Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday Stories, Book Review and a Give-away all courtesy of Rod Miller

The last giveaway of the week is
The Assassination of Governor Boggs
by Rod Miller.

As part of this trifecta post I'll be interviewing Rod, reviewing his book, and posting all the juicy details on how you could be the lucky winner of your very own signed copy. Are you shaking with excitement yet?

We'll kick things off with the interview...
Q—Would you please tell us about yourself? 

The sad truth about me is that I border on being antisocial. I don’t like crowds or parties, and, outside of family, would as soon be alone as with somebody. Ward dinners, office parties, and that sort of thing don’t interest me and I attend only through coercion. I refuse to own a cell phone because I don’t want to be bothered. My socializing is pretty much restricted to sharing a meal with a friend from time to time. The art of small talk somehow escaped me, and after “hello” I am pretty much at a loss when it comes to carrying on a conversation with a stranger, or even a casual acquaintance. That said, I enjoy lively discussion and debate with people with common interests who I know well enough that we can let down our guards and really get into a conversation.

I grew up in a blue-collar family in a small town and have maintained the simple tastes acquired during my raising. No interest in fancy food, fancy cars, fancy houses. Growing up in a cowboy family instilled a love for the West and Western ways, and that only grows stronger over time. The history, folklore, people, and cultures of Western America are rich with stories and I have always enjoyed reading them and, of late, writing about them. Growing up in a cowboy family exposed me to livestock and agriculture, and while I have not lived that life for many years, it still feels close to me. Rodeo was a big part of my life in high school and college and I competed as a bareback bronc rider for the Utah State University intercollegiate rodeo team for three seasons. At the time, there were thirteen other colleges in Utah and southern Idaho we competed against, so we traveled somewhere to a rodeo every spring weekend, from St. George to Rexburg to Caldwell and everywhere in between. I also rode in pro rodeos around Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming most every weekend for several summers. Nowadays I am content to sit in the stands and wonder how a body can take such abuse.

Since I have worked in advertising for more than three decades, which pretty much requires working in a city, I think my interest in Western things somehow keeps me connected to my past. Writing advertising campaigns has been a good career, and I still enjoy the work.

Family is important, and I maintain close connections with my mother, as well as my older brother and two younger sisters and their families. My wife is an only child and both her parents are gone, so she’s as much, or more, part of the family as I am. We have two grown daughters, one of which has a daughter and son who are, of course, the finest kids alive.

Q—How did you get into writing? Was it something you've always loved or a late discovery in life?

Writing has always been fairly easy for me, as far back as junior high school—as opposed to math, where I am completely useless. I did best on essay questions on tests throughout school, as I could sound like I knew what I was talking about even if I didn’t. Early on, I took an interest in journalism and wrote for the junior high and high school newspapers, and, to a lesser extent, the student newspaper at USU. My degree is in journalism, but I’ve never worked as a journalist. After a few years working in radio and television stations in production, I got a job as a copywriter in an advertising agency and I’ve been at it ever since—34 years so far.

For twenty of those years, I never imagined writing anything else. Other than a few essays for advertising magazines, and a year as a columnist for an advertising newsletter, my writing consisted of newspaper and magazine advertisements, radio and television commercials, short films for businesses, billboards, and printed stuff like brochures and annual reports. Then, in the mid-nineties (which seems so long ago now) I wondered if I could write a cowboy poem. Later I wondered if I could write short story. Then a novel. Then a nonfiction book. So, it was all a matter of satisfying my curiosity. Unlike many writers, I don’t have a stack of manuscripts on the shelf. The only things I’ve written—other than several unpublished poems—are, for the most part, what I have had published. So far, that amounts to two nonfiction books, two books of poems, and two novels, with another novel with a publisher that should come out later this year. I’ve also written several articles on a variety of subjects for Western magazines, a series of essays on writing poetry for, and several book reviews for magazines.

Along the way, I worked on a lot of television commercials with T.C. Christensen and we became good friends. He’s getting well-deserved recognition for 17 Miracles just now, but he has worked on a lot of wonderful films over the years. Years ago, he asked to me to write a screenplay based on the children’s novel Bug Off, which became a children’s movie of the same name, seen on all the cable networks and still selling on DVD. I have written a few other things for the screen, but making movies is too much a collaborative process for my taste, so I haven’t pursued it.  

So, to finally get to the point, the answer is yes—writing is something I’ve always loved, and a late discovery in life.

Q—What ignited your passion for history, more specifically American Western history?

Having grown up in the West, in a cowboy family with horses and cattle always present, I suppose I was born with an interest in the Old West. I’ve had it as long as I can remember, and it never fades. Exactly why that interest is in the history of the West, rather than the myth of the West as represented in the movies and television shows that were popular in my youth, is another question. I suppose growing up with cowboys and horses and cattle, I could see that those shows were, essentially, fairy tales that bore little resemblance to the real world. The same can be said of most Western fiction. That spurred my curiosity to see how things really were in that world. Most people, it seems to me, are content with the mythology and folklore that passes for history and are more interested in what they believe, or hope, happened rather than what actually happened. My guess is that it’s because fairy tales are simple and easy, black and white, with clearly defined good and bad guys, while history is messy and complicated and difficult and ambiguous. Still, I believe reality and truth, no matter how uncomfortable they may be, are preferable to blissful ignorance.

