Check out my interview with this up and coming author.
Michael, tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
In eighth grade I was standing by my open locker one day when two boys who were fighting fell against the locker door, slamming it completely closed with my thumb still inside. Despite being compressed into a space less than an eighth of an inch wide for almost five minutes, no bones were broken. To this day my right thumb is measurably wider than my left, and I am very careful around open doors.
I understand the Rogue Shop was 20 years in the making. Can you explain the genesis of the story and also what prompted you to work seriously to get it published?
The seed of the story goes back to the first time I walked into a storage room in the cellar of King’s Row formalwear in downtown Salt Lake City. The room was full of old mannequins, outdated and cobwebbed formalwear and fabrics, and old sewing machines and supplies. It was almost as if I could hear voices whispering, and I knew in that moment that I needed to tell a story set in and around such a place.
Over the years since then, I made several attempts to draft it, then quit to work on other things. Finally about two years ago, I decided that the only way I could get the story to leave me alone was to finish it. The more I worked on it, the more the plot and characters fell into place, and the more confident I became that it was publishable. I got some great feedback from alpha readers who helped me to solve some of the thorny plot problems I ran into.
You previously worked in a Tuxedo Shop and your main character Chris Kerry also finds work in a Tuxedo Shop. What other similarities do you and your character share?
It’s hard to write in first person without sharing your sense of humor with a character. That’s about where the similarities end. Chris’s history as an orphan, a Baptist, and an alcoholic are all outside my experience. For those aspects of his character, I relied on stories from other people and my imagination. Early readers have told me that Chris is portrayed with adequate realism and empathy.
As a first time author, has the process of writing and getting your book published met your expectations so far? What has been the biggest surprise?
Writing to me is like riding a unicycle on a tightrope with my eyes closed, while juggling plates in a windstorm. The amount of balance required to find just the right word, emotion, setting, character, or verb is enormous. A single word can completely drop your reader out of the world of your story. I’m convinced that no one single person can produce a book worth reading. It takes teamwork, and the ability and humility to listen to others, accept what works and politely discard what you know in your heart won’t.
As far as the submission process, I put 7 copies of my manuscript in the mail on January 1, 2010. I had 6 rejections and one acceptance by May 14th, and my book was in my hands on November 23rd. That makes it sound like it was smooth and easy, and I’m sure I was lucky. Considering I first wrote the first chapter in 1990, it seemed like an awful long process to me.
The biggest surprise to me was how easy the editing process was, though I shouldn’t be surprised, since I spent countless hours in 2009 combing over every word to get it just right. My editor made very few changes, and the proofing process was done in a couple of days.
What do you have planned for your Dec. 13th launch party?
We’re making a BIG DEAL out of it. It’s already about 300% over budget and growing. We’ve rented out the indoor pavilion at Bicentennial Park in Sandy, Utah (500 E. 8680 S.) from 6-9pm on Monday, December 13th. We chose a Monday to make it a family-friendly activity that wouldn’t clash with other holiday gatherings. There will be light food, nice door prizes, music and holiday décor. I will have 100 copies of The Rogue Shop on hand, signing and personalizing. I will be wearing a tuxedo, because that’s my theme, but everyone else can come as they are. Everyone who reads this is invited.
The story is about a young man trying to escape his Texas Baptist upbringing. He promises family members that even though he is going to Salt Lake City, he will NOT become a Mormon. In fact he plans to keep his distance from the Mormons but this proves to be difficult in Utah.
Do you have any concerns about how a Baptist reading this book might feel?
Religion will always be a touchy subject, and The Rogue Shop does more than touch it lightly. However, it doesn’t take issue with any denomination per se, but only the behavior of certain fictional characters. Chris’s pastor as he was growing up, Jacob Ahlers, just happens to be a man concerned about cults that he considers to be a danger to his congregation. He defines Mormonism as one of these, and is quite vocal in his criticism. I’m well aware that not ALL Baptist pastors share this attitude and that many people in most denominations have no problem accepting LDS people as Christians who share their values and belief in Jesus Christ as savior.
The relationship between Mormons and Baptists has often been tenuous.
Do you feel your book helps to bridge the gap of mistrust?
I hope so. My story focuses on the journey of one young man, and is not meant to convert anyone else. I have friends of other faiths, and I don’t believe they would find anything offensive in The Rogue Shop. If anything, they might find parts of it educational.
In the book, Chris meets two cute college girls who happen to be LDS. What role does social conversion play in a person’s spiritual conversion?
For most people, it’s essential. Sure, there are stories about people who were converted just by reading The Book of Mormon or hearing a prophet or apostle speak. For most of us, we need to see the light of Christ shining forth in the faces of people we see every day. Seeing our friends standing out from the rest of the world gets our attention and makes us want to know more. That’s what happens with Chris.
Conditioned by his former drinking buddies to look at girls as little more than objects, he finds something completely new to his experience in Angie and Kelly, his neighbors at Ivy Place. These girls are everything LDS young women are raised to be, and they intrigue and amuse him so much that they quickly become his best friends, without his feeling the need to be “attracted” to either of them. The girls in turn find Chris going through some hard times (he lost all his money on his first day in Salt Lake), but they see him as more than just a service project and a missionary opportunity. As they learn about his past and his prejudices, they don’t shove the gospel down his throat, but continue to strengthen the friendship. Eventually, of course, Chris does fall for one of the girls and this aggravates the central dilemma of the plot.
Is there a message or theme you would like readers to take away from your book?Without spoiling, I can say that the central themes include explorations of the ways in which truth can be recognized, the impact that one person can have as a catalyst in changing many lives, and the importance of heritage, be it genetic or spiritual, to every human being.
Do you have any other novels in the pipeline? If so, what are they?I am currently working on an epic fantasy trilogy, still in first draft stage of the first book. I’ve been working on it even longer than The Rogue Shop. Eventually I also want to fictionalize the experiences I had as a pineapple harvester in Hawaii when I was a teenager.
I'd like to thank Michael for his interview and wish him the best of luck on his book release. And its just in time for Christmas! Perfect!
Learn more about Michael and The Rogue Shop by checking out his website.