Greetings Tennis Shoes fans!
I'm nearly out of breath with sending packages, but I'm happy to report that all pre-orders of Drums of Desolation book and audio are in the mail. The audio didn't arrive until Oct. 2 so it took a few days longer for those who ordered the audio or audio and book. If your order doesn't arrive in the next few days, better call 'cause there might be an error of some kind. I'm not immune and perfectly willing to fix a mistake. I'm looking forward to reading reviews posted here, on Amazon, on Facebook, and wherever else! I thoroughly enjoyed writing Drums of Desolation, but that infamous phrase "To be Continued..." pops up at the end, which I know drives some fans crazy. Thus, for the record, the next volume is "under way" and the interim between books should be much shorter. So when will Book 13: Thorns of Glory come out??? I wish I could say for certain. Hmmm. How about next fall or the spring of 2016? If I have no serious distractions, this goal is very achievable.
Last night I attended the premier of Meet the Mormons at Jordon Commons in Sandy, UT. Theatre 13 in that facility only seats about 500 people (if anyone knows the exact number, lemme know). I think it's fair to say that if a black hole had opened and swallowed up the premises around 7:00 PM, about 75% of all the well-known Latter-day Saints would've disappeared, not to mention two Apostles, Elder Holland and Elder Bednar. I've been to many events where famous Latter-day Saints peppered the landscape, but NONE had the sheer saturation of LDS celebrities that I witnessed last night. I touched base with many old friends and acquaintances in this business and met many other famous Saints for the first time. It seemed everyone was there--many whom I wouldn't have recognized if they hadn't introduced themselves or if I hadn't seen their names mentioned later in articles and on Twitter accounts. In that sense I'm kinda stuck in my own generation. For example, I wouldn't have recognized the face of someone like Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragon (although I like their songs!) or internet sensation ShayCarl Butler. But aside from that, my wife, Emily, and I made the rounds pretty efficiently.
The greatest honor of the night happened at the very outset when Elder Jeffrey Holland walked up to us and introduced himself personally. He practically insisted that we take our picture with him, telling my wife to stand between us because, "It makes both of us look better." I don't think he had any idea who I was, but he was so gracious and kind that this hardly mattered. Shucks, I've found that my name doesn't usually provoke recognition. Only if I mention the the title of my first book--"Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites"--do folks respond, "Oh yeah! I've heard of that!" Yet most of the time it's rather awkward to just come out and say that, so I spent much of the evening anonymous.
Regrettably, I didn't have a chance to shake the hand of Elder Bednar. The crowd that surrounded him was unrelenting, as if the aura of destiny that this man will one day be President of the Church is all around him and places a high demand on his presence. No one seemed more pressed by the crowds than Elder Bednar. Perhaps if we'd been more forward we could have met him, but the opportunity never quite materialized. Admittedly, I might have been a bit shy.
Still, the range of individuals we did meet for the first time--or catch up with after (sometimes) many years--was notable enough. In fact, I seriously began to wonder why I'd even been invited! I believe the guest list was designed for LDS personalities who possessed some ability to "spread the word" about the movie. Thus, it was an incredible honor that I somehow made that list, especially since my "celebrity reach" has ever been restricted to Latter-day Saints. Okay, I have a few modest exceptions like A Return to Christmas, but for the most part all of my readers are Mormons. I'll talk more about the movie itself in a "Part 2" of this blog entry. For now I'll delight in recounting events and observations from premier night. Perhaps that wasn't the intent of those who invited me, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.
During the reception we sat at the same table as Diego and Carolina MuÃ±oz Marin from Costa Rica. We didn't know it at that time, but Carolina was a featured personality in Meet the Mormons in a segment called "The Fighter" as a mother and amateur kick boxer. Sort of a "duh!" moment for me, but the truth is that Emily and I went with very little knowledge of exactly what we were attending. Also at the our table was an old friend of mine, Garrett Batty and his wife. Garrett put together the "Making of" documentary for my DVD Passage to Zarahemla and has now become a very successful LDS director with The Saratov Approach and another upcoming LDS missionary adventure that he recently finished shooting in Africa.
I think I've finally met every member of the Osmond family, except Donny. He may have been the only Osmond not in attendance last night. My wife informed Jimmy Osmond how big of a crush she had on him as a little girl (which surely dates us tremendously) and I had to tell Marie how much she meant to my childhood. I added to her, "--even though we're about the same age," to which she replied, "You mean 29??" I should have replied, "Trust me. Age looks a lot better on you than it does on me," but I wasn't quick enough on my feet. After the movie we stood right behind Marie Osmond and her husband, Steve Craig, as we went through the gauntlet to meet the "stars" of the film. It was enjoyable to watch Marie take a selfie with every cast member. I confess that the most humorous moment of the evening had to be when I watched Marie pose with Shawn Bradley. Despite her very high heels, the differential was hilarious.
