Summarized by Kent Larsen
LDS Author Finds Success in Sappy
(Provo author skips edgy, goes for sappy)
Ogden UT Standard-Examiner 7May00 A4
By Amy Schoon: Standard-Examiner staff
"The Last Valentine" and "The Lighthouse Keeper" are inspired by
PROVO, UTAH -- LDS author James Michael Pratt's nationally published
novel "The Last Valentine" is sappy, he admits. "I'm the guru of
sappiness. I'm the schmaltz king," says Pratt. But sap sells, and the
book reached No. 29 on the New York Times bestseller list in 1998.
Now Pratt's second novel, "The Lighthouse Keeper," has been released,
and he has two more in the works.
And the first book may be on its way to the screen, as Pratt's
publisher, St. Martin's Press, negotiates to sell the film rights.
"The Last Valentine" is about a Navy fighter pilot and his young wife
in California, who face his departure on thier first wedding
anniversary to fight in the Pacific during World War II. The book now
has more than half a million copies in print.
Pratt's new novel is also set in the World War II era, but this time
the novel is about Irish-American immigrants in Massachusetts. In
this novel, Peter O'Banyon is sent to live with his Uncle Billie,
following the death of his family in a truck-train accident. Uncle
Billie is mourning the death of his own wife and child, and Peter
then faces more tragedy himself.
Pratt says that all this tragedy is there on purpose. "I try to break
hearts on purpose, because there is no resolution or reward in having
the high without the low," Pratt said. "You have to take people to
the lowest level, then when you bring them back up, it makes them
stop and think about their own lives."
The sappiness of the novels leads some to compare him to LDS author
Richard Paul Evans, who is also known for tear-jerkers. And Pratt
says that like Evans, he was inspired by events in his own life.
Pratt was unable to finish college because his father's business had
financial troubles, and he had to go home from BYU to Southern
California to help.
He says that the circumstances put him shoulder-to-shoulder with his
father, where he got a lot of influence from his father's morals,
values and work ethic. "I doubt I'd be a writer today if I hadn't
left college," Pratt said. But it took 20 years of 'wandering' in the
business world for Pratt to start writing. Broke following the
recession of the early 1990s, Pratt moved to Provo with his wife, and
worked by day as a construction manager and wrote in BYU's computer
lab at night.
And Pratt's work ended up at St. Martin's Press, who decided that the
book was what the world would like to read. "He seems to really reach
into the heartland of America. In New York City, people tend to
forget what the rest of the country wants," said executive editor
Jennifer Enderlin. "But James writes what everyday, ordinary
Americans want to read about ... courage, honor, love."
Now, "The Lighthouse Keeper" may be headed in the same direction as
"The Last Valentine." Publisher's Weekly said Pratt's new novel,
"will please readers ready for a good cry."