Friday, September 23, 2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Rod Miller's novel, The Assassination of Governor Boggs is a creative attempt to answer the mystery of who shot former Missouri Governor, Lilburn Boggs.
After leaving office as Governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs maintained a residence in Independence Missouri, the location of the original violence and atrocities perpetrated against the Mormon Saints. On a stormy night, an assassin took his best shot, trying to rid the world of Governor Boggs and his nefarious activities. Many supposed, including the Boggs family, that the Mormons were behind the assassination attempt, and specifically that Porter Rockwell shot Lilburn Boggs under orders of Joseph Smith. To the surprise of the doctors, the newspapers and his family, Lilburn Boggs, the Governor who issued the infamous Extermination Order of Missouri Mormons survived the attempt on his life and lived for another 17 years.
Despite having many political and business enemies Lilburn Boggs believed the Mormons were behind his attempted assasination. He lived in fear the remainder of his days, expecting the Mormons to come and finish the job. Because of this fear, at least in part, Boggs moved to California where he became a man of substantial influence. This historical novel begins after Bogg's death when his son William engages the services of the Pinkerton Detective Agency to solve the crime that occurred 25 years earlier. Calvin Pogue is the detective assigned to the case.
The Pinkerton Man's investigation leads him to California, Nauvoo, Independence and Salt Lake City as he attempts to piece together the motive, facts and evidence of the 25 year old crime. Pogue is an honest seeker of truth and is determined to follow the evidence whereever it leads. He is a likeable and determined character.
Rod Miller uses this account of a fictional investigation to add context to the Missouri Persecutions of the 1830's. Through Pogue's dispassionate interviews with lawmen, LDS apostates, LDS leaders such as Brigham Young, Emma Smith, sympathizers like Alexander Doniphan and even Porter Rockwell himself, he explores both sides of the conflict that presumably led to the assassination attempt. Each character speaks with a unique voice consistent with the era and Miller does a nice job salting the story with authentic details of frontier life in the 1860's.
As church members we usually only read and hear apologetic accounts that hold out all Missourian's as mobbers and evil-doers, while all Mormons were pure, faithful and innocent victims of a wicked government led by Lilburn Boggs. Miller regales us however with accounts of Mormon enforcers called Danite "night riders" and we quickly see that both sides possessed the power to behave badly. As is generally the case, there is rarely pure evil and pure righteousness personified in fallible human beings. Every person, whether it's Lilburn Boggs or Porter Rockwell share a split personality of good and evil. Some traits are nobel and strong and worthy of emulation, while others serve as examples of what not to do.
I enjoyed this story a great deal. Rod Miller is a unique storyteller. It took me a couple of chapters to appreciate how he juxtaposed early interviews in the investigation with pieces of his final interview with Porter Rockwell. Because the interviews didn't always follow a linear time line, we sometimes heard repeated accounts by secondary sources to the investigation. While these redundancies sometimes slowed the pace of the story, they also served to reinforce the truthfulness or inconsistencies of the different interview subjects. When we read a secondary account of the same events, as the reader we draw our own conclusions about the trustworthiness of the account, just as Detective Pogue did.
I enjoyed learning more about Porter Rockewell and Lilburn Boggs and I always appreciate an engaging church history story.
On a personal note, I served my mission in Independence Missouri. Following my mission and schooling I moved to a small town in Caldwell County Missouri near Far West where I still live and currently serve as the Bishop of the Far West Ward for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have a deep love for this area and the rich LDS history and I believe there is much we can learn from both the successes and failures of the early saints.
Understanding the weaknesses and mistakes of the early saints can be educational if we recognize the saints for who they were; imperfect people who lived during a dangerous and challenging time that in many ways is impossible for us to fully appreciate. Sometimes we base our faith on the actions and behaviors of people we look up to and when we find that a person isn't as perfect as we once thought, we become disillusioned. This can be one of the risks in studying church history and I hope readers will remember this and not make the foolish mistake of judging the gospel doctrine and worthiness of the church based on the imperfections of individuals.
