tell you a secret.  Maine librarians are awesome!

In very short order, I've already lined up public readings in Gardiner and Bangor.

I'll keep you posted on my progress, but right now I'm scheduled for the following:

Gardiner Public Library
June 29th 6:30 - 8pm

Bangor Public Library
July 14th 5:30 - 7pm

Portland Public Library
February 2012
(Yes, that's 2012)

I'll probably create a tab on the right as a more permanent place for my schedule. 

Keep your fingers crossed for me as I venture into the wild land of libraries!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deadline: how an old enemy became a good friend


I've always hated that word.  It reminds me too much of words like "homework" and "chore."  You know, those really nasty concepts that could ruin entire weekends.

It took a long time for me to realize how important deadlines are.

Before I was published, back when I wrote only fiction, deadlines were a rather aloof topic.  People would ask when I would write a book or get a story out.  The truth was that I didn't know.  I always answered in vague timetables like "later" or "this year."

Finally, I got tired of my own procrastination and started working for a local newspaper.  That's where I learned how to write and how to write fast.

No longer could I tell someone "I'll write it later" or "this year."  Stories were due often a few hours after I interviewed someone.

At first, this terrified me.  I had always told myself that I could write a really good story if I were given more time.  I'll admit that sometimes that's true, but procrastination is never the answer.

In 2010, I pushed myself to the limit by signing up for what became a 22 part series for my newspaper.  I had always wanted to do a series, and I was thinking big--something that would really make me stick out.  I wanted to profile prominent Mainers for their success across the state.

This meant I would have to snag interviews with busy hard-to-reach people, write stories and turn them in well before my usual deadline.  My editor wanted it to be a front-page series, so there was no fudging the dates.  I agreed, and to this day, I surprised myself.

I took this picture in 2010 when I interviewed author and actress Victoria Rowell. It made the front page along with my story.  Everyone I knew was shocked that I got to meet her. In Maine, she's known from her roles in prime-time series like "Diagnosis Murder" and "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carey.

During that time, I interviewed people like Victoria Rowell from "The Young and the Restless,"  former Maine governor Angus King, UFC Fighters Marcus Davis and Tim Boetsch, and New York Times Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, among many others.

I churned the stories out as fast as I could because half my time was spent scheduling interviews, some of which never worked out.

But more importantly, I learned more about myself and what I could accomplish.  I just needed a deadline to do it.

Here's a pic of UFC fighter Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch (right) in action.  Due to his training schedule, I wasn't able to meet Tim, but he spoke to me over an hour on the phone.   His UFC record is an impressive 16-4.  He knocked this opponent, Mike Patt, out in the first round at UFC 88.

I learned that there are too many stories that need attention.  As a writer, each one is a step in improving your craft.

Writing is a lot like lifting weights.  If you want to see results, you don't start working out the night before your big date.  You have to do it consistently over time.

Sometimes you won't lift that much.  Sometimes you might drop the weights.  But what matters is that you're doing it.  Only by lifting weights do you see results, and only by writing do you finish a story.

The thing I hated most--the deadline--helped me finally become a writer.  Now with more than 200 articles published in various newspapers and magazines, I've come to recognize the deadline as an ally in the continuous battle against procrastination.

If you need to organize your ideas, make a deadline. Nothing will light a fire like that.

If you want to write fiction every week, create a writers group.  Nothing will make you write more than sharing your work with others on a regular basis.

Only writing will make you a writer, and if you're anything like me, you need a deadline to make you write.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

New LDS review

I got another glowing review today from LDS writer Melissa Cunningham.

She writes "I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved [Who's at the Door?] It was fast paced, interesting and very funny. I busted up laughing numerous times. My kids gave me a lot of funny looks....
A special relationship grows between the missionaries and the people who investigate the church. Dan explains these feelings and emotions beautifully. He is easy to relate to as he tells this profound story."

You can read the full review here.

I am so thankful for all the great reviews I've gotten out of Utah and other places.  They seem to prove that you can write about another faith respectfully.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Another Book Review

LDS writer Angie Lofthouse recently praised my book on her blog, calling it "compelling, beautifully written and quite poignant."  Few compliments are higher than that.

You can read the full review here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mormon Times Book Review

Mormon Times, a prominent LDS publication, gave a short review of my book.  For some reason, the online review is shorter than the review in the paper, but I can't complain.  I was very excited to get this story in the paper. 

Check it out!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sunday Song (on Monday): "A Heart Like Mine"

I heard this country song on the way home, and it's been in my head ever since.  The chorus emphasizes Jesus own humanity, which is juxtaposed with his divine miracles.

I recently heard a Franciscan priest say that one reason God became flesh was to share an intimate union with his creation.  By making Himself one of us, He became visible, thereby, a little easier for us to understand and reflect.  He experienced humanity and what it means to be human, and therefore knows our struggles and concerns in an intimate way.

The song also brought these scripture verses to mind:

Luke 5:30-32
30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
 31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

Instead of writing a long blog, I'll let the song speak for itself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Author Talk: The Hook

I spoke to a creative writing class this week at the University of Maine Augusta, and it was awesome.  I only prepared a 40 minute discussion, but the talk lasted 1.5 hours.  The students and instructor were enthusiastic and had a lot of questions about my writing and how I got published.

I spent part of my presentation talking about the hook.  The hook is the first sentence or two of the story, but in fiction, I will sometimes say it includes the entire first page.

The importance of the hook never caught me when I was younger.  Back then, I thought it was perfectly fine for my story to "get good" on page 20, 15, or even 50.  The reader was going to be patient, right?


