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?
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
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?
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
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.
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?
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
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?
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?
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
Can you describe your writing
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.
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
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?
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?
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.