This book asks many direct questions and leads the reader to ask many more of his own. While I may not agree with all the conclusions of Pogue's investigation I certainly enjoyed the ride and the creative way in which the history and the associated questions were presented. My one major criticism of this work concerns the final chapter. I won't describe the issue because it could be a spoiler for the reader, but I found the final scene, which I believe is purely fictional with no basis in fact, to leave the reader with an unfortunate bias which could influence their conclusions.
So did Porter Rockwell attempt to assassinate Lilburn Boggs? And if so, did he do it under order of Joseph Smith? You'll have to read the book and make your own decision.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in tasting the flavor of the Missouri period of the church. It is an enjoyable read during which you have the opportunity to learn.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Participating authors include...
-Instructional: Danyelle Ferguson- (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ
-Children: Leigh Legere- Do Antelope Eat Cantaloupe?
-Docrtinal: Stephen K. Chase- The Second Coming
-YA Suspense: Tamara Hart Heiner- Perilous
-Legal Suspense: Steve Westover- Defensive Tactics
Come meet the authors and have your books signed. It will be a fun morning.
Friday, September 9, 2011
The NBC/Politico sponsored GOP Debate on September 7th provided opportunities for the Republican Presidential primary candidates to make their case to the country. They had a chance to declare why their leadership would be superior to the current administration and their Republican competitors. There were some good moments in the debate and most of the eight candidates took advantage of the opportunity to attack their rivals.
I know it's early in the political season, but it seems to me that there are two leading GOP contenders, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Spoiler Alert: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney don't like each other much. Shocking. Both men have good hair, dress nicely and have both been governors (Rick Perry is currently the Governor of Texas). But placing those superficial elements aside, I want to know who these candidates are. Judging them by what they have done and how they behave is more important to me than judging them by what they say. Talk is cheap and political speak is worth almost nothing.
I want a leader who will fight the good fight for the most worthy causes. I want someone I can believe in even if I don't agree with them 100% of the time. I want someone who is confident and capable, but not arrogant or condescending. That brings me to my question.
What is the difference between Bravado and Confidence?
Bravado: (as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary) Defiant or swaggering behavior. A pretense of courage. A false show of bravery. A disposition toward showy defiance.
Confidence: (as defined by Dictionary.com) Full trust. Belief in the powers, trustworthiness or reliability of a person or thing.
Based on those two definitions, it is clear to me that I want a leader who has confidence in himself and in whom I can place my confidence. Bravado, on the other hand, I don't have much use for.
Of these two candidates, who most exudes Bravado and who most exemplifies confidence? Why?
Thursday, September 8, 2011
I LOVE the musical Les Miserables. It is a fantastic play based on a wonderful book. My kids all know the music because I play it often. The music enhances the story of despair and redemption and is a real treat to watch live. I am absolutely a fan.
With that said, I was recently enjoying a Broadway cast recording and I was really disappointed by one of the characters, Fantine.
Fantine lived a difficult life. She worked in a factory and paid an innkeeper to watch after her daughter, Cosette, because she couldn't afford to keep her. She sings I Dreamed A Dream about how her hopes had been crushed. It is a beautiful song, but on this particular recording the feeling of despair was overridden when I almost chuckled in a couple of parts. Why did I lack such sensitivity? There were certain notes that just didn't resonate. On the line "But he was gone when au-TUMN CAME," Fantine sounded less like a jilted lover and grieving mother and more like a thick accented Russian Soldier. Her focus was so centered on the the wrong syllables that the moment was lost. The rest of the song was wonderful, but those two ending notes ruined the song for me and now I can't listen to it without anticipating those two disturbing notes.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I don't think so. Later, Fantine has a dramatic death scene where she sings Come To Me, begging Valjean to take care of her daughter. Again, a beautiful song, with just a couple discordant notes. At the very end of the scene she sings, "Tell Cosette I love her and I'll see her when I WAKE!" And then she died. Huh? Even though she was the one dying, she hammered the last note in such a way that I wish I would be put out of my misery.
