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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Interview: Joseph Rinaldo, author of the novel A Mormon Massacre, based in part on the historical massacre at Mountain Meadows

1. What inspired you to research the Mormon Massacre? In other words, what did you know about Mormonism before you decided to write this book? This massacre at Mountain Meadows was the largest killing of Americans by Americans outside of the Civil War until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and no one knows about it. I say no one because I grew up in Kentucky and now live in Tennessee and all we "know" about Mormons is they sell books and marry dozens of women. I had, quite by coincidence, read Sally Denton's book about the massacre at Mountain Meadows, and it started me thinking about Mormons and the curious lives they lead. For me research falls into two categories: intentional and inadvertent. Inadvertent happens when you stumble across something that becomes part of a book you write. Such as, a family member might hate people who talk about religion too much. Too much might be defined by this person as any talk about religion. Intentional research is obvious. With the Internet a writer of fiction has no excuse for not including enough facts to be believable. 2. Does your book describe the life of the average Mormon settler in Utah at that time? My book does not dwell on the past lives of Mormon settlers in Utah; the focus is primarily on the modern-day descendant, Jeremiah Cameron, and his reaction to learning about the murders of his ancestors and the abuse of his mother in a prior, polygamous marriage. He wants revenge, and he wants to expose the LDS Church as a dangerous cult. It's interesting to hear about your ancestors and the story your grandfather told about the Mormon Massacre. From my research in the writing of this book, one man, John D. Lee sort of played the "fall guy" in the prosecution of the case, though others were named, charged, and arrested. Remarkably, Brigham Young was never charged or prosecuted; he distanced himself from the case entirely, though it was said that he was often seen riding around in the most valuable wagon taken from emigrants after the massacre, and his wives were seen in the clothes of the women who had been slaughtered. It is almost certain that he kept the bulk of the gold that had been hidden in the emigrants' wagons for himself. 3. How does your novel portray Brigham Young? I believe my protagonist sees Brigham Young as a man who would stop at nothing to further his own ends. In A Mormon Massacre, it is clear that Jeremiah believes that Brigham Young is entirely responsible for the massacre of some of his descendants; further, he sees Brigham Young as a power mad dictator with complete control over his followers and no scruples about murdering innocents to get what he wants. Jeremiah sees Brigham Young more as a forerunner of Jim Jones (without the Koolaid) or David Koresh (without the arsenal) than a man of faith. As he puts it in a presentation before his college classmates, “Like many cult leaders, Brigham Young believed that the world sought to destroy him and his followers. He saw no gray in the world; you either joined the Mormons, or you waged war against the Mormons. Although the Mormons had been persecuted in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois before moving to Utah, they were free to worship as they pleased out west. In spite of this freedom, Brigham Young’s paranoia led him to issue orders for his followers to murder the Fancher-Baker party.” ~~~

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