I’ll start off with a confession. My husband, Rick, plays the banjo. There, I’ve said it. Not a lot, but enough to make me wonder if we’re cousins. For a time, he would jam with his bluegrass friends, a sweet group of people prone to wearing denim bib overalls and playing the saw as a musical interlude. After a few months, Rick started to rave about this one particular banjo picker. He extolled this fellow’s abilities so much that I was forced to politely respond. I asked if he had all his teeth. Unable to arouse my slightest interest, Rick moved on to point out that I simply had to meet his beautiful wife. She was gracious, slender, and movie-star beautiful.
Right. I felt dumpy already. I ignored Rick’s ranting about the banjo-picker-and-his-beautiful-wife and ate another slice of pie. I was depressed so I added extra whipped cream.
Rick’s crusade to have me meet this wonderful couple continued. “Did you know,” he asked me one day, “that my banjo-playing friend is an author?”
Okay, he had me there. I love books. “What has he written?”
“I think it’s called ‘A Clear and Present Darkness.’”
Great. A Clancy wannabe. Rick persisted, however. In desperation, he told me they owned a Great Pyrenees. That was the deciding factor. I’d owned Pyrenees since just after Noah’s flood. We invited them to dinner. Frank and Barb Peretti.
I had no idea who Frank was. I’d never read his books. When they returned the favor and invited us to dinner, I got some inkling of Frank’s reputation and success. Their home was gorgeous, sprawling on emerald green lawns and overlooking the river. Discreetly tucked on the walls leading to the
basement were a variety magazine covers and awards for selling a bajillion
Clever person that I was, I put it together that Frank wasn’t just an author, he was an Author. Big time. Important. A list. I could have been intimidated, but Frank and Barb were such lovely, down-to-earth folks that we became friends. I discovered that Barb wasn’t just movie-star beautiful, she was
a talented artist (actually, so is Frank, but he’s pretty busy writing.)
I’ll skip over all the great times we had, because I’m sure you’re now chomping at the bit to find out how Frank came to mentor me in my writing. Fast forward a number of years. It was Christmas and I’d not found a single thing for Barb. We usually exchanged simple gifts-well, mine were simple, Barb’s were delightfully thoughtful. So I wrote a story. An adventure about two women on a quest: one fat and jolly, the other movie-star beautiful.
I know. I know. I’m so original…. I wrapped it up and gave it to Barb. She started to read it at home and burst out laughing. Often. Frank wanted
to know what she found so amusing and she read excerpts to him. He called and asked to see me. And he did. He told me I had writing talent and that he would “teach me to fish.”
I was stunned and thrilled. I decided to not enter any art shows that year and devote myself to learning the writing trade from the master. That was January of 2004. Two months later I was diagnosed with stage two breast
Funny thing about God. He sure knows how to time things. Throughout that awful/wonderful year, through surgeries, chemo, baldness, sickness, everything-hurt-times, Frank would sit across his kitchen table from
me and listen to what I’d cranked out on my computer. Barb would listen and ply us with lattes.
It was a time of refining fire. I posted on my refrigerator Hebrews 12:1 and took courage from the last line that said, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Not only was I battling cancer, my mom was slowly dying of emphysema and I was caring for her. She died a year later, never knowing about my disease.
I finished my first manuscript that summer of 2004, but my writing, like my life, needed that refining fire. I had much, much more to learn. Rejections, rewrites, more rejections, writer’s conferences, classes, critique groups, still more rejections, classes again, and finally, finally success. Through all of this, Frank patiently, skillfully, taught me to fish.
An article about a skull posted on the internet caught my attention. The material was a scholarly report on something called a “Le Forte” fracture found on the bones of the exhumed body of Joseph Smith. Exhumed body? Hmmm, this sounded interesting. I’d reconstructed numerous skulls for a variety of cases in the past and had known of, and read about historical reconstructions.
On the web page, the author noted that Joseph Smith’s facial bones were shattered when he fell from a second story window onto his face. They quoted the following as eyewitness proof of this fact:
“He fell on his left side a dead man." –Willard Richards
“He seemed to fall easy and struck partly on his right shoulder and back…” -Wm. M. Daniels
Hmmm again. Left side? Right shoulder? Neither account said he landed on his face. This was enough for me to begin researching the entire event and led me to several obscure books about Joseph Smith’s death, burial, exhumation, death mask, and skull. I will post the research and sources on this blog.
Driving through Darby.
