I recently completed an interview with writer Gordon Ryan, author of numerous thrillers, including State of Rebellion and Uncivil Liberties. Please see his full bio at the bottom of the interview.

Gordon Ryan: Michael, thank you for taking the time to respond to this interview and to discuss your dynamic new book releases.

The Righteous and Mighty and Strong series takes on a subject that has plagued mainstream Mormons for over a century; polygamy. As you clearly point out in your story, the LDS church today does not practice polygamy and does not consider those who do as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Can you briefly explain how the various polygamous groups sustain and support the practice?


Michael: The attitude of the fundamentalists has changed over the years. Early, after the LDS church issued the 1890 Manifesto, the polygamists who persisted in the practice were convinced that they were secret allies of the LDS church, meant to carry on “the Principal” until the time came when LDS leadership began to openly practice plural marriage again. By 1910, however, the LDS church had turned more aggressively to excommunicating those who persisted in performing new plural marriages, which included excommunications all the way to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Over the next twenty years, the fundamentalists began to claim their own leaders as the rightful prophets and dismissing the Salt Lake-based LDS as apostates. They turned in to face the community instead of out, to face the world, and remain inwardly focused to this day.

However, to this day the reality is more complicated. There is some sympathy between the two groups, sharing, as they do, a common history, but also some antipathy. LDS have become successful and well-respected in the world at large and are rightfully unhappy when people erroneously believe that they still practice polygamy. It isn’t surprising that LDS do not wish the words polygamy and Mormonism to be associated in people’s minds. From the fundamentalist perspective, however, they consider themselves Mormon in the same way that LDS Mormons consider themselves Christian and find this dismissal hurtful.

It is an occasional folk belief among LDS and more openly believed among the fundamentalists that there will some day come the “One Mighty and Strong,” who will put these differences aside and unite the faithful in preparation for the Last Days.

Gordon: One of the things I most admired in your story was the faith with which your characters were imbued. Even those who were villains sustained their actions through a firm belief, however false, that they were doing what God desired of them. How do you respond to the concern that faith-driven actions account for much of what is causing terrorism in the world today? How does a nation, or a people, diplomatically deal with those who feel “God told them to do it?”

Michael: I started with the premise that people are sincere in their beliefs. The religious are not brainwashed, deluded, or mentally feeble. For my polygamists, the religion forms the backbone of their actions, it informs everything they do, but they are still people like anyone else. There will be a mix of kindness, cunning, moral and immoral behavior. The system of modern polygamy, unfortunately, lives in the shadows, and that allows for abuse, for underage marriage, and oppression of women. Even so, there are people who thrive in such an environment, or rise to do great things, in spite of their weaknesses.

I also wanted to take my villains seriously. No cackling and rubbing hands together in glee. I try to remember than everyone is the hero of his own story. Even the greatest villains of history believed they were acting righteously. Of course, this being fiction, and given my own bent, it is never in doubt that the story sympathizes with the good and the moral over the corrupt and the immoral.

The question of “God told me to do it,” is a difficult one to wrestle with. It is true that terrible things are done in the name of religion: Jonestown, 9/11, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Inquisition—is there a religion that doesn’t have shameful deeds done in its name? But religion also gave us cathedrals, sacred art and music, and great literature. People fought slavery on religious grounds, they established charities and devoted themselves to the poor. The Koran says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” If this were followed and believed by all members of all faiths, many of the problems of religion in the world would disappear.

Before I leave this question, I want to mention moral fiction. A true and honest story listens to what people say about themselves and their belief system, and then takes it at face value. This is not always easy, and it will never satisfy everyone, but it’s what I’m trying to do. Of course, I’m also trying to write a page-turning thriller, so this is a series about what happens in this sort of community when things go wrong.

Gordon: The success of The Righteous demonstrates that the story resonates with readers despite their limited adherence to the particular religious themes you present. Contrary to the sexual aspect which has been highlighted by such television shows as Big Love, your story concentrates on the spiritual aspect of the members of the colony and their strong desire to do what is right. Do you see the reader response as indicative of the desire people have for something to believe in, something to drive their personal value system?