Editors I met at workshops admitted that when they get an unsolicited manuscript from a newbie author, they give the story 3 pages or less.  If it doesn't catch them in that time, they stamp a "reject" on it.

We have to remember that editors get tons of manuscripts every month--affectionately referred to as the "slush pile."  

When I first heard this information years ago, it seemed cruel. Three pages wasn't enough to tell if the story had potential, right?

Well, experience teaches us a lot.  As I've grown, my patience--like those editors--has thinned out.  I now realize how important the first page is.  Coming up with a good first sentence and paragraph for your story should be on the radar of any serious writer.

One thing writing for newspapers has taught me is how important the hook is.  It's the first impression for the reader.  They often read that and the headline to decide to read or skip your piece.  I spend more time on my hook than I do on most other sentences.

Here's the example I used in the class:

After interviewing pro-wrestler "The Franchise" Shane Douglas, whose real name is Troy Martin, for my newspaper article, I wanted to mention how he used to get in trouble with his mom for wrestling with his brothers and sisters.

So I wrote this:

Troy Martin used to get in trouble for being rowdy with his brothers and sisters.  Now he gets paid for the same behavior.

The hook was all right, but I took three issues with it.  1) His brothers and sisters were irrelevant to the rest of the story.  2) What was meant by "used to?"  Last week, last month?  3) The vernacular phrase "get in trouble" could mean "jail."

So I eventually re-shaped the sentence to read:

As a boy, Troy Martin was scolded by being rowdy.

This new hook added a descriptive verb "scolded" to highlight that the "trouble" he faced wasn't serious.  It was rambunctious play, not petty crimes.  I also added the "As a boy" clause to provide a clear time.

The second sentence still annoyed me because I didn't like ending with "the same behavior."  The phrase felt too technical, and I wanted it to be fluid.

This is the final version of the hook I created for the piece.

As a boy, Troy Martin was scolded for being rowdy.  Now he gets paid for it.

This felt like a fun, but narrow hook that focused on a single idea.

My only problem was that the first sentence was passive voice.  To make it active, I would have to include his mother in the sentence because she had performed the action of the verb: the "scolding."  I debated this back and forth, but in the end, I thought the passive voice read fine in this instance.

I was right.

My editor liked the hook and the story enough to put it on the front page of the newspaper.  As the lead story for the entire day, it took up most of the front page.

I shared this anecdote with the class to show the kind of thought process that goes into creating a hook.

It's something I do every time I write for the paper, but I've never shared it with anyone until now.

On a personal note, despite having nearly 200 articles published and making the front page of a weekly newspaper 22 weeks in a row, I had never been on the front of a daily.

So I reached a new milestone in my career where the front page of the daily was possible.

To commemorate this, The Franchise signed my article, and it's now framed in my home. 

Just in case you don't know who "The Franchise" is, he's worked in every major wrestling promotion in the U.S. including WWE, WCW, and ECW.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Encounter with a conversion story: she prayed to find the right church

Check out this video about a girl who converted to Catholicism.  It reminds me very much of all the stories I've heard about the LDS Church. 

The similarities are uncanny, especially when she, as a non Catholic, once thought of the church as "weird" and "a cult." 

If you removed the word "Catholic" and re-worded a belief or two, this story sounds exactly like some of the LDS testimonies I've heard over the years.  She even prayed to find the right church to belong to.

Mormons hear stories like this from members every Sunday.  I thought this was a nice take on something I rarely hear Catholics say.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My favorite place--the front page!

I haven't been doing as many freelance articles lately because I've had to concentrate on book promotion.

However, here's one notable exception.  I made the front page of a large daily paper with a story about pro-wrestling star "The Franchise" Shane Douglas.  Shane, whose real name is Troy Martin, has worked in every major U.S. wrestling promotion including ECW, WCW, TNA, and WWE.

Check my story out here. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I'm in Provo's Daily Herald!

The Daily Herald of Provo Utah has a big feature story about me and my book in today's edition!!!

I was very excited when the reporter called me, but I had no idea how many other calls he would make.  Cody was very thorough, and I appreciate his hard work.

This is the first time I've been in a Utah newspaper, and it's truly an honor!

My favorite part about the story is that they included quotes from some of my own missionaries. (The two on the cover as a matter of fact!)  Cody asked me for their phone numbers, and I was excited that both Childs and Dowling got to speak with him.

You can see the story here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When was the word "Catholic" first used?

I learned this a long time ago, but I just found this video.  Everything's more fun (and easier to recall) when you watch it as a video.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Contest Alert

Fellow Man Cave author Frank Cole is celebrating the release of his new book "The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter."

He's hosting a prize drawing to win a free autographed copy over at his own blog.  You can check it out here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Song, "Crazy Love" by Hawk Nelson

It took a long time before I started listening to Christian music.  I thought it would be too sappy and sweet.  Admittedly, there are some songs like that (and who isn't in a sappy mood every now and again) but Christian music has fast become my favorite genre.

Every once in a while, I try to share one of my favorite new songs, and I think Hawk Nelson's "Crazy Love" is a perfect example of how Christian music doesn't always sound the way I once expected.  Take a listen. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Author Talk Report Card

My author event at the University of Maine Augusta went extremely well. Fifteen people, plus six or seven university staff members, came to hear me speak and give a reading.

This might not sound like a tremendous number, but trust me, I've been to many author talks where the audience could be counted on one hand.

I have a particular style when it comes to giving an author presentation.  Too often, authors read entire chapters of their books.  I don't know about you, but I generally don't like being read to for more than ten minutes. 