Gwen Marcey lives in the fictional town of Copper Creek. In writing, the author either needs to be accurate about a location or make it up completely. I made it up. I chose the name of Copper Creek as a nod to Montana’s copper industry. At the turn of the last century, the Anaconda copper
mine was the largest copper producer in the world. I did a search on the Internet to be sure there really wasn’t a place in Montana with that name. I placed this fictional town in the very real location of Hamilton, south of Missoula on Highway 93. I liked the area and spent some time there doing a composite drawing on a triple homicide. Did I mention my cases influenced my
writing? Copper Creek looks more like Darby, a smaller town farther south of
Hamilton. Darby is a slice of the old west, and Rick and I were charmed by it in
our research travels.
I decided to place my series in Montana rather than Idaho because I was born in Missoula. How simple an explaination is that?
Your turn. Where would you place a story?
I admit it. I’m blessed. Not lucky, but very blessed to have learned writing from the brilliant author, Frank Peretti. There’s just no way to share how awesome it is to spend an afternoon in the breakfast nook of the Peretti home honing my writing skills. Frank would sit across the table from me, my manuscript open in front of him, while I, pen, post-it notes, and highlighter ready, would read that day’s efforts. Barb, my dear friend, would make lattes for us, and then listen to the exchange.
Over the next few months, I plan on sharing with you the tips, insights, and advice from my nine-year odyssey from unpublished, want-a-be novelist to landing a three book deal at auction with major publishers. Sign up for email notification of my blog entries (found on the connect page.)
Your turn. What was the best advice you ever received?
Superman Syndrome contains a number of details which, on the surface, might seem mean-spirited. I used historical facts to weave an interesting story. In this and related blogs, I’ll share where I found my
materials and why I used them. I hope you are as intrigued by the bygone facts
and historical holes that formed my book. You decide: was Brigham Young responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre?
We’ll start with the connection between Brigham Young and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The LDS church has maintained that Brigham Young knew nothing of the massacre until after it happened. Below are some quotes from my research.
Brigham Young denied his involvement, stating, “The horrifying event transpired without my knowledge, except from after report, and the recurring thought of it ever caused a shudder in my feelings.” -Historian’s Office Journal, 8 December 1859, Typescript, LDS Archives, page 88.
So Young can't even think about Mountain Meadows without shuddering. Now let's look at his words and actions. Below is his sermon after the event:
"Do you know who those people were that were killed at the Mountain Meadows? I will
tell you who those people were. They were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters,
uncles, aunts, cousins and children of those who killed the Saints, and drove
them from Missouri, and afterwards killed our Prophets in Carthage jail. These
children that the government has made such a stir about, were gathered up by the goverment [sic] and carried back to Missouri, to St. Louis, and letters were sent to their relatives to come and take them; but their relations wrote back that they did not want them--that they were the children of thieves, outlaws and murderers, and they would not take them, they did not wish anything to do with them, and would not have them around their houses. Those children are now in the poor house in St. Louis. And yet after all this, I am told that there are many of the brethren who are willing to inform upon and swear against the brethren who were engaged in that affair. I hope there is no truth in this report. I hope there is no such person here, under the sound of my voice. But if there is, I will tell you my opinion of you, and the fact so far as your fate is concerned. Unless you repent at once of that unholy intention, and keep the secret of all that you know, you will die a dog's death, and be damned, and go to hell. I do not want to hear of any more treachery among my people."
Now we’ll examine the action of Young:
Army brevet major James H. Carleton and some soldiers were sent
by the US government to investigate the massacre. They arrived in the spring of 1859 to find unburied bones, shreds of children’s clothing, hunks of women’s hair, and many skulls with bullet holes or shattered. They gathered up all the bones they found and buried them under a rock pile, then topped the memorial with a wooden cross which simply stated “Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord.”
“In May 1862, Brigham Young happened upon this memorial as he was passing through the meadow … when Brigham read the inscription on the cross he pondered it for a short while and then proposed an emendation: “Vengeance is mine,” the prophet smugly asserted, “and I have taken a little.” A moment later one of the Saints in his entourage threw a rope over the cross and pulled it down, while others began dismantling the stones and scattering them. By the time Brigham’s party departed the Mountain Meadows, the monument to the slaughtered emigrants had been obliterated.”
-Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven, Doubleday, 2003, page 230
“Virtually every federal officer who became involved in future investigations of
the massacre would conclude that Young personally ordered the atrocity, used his
position to shield the killers who had followed his instructions, and personally
directed the elimination of all evidence incriminating himself and his closest
advisors.” -Sally Denton, American Massacre, Vintage Books, 2003, page
What do you think?
Fine artist, forensic artist, author.