Award-winning author for her Book of Mormon fiction series has combined all the detailed research she has done over the years for her novels, and presented it in a ground-breaking book, Women of the Book of Mormon. From now on we will be able to teach our children about women of faith in the Book of Mormon from the scriptures.GG: Why did you decide to write this book?
HM: While writing novels about the Book of Mormon, I had many readers tell me how they appreciated the fact that I made women some of the main characters since there is so little about them in the Book of Mormon text. I’ve wanted to write this book for numerous years, but waited until I had several novels and a little more credibility under my belt. My goal was to answer the questions that I’ve had myself while studying about the lives of both the women and the men in the scriptures.
GG: Did your fiction writing experience with characters from the Book of Mormon help you to fill out and “intuit” things about the few women mentioned in that book?
HM: Definitely yes. Especially with Sariah, wife of Lehi. I do RS presentations and firesides about Sariah and a few others, so she was the one I already had plenty of research done because of my fiction-writing. Although my novels are fiction, they stay very close to the scriptural text, and I do quite a bit of research to discover what scholars have said about different cultural, religious, and historical aspects.
GG: I know that you drew not only upon your own study and application of this book of scripture, but from the influences in your life growing up. What knowledge helped you most when you undertook this difficult task?
HM: I grew up with three sisters and one brother, raised in a household where my parents strongly encouraged their “daughters” to get a college education. Everything was geared toward improving ourselves and obtaining a higher education. I knew that once I set my mind to something, I could accomplish it, whatever the obstacles. I wasn’t afraid. I was a little fearful, however, of writing on such a heavy, scholarly topic, so I turned to my best resource-my parents. My father (S. Kent Brown) is a published and well-respected scholar in Biblical and Book of Mormon studies, and my mother (Gayle Brown) has also been involved in writing, editing, and her own study of the scriptures.
GG: I understand that your father was a colleague of Hugh Nibley’s and that you met him on various occasions. Did he have any influence on you and what you chose to write about? Your books are so well-researched and have such an excellent sense of place. Did you take any of that in by osmosis, listening to your father and Brother Nibley?
HM: I was pretty young when Brother Nibley visited our home, and I certainly had no idea that his work and writings would factor into my research many years later. I love to read the works of Hugh Niblely because he brings up so many interesting possibilities, then correlates them with other cultures and religious practices so that we can get a broader picture of the human condition. I’ve used Nibley’s insights and studies in all of my books, from my Book of Mormon novels to my Women of the Book of Mormon book. His suggestions have opened up a myriad of possibilities and understandings in the intricate verses of the scriptural text. I am indebted to Hugh Nibley, along with many other scholars, who spent their life studying and teaching about the Book of Mormon. If it weren’t for Nibley, and other scholars and historians, my own work would be flimsy at best.
GG: What do you hope readers will gain from reading Women of the Book of Mormon?
HM: I sincerely hope that readers will appreciate the sacrifices the women made who lived during the Book of Mormon era. Like our lives today, their lives weren’t easy-some for the same reasons, some for vastly different reasons. But there is so much we have in common, for the human heart never changes.
GG Writing non-fiction is a departure for you. Did you find it more or less difficult than writing fiction and why? Which do you prefer?
HM: If this tells you anything . . . I can write a 350 page novel in about 4 months. It took me over a year to write a 90 page non-fiction book. Non-fiction is definitely harder for me because every sentence has to be carefully weighed AND backed up by a more intelligent source than I. Of course, I don’t want to minimalize fiction either because I literally spent years learning the craft of characterization, plot, and conflict. And I still feel as if I am growing as a writer, even after six published novels.
GG: Who is your personal favorite female character in the Book of Mormon and why?
HM: I’ve always enjoyed the story of the wife of King Lamoni. Even though her husband had been lying as if dead for two days, she still sought out Ammon for his opinion. Ammon was a possible enemy to the Lamanite people, yet, the queen listened to the voice within her and let the spirit guide her. It was remarkable when Ammon told the queen that he had not seen so much faith in his life as he did in this Lamanite queen.