Most writers I know do NOT understand this.  They embrace the philosophy that they wrote those words, and now you're going to hear them!  It's basically a hostage scenario with verbs instead of guns. = )

My own event style is something I learned from Tess Gerritsen, a writer who prefers to talk about writing and subject matter rather than read large portions of her book.

Her belief, she told me in an interview, is that people can always read the book themselves, but at an event, they want to get more behind-the-scenes info.

Here's an example below:

I kept this in mind when I prepared my presentation. 

Because my book is about my experience with Mormon missionaries, I spent about 20 minutes getting all the typical questions out of the way--what do missionaries do, where do they come from, why do they do this.  Then I spent about 5 minutes doing a reading.  The rest of the time was spent talking about how I got published--something the university staff asked me to address--with about 20 minutes extra set aside for a Q & A.

The presentation lasted about an hour and a half, and I couldn't be happier with how it went.  My biggest fear was that no one would ask a question at the end, but I had about ten questions, one after another.  It's a good sign that people were paying attention.

I'm hoping for more such events, but only time will tell.  I've got a lot of venues to contact, and I'll let you know how it goes.

One person asked for my feelings about self-publishing.  Since my own book isn't self-published, I said I didn't know much about it, but from what I've heard, it can be a hard road to follow.  Self-Published authors don't have a traditional publishing house to help with---well, anything.

The reason I bring this up here is because Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote an extremely candid piece about her experience in self publishing over at her blog.  If you're a writer, you should read it here.

Michelle brings to light something I've always suspected about self-publishing but have rarely heard discussed.  It's a heartfelt and thought-provoking read.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Red Carpet Awaits!

My next author event is this Thursday at the University of Maine at Augusta Campus Library where I'll be giving an author talk to students and the public.

The university is graciously providing refreshments.  I'm very excited, and it feels like they've rolled out the red carpet.

I'll be discussing my time with missionaries, my decision to write about them, and my experience in publishing.

This sounds like a lot to cram in, and I've been working on a presentation.  Let's hope all goes well!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Want to win more prizes???

Wow, this must be prize week, because I just discovered an easy way to enter another prize drawing.

This time you can win additional Amazon gift cards, free books, or even the chance for a published author to critique your manuscript.

So what's the catch?

All you gotta do is head over to author Michelle Davidson Argyle's blog and sign up for her newsletter.  Check it out at this link.

Please note, you must sign up for her newsletter by Friday to be eligible to win one of the prizes.

Michelle's publishing company will reveal the cover of her upcoming book, Monarch, tomorrow!

Congratulations, Michelle!  

In the meantime, readers should check out her first book, Cinders, on Amazon here.

Awesome Authors: Cheri Chesley

This is the final author participating in the blog hop.  Each of us is giving away a $15 gift card to Amazon.  Check out details at the bottom of the interview to win! 

Now please welcome our latest awesome author--Cheri Chesley.  Cheri has recently updated her author website, and I highly recommend you check it out here. 

Now let's meet Cheri!

Tell us a little about your book, The Peasant Queen? 

My book is the story of a peasant girl, Krystal, who faces near impossible odds yet sticks to what she believes no matter what. Also, there’s an evil king and a handsome prince.

How did you get the idea for the book? 

I actually wrote this story for the first time when I was 14 years old. It started out as a short story I intended to turn in to my English teacher at some point. And, it all started with Krystal. Her character fascinated me.

Can you describe your writing process? 

You mean, other than write a story and then put it down for 15 years? :)

Actually, I’m still working on fully developing my process. I write the rough draft quickly, then put the manuscript aside for an undetermined period of time, then go back through it and make it pretty. I ended up going through The Peasant Queen many, many times. I believe the first book is a learning process. I’ve gotten much better at it.

How did you get connected with Cedar Fort Inc? 

When I felt I was ready, I submitted the MS to four local publishers. Cedar Fort asked if they could see a trimmed down version (what I submitted was 440 pages).

I suggested we split the story into two books, but they didn’t think it would resolve well enough at the end of the 1st proposed book to work. So, I trimmed 1/3 of my manuscript and came up with a much tighter, faster paced story.

According to your website, you have several book signings coming up in Utah. How do you manage your busy schedule of being a writer and mom? 

Don’t forget the babysitting, my “day job.” I’m lucky to have a network of support in my family and friends. They understand the writing is important to me, and, second to being a parent, the most important thing I will do in this life. I couldn’t do this without their support and understanding.

Do you have any advice for other writers who are marketing their books? 

Don’t be shy. I’ve had years of being comfortably shy to get over so that I can actually get out and do signings and talk to people about my book. If you believe in your book, then you have to show that to your readers and prospective readers.

What are some things you've learned about writing and publishing over the years? 

I’ve learned, as a writer, you must be flexible. That’s not to say you don’t stand up for the things that really matter to you—only that there’s a lot about the business first timers don’t understand, and we need to balance what we’re told by our publisher with what feels right to us individually.

What's in store for you this year? 

I’m really excited for 2011. By February, I will have submitted the sequel to Cedar Fort for consideration, and then I’m going to take a little break and work on something just for fun. But, I plan to have the third and final book written before my kids get out of school, and then do those revisions in the fall.

As much as I love this trilogy about Krystal and her loved ones, I’m really eager to flesh out some of the other story ideas I’ve had over the last few years.

Anything you'd like to add? 

Just that my nephew and I have recently updated my website, and I’d love for everyone to go over and check it out.

Thanks for stopping by, Cheri, and best of luck in 2011!

And now for the contest!

