Friday, December 31, 2010
2010 has been an amazing year for my family and me; full of excitement, new projects and lots of work. I am very blessed. Here are a couple of the major things that happened in my family this year.
1- In April I was called to serve as Bishop of the new Far West Ward. It has been a wonderful experience so far and I am very blessed to be associated with such great people. Yes, it is busy. I usually feel like I need to call in sick to rest from the Sabbath, but it is wonderful.
2- In August, Cedar Fort released my first book, Defensive Tactics. It has been a thrill every step of the way and it is always rewarding to hear that someone has read and liked the book. It’s also fun to hear about all the places it is being sold, like the BYU bookstore. I love that.
3- We moved. For the past couple of years we have been trying to sell our little house on 40 acres and this year we succeeded. We were able to buy a larger house on a smaller acreage and get out of debt at the same time. The house is wonderful and the kids like being closer to friends.
4- Mica got a new job with the school district as the Parents as Teachers Facilitator. She has always stayed home with our kids but with the youngest going into Kindergarten, she sought a job that would still allow her to be home when they were off school. It keeps her very busy but works great for the family.
One of the truly great blessings of everything that happened this year is that I have been exposed to new and wonderful people. Whether it is new Ward members I never knew or reacquainting with old friends, or getting involved with a community of talented authors or new neighbors, 2010 has been GREAT!
2011 will not likely hold the same kind of Big events or opportunities but it can be just as good. By setting meaningful goals, we can still accomplish GREAT things, even if they aren’t necessarily BIG.
A BIG “thank you” to all my new friends and associates. I hope 2011 is a great success for each of you. Happy New Year.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Five years before the birth of our Savior, Samuel the Lamanite preached to the Nephites in America. He prophesied of the signs that would usher in the birth of Christ and he urged the people to repent, that they might have faith in Christ and be prepared at the time of His coming.
The people attempted to kill Samuel so he fled from the city. The wicked people also mocked the believers and set aside a day that the believers would be executed if the signs did not appear.
3 Nephi 1:9 Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the signs should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.
Fearful of the destruction of the righteous believers, Nephi plead with the Lord that they might be saved. Nephi “cried mightily to the Lord all that day” and this is the answer he received.
3 Nephi 1:13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
That night the signs were given. A new star appeared and when the sun went down the night remained light. The Savior’s birth saved the faithful Nephites from destruction.
Just as the birth of the Savior saved the lives of the faithful Nephites, through the atonement of Jesus Christ we are all lifted and saved from utter and unavoidable destruction. We will all be resurrected and like the Nephites we can also hope for great blessings in eternity if we exercise our hope unto faith in Christ.
We have faith in the Savior and our Father in Heaven because there is evidence that they can and will do the things They have promised. Our love of Christ and the hope that we will receive the promises He has made are the foundation of our faith in Him, and as President Uchtdorf has said, this hope is an “anchor to our souls”. Hope is a spiritual gift, which together with faith and charity, stabilize our lives.
Moroni 10:20 Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
Moroni 10:33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
Christmas is a beautiful time of year. It’s a time when we look forward with renewed hope and faith in Christ because of his miraculous gifts. It is a time when our hope and faith propel us to show greater love and charity for our brothers and sisters. I am humbled by and grateful for the many acts of loving service I have witnessed during this Christmas season. These acts of charity bond us together as members of our Father’s family.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
I have the opportunity to Interview Dan Harrington, author of a new book entitled, Who's At The Door: A Memoir of Me and the Missionaries. For members of the LDS church, this is a fascinating peek into the "Investigator" experience. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Me: Thank you for sharing some of the experiences you had with the missionaries. I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect when I opened the book but I was hooked immediately and I finished in one sitting. For me, that is a real accomplishment. A number of questions came to mind as I was reading and I love that I have the opportunity to ask the author about them. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
Dan: Thank you for the interview. I've never read more than 50 or so pages in one sitting, so I'm honored you enjoyed my work that much.
It was hard at times, but I only worried about it in retrospect, after I got the publishing deal. You hear so much about how hard it is to get a book published that I wasn't sure the manuscript would ever see print.
I didn't want to get my family's hopes up, so I didn't tell them about the book until I finished writing it. The missionaries were the only people who knew about the book from the beginning.
I remember sitting in a restaurant talking with Elders Luke and Allred and telling them I wanted to write a book about my experience. They were positive about it right away.
As a freelance writer, I know how challenging it can be to gain an editor's ear if you've never worked with them before. My biggest concern was that I'd spend endless hours on a story only for it to be banished to my sock drawer. ( A lot of things get lost in there. )
The experience itself was never secret. As my family and friends will attest, I talked about it often. Sometimes the reaction at the dinner table was, “Oh no, not another Mormon story. How many times do we have to talk about them? Let's watch the paint dry instead.” I was the only person I knew who found the LDS Church so fascinating.
It wasn't until a month or so before the book would be published that I worried about how strangers might react.
The challenge of writing a memoir is that you're recording intimate details and then saying, “Hey everyone, come read my private stuff!” I didn't think much about that when I was writing the book. I just wrote it because it was in my heart to do so.