Q—You do a great job of painting both sides of the Mormons/Boggs story. How do you do this? How do you leave your prejudices behind and craft a story where the reader is given the opportunity to see both sides of the story so clearly?

Being a lifelong Mormon, I have had the usual one-sided, simplistic view of Mormon history thrust upon me. But I have always been skeptical, and always assumed it was more complex than what we are told, whether formally or informally. And, of course, it was. Despite our belief that Mormons were (and are) somehow different or better than other folks (which isn’t an unusual belief; it is shared by pretty much any collection of people), when it comes down to it, folks is folks. It seems obvious that there must have been some reason our ancestors got ran out of every place they ever settled, because the people who drove us out were no better or worse, on average, than we were. Again, an uncomfortable and complicated view, but true none the less. Once you realize and accept that basic fact, it’s easy—necessary, in fact—to at least try to tell a story from every side. Every event, every incident, every person, every story is multi-faceted and I think trying to see all those facets makes the telling more interesting and honest.

Q—What was your inspiration for "The Assassination of Governor Boggs?"

It started with Porter Rockwell. He has long been a hero of mine. Rockwell was a remarkable man, among the most capable and competent frontiersmen in the entire history of the West. His instincts were strong and reliable, whether dealing with cattle or horses or humans. He was kindhearted and considerate, loyal and brave. He was also an accomplished killer, both as a lawman and an outlaw. Again, a complex character with more layers and depth than we can ever plumb given the scant information available. I’ve read widely about Rockwell, and feel a real affinity for him.

Like most in these parts, I knew very little about Lilburn Boggs except that he was that nasty fellow who ordered the Mormons exterminated. Surely, anyone who would do such a thing must have been in league with the devil. Well, as usual, it’s not that simple. It turns out Boggs was a fine man, a respected leader, and a tough frontiersman. Granted, he had no use for Mormons—but keep in mind he was in the Jackson County area before almost anyone else, and did not know how to cope with a horde of religious zealots who show up uninvited to take over the place, consigning him and everyone else to hell in the process. I don’t think many of us would have known how to respond. Over the years in Missouri, things only became more difficult and complicated and it is doubtful there was any satisfactory solution. Both the Mormons and the Missourians—and I emphasize both—were behaving badly and becoming increasingly violent. As Sidney Rigdon said in a public speech, long before Boggs’s extermination order, “it shall be between us and them a war of extermination; for we will follow them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed."

The volatile situation in Missouri spawned all kinds of interesting events, one of which was the attempted murder of Boggs. An unsolved crime of such magnitude is remarkable on its own; the accusations leveled at Rockwell add more interest. It seems too good a story not to tell, with all the elements of drama and mystery and conflict and adventure built in.

On another note, several readers have wondered what in the book is fiction and what is fact. There are only a few fictional characters, primarily the detective Calvin Pogue, and everything about his life and history is, of course, made up. A few other fictional characters were introduced to supply information from people who had died before the investigation. But everything they said, along with everything said by all the real-life characters, is taken from the historical record. Sometimes they are quoted directly or paraphrased closely from actual documents, sometimes what they say is drawn from a combination of material, but all are accurate—as much as possible—representations of what those people said or did or thought or believed. The same holds true for events portrayed.

Q—Where is your favorite place to write?

Anywhere I can sit down with my little computer (or, on occasion, a note pad and pencil). I write at a desk, the kitchen table, on the bed, on the bus, in airports and on airplanes, in hotel rooms….

Q—Who is your favorite writer of all time and why?

I don’t think I can name a single favorite. John McPhee is my favorite essayist because of his unique ability to tackle any subject and make it interesting, and I like the way he uses people to reveal the subject. I like Wendell Berry for his versatility as well as his clear thinking, point of view, and fine writing, whether it’s an essay, a novel, or poetry. The Meadow, by James Galvin, is one of the best novels ever written, and I like his poetry as well. Cormac McCarthy is such a good novelist he is beyond compare. Ivan Doig and Mark Spragg write fine novels about the West, Steven Jay Gould’s books on paleontology and related subjects make complex information accessible and interesting. Then there’s Wallace Stegner and  John Steinbeck and Norman Maclean…. I could go on.

Q—If you could re-write the ending of any movie or book what would it be and why?

I don’t think I can be specific here. But I am a big fan of ambiguity, so, in general, I think it would be nice if the average Western novel didn’t always end with the bad guy getting his comeuppance, the heroine saving the ranch, and the hero riding away into the sunset. Endings that are neatly wrapped up with a happy little ribbon and bow do not appeal to me, as they are too far removed from human experience. I would rather leave a little doubt and uncertainty, and give the reader something to ponder.

Q—What is the one piece of advice you wish you could give your 20-year-old self?

Drinking beer is best done in moderation, if at all.

Q—What is your writer's kryptonite? The one thing that kills your "muse"?

