Friday, May 05, 2006

The Secret Life of Mormons

It's GCC time once again! Really, what that means is that I've gotten very behind on my blog postings, thanks to a wonderful splash of writing in both of my two works-in-progress. So, the lovely UK news will have to wait until Monday, as I don't want to take a thing away from my phenomenal guest, Natalie R. Collins!

Nat's written a book I know you all won't want to miss. You probably all know about the highly successful TV program about Mormons, Big Love? Well, Nat's novel, WIVES AND SISTERS (now in paperback) anticipated the trend... and she has had a remarkable publication story. Check out WIVES AND SISTERS... you won't be sorry. And watch for Natalie's upcoming novel, SAINTS AND SINNERS. She'll tell us a bit about it in the interview. Let's have a round of applause!


When Allison Jensen was six, she and her best friend were playing in the woods near home. One moment her friend was beside her; then she was gone. When no leads emerged, she was given up for dead. Now, years later, trying to fill in the gaps of a patchwork memory, to make sense of the senseless, Allison still can get no answers from the Mormon community in which she lives. Why is she being fed half-truths? Why is her father able to tyrannize and torment as the self-appointed messenger of God? When a brutal attack on her as a young adult 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. She must stop them before they find her and keep her from piecing together the tragic past that has haunted her life.


Natalie R. Collins was born in Logan, Utah and attended the University of Utah. She worked for eleven years at The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah's largest daily newspaper, before leaving to devote more time to her family. During the ensuing years, she wrote five novels. She also worked for the 2001 and 2002 Sundance Film Festivals as an editor.

SISTERWIFE, her first published novel came out in 2003 from Zumaya Publications. SISTERWIFE was nominated for many awards, and was followed up with a sequel, TWISTED SISTER, which was recently sold to Five Star. Natalie's second book WIVES AND SISTERS was published by St. Martin's Press in October 2004. This book is now available in paperback. WIVES AND SISTERS received high acclaim from both readers and reviewers, receiving an extraordinary amount of print coverage, and reviewers praised Natalie's ability to blend fact and fiction in this page-turning thriller that's ripped from the headlines. She also received blurbs from Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Gardner, Perri O'Shaughnessy and many other bestselling authors. Her next book, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, will be available in hardcover from St. Martin's Press in January 2007. Writing as Natalie M. Roberts, she also recently sold a mystery series to Berkley, scheduled to begin publication in April 2007.

Natalie's Blog, Trapped By the Mormons--Living Life Behind the Zion Curtain, about her exploits living as an Ain't in a land of Saints, has a large, loyal readership. Although the blog is considered somewhat controversial--especially by faithful Mormons--the humorous spin on the rich culture that is Mormonism seems to appeal to all types of readers.

She also has a listing of legitimate, vetted, non-fee charging agents on her site, and has interviewed and collected information from agents for the past six years.

Natalie is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America.

"A dark, powerful debut novel. Natalie Collins pulls no emotional punches crafting this searing tale of one woman's search for justice."

—Lisa Gardner,
NY Times bestselling author of The Next Accident, The Survivors Club, and The Killing Hour

"Startling and compelling— I could not stop turning the pages. Natalie Collins weaves an absolutely riveting tale.

— Tess Gerritsen, NY Times Bestselling author of The Sinner

"Wives and Sisters is an authentic, fast-paced and surprised filled journey that will fill your soul with empathy for Alli. The memory of Alli and her struggle to inner strength will stay will you long after you read the last page."

—Jennifer Apodaca, Author of The Samantha Shaw Mystery Series

"Natalie R. Collins' Wives and Sisters is a journey through heartbreak, tragedy, and self-discovery with a courageous woman who dares to think for herself in a dogmatic society. This is a story for anyone who has ever questioned what they've been taught all their life; anyone who has ever doubted their self-worth, and everyone who loves to cheer on the underdog and watch them triumph in the end. You'll be glad you took this journey with her."

—Tina Wainscott, author of Unforgiveable, and I'll Be Watching You


MO'C: How did you get this idea for this book? Please describe how the book grew from a glimmer of an idea into a whole novel.
NC: I actually had intended to write a memoir of growing up a young Mormon girl, but my family had a conniption fit, and my mother was REALLY upset about it, so I decided not to take that route. But I had some stories that were worth retelling, and when I started compiling them, and then began elaborating, Allison Jensen was born. She had a very intense, compelling story to tell. While it is my story in some ways, in others it is very, very different. The beginning of the novel, though, is all me. I was held at gunpoint at age six, and at that point my childhood was lost. I don't think I ever regained it. And Cindy represents that loss. I could go through the book and point out things that represent events in my own life, but it really isn't what happened to me. More than the names have been changed to protect the innocent. For example, my mother is alive and well, and going to Church every Sunday. I don't have a lesbian aunt, that I know of, and my brother is also alive and well, and driving a truck cross country somewhere, even as we speak. One thing I did want to offer readers was an authentic look at what it is like to be an Ain't in the world of Saints.

MO'C: Is Alison at all like you? How and why?
NC: Yes, Alli is like me in many ways. She's stubborn, outspoken, and sometimes strident, and she doesn't ever feel like you have to do something just because someone says so: at least without a good reason why. She's also very common sense, and questioning, and able to understand logic and reason, as opposed to mysticism and unfounded belief. Alli also loses her way a bit when she abandons the one thing she was always taught was true. It happens a lot when you abandon an absolute. If that one thing isn't true, why would anything be? It takes a while to right yourself. Like a lot of ex-Mormons, I went through that time. Luckily, I came out on top.The one thing I have that I think Alli is lacking is a sense of humor. I truly find humor in so much of this. It's helped me get through some really black times. But humor did not fit this story.

