Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, June 16, 2008

Forged in the Refiner's Fire

Several years ago, I wrote a novel called “Into the Fire.” It was a work of fiction based on a modern day retelling of the story of Job. It was interesting to hear the feedback I received. Some people didn’t want to read the novel at all because it sounded too depressing. Others started the book, but after realizing it wasn’t a thriller like “Cutting Edge” quickly put it down.

But then I began receiving the letters and e-mails from people who had gone through terribly difficult trials in their lives. It was both uplifting and heartbreaking to hear how they related to the novel and how it helped them through difficult times in their lives. After reading those kinds of messages, I realized why I’d felt so strongly moved to write a novel that wasn’t my typical style.

When Candace asked me to review Forged in the Refiner’s Fire, I experienced many of those same emotions again. Did I really want to read a book about other people’s trials? Especially considering these were real people with real problems? Isn’t there enough of those kinds of things on the news? Well I knew if I said no, Alvin would come over to my house and beat me. (Just kidding. Candace’s husband is one of the sweetest people I know. Even if he could crush me like a breadstick.)

As soon as I opened the book and began reading the stories, I remembered the messages I’d received. Just like the letters, these weren’t stories of people groveling in the miseries of their hardships. They weren’t asking for sympathy. On the contrary, they were sharing valuable lessons that could have been learned in perhaps no other way. Over and over again I read the words of people expressing gratitude for trials that are more difficult than anything I’ve ever imagined in my fiction. I heard people say that although, they would never have asked for their particular challenge, they wouldn’t change it if they had the choice.

From a woman who nearly dies after being smashed by a horse, to a woman struggling with prescription pain medicine addiction, to Merrill Osmond who took a huge personal risk and raised over two million dollars to have the Tabernacle Choir perform for President Regan’s inauguration, only to see the entire program canceled at the last minute; these are stories that make you almost not dare to turn the page. And yet you have to, because at the end of each story, the reader is reminded once again that the Lord truly does watch over each of us. In fact, my favorite part of each story might have been the section at the end, where the person writing tells us what he or she took away from the experience.

These are a wide variety of stories, told from the point of view of the person who experienced them. The voices are different, the writing styles are different, and the accounts are very different. But taken together, they tell a story we all need to be reminded of. In the words of the account titled F.R.O.G.S; in order to not only survive or trials, but also grow from them, we must “fully rely on God’s son.”

These are a well written group of stories. Cleanly edited. Long enough to pull the reader in, but short enough that you can easily go through one or two before going to bed at night. Each story starts with a great quote about facing adversity. The authors, Candace Salima and Elizabeth A Cheever, have done a wonderful job of gathering and editing these stories as well as sharing their own personal stories. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who occasionally needs a reminder that they aren’t going through the trials of this earth alone.

After reading this wonderful novel, I had a chance to ask Candace a few questions. Here are her responses.

Q: You’ve written both fiction and non fiction. Which do you find easier/more enjoyable and why?

I enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction. I find nonfiction easier because it is simply a matter of research and then figuring out how to write it in a fascinating manner that will draw people in. Fiction, on the other hand, requires you to com with an entire story, based on reality, but doing anything you want to further the story as long as it follows the rules you’ve set up in the beginning. That being said, I’m working on two fiction books and two nonfiction books right now and find that when I’m stuck on one then I simply pop on over to another story and get to work. It’s fun and refreshing. Keeps things moving along.

Q: I believe this is the first book you’ve co-written. How was that experience? How did you and Elizabeth connect with each other in the first place?

I can’t say I’m particularly fond of co-writing, even though I am now in the middle of a third book written with just that scenario. But Elizabeth was a dream to work with. We had the same thoughts, goals and purposes for this book and found that they streamlined nicely. She wrote the introductory chapter, providing the foundation for the following stories. I agreed to write the concluding chapter, tying the concept up entirely. Forged in the Refiner’s Fire was an inspiring book to compile, write and complete.

Initially, Elizabeth Cheever and I met at the first LDS Storymakers Conference held in Springville, Utah in the spring of 2004. April, I think. She is 6’4” and I am 5’10”. We sat in the front row because we tall girls need to stick together. It was there we found we were kindred spirits. This naturally lead to us partnering on Forged in the Refiner’s Fire.

Q: Typically adversity is not something people like to talk about. It’s almost like if you discuss it out loud it might find you. What made you decide to write about it?