Michael: There is a scene in Mighty and Strong where Fernie finds herself out of place in Salt Lake City. She looks at the modern, urban world and sees that people are atomized. They are reduced to individuals, bumping against other individuals. Instead of feeling a sense of freedom that she is out in the real world, with infinite choices, she feels alone and isolate. Fernie longs for Zion, a place where everybody pulls in the same direction.

Few people would willingly return to the time of Little House on the Prairie, where you didn’t know if late rain would destroy the harvest, or if you had cut and split and stacked enough wood for the winter. We wouldn’t want walk to the outhouse in January and we certainly wouldn’t want to face the terrible illnesses that used to sweep through, taking every third child in the village. But we can look at the Amish, or the polygamist enclaves, or other primitivists in our society and feel a longing for the time when you knew every person in your village, when you knew that every neighbor would come running to dike the flooding creek or put out the barn fire. When you knew that if your oxcart got stuck in the mud, everyone would put their shoulders to the wheel to get it unstuck.

Gordon: And finally, What is next for Jacob and his sister? Do you see the day when they reject the cloister of the colony, move into mainstream life, yet maintain their personal belief in God?

Michael: This is trickier, because I don’t yet know the answers to all of these questions. Jacob is still wrestling with his faith. In book three, The Wicked, he has a spiritual experience that is harder to dismiss. He’s a logical man, with a scientific education, and so he first looks for a non-supernatural explanation. What happens to him when that fails? He is also struggling with the fact that people look to him as their leader. Like all good leaders, he does not feel adequate to the challenge.

Eliza’s choices are more limited inside her church. In Mighty and Strong, she has left the polygamist church and becomes an LDS missionary on Temple Square. In many ways, the mainstream LDS church is the best place for her. Few people judge her for her background and she enjoys some of the same support of a smaller community while escaping some of the crushing expectations of Blister Creek. However, in The Wicked, she needs to return to help her brother face the enemies who continue to circle. When The Righteous begins, she is only a teenager, but Eliza continues to mature and grow with the series.

I don’t yet know where either character will end, or even where the series will end. Perhaps with the end of the world.

About Michael Wallace:

Michael Wallace has trekked across the Sahara on a camel, ridden an elephant through a tiger preserve in Southeast Asia, eaten fried guinea pig, and been licked on the head by a skunk. In a previous stage of life he programmed nuclear war simulations, smuggled refugees out of a war zone, and milked cobras for their venom. He speaks Spanish and French and grew up in a religious community in the desert.

Wallace is the author of several popular thrillers, including The Devil's Deep, Implant (with Jeffrey Anderson), and The Red Rooster. His novel, The Righteous, has spent several weeks on The Amazon bestseller list, and is followed by the sequel, Mighty and Strong. Book three of the series, The Wicked, will be released in June, 2011.

About the Interviewer:

Gordon Ryan is a writer with a varied history. He has lived and worked in six foreign nations and a dozen or more states, including Alaska. He served in the 1st Recon Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in the Air Force in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He also served as a member of the American Embassy staff in Dublin, Ireland, during the violent seventies.

His first published novel, Dangerous Legacy, was released in 1994 and he has published twelve more over the intervening years with the Pug Connor novels, State of Rebellion, Uncivil Liberties, and To Faithfully Execute being his newest releases. Book Four, Blood and Treasure is scheduled for release in Fall, 2011.

Ryan never gave up his day job as a city manager and chief executive officer of large homeowners' associations, but once he discovered the joys of fiction, writing has been the driving force. Now writing full-time, Gordon and his wife, Colleen, spend their time between the American northwest and the beautiful South Pacific.
Dangerous Legacy
State of Rebellion - A Pug Connor Novel - Book One
Uncivil Liberties: A Pug Connor Novel - Book Two
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Published on April 26, 2011 16:48 • 563 views • Tags: gordon-ryan, interview, the-righteous

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