MO'C:Have you gotten a lot of flack from the Mormon church for your book? Or have they remained fairly quiet?
NC: The creepiest thing that happened was when the Church called my publisher and asked for advance copies of Wives and Sisters. This was before the book was originally published in hardback. Before the book was in any catalog, and when it basically existed in my house, my publisher's office, my agent's office, and some mention on my Web site. It happened when the only people who knew I had sold it were those closest to me, my agent and editor, and those monitoring an ex-Mormon Web site to which I belong. It was unsettling to know that they WERE monitoring me. It was the only way they could have known. I mean, I had heard the stories all my life, but I really didn't want to think they were true. Even my agent was a little unsettled. My publisher decided it was easier to just send them copies and let them read it. Then they read the story, dismissed it as a fiction story by an unknown author with an "axe to grind," and that was that. Sorta. I was hardly Martha Beck. She was Mormon royalty, and her story was a memoir. I think they thought it would just die away. But it hasn't. More and more people are reading it, and loving it, and I get a lot of fan mail. I also get lots of hate email. Lots of angry Mormons. A couple who promised to burn the book. And, honestly, some who want to engage in honest dialogue. It's a little tiring sometimes, because they really only want to lead you "back in the fold," but I have found that not all of them are that way. I like that. I have a regular commenter on my blog who is Mormon, and while she doesn't agree with me on many things, she respects my right to an opinion, and I respect hers. It's a wonderful thing. I wish it would happen more.

MO'C:Wives and Sisters seems to have really broken out from the pack! What part, if any, have you played in promoting the hardcover and will you do in promoting the paperback?
NC: I know more about my computer than I do my children? LOL. It is really hard. I did everything I could think of to promote this book, or at least everything that didn't require a lot of cash. It got the most incredibly stellar reviews. But it was hardly a bestselling title in hardback. And it's hard to watch that happen. But a big distributor got behind the paperback and picked it up, and that distribution has really allowed it to blossom and get out there, and it's been spotted everywhere. For the most part, fan mail now outnumbers the hate mail probably 100 to 1, and that tells me that people everywhere are relating to the book, despite it's "Mormon" theme. I get emails daily from people asking where to find my other books (which are not available. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS comes out in January 2007). BIG LOVE, of course, has not hurt me, either. This society, formerly closed to the world, is now being opened up. I would like to point out that I was writing about POLYGAMY and MORMONS long before it became trendy. I have had a few people accuse me of "jumping on the bandwagon." My first book, SISTERWIFE, was first published in 2002, even before Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and returned home.

MO'C: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
NC: You have to believe in yourself, but be flexible enough to know when to move on, and when to accept criticism. This is not always easy to do. While I spent a lot of time trying to get SISTERWIFE, my first book, published, I never stopped writing. I asked my friend Evan Hunter, best known as Ed McBain, of the 87th Precinct Novels, when do you KNOW it's time to stop? To quit trying. His answer was not simple. He said to trust the professionals and move on. So I did... You know what? For the most part, he was right. To this day, my first book has not been picked up by a big New York publisher. It was rejected a WHOLE lotta times. But it's sequel, TWISTED SISTER, has been sold. So believe in yourself, but don't ever fall so in love with your own prose that you are immovable and believe you are all that, and most of all, KEEP WRITING. You have to have a tough hide in this business. It's brutal. What most unpublished writers don't realize is that it becomes EVEN MORE BRUTAL once you cross over into the published field. Keep it in perspective.

MO'C: What's your writing day like? Any tips or tricks for getting organized?
NC: Um, perhaps you are asking someone ELSE that question. LOL. Right now, I am still working a day job, so my writing time starts about five p.m. Sometimes I wake up early and do some writing, but more often than not, I am comatose until the alarm goes off. I actually promote from five until about eight every night, then try to throw in two good writing hours. This will soon come to an end, as I told them I cannot continue working full-time with all these deadlines, but MAN, it's hard, sometimes, to even comprehend meeting these deadlines while working other jobs.You always pray that you get enough money and enough sales that you can write full time. Right now, I just know I have enough deadlines that I had to say NO MORE.

MO'C: What's been the most exciting thing about publishing? The most frustrating?
NC: The most exciting is finally "making it," knowing you will be in bookstores, and online, and also knowing that people can go in to the stores and say, "I want this book," and read it, and write to the author. The most exciting thing is receiving the first copy of your book, and realizing "this is actually happening. I am there!" The most frustrating is realizing you are not even close to being there. You BELIEVE you will be at bookstores, and then you find out there is this thing called PRINT RUN and DISTRIBUTION and "Who the heck are you?" It's all about the numbers, and the distribution, and only occasionally about writing an awesome book, and that can be frustrating. Watching a book that is only, eh, okay, climb the charts because the publisher got behind it in a big way, as opposed to YOUR book is incredibly disheartening. And it happens a LOT. Of course, then you have to put yourself in check and say, "Do I only THINK I am better?" Entirely possible.

MO'C: Do you think you might write a sequel to this novel? If not, what else is in the works?
NC: Well, I would love to revisit Alli. But at this point, no that is not in the works. My next book is BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, and it will be in available in stores and online early January. It's the story of Jannie Fox, who 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.

I'm also currently working on a new book, tentatively titled SAINTS AND SINNERS, for St. Martin's. It's a very deep, very complicated plot that delves into Mormon history, and also present day Mormonism, and I think it will be awesome. It steps into that "what if" part of the LDS history that is so intriguing.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Natalie! Buy Nat's book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the very best choice---your local indy!