Elizabeth and I have been through some pretty trying times in our lives. Often people become so bogged down in their trials and tragedies they forget to look to the heavens for that unwavering love and support available to all of us. Elizabeth initially approached me, but there was something about the concept that wouldn’t let go of me. Although I was very busy I agreed to the do the book because the Refiner’s Fire is a truth which must be told over and over so people won’t forget. Trials are going to find us, no matter who we are, whether we’re rich or poor, thin or fat . . . it doesn’t matter, they are simply a part of life. I felt strongly, as did Elizabeth, that we wanted to do this to help other work their way through these times of trouble and draw closer to the Lord in the process.

Q: I know that you and Alvin have gone through a lot of adversity yourselves. If you had read Forged in the Refiner’s Fire, before you faced your own refiner’s fire, what would have done differently?

I would have remembered that other people are going through equally, if not more, trying times. I would remember how they turned to the scriptures, the hymns, to music and to God to pull themselves through those times. Feelings of camaraderie developed in the writing and compiling of this book and those would have, and have, strengthened through the most difficult times. And, as obnoxious as it sounds, I would remember that others trials were far worse than my own.

Q: How did you find the people to interview? Were people hesitant at all to discuss their own difficulties? If so, how to you work around that?

Elizabeth and I sent out emails to every single person we knew. Family, friends and peers and asked them to the do the same. Those who expressed interest in contributing a story were given a series of questions and guides to help them write the story. We looked for stories where people had gone through the darkest of times and still came out of it ahead of the game, so to speak. Those who drew closer to the Lord through their trials, in particular, were the ones we looked for.

And yes, some people were hesitant, but we were flooded with stories and had to turn many away.

Q: What story touched you most?

Hazel Jensen’s story touched me the most. When she wrote of her horse rearing up and falling backwards on her, crushing her pelvis, her strength and courage literally blew me away. I remember thinking, “Crud, what we’re going through is nothing compared to Hazel.” Interestingly enough, when she read the story of my miscarriage she wrote me and she felt like she shouldn’t have submitted hers after reading what I had gone through. Ironically, I felt the same after reading hers. And yes, there is a lesson in that. When we share the difficulties we suffer in life, they almost always give others the strength to continue on.

Incidentally, Hazel has had to have multiple back surgeries, as late as last year, to continue the repair on her back. And I met her at an LDS Storymakers Writers Conference too. She’s a delight woman and a marvelous artist.

Q: Were their any stories you felt you just couldn’t put in print?

Yes, there were several stories where the people were so mired in their trials, tragedies and sorrows that they could not see the forest for the trees, so to speak. They were dark and depressing and not what we were striving for at all. Interestingly, the stories we did choose were people who suffered far worse than the ones we turned away, and they were also the ones who turned to God to get through those times. It was difficult to tell these people that their stories didn’t fit the criteria for our book, when in all honesty, they were about having the courage to believe in Jesus Christ and His ability to heal the pain in our hearts and souls.

Q: What do you hope people walk away thinking after finishing your book?

They are not alone. They were never intended to walk this mortal path alone. I want each reader to remember that they are part of this great brotherhood we call mankind. And because of that we have a common ancestry which can lead us to a common goal and destination. I want them to remember that no matter what they go through others have gone through it or worse and have come out stronger, better and more faithful servants of God. There is always hope, because Jesus Christ lives. And because He lives we have those who believe in Him who will lift you up until you can stand on your own.

I'd like to thank both of these talented women for this wonderful book. You can find more information at:


At 6/17/2008 12:08 PM, Blogger Candace E. Salima said...

Just for the record, Jeff, I loved "Into the Fire." That is what your Job book was called, right?

Anyway, thank you for this beautiful review. You approached from a very different direction and I enjoyed that. I'll drop by, off and on, to see if anyone has posted any questions or comments that need responding to. Again, thank you.

At 6/17/2008 2:09 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

What a marvelous interview! I've already ordered my copy and can't wait for it to arrive.

Candace, you are indeed a marvel.

At 6/17/2008 3:36 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Great interview! I also reviewed the same book on the lds readers blog and was equally touched.

At 6/18/2008 12:20 AM, Blogger Candace E. Salima said...

Thanks so much, everyone. It was a very inspiring book to write for Elizabeth and me too.


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