Today's 5 Q&A is with Carole Whang Schutter, author of September Dawn
1.) Who are you?
I’m a romantic who has had the good fortune to live in romantic places. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii with its enormous diversity of culture filled me with stories from around the world and nurtured my love of history and the people who came before us. From there, I moved to Aspen, Colorado which is completely unique and different from almost any place on earth. Again, I experienced a world of glamour, excitement, and tragedy.
Now, at a time when most people are heading for retirement, I have finally jump-started the writing career I always dreamed of. Thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, I became part of the 1.1% of all screenwriters that ever get a movie made. The book, by the same name, was based on the movie, “September Dawn.”
2.) What motivated you to write the screenplay (which led to the book) for September Dawn?
One day while driving through Colorado, I got to thinking about the fact that I was already in my fifties and had never achieved my dream to become a writer. While passing through a site that I was later to discover looked remarkably like Mountain Meadows, a story about a girl going to the California Gold Rush popped into my head. I imagined a band of Mormons, dressed as Indians, attacking the wagon train and killing almost everyone. The girl was the daughter of a pastor who fell in love with the son of a Mormon Bishop. The idea wouldn’t leave me. Finally, I did research on the Internet and found the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I was astounded. I knew it had to be a screenplay except I didn’t know how to write a screenplay. Well, God opened all the doors through my good friend, director/producer Christopher Cain. My dream of becoming a writer was restored through the grace of God.
3.) What was your research process like? And how much of what happens in the book is factual?
Tedious and painstaking. One would have to either love research or be semi-obsessed with the story and finding the truth. I can’t put a number on how much is factual but 60% sounds good. The love story, and the families involved in that love story are fictional. However, the facts surrounding the love story, the sermons and words of Brigham Young, Joseph Smith and many of the other historic figures were derived after tremendous research and cross-referencing with various sources. A lot of the evidence exists in the journals and confessions of various Mormans from a wife of Brigham Young to his chief assassin, the Danite Chief of Utah, Wild Bill Hickman. Then there are the confessions of John D. Lee, the only man executed for the crime. We researched depositions, Congressional records, Presidential speeches, sermons preserved by the LDS church itself, newspaper stories, reports by Federal Court Judges, as well as well documented and highly thought of history books by esteemed professors like Will Bagley who wrote, “Blood of the Prophets.”
4. Have you had any negative repercussions due to writing about such a controversial topic?
Extraordinary repercussions. We were accused of creating this movie to sabotage Mitt Romney’s campaign. When I first heard the accusation I said, “Who’s Mitt Romney?” I hate to admit that, but it’s true. We were also accused of stealing the idea from a documentary and so I produced copyrights that preceded the documentary. We were called historically incorrect Mormon bashers. I found it interesting that what took us two years, thousands of pages, and tremendous cross referencing to make sure we were not being unfair, somehow movie reviewers knew we were historically incorrect after seeing the movie one time. It is unfortunate because the movie and book were not made to bash anyone. Truth is often ugly and no religion or country is innocent. However, it is important to preserve truth in order to learn lessons from it. The book is even more ambitious and forthright. The message I wanted to send was forgiveness. That we are to forgive the way Jesus forgave, completely. Love is the only way to world peace. And, I point out in the book that people aren’t the enemy. The Bible says the real enemy is principalities and powers of darkness. If I can be so bold as to set forth my opinion of what that means, the real enemy is hatred, unforgiveness, and intolerance. Who of us has not been guilty of that at one time or another? I also sought to teach that we have to make our own moral decisions. Fanaticism springs from blindness of the spirit. We cannot accept everything we hear on the pulpit or on the screen. We must be seekers of knowledge ourselves and we must not blindly follow any leader. In the end, we cannot face God or ourselves and simply say, “I was just following orders.” From what I heard from some of the descendents of the perpetrators, in particular Wayne Capurro whose great great grandfather was the real Bishop of Cedar City and who wrote his own book on the subject, the agony of some of the Mormons involved lasted the rest of their lives. So, in a sense, many of them were victims too.
5.) What's next?
I’ve optioned a romantic family movie about a historical character. She is a wonderful character and I write about her as a young girl and teenager. She is Granuaile O’Malley, otherwise known as the pirate queen of Ireland. She is my Pirate Princess. We hope to begin production sometime next year.
I am also redoing a historical family saga I started years ago called “The Ohana,” which means family in Hawaii. It covers three generations of three immigrant families to Hawaii. A Korean family, a Japanese family, and an Irish family. It is the story of how their lives merge against the backdrop of Hawaiian history, the Great Depression, World War II and the Vietnam War. Quite a project. Maybe someday it will become a mini-series, for now it is a novel.
I am also working on other screenplays. One is directly from the Bible. I will be collaborating with another writer on the books created from the screenplays as I need the help! I have too many projects.
Thanks so much, Carole!