Me: What kind of reaction has the book received from the missionaries and church members in your area?
Dan: So far, I haven't had one bad review. (Knock on wood) All my elders have been very pleased with it. I received a very nice e-mail from one of their mothers who thanked me for being a friend to her son, and that meant a lot to me.
One of the most surprising things about the experience was how much the missionaries trusted me to write a fair and balanced story. Sometimes I would read them parts of the book, and they always loved the humor in it, and they liked seeing themselves from my perspective. Elder P once told me, “This book will be awesome. It has everything Mormons like—the missionaries, the humor. It's great!” I'm hoping that's a prophecy of sorts.
I tried to make my home a haven for them. I just wanted to be the kind of person I'd hope to meet if I were the one on the mission.
Sometimes I joked that I was like their older brother, but I could never be their big brother because they were all bigger than me.
I've only heard from a handful of ward members, and they enjoyed the book also. I'm hoping they see the love and respect in it too.
I do know that at least one ward member researched who my publisher was because they were concerned about what I might say. Having an LDS publisher like Cedar Fort and Becky Thomas, a columnist from Mormon Times, put their stamps of approval on the book has been tremendous.
I've read too many books and artcles that not only lead a horse to water, but hose it down, splash, and drench it. Readers are smart and can make up their own minds. They will anyway.
I think the book will also show investigators that they need to look into certain details for themselves because they're huge and important and can be skimmed over far too easily.
As for Church members, I want them to know what it's like to be an investigator and that it's possible to care about the LDS Church even if you're not a member.
Me: Have you continued to attend the local Ward and meet with the Missionaries since finishing the book?
Dan: No, but I met with several other missionaries who came after Elder P and Elder Bailey, the final companionship mentioned in the book. I even threw a surprise 21st birthday party for one of them, Elder Walker. His companion and I had it planned out where we would spray him with silly string as soon as he came through the door. It was fun, and I was glad to be part of their lives.
I ended the book where I did because it felt, from a storytelling standpoint, that it was time for a conclusion. In real life, however, I spent an additional 4 or 5 months with the Church.
Eventually, I made a prayerful decision not to attend the ward anymore. I spent more than a year going to the Church, and the elders even joked that I attended more often than some members.
Once I stopped attending the ward, some of the later missionaries not mentioned in the book chose not to visit me, and I think it was partially a personality thing. Not every elder enjoyed my company or saw my manuscript as a fascinating project. Imagine that.
Me: Would you identify yourself as a “seeker” for truth or a curious student?
Dan: A little of both, but calling myself a “seeker for truth” sounds a little pretentious. Religion has always fascinated me as a subject. However, I usually learned about other faiths from books. It's much more powerful to learn about it from the people who live it.
I've always been a curious person; it often goes hand-in-hand with the type of writing I do.
Me: As a church member, I found your account fascinating but at times painful. One of the painful moments came as you realized the missionaries had not told you “everything”. You felt that they were withholding vital information from you that could impact your decision to join the church. In this case, it was information about the temple. Do you consider this moment to be the pivotal point at which you cooled to the prospect of joining the church or was it merely another “red flag”?
At times, the experience was painful for me too. As a writer, I'm excited that the story helped you feel the same way I did and at the same moment. That's every author's dream, isn't it?
Learning more about the temple was a huge cooling point in the journey. As a student, it's intriguing, but to actually participate in temple work is obviously another ball park altogether.
Dan: What bothered me most was how things were being kept from me and that certain details were omitted, presumably for my own good. Not only that, but I learned that even if I got baptized, this would continue for some time.
Whenever I read something unsettling about the LDS Church, I would normally bring it to the elders and ask their opinion of it. Sometimes they had good answers, and sometimes they didn't. I'm just glad they were honest. That's all I wanted from them really: honesty.
We had many lengthy discussions that I couldn't put in the book. One thing I learned was how much the elders appreciated the sincerity behind my questions. They know when people are asking questions only to start an argument, and they knew I wasn't that type of person. They appreciated my willingness to listen to their side of the story.
I can't always make a wide-sweeping statement about my relationship with the elders because they're individuals. I have individual friendships with each of them. Naturally, some of these friendships are stronger than others. Generally speaking, I wouldn't say our relationship recovered. I would say it changed tremendously. It felt like a peek behind “the veil” of the missionary program, so to speak. While I care about each of them, I couldn't base a conversion on that.
Me: Beyond trite slogans of “Sacred, not secret”, can you understand why some information, such as specifics about temple worship, is reserved for church members who are prepared to receive it?
I understand the philosphy of it. I think I understand the concept as much as a nonmember could. However, just because someone is a church member, does that mean they are prepared to receive it, whatever “it” is? Who's to say what a believer is prepared to receive from the Lord? Only the Lord.
Of course. I think even meeting with the elders was a leap of faith for me. Discussing a potentially explosive topic with guys who were twice my size required some faith, don't you think?
Ideally, it needs to be a mix of both. I never went to church for fellowship in the past so seeing it in action in the LDS community was an incredible experience. You really get a sense that the people care about each other.