So what's the point to criticizing this one version of these two beautiful songs? Simple-It doesn't take much to pull the consumer, whether he be a listener, a viewer, or a reader, out of the moment and destroy the valuable setting, mood or character you have been developing.
Just like every note matters to the listener, every word matters to the reader.
One simple example: In my first book, Defensive Tactics, the scene was set at night in downtown Kansas City. The beautiful and refined heroin was under distress and she "hollered" something to her approaching rescuers. "Hollered" just didn't fit. She wasn't going to a hoe-down at Uncle Bart's barn so based on her character, location and situation, "Hollered" was the wrong word and pulled the reader out of the story. I had a couple of people comment on this prior to the final printing so I made the change and "yelled" and "screamed" worked better. That one discordant word could have pulled the reader out of the story just long enough to scratch their head. Was it a huge deal? Probably not, but I don't want to leave my reader with a bad impression, like "WAKE" did for me.
By the way, did you notice, and were you annoyed that I said the "heroin" instead of the "heroine"? Simple things can be a distraction.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
For those of you interested in LDS Church history, I have a special treat for you today.
Rod Miller is the author of the historical novel, The Assassination of Governor Boggs. The book was released in May by Cedar Fort Publishing. I have been reading this book and find it fascinating. I am happy Rod has agreed to answer a few of my questions. Perhaps you will gain some insights into church history as well as the writing process as I did.
Steve: Please tell us something about yourself that you are usually too humble to admit.
Rod: While I am no more intelligent than average, maybe less so, I am pretty well read and have a head full of retained information on a variety of subjects.
Steve: You are a published writer of fiction (short stories and novels), non-fiction and even poetry. What led you to writing and what approach do you take when sitting down to begin a new project?
Rod: Writing has been for me, since junior high school, a way to get things done. I have always approached it in a very practical way—I learned how to spin insufficient information into creditable answers to essay questions on tests, wrote for school newspapers, got a degree in journalism, wanted to write for agricultural magazines. I got sidetracked in college and for a few years afterward into broadcast production, but soon enough ended up back at a typewriter (that’s what we used in the olden days) writing commercials. That led to a long career (still underway) as an advertising agency copywriter. Again, writing to get things done.
It never occurred to me to try “creative” writing. I had no education or training in creative writing and the whole idea seemed foreign to me. But, some fifteen years ago I took a notion to try to write some poems, just to see if I could. Success there led to short fiction and eventually a novel, then some nonfiction. Somewhere along the way I adapted a juvenile novel for the screen for a filmmaker I worked with on commercials, and that became a movie (Bug Off!). I wrote some articles, mostly on assignments that more or less fell into my lap, for cowboy magazines (still doing that), and a bunch of essays on writing poetry. I just sort of jumped into it all, without really knowing, in the sense of being educated, how to do what I set out to do. Getting most everything I wrote published only encouraged me to blunder along, trying new things. Everything (if anything) I’ve learned about writing I learned from reading—whether by osmosis from pleasure reading or by instructional reading on my own.
Like most writers, I suppose my approach starts with an idea. Some ideas seem to lend themselves to poetry, others to fiction, some to nonfiction. I mull it over for quite a while, deciding if I think I can make it work—if I have the necessary information, if I can convey that information in an interesting way. For some reason I am drawn to unusual formats and structures. Very little of what I’ve written, whether fiction or nonfiction, follows a traditional, chronological path, or the normal introduction, exposition, conflict, climax, resolution, conclusion kind of structure. With me, it’s always a jumble of some kind or other, from pulling apart timelines and rebuilding them, to pulling in materials from elsewhere to tell parts of the story, to using multiple voices—anything, it seems, but straightforward storytelling. I can’t say why.