To be entered in the drawing for my gift card you must meet the following requirements:
1) Follow my blog

2) "Like" my facebook author page on at this link. 

3) Head on over Cheri's blog and follow her at this link.

4) Leave a comment to me here saying that you have done these things.

The "Blog Hop" will end in February.  At that time, I'll do a random drawing for the prize.  Don't forget that my fellow authors Michael Knudson and Maggie Fencher will be giving away the same prize on their sites too here and here.

That means you have 4 chances to win!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Interview & review

LDS author Sarah M. Eden interviews me with her own unique comical style at her blog and draws a remarkably accurate portrait of me.

Read the interview right here!

LDS Author Alison Palmer also praises my book in a recent review:

She writes: 
"Who’s at the Door? was well-done, respectful and spiritually uplifting."

Read the full review here!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Awesome Authors: Frank Cole

I've recently become part of the new group blog, Man Cave Authors.

Although I've featured most of the Man Cavers in my Awesome Authors series, there is one notable exception. 

Frank Cole is the author of the popular Hashbrown Winters series for grade school children.  With three Hashbrown books published, he's about to break new ground with a second series geared for older kids. 

His next book The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter is being released this March, and I'm sure it's going to be a success.

Let's find out more about this awesome author now.  Please welcome Frank L. Cole!

Frank, you're already well-known for the Hashbrown Winters series. Your new book, The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter, is being released in March.  How does it feel to have four books under you belt?

It's really hard to believe I have 4 books published when 2 years ago I had come to the conclusion I may never get published. Everything happened so fast and it just boggles my mind.

Can you tell us a little about The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter?

The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter is a little older than my Hashbrown Winters series and has a lot more action. Here's a very short synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Amber Rawson has a passion for archaeology, with a particular talent for deciphering ancient codes.

So when Dorothy Holcomb, Amber’s beloved archaeology instructor, is kidnapped by a shadowy organization called The Architects, Amber is determined to unravel the mystery. With the help of her sarcastic friend, Trendon, and a slew of other strange clues and peculiar characters, Amber embarks on the hunt for the Tebah Stick; a Biblical artifact capable of global destruction.

That's it in a nutshell. This is probably my favorite book I've written so far and if I had to compare it to something, I'd say it's a little bit Goonies meets Indiana Jones, but definitely not as cool as those two movies. Because, come on, is there anything cooler than Goonies and Indiana Jones?

What made you branch out from your already successful Hashbrown Winters series?

The Guardians was one of those stories that snapped me awake one night and wouldn't let me rest until I finished it. I seriously wrote the whole book in a month.

So, to answer your question, I had to write the story for my family's sanity. There's only so long my wife can take of me clacking away at the computer while my kids run around the house, eating cereal off the floor.

Don't get me wrong, I love Hashbrown, Snow Cone, Whiz, and all the gang and those stories gnawed on my brain as well. I do plan on writing a couple more of his tales in the future, but I wanted to write something bigger and test the waters.

Can you describe your writing process? 

It really depends on when the fever hits. I can play around with ideas and dabble with dialogue and various scenes for stories on any given night and not really accomplish much.

But when a story takes root and I can see all the possibilities unraveling in my head, I seriously become a man possessed. Generally, I try to brain dump as much information as possible down on the page during one sitting without care for grammar, or scene development, or description. Whatever's flowing is what I type.

Then, after a few "brain dump" sessions, I'll go back and try to decipher everything. Some of it stays, but a lot of it is pushed into a miscellaneous junk file from where I can pull stuff from later. My sister calls me a "bleeder". Meaning, I write, edit, write, edit, write, edit until something comes together out of the madness.

What are some challenges you faced on your road to publication?

I think I've been rejected well over 100 times from agents, publishers, family members, strangers.  You name it and they've rejected me. Granted, most of my rejections came from the first novel I wrote called The Gothian Box, which deserved every single rejection it received and then some.

Probably the biggest challenge I've faced with publication is marketing my books after they're in print. That's a tough obstacle involving a ton of time and energy. How does one spread the word to the masses with only a facebook account and a blog? That, my friend, is the million dollar question and I wish I had the answer.

What have you learned about the publishing industry that you didn't know before you got your contract?

Hmmm. I think I've learned there are literally thousands of people trying to get something published and most of them are quality writers with really great ideas. It's intimidating.

I've also learned for most people in the industry (myself included) writing an awesome story is only the beginning. Marketing your project, putting it in people's hands, presenting yourself in as many places possible is the very next step.

You've done a lot of book signings.  What's one memory that stands out from them?

I got yelled at by a 90 year old man who told me kids shouldn't take time to read my garbage. It was my first Costco book signing and the man wanted to know what I was sampling. I handed him a pencil and he broke a tooth on it. (Okay, that last part of him eating the pencil is not true.)

Probably one of my coolest memories happened when I helped out at a Brandon Mull signing. While directing the line, a couple of kids recognized me from presenting at their school and had their mom take a picture of me and sign their books. Yeah, that was cool.

You were recently on ABC4 Good Things Utah.  What was going through your mind before and after the interview?

I was beyond nervous and had less than 24 hours to prepare for it. ABC4 called me on Monday afternoon and I was interviewed the next day. I actually mimicked throwing up in front of the live studio audience, just to ice my nerves. That was good for a laugh.

Afterwards though, I realized it wasn't so bad. I just have to be myself and let things play out the way they're going to play.

[Editor's Note: Vomit is often funny.  The interview was great, and you can watch it at Frank's blog by clicking here.]

What are your future plans?

