Dan Harrington met the LDS missionaries, didn’t convert, but wrote a book about the experience — Who’s at the Door? A Memoir of Me and the Missionaries ( Amazon ) — which has been published by Cedar Fort. He was gracious enough to do an e-mail interview with me. You can also find out more about him and his book at his author website.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background prior to meeting the LDS missionaries?
When I met the missionaries, I was going through a tough time in life.
I had graduated college in 2002 with the intent of becoming a published writer, but by 2006 that dream was on life-support. I was shackled to a desk job that I hated but needed to survive.
To pump life back into my dream of getting published, I sent columns to various local media in the hopes of getting a freelance gig. At the start of 2007, a local paper bought my first column, and I was elated. I also realized that I had to keep the articles coming–no writer wants to be published just once.
I started wracking my brain for article ideas, and that’s when the missionaries came to my door. Almost immediately I realized I could write a story about them.
And how did that meeting lead to the book?
Initially, our meeting resulted in a newspaper article. The missionaries and the local ward were thrilled. By that time, I had grown fond of the elders and enjoyed our conversations about faith. They were so sincere, and I wanted to help them with meals, rides, or simply a warm place to get out of the harsh New England winter.
I knew they were strangers to my hometown, a place that didn’t always treat them with respect. Over time, my home became an oasis for several sets of missionaries, a place where they could feel welcome and hopefully rejuvenate their spirits.
What audience or audiences did you have in mind as you wrote it? And what about Mormonism surprised you or did you find particularly interesting?
I wrote the book largely for church investigators. When I was thinking about conversion, it was very difficult to find stories that weren’t mere attempts at persuasion. My book doesn’t try to influence people to join the church. It just puts my personal experience on the table.
I always enjoyed attending Fast and Testimony meetings. Hearing so many people talk about their faith so openly in a non confrontational way was refreshing and one of the most endearing aspects of the church.
I’ve faced so many surprises while learning about Mormon culture that it’s hard to mention them all here. The first surprise was how well I got along with the elders. I never expected it. Many of us still talk every month or so. In fact, several of them have stayed with me when they return to Maine as tourists.
In a lot of LDS media, the missionaries are treated as vehicles to conversion, nothing more. Many times ward members don’t even know a thing about specific elders. But to investigators, these young men are the church. I think most members forget that.
I can’t remember a book that depicts the unique relationship between an investigator and the missionaries. Who’s at the Door? tries to mend that gap.
Beyond that, some of the deep doctrines were quite shocking honestly. There’s an interesting aspect to Mormonism where certain things can not be discussed except behind closed doors, and that doesn’t appear to bother anyone but nonmembers. The level of trust members have in the church leadership is something I have rarely seen before.
How has Who’s at the Door? been received by LDS and non-LDS? Have you had much feedback on the book?
The LDS audience has praised the book far more than I initially expected. Becky Thomas from Mormon Times and LDS author Tristi Pinkston offered their endorsements right from the start.
I’ve been doing a book blog tour with Tristi and almost every review has been glowing. LDS authors like Anne Bradshaw, Steve Westover, Alison Palmer and many others have praised it–even saying that after they finished the book, they recommended it to someone almost immediately. It’s hard to get better praise than that!
Some of the highest praises, though, have come from the parents of the elders who were pleased with how I portrayed their sons in the story. Those compliments have been especially meaningful.
Non-LDS readers have also complimented the book. Catholics, Baptists, even a few atheists have told me they enjoyed the book’s focus as a human interest story.
Several people have noted that, at its core, the story is about meeting strangers, encountering a new culture and how those things can impact your life.
Now that you’ve entered the world of Mormon publishing have you consumed any Mormon cultural products — novels, films, etc.? If so, anything you’ve particularly enjoyed?
I’ve enjoyed a lot of Mormon cultural products before I ever signed the book deal. I have a Simon Dewey print in my living room now. He is one of my favorite artists.
Various family members have enjoyed Mormon movies with me including The Work and the Glory, Mr. Kruegar’s Christmas and The Best Two Years. States of Grace has probably been my favorite Mormon movie, but I’d like to see Baptists at our Barbeque.
Incidentally, I started a group blog with several Mormon authors. Michael Young, David West, J Lloyd Morgan, Frank Cole, and I have started the Man Cave Author Blog at mancaveauthors.blogspot.com.
I approached the guys with this idea last month after visiting all sorts of blogs that seemed female-centric. They loved the idea, and we’ve just started with it.
Finally, I ask all my interviewees this questions: what cultural works (Mormon or not and of any genre or form) are particularly speaking to you right now? What would you recommend we go out find?
Anyone not familiar with Simon Dewey’s work really needs to look up his portraits of Christ. I’m particularly fond of The Last Supper. He’s one of the best Christian artists–hands down.
I also think anyone thinking about becoming an author should subscribe to the LDS Publisher blog. It’s got a lot of great advice and insight.