Monday, November 5, 2012

Blog Tour, Review & Author Interview: For All the Saints by Kristen Smith Dayley

I was honored to have Kristen Smith Dayley invite me to join the Blog Tour for her book For All the Saints.

For All the Saints provides an uplifting account of the ways in which the Lord builds his kingdom through ordinary men and women. Set in Boston, Massachusetts and its surrounding areas, the book draws upon the experiences of hundreds of members, ranging from prominent Church leaders to brand new converts. Their collective insights teach powerful lessons about commitment, faith, sacrifice, and leadership that are applicable to us all, no matter our corner of the vineyard.

Drawing upon accounts both humorous and profound, these Saints remind us of the impact one person can have when partnered with the Lord. They also instill a sense of gratitude for the contributions of those who precede us and demonstrate that the Lord’s promises are sure, as we each play a role in a work much larger than our own vantage point might suggest.

The history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New England is fascinating. Many of the stories of service and the attitudes included in For All the Saints could be found anywhere in the world, but it was great to focus on one area and to read about the many ups and downs over the years.

One lesson that stood out to me was the importance of not just accepting a calling, but doing the calling with everything we have in ourselves. Elder Dunn said, "It was never a matter of how we felt about it, it was just a matter of let’s figure out how we’re going to get it done." Such a great attitude!

Several stories brought me to tears. So much has been sacrificed, and there were many great examples of reaching out and being bold in sharing the Gospel.

Reading non-fiction is a slower process for me than reading fiction, so I appreciated the way For All the Saints was written. Filled with many different accounts, you can fill your bucket reading for 10 minutes or several hours.

Author Interview:

*There are many touching stories in For All the Saints. What one story was the most touching to you?

I don’t know that I could pick a single story. I think it’s impossible not to be touched and inspired by the story of George McLaughlin, the milkman from Maine whose inspired focus on missionary work led to the conversion of over 600 people in two years, which led to the formation of the first stake in that state. The remarkable account of Jaime Valarezo, the young, illegal immigrant who stuttered so badly that adults could not understand him, is similarly touching as it shows the profound impact one person can have in building the kingdom when committed to the Lord’s work. But I also love the small accounts that I call “nuggets,” such as the one where the boys from the fledgling Scout troop in inner city Boston begged the missionaries who led their troop to take them camping. The missionaries saw no way they could fulfill this wish for the boys, but when the boys wouldn’t relent, they turned it over to the Lord. The manner in which this request by the boys and the missionaries was answered is touching because it reminds me of the nature of the God I worship. Nothing is too small for his notice because if it is important to his children, it is important to him.

*Why do you think it is important to share the stories of New England Saints?

I don’t know that I think it is more important to share the stories of New England Saints more than any other group of Saints, but I had a unique opportunity to look at this particular region and the individuals and events that impacted the growth of the Church due to the volumes of material Clayton Christensen and others had spent almost 20 years collecting from hundreds of people. We are all familiar with the stories of sacrifice, commitment and miracles that characterize Palmyra, Kirkland, Nauvoo and the trek out to Utah, but this work has not stopped. The stories, insights and testimonies contained in For All the Saints are accounts of modern day discipleship, which remind us how the hand of the Lord is and can be present in our midst and teach important lessons on what it means to serve in the Church today. If this book can inspire others to capture stories about the growth of the Church in their own area so we can learn from those as well, I believe this project will have been a great success.

That being said, I do have a special place in my heart for New England and am always impressed with how many members of the Church have connections to the East Coast. We share a common heritage of founding fathers and mothers of the Restoration, the majority of whom came from New England. And even today, a surprising number of General Authorities have had significant shaping life experiences that they gained in Boston and its surrounding areas. I have my own theories on why that might be, but regardless of whether I am correct, Boston continues to serve as an interesting crossroads in the Church that has a lasting impact on the people who pass through its many wards and branches.

*Who should read For All the Saints?

For All the Saints is definitely written for an LDS audience and assumes a general understanding of our beliefs and doctrines. My intent, however, was not to write a book for a specific portion of that membership. I have lived and served in the Seattle area for the last nine years, throughout the time I was researching and writing this book. With each personal account I read, I found insights and examples that helped me better understand challenges and problems I was facing in my own stake and leadership callings. I found answers to questions in my own life and inspiration to draw closer to the Lord and be of greater service to those around me.

As I state in the preface of the book, although the accounts contained in its pages relate specifically to the Church in New England, “the principles they illustrate and lessons they teach are not unique to any particular geography.” Instead they are “the common lot of latter-day pioneers in all parts of the Lord’s vineyard and the spiritual legacy and promise of all who faithfully seek to follow the Lord’s commands and build up his kingdom. In other words, these chapters are written not just for those members who call or have called New England home – they are written for all the Saints.”

*It sounds like you had a lot of material to work with. How did you determine what would make the cut?

That was the most daunting part of the project. I came to have great empathy with Mormon and his inability to include anything more than the “hundredth part.” There are so many things I couldn’t use and so many stories I had to cut. The finished product is about half the size of the manuscript I started with. My consolation is that most of the oral history transcripts I worked with will soon be available to others at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library at Brigham Young University – hopefully others will discover them and find ways to tell the many stories that I couldn’t at this time.

*Did any of the history or interviews surprise you?

Yes. The interviews came from a huge cross-section of people, from well-known General Authorities to brand-new converts and hundreds of people in between. Some of the interviews were literally jaw-dropping for me, but let’s just say I don’t have the authority (or consents) to share those reasons. I will say that the topics that raised the most passion among certain interviewees were interesting and I was touched by how the Lord places the right people in the right place at the right time to do his work.

*Do you have any unusual habits while you write?

I don’t know if it is unusual, but I definitely eat too much junk food when I write. Have to have your rewards!

*What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I like to spend time with friends, have family movie nights, travel and read. I fantasize about sitting on the couch for weeks at a time catching up on all the television shows I’ve never had time to watch, but the fact is I’m very bad at sitting on the couch doing nothing, so that’s likely to remain a fantasy for the foreseeable future.

*Your life sounds very busy. If you have time to read, what book are you currently reading? If you are too swamped to read for pleasure right now, what book do you wish you had time to read?

It’s true. I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I would like. I recently read Run by Ann Patchett and loved how she drew and developed the characters for the reader. On my list next is Out of My Mind, which is a young adult book that my fourth grader has fallen in love with and I would like to share with her.

About the Author:

Kristen Smith Dayley lives in Issaquah, Washington, with her husband and children. Although she loves the Pacific Northwest, she insists on regular pilgrimages to New England, where her early childhood was nurtured by Make Way for Ducklings and the Freedom Trail. 

Kristen’s first experience with confession and repentance occurred at the age of five, after she shoved dead leaves and grass through the mail slot of the bishop’s office at Cambridge’s Longfellow Park Chapel. Despite that misdeed, she was allowed to return to New England when she was admitted to Harvard Law School, and she even served as Relief Society President of the Cambridge University Ward (perhaps as penance).

Kristen is a practicing attorney and aspires to develop some hobbies outside of church and family when time allows.