Plotting and character development and all that stuff doesn’t get much attention (which probably shows in my writing), I just sort of let those things happen on their own. Most of my emphasis is on putting words together and trying to write interesting phrases and sentences and paragraphs and so on. I guess that comes from all my years in advertising, where time and space force you into using economical yet powerful language. And, I suppose, that’s why I was first drawn to poetry, where, again, the words matter more than anything.
In any event, I concentrate my effort on making sentences read well, as well as say something. I think good writing inevitably leads to good reading; that if it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying well. I don’t know how successful my approach is, or if I pull it off, but that’s what I set out to do, from poetry to fiction to history to essays to magazine articles to advertising.
Steve: What inspired you to write a novel based on a fictionalized investigation into the attempted assassination of Governor Lilburn Boggs?
Rod: History has interested me for longer than I can remember. I’ve always wanted to know what happened and why. And I am naturally skeptical, which always leads me to multiple sources and a broad-minded view. So much of the Mormon history we see is “celebratory” or “faith promoting.” As a result, we tend to overlook the complexity of history and are satisfied with a simplistic, one-sided version of what happened—a version that sets out to make a point and leads us inevitably toward that conclusion, rather than relating what really went on.
Porter Rockwell has always fascinated me. He was a remarkable man, with extraordinary abilities and strong character. At the same time, he was a capable and cold-blooded killer. Regardless of which side of the law he represented in a given situation, he did not hesitate to do what he believed needed to be done. The shooting of Lilburn Boggs was one of many crimes he was accused of, and remains an unanswered question. There’s usually a good story in an unanswered question.
Like most Mormons, I knew very little about Lilburn Boggs. My knowledge was scant and very one-sided. I knew there had to be more to the man. And, frankly, the more I learned about him the more impressive he became. Certainly, he mistreated the Mormons and his Extermination Order remains one of the most heinous official acts of any government against its citizens in the history of this country. But, there’s always more than one side to a story, and, as one of our leaders once said (to paraphrase loosely), every man is better than his worst sin.
After researching the lives of these two men, the shooting, and all the related events, I decided there wasn’t enough documented material for me, at least, to tell the story in nonfiction. Through fiction, I thought I could take what is known and spin it into an interesting story. Finally, fiction is, many times, a better way to tell the truth than nonfiction, as you can concentrate on truth rather than facts.
Steve: Did you have any “ah ha” moments as you were researching the history for this book?
Rod: While it may not rise to the “ah ha” level, learning about Lilburn Boggs was a revelation. He was a pivotal figure on the Western frontier, accomplished a great deal, was widely respected, an inspiring leader, and a dedicated public servant all his adult life.
Other than that, I had read about the assassination attempt many times over the years in various places, and had studied a good deal of history about the Mormons in Missouri and the attendant difficulties, so most of what I learned I already knew, on some level. The research mostly refreshed my memory, added detail, and filled in the gaps.
Steve: What are the main challenges you faced in writing this form of historical fiction?
Rod: Putting words in the mouths of real people is intimidating. You never want to misrepresent them—not only in what you know they said, but also in what you think they might have said, what motivated them, their attitudes, their beliefs, their influences. Whether it’s well-known figures like Porter Rockwell or Brigham Young, or obscure characters like Bill Boggs or Jacob Harlan, I tried to be careful in speaking for them.
Almost as intimidating is speaking for made-up characters. The few that are sprinkled throughout the book are there to convey information on behalf of people who were no longer available to speak for themselves. Even though the characters are fictional, what they say has to represent the facts and tell some version of the truth.
Steve: How can a reader differentiate the fiction from the fact in this story?
Rod: If I’ve done my job properly, they won’t have to, or want to. While the book includes invented characters, imagined conversations, and dramatic re-creations, it does so only to allow known facts to be presented. To the best of my ability, every incident and event related to the assassination attempt in the book recounted accurately. I’ve tried to tell the story from as many viewpoints as possible, using several characters representing many facets of the history. While each character tells his own version of the truth, which may differ from other versions, each tells the truth as he knows it, based on information I took from available sources. So, while everything in the book may not be “factual” it is, as much as possible, the truth.
