Thursday, December 18, 2014

Janet Kay Jensen, Gabriels' Daughters, and The Danites

Janet Kay Jensen
Author Janet Kay Jensen is from Utah which means that like the rest of the denizens of that odd state, she knows about polygamy. It’s a dirty little secret in this neck of the woods, a taboo subject in many places. I was excited to talk to Janet about her new book Gabriel’s Daughters that deals with this sensitive subject in an adult and tender manner.

Johnny: Are you completely mental?

Janet: What do you mean?

Johnny: This is Utah, you don’t talk about this stuff. It’s like fight club. What’s the first rule of Fight Club?

Janet: Don’t talk about Fight Club.

Summer in Utah
Johnny: What’s the first rule of living in Utah?

Janet: It’s hard to get a drink? It’s a great place for orthopedic surgeons because we have fabulous mountains for skiing?  Or there are beehives on our state flag and the seagull is our state bird, even though we’re landlocked?  That if out-of-shape grown men participate in Church basketball and try moves they haven’t made since high school, they’ll end up in the ER? Stay off I-15 unless it’s noon-2 p.m. Utah has two seasons; winter and construction. There are many rules here. Many are unwritten.

Johnny: Well, yes that’s right, especially the one about the seasons, but there’s a rule somewhere about not bringing up Utah’s ugly history. Like the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Just mentioning it on a blog will bring Danites to you door.

Janet: I don’t think it’s that bad. We make the New York Times with some regularity. It’s out there. The good stuff and the not-so-good. Utah and the LDS church are beginning to acknowledge and own the not-so-good history, which is great progress. But everywhere I’ve lived, the locals cringe about anything that makes them look less than stellar in the national news. Personally, I squirm when someone from Utah does something idiotic that makes the national news. I won’t name names. But there are idiots in every state of this great nation. So you have to get a perspective. And, seriously, if there are stories about our people to be written, it’s not a bad idea to write them ourselves. We often have an emotional connection.

Johnny: Did you hear that?

Janet: The doorbell?

Johnny: Yes.

Johnny: A Danite.

Janet: He looks like a missionary.

Man at door: Would you like to know more about our church?

Janet: See.

Johnny: Don’t you believe it. Are you a Danite?

Man at the Door: Yes sir, I am.

Johnny: Wait outside, I’ll be with you in a minute.

Danite: Our spies say you mentioned the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Can you confirm this? What exactly did you say? Who’d you blame for it?

Johnny slamming door: Later. Now out.

Janet: How’d you know?

Johnny: He’s alone. Missionaries travel in pairs.

Janet: Right. He also looks hungry.

Johnny: So we don’t have much time. They’ll come back in greater numbers. Tell me about Gabriel’s Daughters.

Janet: Gabriel’s Daughters continues the story lines of my first novel, Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys. There is one daughter, Zina, who has disappeared in the first book. The second book is about her decision to flee the family she loves rather than marry into polygamy. As she’s only 16, she has a lot to learn about the world, and the book takes us on her journey. But no matter what she accomplishes or where she goes, she can’t break the longing for family, and she has to recognize that before she can completely become the person she wants to be. She has to make peace with her history and find a way to relate to the people she loves.

Johnny: What personal experience do you have with polygamy?

Janet:  None. My husband has one wife and that’s me. He says that’s more than enough. It’s in my genealogy, though. His, too. Also, years after high school, I realized that one of my classmates—a bright, well-mannered, quiet boy, had been raised in polygamy. But when I knew him, I had no clue. Throughout the years I followed him and his family through occasional newspaper stories and read two books his sister wrote. The more I learned, the more I was intrigued, and the more books I read on the subject.

Johnny: I understand you walk a fine line on the subject not wholly condoning and not wholly condemning. Do you do this because you’re afraid of the Danites?

Janet: I suppose it can be a choice of consenting adults to practice polygamy. But children who grow up in the culture lack education and skills to function in the world of the “Gentiles,” and they don’t know all the choices they really have in the outside world. Girls, especially, often don’t think they have any option but to marry young and become entrenched in the lifestyle. That’s where my concerns lie.

Johnny: It’s a timely book. The horrors of the FLDS still make the news pretty regularly. Do you have a character like Warren Jeffs in Gabriel’s Daughters?

Janet: Nope. I have a Council of Brothers who govern all manners temporal and religious. They’re also related to each other through numerous marriages. In Gabriel’s Landing there are trees that don’t fork. They’re very serious, well-acquainted with their scriptures, and lack any sense of humor… But have I told you about my grandchildren?

Johnny: How do you approach the religious element of polygamy in your book?