GG: Why did you decide to include the harlot Isabel in your book?
HM: Ironically, Isabel was one of only 6 women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon. And three of those women (Sarah, Mary, and Eve) lived during Biblical times. So that narrowed the Book of Mormon “named” women down to three. I wondered: Why was Isabel’s name included in the text when other prominent women, such as the wife of Queen Lamoni or Moroni’s mother, were not named? Why did Alma (the Younger) know the name of a random harlot? I believe it was because he knew his congregation, his fold of people, and the members of his city so well that he even knew the names of those who weren’t members of the church. She was important enough for Alma to name, so I decided she deserved attention in my work. She is a warning to us all, men and women, that the Deceiver is real and if we are not careful, we will be caught in his grasp.
GG: Can we expect to see you writing any more non-fiction in the future?
HM: I think so, but I definitely need a little recovery time. Along those lines I do frequently write short articles for Desert Saints Magazine and YourLDSNeighborhood newsletter.
GG: Your Book of Mormon novels are extremely popular. What can we look forward to reading in this genre?
HM: The great thing about writing Book of Mormon fiction is that I have the best of two worlds. I can get my scripture study and my writing done at the same time. Over the past few years, fiction on the Book of Mormon has really grown. There are many other authors who write in this same genre, including KC Grant, David West, Sariah Wilson, David Woolley, Loralee Evans, Brenda Anderson, etc. The historical series I have going right now includes the prophets who lived about one-hundred years before the coming of Christ: Abinadi (2008), Alma (2009), Alma the Younger (June 2010), Ammon (work in progress).
GG: Do you think you will ever write anything fiction or non-fiction in a different vein? If so, tell us about your writing plans.
HM: I have several dusty manuscripts, which include a mystery, a WWII novel, a paranormal romance, and an international thriller. So the possibilities are endless. It’s just the challenge of finding time-they all need a heavy overhaul. When a writer finds a “niche” as I have in Book of Mormon fiction, it’s hard to switch gears and takes added commitment to satisfy more than one genre.
GG: You are young and have many productive years left to write. What are your lifetime career goals?
HM: I’d love to eventually expand the scope of my writing and readership and write for the national market as well as remaining in the LDS market. There aren’t too many careers where I can blend my faith with my passion for writing. I appreciate the LDS publishers, distributors, stores, and readers that make this possible. I’ve watched many good friends have great success in the national market, and I hope to join them one day. But as a mother of four kids and as a wife, I know patience is the key. I’m willing to wait, and in the meantime, each stepping stone is important.
GG: How did you teach yourself the craft of writing? How long was your apprenticeship? Did anyone mentor you?
HM: I started writing my first novel when I was 30 years old. I’d always loved reading and almost majored in English in college, but decided I didn’t want to be an English teacher, so I switched (failing my AP English exam also had something to do with it-I’m a horrible 5-paragraph essay writer). At the time it had never occurred to me to be a writer of any kind, let alone a novelist. After I married and had children, we moved from California to Utah and my sister-in-law handed me a book by Richard Paul Evans. I was amazed that he was a local Utah author and was also a NY Times Bestseller. I’d never even dreamed of such a thing. I was also working on my grandmother’s biography as a favor to the family.
So it was no surprise when the first idea that popped into my mind for a novel was about a girl who grew up in the depression era and later served as a nurse in WWII. My WWII book was rejected like crazy. I started attending meetings with the League of Utah Writers. I wrote a mystery, and that was rejected several times. During this time I joined a critique group with several other authors including Annette Lyon (who had her very first book coming out), Jeff Savage (who had two books out), Lu Ann Staheli (columnist and teacher), and Michele Holmes (unpublished at that point). This is where the real mentoring started. I also attended workshops and writers conferences throughout Utah. In 2004, three years after I wrote my first novel, I had a book contract for my Out of Jerusalem series.