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.

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.