The King’s English: You write with compassion but also humor and you tell a damn good story. Are there particular literary figures that you revere?
Brady Udall: First, thank you for the compliment. I guess it’s safe to say I’m always trying to write a damn good story with humor and compassion, so I’m glad to hear at least one person out there thinks I’m succeeding. My literary hero is Mark Twain, the greatest comic writer who ever lived, and my could he tell a story. Every time I sit down to write I try my best to do a Mark Twain impression–I don’t think I quite have it down yet.
TKE: Tell us how you managed to write about a very particular place and culture in the West and, in the process, capture what is quintessentially American. Is there something about this culture that lies at the heart of America in social as well as religious terms?
BU: Wow, that’s quite a question. I almost don’t want to mess it up by trying to answer it. I will say this: the West is a stereotype for most people. It’s mountains and rivers, canyons and deserts, ranches and casinos. But there are people who live out here in the West, and they’re doing some very interesting things. But their stories are not well known because they live on the fringes, away from the centers of power and influence. It’s my charge, as I see it, to write about these people.
TKE: How did your own experience as a father and a husband influence the character Golden Richards?
BU: I have a lovely wife and four wonderful, well-adjusted children, so my tenure as a husband and father has been relatively easy. But, like everyone else, I’ve faced challenges, made mistakes, stayed awake at night wondering how I was going to make it all work. So all I had to do was multiply my worry and stress and sense of obligation by 6 or 7, and I figured that was about what Golden might experience.
TKE: You are able to write about the tremendous grief of losing a child with such devastating poignancy. Tell us about how the character Glory came to be.
BU: When my wife was pregnant with our youngest daughter, Pearl, we were led to believe by some well-meaning doctors that she might be born with severe birth defects. She was born perfectly healthy, but that didn’t stop me from imagining what might have been, and that influenced how I wrote the relationship between Golden and his special little girl, Glory.
TKE: What is it like to write about polygamy from a modern-day perspective, and how does your own family’s historical connection to polygamy inform or come into play within the book?
BU: My great-great grandfather was thrown into federal prison for practicing polygamy, and his second wife, my great-great grandmother, had to enter the Mormon underground, traveling to different hiding spots, often under assumed names, so she could not be found and forced to testify against her husband. It was an extremely difficult way to live, and I don’t think modern polygamy is any cakewalk, either. These people are still considered criminals under the law and they face the scorn of their neighbors and the world at large every day.
TKE: The Lonely Polygamist is a book about polygamy–and yet, there’s almost no discussion of religion or God in the book. Why is that? BU: The easy answer is that if I had attempted to shoehorn God and religion into the book, it might have been twice as long. The more complicated answer is that I was less interested in why these people choose to live this way, and more in how they manage to live this way.
TKE: Each chapter is a separate story and you have a complex cast of characters. Did you outline the structure of the novel at some point or did the story just flow out?
BU: Outlining–wish I would have thought of that! It would have saved me a lot of time and suffering. I started the book knowing that it would end with a marriage and a funeral, but that was the extent of my outlining. The rest was just trial and error and bumbling around, which is why I ended up with 1400 pages before I trimmed it down to a slim 700.
TKE: What characteristics of your own personality would make you a good polygamist?
BU: Let’s see: I’m lazy, anti-social and averse to noise. I’d make the world’s worst polygamist.
Brady Udall will visit the King’s English to read from and sign his new book, The Lonely Polygamist, on May 4th at 7 p.m. Don’t miss it!