Just as it was hard to get near Elder Bednar, it was also difficult to get near Mitt Romney. Only because Emily and I found ourselves within a few feet of him as we departed the reception did I stand my ground and insist upon shaking his hand. After all, I'd voted for this man to be POTUS! The question on my mind, of course, was "Are you going to run again?" Thankfully, I resisted asking as I'm sure this question is so oft-repeated it would have come off as droll or offensive. I even considered being a cheerleader and saying close to his ear, "Run! Run! Run!", but I also resisted this urge. I was surprised how hard it was to meet him even standing three feet away. Latter-day Saints can be bold competitors and hands were constantly thrust in front of ours to draw his attention. I listened to him discuss everything from moving into his newly-built Utah home by Christmas to his support of Walden Media (or maybe he was just expressing his familiarity with others who support Walden Media). It wasn't like there was a line to meet Mitt or others. We were standing amidst tables and chairs and food. Folks simply pressed the Governor on all sides, meaning we often had to change positions to face him. Then he'd turn again, convincing us we should have just remained where we were. After about the tenth person jumped in front of us I finally whispered to my wife, "Maybe we need to be more aggressive." Shortly thereafter I found his hand and introduced myself. At first I wasn't sure how to address him. Should I call him Mitt? Mr. Romney? Brother Romney? I settled with Governor Romney and was happy that I did, adding, "It's a great honor to meet you." He replied, "Thank you," and "Good to meet you," although again I'm sure he had no idea who I was. Afterwards, his attention was quickly yanked in another direction and I was forced to listen to my wife gush, "I don't care if he's almost 70 years old. That's a good-looking man!" Near the Governor's side the entire time was his son, Josh Romney, who looked more like a movie star than practically anybody else in the room--exactly like a mild-mannered Clark Kent/Superman. I believe Governor Romney and his son were only in attendance for the reception/open house prior to the movie and scooted out shortly thereafter as I never saw him after that.
I was impressed that Richard Paul Evans recalled the first time we'd met doing a mutual book signing at a certain Seagull Book in the early 90s. Michael McLean was his usual inspiring and charming self and told me about his new children's book that he intends to transform into a musical. Years ago Michael told me he was a big fan of my first song album, Whispered Visions, so I reminded him that one day we'd planned to create some kind of musical presentation for "The Tennis Shoes Adventure Series." Few LDS artists I've met are quite as personable as Michael McLean. During the movie itself we sat beside Larry Gelwix and his wife, Cathy. Larry runs Columbus Travel and is also famous for having coached the rugby team at Highland High School featured in the film Forever Strong. My wife also had a connection with Larry Gelwix because Brother Gelwix had taught and baptized Emily's mother while serving as a young missionary in Missouri. Small world!
Before the movie began Elder Holland pointed out where David Archuletta was seated. Brother Archuletta had sung the movie's theme song, "Glorious." This allowed us to home in on his location on our way out of the theatre. Like many other fans we rambled on about how much we loved his voice and his albums. He was very composed and professional for a young man, even when there was a lull in conversation and no one quite knew what to add.
Finally we met the people featured in the movie and their families, who quite honestly seemed a bit overwhelmed by the attention. I heard Marie Osmond tell Bishop Jermaine Sullivan and his wife, Kembe, (someone mentioned that Bishop Sullivan was now Stake President Sullivan) that because of this movie, it would "change their lives forever." I'm not sure Marie was right about that. Marie comes from the perspective of being famous everywhere. My own experience is that being a celebrity among Latter-day Saints doesn't really change one's life much. Unlike Donny or Marie or someone like Mitt Romney, I suspect President Sullivan and his family will never have to avoid a trip to the park or grocery store for fear of inciting a mob scene. For the most part I think Latter-day Saints are fairly low-key about their famous personalities. Or perhaps they just don't readily recognize them in public.
There was another reason I think some of the film's stars were overwhelmed by the attention. This whole premier was one of the most unique events I've experienced in the Church. It was obvious that many of us (invited guests) were there to see and be seen. Not sure I can claim to be so much different, except that I honestly went having no idea what to expect. This seemed to be a social event as much as a movie premier. It was fun and interesting to watch various well-known Latter-day Saints and how they dealt with public recognition and scrutiny. I watched one LDS author present a beautiful gift bag to Elder Bednar with his books inside announcing, "Please accept this for yourself and your grandchildren." Not sure if I'd have had the hutzpah to do something like that. Why should I think Elder Bednar would even be interested in my stuff? Photos were constantly being snapped and reporters with microphones were positioned everywhere. A lot of money and success was apparent in the crowd and many attendees were dressed to the nines. It was curious for me--so I wondered if it was also curious for such individuals as Bishnu Adhikari, featured in the film as the Humanitarian from Nepal--to discover that sometimes Latter-day Saints could play the role of "peacocks" the same as in any other culture. Honestly, Brother Adhikari and his family looked exhausted by the time we met them. When I asked when he'd be flying home to Nepal he replied with enthusiasm, "Saturday!" As I expressed thanks for his life's work he simply put his hand over his heart and mouthed "thank you" with utter sincerity. For someone like Bishnu Adhikari and his family Meet the Mormons will likely change their lives very little. Come Monday he'll go back to work quietly building the infrastructure of the communities of Nepal while simultaneously building the Kingdom of God.
As for me, I was taking photos (or at least my wife was) much more than being photographed. Only a handful of people recognized me or my books or wanted my picture. One was the son of Michael Ballam and another was the Armstrong family from the movie. Dawn Armstrong, featured in the film as the Missionary Mom, made me feel very good as she gushed about how much she'd enjoyed my audio books over the years and had already purchased the most recent volume. The only person of the film's six personalities not present at last night's premier was Ken Niumatalolo, the coach of the football team at Maryland's Naval Academy, which is certainly understandable considering the season.
A great thrill for me was meeting the candy bomber, Gail Halvorsen. I'd first heard his story years ago, but the movie went into more detail about his role in helping to liberate East Berlin from the Soviets by dropping chocolate candies by parachute during the Berlin Airlift in the late '40s. I asked him a couple historical questions and was impressed at how sharp he still was at more than 92 years old. Here was a man who had truly changed the world, right from the front lines, and having my picture taken with him was an extraordinary honor.
As I've already alluded there were numerous people of an extraordinary caliber on hand last night, successful Saints from virtually every field of endeavor. So with that in mind, what did I think of the movie? I'll tell you more about that in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned...