Okay, enough about me and all my book release angst this week (I can hear everyone heaving a huge sigh of relief). It's time to feature another author on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. I'm welcoming back Natalie Collins, whose novel Wives and Sisters has just been re-released in paperback. Set in the closed world of the Mormon church, the novel is the gripping story of a young woman on the run from evil, powerful men. Allison Jenson's best friend disappeared suddenly as a child and was given up for dead. Now, years later, trying to fill in the gaps of a patchwork memory, Allison still gets no answers from the Mormon community in which she lives. She is stuck in a world where she does not fit with a father who tyrannizes and torments her as the self-appointed messenger of God. Why is she being fed half-truths? When a brutal attack makes her desperate to escape Mormon bonds, Allison finds herself on a collision course with community leaders as they cover up the steps of a sexual predator.
I asked Natalie my usual questions last year, so I interviewed her a little more about the subject matter of her books.
It seems like polygamous marriages are always in and out of the media, with the real-world scary stories like the abductions and now with an HBO series. What do you think explains the public's fascination for the topic?
I think for a long time it was kind of a "forgotten part" of the history of our country, because it was officially left behind in 1890. Mormons became "that group" that sent out missionaries everywhere, but who were kind of vague about their teachings. People regarded them as "nice but odd." The truth about polygamy, of course, is that you can't just say one day, "Hey, we aren't doing this anymore" and have it magically disappear. Especially when it is still a tenet of the church, one that was originally espoused as "eternal," with the belief it will be lived in the Celestial Kingdom. Even when it was "manifestoed" away (please note it was NEVER condemned or prophesied to be wrong) Church leaders who had multiple wives lived in secrecy, and it's been documented this continued to occur until the 1940s or so. And some Mormons moved to Mexico and Canada, too, to avoid prosecution. Although there's never been much of that--prosecution. Because it WAS an early tenet of the church, it has gone on mostly ignored in Utah for years. This has allowed some really dangerous people like Warren Jeffs and the FLDS sect, and the Kingstons, to thrive and grow, and the abuse is just astounding. No one wanted to prosecute it, because most every Mormon had some connection to it.
I've been talking publicly about the dangers of polygamy for at least six years, (See SISTERWIFE, first published in 2003 to dismal results), but I really think people didn't want to believe this stuff could happen. Then one day, Elizabeth Smart disappears. Nine months later she is found very, very close to her home. And she never ran. And she never tried to escape, and people were left asking "Why?" Why didn't she ever cry for help, and why did she lie about who she was when the police finally came? How did this happen? And is it still happening? Yup. After Elizabeth Smart, and the very public prosecution of polygamist Tom Green, along with the illegal maneuverings of the FLDS Sect and their wanted leader, Warren Jeffs, America really got interested. It's almost like the country looked over at Utah and said, "What ARE you people doing down there?" And the truth is, there are some VERY strange and very dangerous things going on here.
There is still a very real threat to those who speak publicly against the Church, of course. Along with family pressure, and some not-so-subtle pressure from the Church hierarchy, I was pretty much told that I would be persona non grata in Utah after my book was published. I ignored it, and so far, no one has firebombed my house, and since I've been TRYING to get my name off the rolls for years, and it hasn't worked, I guess they aren't going to threaten me with excommunication. They use that to shut up a lot of people, but I think they are KEEPING me because they know it irritates me.
What do you know about the issue that the public isn't getting either from the news stories or from the fictional treatments?
Big Love is not real polygamy. While there might be a few groups who live this way, for the most part it is not pretty cars, and nice clothes, and nice things. These women and children live in utter and absolute poverty. They are chattel. Nothing more, nothing less. They are not allowed opinions, or real lives. The Kingstons marry their daughters off to other family members, and inbreeding causes severe birth defects and a high child mortality rate. Even in the FLDS sect, inbreeding is a problem, because you are only married off to someone in that close group. While they don't marry you off to a direct relative, it's hard to avoid it completely.
These girls are taught they will GO TO HELL if they don't obey their men leaders, and if they object, or run away, they are caught and sent to remote colonies in Canada, or sometimes they just disappear, and no one ever sees them again.
Young boys are thrown out for minor offenses so the older men can marry the young girls. And make no mistake. THEY ARE GIRLS. Children.
Looking back, what do you think the most effective thing you did to promote your book was?
My blog, Trapped by the Mormons, and of course touring on the GCC. I get a lot of traffic to my blog, and so I know people heard about my books from that.
What will your next book be about?
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is another suspense novel set in Mormon Utah, and it comes out in January 2007. You can read an excerpt of it in the back of the paperback of WIVES AND SISTERS. In many ways, it's a very different story than W&S, although still set in the Mormon arena. Jannie Fox has always been a little jealous of the regular, everyday, Mormon life her good friend Melissa leads, especially since Jannie has a secret. She hides from reality, because of one event from her past that has altered her forever. But she isn't hesitant to tilt at windmills for other people in her job as a domestic violence counselor. When Melissa disappears one sunny summer morning, everything changes for Jannie, as she, and a Salt Lake City police detective, unravel the few clues that are found regarding Melissa. Detective Colt Singer convinces Jannie it's time to live again, and face her demons, but she might not get the chance, because the real danger is lurking closer than she ever could have guessed.
What are you working on now?
I'm currently writing my next book for St. Martin's, tentatively titled SAINTS AND SINNERS. It's a very complicated book about Mormons in early years, and the lineage of Mormon royalty, and the "who is really living the true church" questions. Part of this book deals with the "Forgotten Mormons," the group that stayed behind when Brigham Young led the other Saints to Utah. This group became the Community of Christ. Both sides have a fascinating history, and I find it interesting that it is rarely noted that Emma Smith, Joseph's official widow, and their young son stayed with THIS group. So far, the research has been fascinating. And of course, mainstream Mormons play in here, too. Sometimes, there are secrets that zealots are willing to die for--and kill-- to protect.
You can read more about Natalie's books (and see a really cool trailer for her book) at her web site.
Now, because I can't go an entire entry without talking about myself at least a little bit, a quick reminder that I'll be at the Borders store in Plano, Texas (on Preston just south of Park) Saturday afternoon at 2.