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Award-Winning LDS Author Dean Hughes Shares Secrets to His Success

by | May 01, 2015

Famous Mormons

Just Asking: Dean Hughes

What motivated you to start writing?

My mother read to me when I was little, which was the beginning of my great love of stories. I became an avid reader in elementary school and tried to write stories of my own. By junior high, I was telling my friends I would be a writer when I grew up.

What drew you to LDS fiction?

It’s natural, of course, to write about your own culture and values, but I’ve always published both for Mormons and for general audiences. I’ve also written for all ages. I prefer to write about things I care about and let the subject and setting dictate the audience.

Which book are you most proud of?

I have this aversion to answering “favorite” questions. I can never settle on one choice. Why, for example, do people favor one color over all the others? That strikes me as strange. I really don’t have a favorite book. I’ve written too many kinds of books that simply don’t compare with one another. I will say that my Children of the Promise series has been the most widely accepted and, I think, appreciated. So I’ll designate Volume 5, As Long as I Have You, as my choice. It’s a novel that engaged my own emotions as much as anything I’ve written. But on the other hand, Soldier Boys has done really well with younger readers and . . . well, never mind. I’m supposed to choose only one. How about beige? I really like beige.

What are some lessons you learned in college that have stuck with you through the years?

I majored in English and minored in Philosophy. I love ideas, and I’m skeptical about easy conclusions. That’s my philosophy background. But people are more important to me than ideas. Studying literature had much to do with that.

What are your favorite lessons to teach others?

I teach Gospel Doctrine in my LDS ward. and I love to teach the Sermon on the Mount. I’m always tempted to turn life into a competition and Christ makes it so clear in that sermon that we shouldn’t think that way. I wrote a book that most people never seemed to notice, called, The Cost of Winning: Coming in First Across the Wrong Finish Line. I’ve gone back and read it a couple of times (and I never read my own books), just to keep myself on track.

What are some of your favorite lines from your favorite books?

If you really need an answer to this one, I’ll think some more about it. But I don’t take “lines” to heart very often. I’m more interested in the wisdom—or fun—I feel from a book.

How do you come up with new ideas for your books?

Ideas are everywhere. I can’t read a newspaper or attend a symphony without imagining a plot. And then scenes start to play out in my mind. I’ll never get to all the ideas I already have; I’m running out of life too fast. So I don’t really need new ideas, but still, they appear in my head without any encouragement.

What is the best lesson you have learned from one of your own characters?

I love Leah in Before the Dawn. She uses her own “headlights” to see the road she’s traveling, and she breaks the stereotype of the loving Relief Society president. Still, she does love people, and she cares for them in her own crusty way. I wish I could be as straightforward as she is—and as quick to serve others.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. When you get your first book published, you’ll be convinced the world ought to stop and take notice. I’m sorry, but it won’t. Too many writers think that a certain stilted pose makes them appear “creative.” But writing is mostly hard work. I spend my life trying to turn my bad prose into something better and never quite achieving the level I long for. If that doesn’t prove that I’m nothing special, I don’t know what does.

How do you work through writer’s block?

I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you’re a teacher, you don’t have teacher’s block, and if you’re a mechanic, you don’t have mechanic’s block. You get up and go to work. The best way for me to overcome those days when I don’t feel like writing is to remember that I have bills to pay. The best way to move forward when a book bogs down is to keep writing— not to sit around and moan that I have an ailment that some writer invented one lazy morning.

Did you always want to be a writer?

No, I have not “always” wanted to be a writer. I didn’t try writing until I was 4 years old. (And it was tough because I didn’t know all my letters.) I guess, though, that’s about as close to “always” as a writer could get.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I’m actually young and good looking. In fact, I’m extraordinarily handsome. I’m always shocked when I shave in the morning. My mirror seems to believe that I’m an old guy. (My recent back surgery also argues for the same opinion.) But hey, you should see me from my point of view. I’m young and lithe, and women sigh when I walk by (although they carefully hide their attraction).

What do you want your LDS readers to know?

I don’t have a preconceived notion of what people ought to “learn” in one of my books. A novel should be an entertaining story, and it should make us care about people and about things that are important. I really believe we all need to develop our capacity for empathy, and fiction can help us do that, but I don’t try to reduce my ideas to “lessons.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Jesus Christ told us, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6: 21). We live in a world that wants to buy our hearts—and souls. I try not to sell, but the temptation is always hard to resist.

Dean Hughes has published more than 100 books for readers of all ages, including the best - selling historical fiction series Children of the Promise. Find all of Dean Hughes’s LDS novels at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.


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