Always writing. I've almost finished the outline for the second book in the Guardians series and I have some pretty decent ideas for another Hashbrown book as well.

Plus, I just recently finished a first draft of a new teen horror novel. You add that with the constant need to get out to schools and signings and my schedule's pretty full. Oh well, I love it!

Thanks for stopping by, Frank! It was great getting to know more about you, and best of luck with your next book.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Awesome Authors: Maggie Fechner

Please welcome our first female awesome author, Maggie Fechner!

Maggie and I are doing an author blog hop with fellow CFI authors Cheri Chesley and Michael Knudson where you--yes you!--can win.  See the bottom of this interview for details.

But first things first...

She's a professional photographer, award-winning journalist, and her first book, Growing Up Gracie, is up for a Whitney award.

She's is Maggie Fechner!  

You have a background as a reporter and were a Journalist of the Year in Wyoming. What kind of reporting did you do, and what was it like to win the award?

Before you get excited, you should know two things. First, I was the high school journalist of the year (not the grown-up version) and secondly it was in Wyoming. In case you haven't heard, it's the least populated state in the country, and humans are out numbered by cows in a big way.

Now, if you still think it's an impressive accomplishment, why, thank you!

Honestly though, I loved being a reporter. I worked for three community newspapers where I covered news and feature stories. I also was a columnist at a tiny little paper in a farming town. My favorite stories were a skydiving piece (where I met a crew who took me skydiving) and a big special feature on the prison system in Eastern Washington. 

Did journalism help you become a better fiction writer? If so, how?

I think it mostly just got me used to being okay with people reading what I wrote. Even when I know things don't sound perfect, I am absolutely fine with handing them off to a reader and getting back their input.

Growing up Gracie is up for a Whitney Award. How did you find out you were nominated, and how does it feel to have your peers recognize your talent? 

Cedar Fort emailed me to let me know my book was nominated. To be honest, the nomination is neat, but I am much more excited to hear who is a finalist! There are many wonderful books included in the competition. I would love to read so many of them. 

Tell us a little about your book.

Growing Up Gracie is a young adult LDS fiction novel about Gracie Fremont. She is the fifth of six kids in a traditional Mormon family in Cody Wyoming. Gracie is searching to find what defines her and makes her unique. It's a coming of age novel and one that I hope helps people see we are all extraordinary in some way.

Describe your writing process.

I write from 5-6:30 in the morning five days a week until my novel is done. I don't stop to read ANYTHING I write. When I'm finished with that first draft, I start reading and am always appalled at my horrible manuscript. Then I really get to work rewriting and editing. In the end, I hope I come out with something that people will enjoy and I can be proud of.

You're also a professional photographer. Tell us a little about that. 

I am a part-time portrait photographer. I mostly do family photography. I've been in photography for 10 years but have only been doing it as a business for two. I love being behind my lens and waiting for those perfect moments to unfold.  

What's your advice for authors when choosing (or posing for) pics for their bio or other book promotion? 

I would suggest having a pro do it. We all want to look great, right? We know a few tricks about softening skin, whitening teeth, and making eyes 'pop.' True, it might not be a realistic image of us, but for a photo that's going to be on a book jacket for the rest of time, I'd personally like to look great. :)  

What have you learned about the publishing industry that you didn't know before you got a contract?

It's definitely about the love--and not about the money! Especially in a small niche market like the LDS publishing world. Having a real published book on the shelves has been a fantastic blessing and a dream come true. But, I'm glad I'm not feeding my family with the proceeds.  

What are your goals for 2011? Be a good wife. Be a good mom. Do my best in my church callings. Oh yeah, and submit a manuscript by April 1, and finish a rough draft on another by the end of the year.

I am currently in the rewriting stage of the mainstream family saga that I hope to submit this spring. And I have a very, very rough start on another book from the All-Mormerican Family the Fremonts.  

Anything you'd like to add?

Readers, you have a pretty good chance at winning a prize (or two) if you follow our New Cedar Fort Author Blog Hop instructions. We haven't had too many entrants yet! Good luck.

Maggie is right, people.  There are 4 $15 Amazon gift card up for grabs.  

To be entered in the drawing for my gift card you must meet the following requirements:
1) Follow my blog

2) "Like" my facebook author page on at this link. 

3) Head on over Maggie's blog and follow her at this link.

4) Leave a comment to me here saying that you have done these things.

The "Blog Hop" will end in February.  At that time, I'll do a random drawing for the prize.  Don't forget that my fellow authors Michael Knudson and Cheri Chesley will be giving away the same prize on their sites too here and here.

That means you have 4 chances to win!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Author Blog Hop! Potential prizes for you!

Three other new Cedar Fort authors and I are joining forces for the next several weeks in what is called a "Blog Hop."

Each of us will be giving away a $15 Amazon gift card in February.  That's 4 $15 that you have the potential to win!!!

To be entered in the drawing for my gift card you must meet the following requirements:

1) Follow my blog

2) "Like" my facebook author page on at this link. 

3) Head on over to Michael Knudsen's blog and follow it.

4) Leave a comment to me here saying that you have done these things.

The "Blog Hop" will end in February after I post about Maggie Fencher's book "Growing up Gracie" and Cheri Chesley's book "The Peasant Queen."  At that time, I'll do a random drawing for the prize.  Don't forget that my fellow authors will be giving away the same prize on their sites too. 

That means you have 4 chances to win!

I want to recognize Maggie Fencher for organizing the hop. It's a great way to show support for brand new authors.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Awesome Authors: Michael Knudsen

Michael Knudsen's first novel, The Rogue Shop, was released last month, and he's already up for a Whitney Award.  For the uninitiated, the Whitneys are a special award given to LDS writers.