Janet: It is explained as a choice made by some LDS (Mormons) around 1890, when Utah attained statehood by renouncing polygamy. Some formed splinter groups that still exist today, and that is Zina’s heritage. They feel it is a fundamental doctrine that the mainstream church abandoned.

Johnny: Oh, there it is. There’s a pack of them now.

Janet: They’re so young. Are you sure they’re not missionaries?

Johnny: It’s still an odd number, but I admit the white short-sleeve shirts are a little disconcerting.

Janet: Lots of acne too. Eager looks on their faces.

Johnny: But I bet they’re armed to the teeth.

Janet: You’re paranoid. But I have a Border/Beagle named Gus who could be a diversion. Give those guys a few tennis balls and Gus will wear them out playing fetch. Well, actually, he keeps and guards all the balls he catches…...

Johnny at the window: Hey Danites! Are you armed to the teeth?

Danites: Yes.

Johnny: Told you. So Janet, I’m always curious how authors got to be where they are. How’d you go from a scribbler to a published author?

Janet: I grew up in family where reading was important. My parents went back to school when my older sisters started college, to finish their own educations. Eventually they both got master’s degrees: my father’s was in history and political science and my mother’s was in library science (now called instructional technology). My training and career were in Speech-Language Pathology but I always felt a creative need was being suppressed. I’d occasionally read a book and say “I could have written that better,” so one day I sat down and tried.

Then I was approached by another writer in my chapter of the League of Utah Writers, Shaunda Wenger, who is a voracious reader and a fabulous cook. I am one of the above. Her concept was a co-authored literary cookbook, and millions of books and hours in the kitchen later, The Book Lover’s Cookbook came to be. It’s a lovely book. Lovely to read, as it contains passages from famous literature, and great for cooking, as the original recipes match the food mentioned in the books. It’s like cooking with your favorite authors and characters. By the way, funeral potatoes snuck in there. Astute cooks will recognize them another name. No green jello, though. And no fry sauce. We did have our standards.

When The Book Lover’s Cookbook was published, I went back to working on Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys. It became unmanageable because I was trying to tell two stories at one time, and they involved two different characters, 10 years apart in chronology. So I had to kick Zina out of the book and promise that she’d get her own. That’s how Gabriel’s Daughters came to be. I think Zina has forgiven me.

Johnny: They’ve started to sing hymns. We haven’t much time.

Janet: Why are there so many? Pus, they’re singing out of tune.

Johnny: Well beside my mention of Mountain Meadow, your book not only deals with polygamy and Mormonism and modernity, but also touches upon homosexuality. Such things attract Danites like a magnet. How do you deal with homosexuality in your book?

Janet: There is a character, Simon, who’s a great guy. He’s also gay and in need of a roommate. Zina, he thinks, would be perfect. He senses she has trust issues with men, and he’s nonthreatening. He’s also a great mentor for Zina, and has a fabulous art collection. He’s been kicked out of his family, so he knows what it’s like to feel like an orphan.

Johnny: Powerful social commentary. I can’t wait to see it. I hope you’re around to reap all your accolades.

Janet: Why wouldn’t I be?

Johnny: Danites.

Janet: Oh right.

Johnny: In case you don’t make it, where on the internets can my readers find out more about you and your book?

Barnes & Noble 

Johnny: They’ve got a battering ram.

Janet: What are we going to do?

Johnny: Hide in the Blog Mansion and hope they don’t find us. Wait for them to leave.

Janet: What if they find us? What will they do to us?

Johnny: It’s terrible. you don’t want to know. That last time they got in…

Janet: What?

Johnny: It’s too horrible to tell.

Janet: What…? Listen, I’ve been a soccer mom and a PTA president and even a Cub Scout Leader. My parents met at a debate meet. My partner took state in debate my senior year. I met my future husband when we were both members of Utah State University’s debate team. I am fierce.

Johnny: They made me eat funeral potatoes and green jell-o with carrots!

Janet: Oh my god. The horror! You see, green jell-o should also be made with crushed pineapple and maybe even bananas. Cool Whip on the top. Listen, grab a copy of The Book Lover’s Cookbook and hold it up. That might frighten them off. By the way, did you know there are more than a dozen variations of funeral potatoes? The perfect fast comfort food for the masses.

Johnny: Yeah, I know. Hide!

Side note from Janet: One of my sons lives in Finland. It’s a tradition to bring a cake to work on your own birthday. So he called me for help. He was standing in the American section of a supermarket and wanted to make sure he had all the ingredients. I haven’t heard how Grandma Ann’s 7-Up Salad was received by his co-workers yet, but I can guarantee it was their first experience with it. The Finns are so advanced, they don’t even have Jell-o. Although I have tasted a dish similar to funeral potatoes in Finland. I was too polite to tell them what we called it. Plus, you never know how American English is going to translate into Finnish. 

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