However, we also have to make sure that Church does not become a social club. I've always attended Church for what it teaches about God, and I believe that should be the primary consideration. To quote Joseph Smith “everything else is an appendage.”
Me: Do you believe it is possible for a “true church” to exist with the “fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ”?
First of all, I want to be clear that when I talk about the book, I don't advise people about what church they should attend. Choosing a home church is a personal decision that should be left up to the individual. I'm a writer, not an apologist, counselor, or missionary.
With that said, I personally believe the most important thing is to recognize how significant Jesus is and what He's done for us. Too often, the world tries to depict him as a philosopher, teacher or simply a “good man.” He's is so much more than that. His place in your heart is far more important than which pew you sit in.
Me: I enjoyed your reflections on catechism from your youth and the lessons learned there. You also learned lessons from the missionaries and from other churches you visited. Are bits and pieces of the truth scattered across religion and denomination, or is there a one-stop-shop for absolute religious truth?
I think a lot of churches have some truth, but I really try to avoid making broad judgments. I don't presume to know the entire truth. I don't think it's humanly possible. I'm still learning like everyone else.
Me: The spiritual journey of growth is important and your book shares examples of some of this growth. What was the most significant change you experienced on your journey with the LDS missionaries?
Gee whiz..this is a hard question! The most signifcant change was how I went from knowing nothing about the LDS Church to being fairly knowledgable about it. I went from seeing the missionaries as “crazy religious people at the door” to hard-working young men with a firm dedication to faith.
I've become a magnet for people looking to share stories about a time they met missionaries, saw a Mormon commercial or want to know why Mormons can't sip a good cup of Folgers. For the record, I never liked coffee myself.
Me: Do you have any regrets?
I regret not living closer to Elder Dowling so he could teach me how to be more like Clint Eastwood.
I think our walk with Christ doesn't end until the day we meet Him.
I do, but my ideas are all playing king of the mountain in my head right now. I'm freelance writer for several publications, so I have a lot to keep me busy until one idea battles to the top of the heap.
I think this book, in particular, grabs people because it is a true story.
Dan: It was my pleasure.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
With his provisions, camels and gifts, Artaban began his trek to the meeting place where he and his colleagues had designated. But on the way, he found an injured man who needed assistance. Even though he knew it would throw him off schedule for meeting the others, he tended to the man and then paid with his provisions to have the man looked after. Knowing that he would need additional supplies, Artaban returned to the city, sold one of the jewels he planned to give to the Savior. It pained him to do it, but he knew he would need the provisions to trek across the desert.
When he arrived at the meeting place Artaban found that his friends had already continued on their journey so he followed, hoping to catch up. When he arrived in Bethlehem, Artaban inquired about a newborn baby and three strangers. He learned that three wealthy men from the east had been there and worshipped a baby in a manger, but they had departed. Artaban asked where he could find the baby but he was told the parents had taken the baby and fled to Egypt.
With his two remaining jewels in hand, Artaban prepared to follow the Savior to Egypt. His only desire was to greet the Savior and offer his gifts as a token of his love, but before he could leave, Soldiers came into the village with orders to kill all newborn babies. As the soldiers approached a doorway, Artaban heard a crying baby inside and stopped the soldier from entering. He offered the soldier one of his remaining jewels if he would just move on and leave the family alone.
Though happy he was able to save the life of the baby, Artaban was sad that he had given up a gift that was meant for his Savior. He prayed for forgiveness.
Artaban spent the rest of his life searching for the Savior, determined to present him with the last remaining jewel as a gift and token of his love. Artaban grew old. As he returned to Jerusalem one last time, searching, he was told that a man who worked many mighty miracles would be executed on a hill outside the city. Artaban knew this was the Christ and was hopeful he would soon see the Savior. Artaban felt the last remaining jewel in his hand and thought how he could use it as a ransom to save the life of his Redeemer.
As Artaban made his way along the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Golgotha, a young girl grabbed on to him and begged for mercy. Her father had died and she was to be sold into slavery to pay his debts. Artaban looked at his last remaining jewel. He wanted to save the girl, but how could he sacrifice the gift that was meant for Christ? With sadness, Artaban gave the girl his last jewel so that she would be free.
Artaban wept at his failure. The sky blackened. The earth began to moan and buildings shook. A piece of tile from a roof fell to the street and struck Artaban. He lay in the street dying. Looking toward heaven he heard the voice of the Lord.
Artaban shook his head in confusion. “Not so Lord. When did I see thee naked and clothe thee? When did I visit you in prison?”
Then he heard the response. “When you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Well done my good and faithful servant.”
Hopefully in our lives we are seeking after the Savior with the same intensity and determination as Artaban. Sometimes things will not go the way we planned and obstacles will be placed in our path. But every step of the way, we have the opportunity to bless the lives of others. Through service, friendship, or a simple act of kindness to someone in need, we express our love to the Savior as we express our love to our brothers and sisters. We especially need to do these things when it feels most difficult.
The kindness and compassion we show to others is our gift to the Savior. I hope we can all remember this and try to be a little kinder, a little more forgiving and a little more loving.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
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.