Let's find out about this brand new author.

He's lean.  He's mean.  He's a tuxedo machine!

But more importantly, he's our latest awesome author!

Mike, your first book, The Rogue Shop, was just published in December, and you're already nominated for a Whitney Award. How did you find out you were nominated, and what went through your mind?

It’s very exciting. I was informed of having sufficient nominations by the PR Director at Cedar Fort, who had been notified of the Cedar Fort nominees by the Whitney Committee. Nine months ago, I attended the LDStorymakers Conference (Who sponsor the Whitney Awards) for the first time. At that time, the manuscript for The Rogue Shop had been rejected by several publishers, and a couple of the editors who still had it in their slush piles were at that conference.

I didn’t know anyone there, and I didn’t even have the guts to approach those editors and introduce myself. I remember all the excitement leading up to the Whitney Gala on the last night of the conference, and seeing the photos and results on the web the next morning. I distinctly remember something stirring in my gut, and the feeling, “I want to be there.” Of course, many books are nominated, and the finalists won’t be announced until February 1, but it’s a thrill just to see my title associated with the words “Whitney Award.”

Noted LDS author and editor Tristi Pinkston has called your book one of the best LDS fiction books ever. How do you feel about getting such high praise from the Utah writing community? Do you ever need to pinch yourself?

I’m black-and-blue from self-pinching. Tristi’s review is especially meaningful because she reads a lot of fiction and is honest with her opinion. I’m also thrilled with the positive review from Stephanie Black, a two-time Whitney winner and blogger who doesn’t often commit to reviews. Equally exciting, though, are the kind notes that are just now starting to come in from readers I don’t know from Adam. Several people have told me that my book has kept them up past midnight, and that’s a good thing for a storyteller to hear!

Tell us a little about The Rogue Shop.

The saga of Chris Kerry is a first-person narrative following the spiritual odyssey of one young man’s self-discovery. Having lost his parent in a car crash at the age of three, he is raised Baptist by his mother’s sister in suburban Houston. As a teen, he falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes involved in serious alcohol abuse. An accident he causes turns him around, and by age twenty he’s ready to spread his wings and start his own life. He lands a scholarship to the University of Utah, of all places, a destination his decidedly anti-Mormon aunt is not happy about.

She demands he take an oath on the Bible that he not get himself mixed up with Mormons. You can guess what happens, but I think you’ll be surprised with how it all unfolds. What might sound like a straight-forward conversion story for a young Texan somehow comes to involve ball gowns, a ballet performance, an Ivy-covered apartment building, intrigues among employees of a downtown Salt Lake City formalwear shop, an old German seamstress with a brilliant past long buried, and the consumption of raw spaghetti.

I was shooting for much more than the story of a young man’s connection with Mormonism in this book. I wanted something rich with the themes of personal heritage and legacy, something orphans often feel themselves lacking. I wanted a love story that focused on the spiritual side of romance and attraction, and the charisma generated by faith and virtue. I wanted to show the power that one person can have as a catalyst for positive change in the lives of others. Finally, I wanted to evoke both laughter and tears, with the kind of character-driven emotions I feel when I read my favorite books.

You worked at a tuxedo shop in real life. How much of the book is based on your own experiences?

In some ways, the real-life King’s Row Formalwear on South Temple Street IS Regal Formalwear. I worked there part-time while attending the University of Utah as a rental consultant. The store had been in business since the late 1940s and was an icon in downtown Salt Lake. For many years, it was THE place in town to get formal clothing and accessories.

I remember the first time I went down in the basement and saw a jumble of old mannequins and clothing from the 1950’s, covered with cobwebs. The sight transported me to another time and stirred in me the first inklings of a story. Yes, there was a little old lady with a German accent who worked as a seamstress in a room down there, though her background was nothing like Eva Gottlieb Chandler’s. Otherwise, the characters are entirely fictional, made who they are by the demands of a story sewn together from the cloth of my imagination. I don’t want anyone who worked with me back in 1988 to think any characters are based on them!

You started the book back in 1989 but didn't get serious about it until 2008. What made you get serious about it?

I like to tell myself that I just didn’t have the maturity and distance from my own employment at the formalwear shop to finish the book, but the decades-long delay also had much to do with procrastination and letting “life” intervene. About two years ago, I realized that I might very well be more than halfway through my life, and I had no published book. That jump-started things.

What were some challenges you faced while writing the book, and how did you overcome them?

At first I didn’t know what kind of book it would be. My first draft was aimed more toward a more neutral audience, only later becoming LDS-targeted. For the longest time I didn’t know exactly how it would end. Trying to do it all on my own without letting anyone see it for years was a bad move. Sharing it and opening it to criticism was a major step in putting together something coherent. I even hesitated to let my wife, who is not at all a writer, read a draft. Once I did, she surprised me with some terrific ideas that ended up as part of the plot and characterizations.

Can you describe your writing process?

It all starts with an idea or image like the mannequins in the basement. The feelings generated by the images start me thinking about people who become characters. To me plot is the most mechanical part of it, a chronological way to string together the events and epiphanies that make up a story. I start with an outline of less than two pages then charge ahead. Inevitably the story takes off well beyond the bounds of the outline, requiring another, more detailed outline.

This process continues until the ending is so clear that the middle becomes academic. I haven’t been able to form the habit of taking advantage of little pieces of spare time, which is another reason why it takes me years to write anything. It can take me as long as two hours to get “booted up” and have the words flowing freely.