Steve: Have you had the opportunity to visit the Missouri Church historical sites? Do you have a favorite?
Rod: Way back in the late sixties I visited Kansas City two or three times for the national FFA convention. The trip included a visit to the Liberty Jail, so I have always had a soft spot for that place. But, on revisiting it while researching this book, I was terribly disappointed in the version of history related there. Terribly one-sided, woefully ignorant of (or deliberately ignoring) documented events, and intentionally forcing a distorted conclusion onto visitors. It’s not that what they tell you is wrong; what they don’t tell you so misrepresents history that it might as well be wrong.
We visited Independence and located some of the places relevant to the book, including finding the location of the jail where Rockwell was held (long since gone) and the Boggs house where the crime was committed. We also wandered around the Temple site and other places in Independence. Just outside Missouri, we visited Kanesville and Winter Quarters and the Visitor Center there. That was the end of a trip along the Mormon Trail, in reverse, across Wyoming and Nebraska. My favorite trail site is the North Platte crossing in Casper, Wyoming. My great-great-grandfather was one of the men from the pioneer company Brigham Young left there to operate a ferry in the summer of 1847.
Steve: What lessons do you draw personally from the Missouri era of church history?
Rod: While there is no disputing the persecution the Saints received there, and no justification for the extent of their mistreatment by the people and the government of Missouri, that troublesome period was not nearly as one-sided as most Mormons believe; beliefs based on limited information gleaned from official sources, but mostly from folklore. I was never told, for instance, about Mormon night riders burning most of three Missouri settlements to the ground, or the theft of a shipment of government arms on the way to militia troops, or intimidation and threats against a judge. In many instances of violence, the Mormons gave as good as they got and were sometimes the instigators. Like most of history, there are many sides to the Missouri story and I grew up hearing only one of them. So, I suppose, the lessons of skepticism and the need for further study were reinforced.
Steve: Governor Boggs and his “extermination order” of 1838 are infamous to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Will readers gain a better understanding of Lilburn Boggs and his motivations through reading your book?
Rod: Perhaps not about that unfortunate event specifically, as I did not include much about it, it being somewhat outside the scope of the main tale the book tells other than as a motive for the crime. But, I hope readers will get enough of the “Missouri” side of the history to understand something of the situation that existed, and see it from more than one point of view.
Steve: Please tell us about any other projects you have in the pipeline.
Rod: There are a couple of magazine articles in the works for cowboy-type publications, two anthologies that include short stories of mine about the West that are just hitting the market, and I’ve got another short story almost ready to write. A publisher has the manuscript for a short novel of cowboy tall tales under consideration and I hope to get word on that soon. There’s another novel in progress, probably 25% complete, that I am just getting back to. It’s not historical, but pure fiction, using, loosely, the life of biblical King David in a Western setting. I have most of the research and some of the writing done on a work of popular history, recounting important but relatively unknown incidents in Western history. And there’s always poetry—I just had a poem accepted for a forthcoming anthology, and another due to appear in a cowboy magazine. Finally, I’ve completed another essay on writing poetry that will appear on CowboyPoetry.com in the near future.
Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be presenting workshops at the League of Utah Writers annual convention (September 16-17), the Idaho Writers League annual convention (September 23-24), the Writers of the Purple Sage poetry workshop and retreat (October 21-22), the Heber City Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair (November 4-5), and I’ll be doing a book signing in Ogden, Utah (December 3).
And, of course, I have to go to work every day and teach Primary every Sunday.
I plan to post my review of this book next Wednesday but in case you can't wait to purchase, please click here to order from Amazon. You can also order online from Borders, Cedar Fort and Deseret Book or of course you can always visit your local LDS bookstore.