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Jane Barnes

I wasn’t a natural writer but I always wanted to be one. Born in New York City, I soon moved to Providence, Rhode Island with my family and then to Washington, D.C. when my father began working for the C.I.A. We moved to Germany with his job. I attended boarding schools in Switzerland and Concord, Massachusetts. I had a rooting nature like a tree, but with all the moving around I got turned into a rolling stone. I found life on the road exhilarating, painful, and confusing. I depended on the fiction I read to help me sort it out in deep, important ways. I had to struggle both technically and formally to find what I could do myself as a writer. Though I graduated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I moved forward very slowly in anything resembling a “career.” Over almost two decades, I published a few short stories, some essays and two novels (one a historical fiction). I wasn’t that happy with my work. It seemed either too constrained or insane. Then my life blew up during midlife divorce, and I could not get anyone to take an interest in the manuscript of my third novel. Through miraculous intervention, an old friend, who was a successful documentary filmmaker, asked me to work on some feature scripts with her. Later, I followed her into documentaries for PBS. It was a great release and education to collaborate with an answering mind. I learned something real about my abilities and the world I lived in. We were constantly turning over stories that summed up an aspect of America. Almost unconsciously, I was honing the non-fiction side of my mind. Enter Joseph Smith. I exploded with a feeling of recognition. I’d had enthusiasms of this sort before but my response to Joseph was, in the phrase of my filmmaking friend, “beyond the beyond.” I really felt I understood him, and that he helped me understand myself. Through him, I reconnected to strong religious feelings of my childhood as well as to some of the wilder, but inchoate reaches of my interior life. I studied him on my own and through our documentary on the Mormons, gripped by fascination for the story of his founding a new religion. Gradually, gradually, I understood how I could write a non-fiction book about the big bang moment of God in America by wrapping my spiritual autobiography around Joseph’s actual biography. Hence cameth Falling in Love with Joseph Smith.

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