How did you get connected with Cedar Fort?

Cedar Fort was one of six small, regional publishers I sent The Rogue Shop to on January 1, 2010. By the first of May I had five letters that were little more than form rejections, and one from Cedar Fort with a little more detail. The manuscript had made it beyond acquisitions to the selection committee. They “declined to publish” at that time, told me what they thought some good changes would be, and invited me to resubmit the revised manuscript. I didn’t need to hear it twice.

I went through my manuscript and made exactly the changes and improvements they asked for. They thought I referenced too much LDS doctrine for a book targeted to Mormons, so I cut pages of it out. They thought the climax was a bit too climactic, so I toned it down. I worked harder than at any other point on that revision, and had it back in the mail to them three weeks later.

My new cover letter showed in detail exactly where I had made the requested revisions and some others I had put in for good measure. The intention was to make it as easy as possible as soon as possible for them to reconsider a novel they had recently read. I had an acceptance letter a couple of weeks later.

What have you learned about the publishing industry that you didn't know before you were published?

I can only speak for my experience with the LDS market. The most surprising thing to me is how few Mormons actually read LDS fiction! Fourteen million people sounds like a fairly nice niche until you realize that only half of those speak English and only a third of those live within the distribution range of these little publishers. Oh, and maybe only a tenth of those have any interest in reading anything from those publishers. LDS fiction still suffers from a reputation developed in earlier eras when good writing was not as common in the market.

Many Mormons still have the attitude that fiction by Church members is bound to be cheesy, self-righteous, or just not good. That’s too bad, because there are some very, very good books out there now, and the LDS writer’s community is dedicated to producing great (in every way) stories. The advent of the LDStorymakers group and the Whitney Awards is working wonders to bring LDS fiction “out of obscurity”, but there are miles yet to go.

I saw you had a great launch party for the book. What do you think of when you remember that event?

I had no idea what to expect or if anyone would show up. I will never forget the warm feelings when my friends, family and co-workers lined up as soon as the doors opened, and I signed books as fast as I could for nearly 45 minutes before the first lull. Some of these people may never read my book, and some who do may not even like it, but they bought it anyway just because they know me, and most importantly, they showed up to support me. If only every signing appearance could be like that!

What are your future projects?

Going back to the ideas and images that become books, I’ve been haunted for decades by the picture of a simple stick of wood, a knotted tree branch about the size of a walking stick. It’s not just any stick, though. It’s indestructible and has unimaginable powers in the right hands.

This is the genesis of The Veilwood Trilogy, an epic fantasy for which I have notes dating back to my first year in high school. This is a much bigger and more ambitious project than The Rogue Shop, aimed at the national market. Whatever happens with it, I’m sure it will provide me with a completely new range of experiences. I have about 120 pages of draft at this point.

Anything you'd like to add?

To those still working to get published: Keep the act of writing and your dreams of publication success separate. It’s okay to dream big, envision your name across that cover or topping the bestseller list. Just don’t let the gap between that dream and where you are now stop you from moving. The daily act of writing is the single most important stride you can take toward that dream.

Don’t spend time waffling over whether you have any talent or if you’re just wasting your time. If you have a nagging desire to write (not just to have written something) that won’t go away no matter how you try to distract yourself, you are talented. It’s that simple. I don’t believe God plants a worthwhile desire in our hearts unless we are gifted with the wherewithal to fulfill it. Some seem more talented than others, but work is the great equalizer. Get in the habit of working hard toward what you want to accomplish. When I finally got that, I moved quickly toward the realization of my dream.

Congratulations on your book, Mike, and good luck at the Whitneys!  I'm nearly finished reading "The Rogue Shop" myself and will post a review soon.

Mike may not know it, but his blog, which you can read here, contains one of my favorite pictures ever!   Can you guess why?

That's right! It's a picture he took of new Cedar Fort releases.  Both our books are on the same book case, baby!  See, we're practically twins..except he's got hair and a fancy tuxedo.  Buy Mike's book here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let our powers combine!

Last month, I was surfing the blog-o-sphere when I noticed how some writers do group blogs.

I found myself wishing I could be part of one such endeavor. Then it hit me.  Instead of waiting around for an invitation, why not start one myself?

But how would it be different?  How would it stand out from other group blogs I had seen?  I realized that of all the group blogs I encountered, none were written solely by men.  In fact, most of them were female dominated. 

A seed took root in my mind, so I contacted some writer friends, and we just started the Man Cave Author Blog.

The blog will feature musings from me, Michael Young, author of The Canticle Kingdom; David J West, author of Heroes of the Fallen; J. Lloyd Morgan, author of The Hidden Sun; and Frank Cole, author of The Hashbrown Winter series and The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter.

Check out the cave here: 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Movie Review: The Other Side of Heaven

A co-worker lent me her copy of "The Other Side of Heaven" a week ago, and I finally had the chance to watch it.  The movie is based on the real life Mormon mission of John H Groberg, an LDS general authority, who taught people in the Kingdom of Tonga, a group of islands near New Zealand during the 1950s.

I've seen several LDS movies so far, and this one would rank as my least favorite. I highly recommend "States of Grace: God's Army 2", which depicts missionaries as people with real problems and how everyone, including the elders, needs God's grace. I love the final scene in the film.

If you haven't seen it, here's the trailer:

Back to "The Other Side of Heaven."

My main problem with the film was that, at times, the narrative skipped over important details that I, as a viewer, wanted to know.

For example, Elder Groberg wakes up one morning with bloody feet and is told that a rat had bitten the soles of his feet during the night.