So far I have avoided any such tragedy. Every advertising assignment comes with a deadline, often ridiculous, so when something has to be written you write it. That training and experience have eliminated the possibility of muses and writers block and such things. The only thing, I guess, that keeps me from writing would be laziness.

Q—If you could go back in time and visit any moment/event and be guaranteed complete safety no matter how close to the event you get, what historical moment would it be and why?

The Bear River Massacre is a sorry event that has long interested me—enough that I wrote a book about it. I would like to see, firsthand, what prompted a bunch of ordinary soldiers to go berserk and wantonly slaughter helpless men and women and children. I don’t know if it would be helpful or not, but it would be a worthwhile experiment. Bear River, Mountain Meadows, Haun’s Mill, Sand Creek, My Lai, Rwanda, Bosnia—there is something evil in all of us that, given the right circumstances, causes us to forget all notions of morality and goodness and turn into murderous beasts. It has happened throughout history, and will likely happen again. If we could understand why, maybe we could stop doing it.

Now onto the review...

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. No promise was made for a favorable review.

Book Description:

The Assassination of Governor Boggs is a cold-case investigation into the attempted murder of the former governor of Missouri. Follow Pinkerton Agent Calvin Pogue as he follows the clues from the Pacific Coast to the Missouri River and across the frontier West on a trail that leads to Utah Territory and Mormon gunslinger Porter Rockwell.


I must be ignorant of a lot more history than I thought (either that or forgotten a lot that I've learned--which is probably more the case) but I didn't realize there was actually an assassination attempt made on Governor Boggs. When I read the title to this book I thought it was just a fantastical idea dreamed up after contemplating the effect the "extermination order" had on the saints back in the early 1800s. Finding out an attempt really was made was rather interesting, to say the least.

Right away I was drawn into the world of Pinkerton Detective Calvin Pogue and the sights, sounds, and smells that accompany him on his investigation into the attempted assassination of Governor Boggs. What I wasn't prepared for was that Rod Miller did not intend to write a book that vilified Boggs but rather told the sordid story from both sides, good and bad. A truth that extends well behind and beyond that fateful night when a bullet shattered Boggs' window and almost his life.

I must admit to some level of discomfort as I first read the varied accounts and testimonies placed against the Mormons but the further I got into the book the more I began to realize that the only way for Rod to tell a truthful story was to...tell the truth. There were black hands on both sides of this event and the reality of it should be accepted, after all we're human and prone to act like it. The title of saint is something we aspire to and not all of us (me especially) always conduct ourselves to the honor of such a name.

Not only is this book chocked full of great Mormon history (told from both sides of the fence) it is well written and keeps a nice pace. Rod's voice is distinct and one I thoroughly enjoyed. His ability to capture the tone and attitudes of the time is refreshing. It is obvious he's done his homework and is well schooled on the history of the Mormons in the early and mid-1800s as well as their neighbors and fellow countrymen.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope to see more like it from Rod in the future.

Entry Guidelines:
ALL ENTRIES MUST BE MADE BY 11:59 PM MST tonight, January 7, 2012.

There are multiple ways to earn entries into this drawing, make sure you take advantage of ALL of them.

1.  Leave a comment on this post.
2.  Become a follower of this blog (you must clearly state in your comment on this post that you are a follower to receive credit for this).
3.  Follow MMW on Facebook (again, you must clearly state in your comment on this post that you have done this to receive credit).
4.  Advertise this spectacular month of give-aways on your blog or Facebook page. (Do I need to repeat myself here?)
5.  Visit Rod's website and in your comment on this post tell me the name of a magazine that has featured some of his writing.

That's SIX different ways you can be entered into this drawing (I can do math, #4 provides two ways). Be sure to check back tomorrow morning in the "Winner's Circle" page to see if you won.

Good luck!


  1. Man...I can't wait to read this! Guess I'll have to go out and buy it. :)

  2. This looks so awesome! Can't wait to read this!

  3. Enter me!
    I'm trying to do this from my phone but so I can't do as much as I'd like but...
    I commented, follow MMW, and I'm pretty sure I like MMW on FB but I could be wrong. So 2-3 points :)

  4. I am so buying this!! It sounds wonderful! Thanks for visiting with us Rod!!

  5. I don't need a copy of the book--as the author, I already have one and I am looking forward to sending it to the contest winner. Thanks, Lisa for the thoughtful review and I am pleased the readers who have commented are interested in the book. Thanks again -- Rod Miller

  6. I love reading your posts. You guys have the best insight.

  7. I posted Totally Cliche on my pintrest from amazon but not the blog...but i'm getting the word out there. --Tiffany williams

  8. Thanks to everyone for participating in this prize drawing. It really is an amazing book and Small Town Shelly Brown, our winner, will enjoy it, I'm sure.

    Thanks again, Rod, for joining us.

  9. Yup-yup!
    Thanks Rod and LisaAnn!
    I'm very excited :)

  10. I emailed MMW but I haven't heard back. I'm just checking in to make sure that you got my email (just incase it's not reaching you I thought I'd try this venue)



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