The villagers inform Groberg that his feet need to be baked in the sun, and they quickly set up a contraption similar to a tipped-over chair for him.

Several questions popped up in my mind, pulling me out of the story, because no one on screen addressed them.  Groberg blindly accepts their doctoring without a peep, which was hard to swallow given the quirky cure.

How was baking them in the sun supposed to help? Why didn't he wake up when the rat was gnawing his flesh? But more importantly--why didn't we hear about this before? His mission companion quickly states, "I told you to keep your feet covered!"

As a writer, that really irked me because there should have been an earlier scene where we specifically heard this advice. It would have been an excellent opportunity for foreshadowing. Instead, the scene felt thrown together.

The beginning of the film also made a big deal of how the missionary was supposed to learn the Tonga language. Instead of learning it from his island missionary companion--which would have made sense--Elder Groberg isolates himself on an islet and spends each day and night reading The Bible in English and Tongan.

I don't know about you, but I find it very hard to believe that he could learn how to pronounce words simply by reading them. When I see Spanish, a language I studied in High School, I often don't pronounce it correctly without hearing it.

During this phase of the story, Elder Groberg acts like an ascetic monk, who eats, breaths, and sleeps (though he is only shown sleeping once) The Bible.

He hardly recognizes the villagers as they bring food to his islet because he is stuck in a kneeling position intently learning the language. Miraculously, he emerges with a near-perfect understanding in Tongan, but the filmmakers make a strange choice in their depiction of events because a scene or two later all the natives are suddenly speaking English.

I think some type of transitional element should have been added to show that Elder Groberg didn't need translation anymore. It just felt strange that all the natives who we needed subtitles to understand a minute ago were speaking fluent English. Once Elder Groberg leaves his monk-like state on the island, language problems are eradicated in a single swoop, which felt a little too easy a fix to me.

Another problem that pulled me out of the story was when a father brings his dying son to Elder Groberg to heal him.

At first the elder doesn't know what to do, but somehow he comes up with this strange method of massaging the young boy's back chanting, "Out with the bad air, in with the good," and the child wakes up healthy as can be. We never learn how or why Groberg comes up with the method, but at that point, it became clear that I was watching a hagiography

Throughout the film, I was curious to see how much LDS doctrine would be revealed, and the answer was not much. In fact, Elder Groberg could have been a member of any Church because nothing he taught or believed stuck out in the least. The movie doesn't mention Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon once, just a vague reference to "God's plan of happiness" where Jesus is mentioned once.

Although Elder Groberg gives baptisms, we're never "in" on what lead up to them. The first time the movie mentions an investigator, Elder Groberg--in a voice over--already states that the young man wants to be Mormon. We never really learn why. Although there's a romantic subplot in the film, the relationship that felt the most powerful to me was the one between Groberg and his Tongan missionary companion.

There's a touching scene where Groberg asks why his companion believes in the church, and the companion tells a story about how missionaries had saved his father from being an abusive husband.
Watch it here:

The film does have a few genuine laughs. I love it when Groberg goes to what must have been the Tonga equivalent of the UPS store to get a message from the Mission President and finds all the women there crying. He asks what the message was, and one of them hands over an envelope that's clearly been opened while telling him, "This is confidential." The bad news was the it was time for Groberg to go home.

In real life Groberg became a high ranking leader in the LDS Church and returned to the island several times with his wife.  I was surprised to learn that some of the islanders eventually moved to America.

There's a bittersweet scene in the film where the natives wheel out a large radio for Elder Groberg's going-away party, and they all listen to a 1950s radio program.  It was nice to see them have some technology on the island, but it was sad to realize that Groberg, and people like him, weren't just bringing religion to the Tongan people, but also western culture that would forever change the prestine community.

Despite some of the movies setbacks, it does illustrate how one person can change the lives of others.  I can see how LDS viewers would appreciate the film because it's a feel-good movie about one of their own, but the lady who owns this movie admitted she knew next to nothing about the Mormons.  I can see why.

While it's clear that Groberg brought religion to the Tongan people, his lessons are never fleshed-out.  The converts line up like dominoes, and we get a sense that something good is happening without exploring what that good thing is.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Two Western Reviews!!!

I've gotten two new reviews on my blog tour.

The first is from David J West, author of "Heroes of the Fallen."

Here's an excerpt:

...this [book] is about people finding common ground and learning something new about each other-becoming friends and brothers and that's what matters in the long haul....

You can read the full review right here.

Here's another great review.

This one is from Steve Westover, author of "Defense Tactics."

(Notice the west connection? Maybe these guys are long-lost cousins.)

Steve writes:  

Who’s At The Door? is a classic “Stranger Comes to Town” master plot. In this case the “Stranger” is the full time missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dan is the hero of his own story and as is always the case, the “Stranger” enters the scene and provides a disruption, which is the basis of this page-turning memoir.

Read the entire review right here.

Now Steve said that he's never read a memoir before, but he finished mine in a single afternoon!

I've heard a few people say this, and I'm always impressed. It's awesome to have people find my work that compelling.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Mormons documentary

 Have you seen the PBS documentary titled "The Mormons" from award-winning documentary maker Helen Whitney?

If not, it's a great peek into the LDS culture and faith.

Here's a link to the piece about Mormon Missionaries, similar to the ones I wrote about, though not nearly as cool.

The first voice you hear is that of the late Gordon B Hinckley, the prophet of the Church while I was an investigator. He always looked like such a dear grandfather-figure to me.

Sunday Song, "All Things New" Brad Paisly & Sarah Evans

I recently became aware of this song, and this powerful video.