Chris Stewart has authored more than a dozen books in his career, including military techno-thrillers, a series for Latter-day Saints and best-selling books about American and world history.
His latest project — Elizabeth Smart's memoir, "My Story" — was one of the most challenging and rewarding.
"Honestly, it was much harder than I thought it would be," the 53-year-old said in a recent phone interview. "It was difficult for me at first to find the line between an honest story and what a horrible, horrible experience it was for her, and at the same time, make it so that people would read it and walk away with more faith, hope and belief in the goodness in life."
"My Story," published by St. Martin's Press, is being released Oct. 7. The book is full of never-before-told stories, Stewart said.
It's been more than 10 years since Smart was kidnapped from her family's Salt Lake City home in the middle of the night by Brian David Mitchell. She was held captive and endured unspeakable treatment before being rescued nine months later.
In the years following her traumatic experience, Smart has served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and inspired countless people by setting up the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to help stop and prevent predatory crimes. She also married in 2012.
While Smart was serving her mission in France, her father met Stewart, a former Air Force pilot who last November was elected to represent Utah's 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"We chatted a little bit, certainly nothing about potentially writing a book," he said. "About a year later, Elizabeth was home and decided she was ready to write her story. There were dozens and dozens of people who were hoping they would get a chance to work with her. Her father suggested that she and I talk. We met briefly and she read a couple of my books. I think we both felt it was a pretty good fit."
Once they began in 2011, writer and subject spent hours and hours together doing interviews. They also hiked the hills above the Smart home where Mitchell chained the 14-year-old to a tree.
"We talked through a lot of things," Stewart said. "More than anything I was searching for how to help Elizabeth tell the story in her own voice."
Stewart was able to complete most of the work on the book before taking office in Washington, D.C., this year. It wasn't necessary for the two to discuss the horrific details of Smart's ordeal because the court records are so clear.
Stewart said his experience with Smart was faith-promoting and inspiring, and he hopes those feelings carry over into the pages of the book.
"She is one of the most compelling people I have ever met in the sense that she absolutely refuses to view herself as a victim who is going to let this unbelievable experience define her ability to be happy for the rest of her life," Stewart said. "It’s inspiring. I think one of the main reasons she wanted to write this book was to show people that. I hope we were able to do that."
Stewart's ultimate goal was to put the entire focus on Smart and the central theme that although life can be brutal, individuals can choose how to react to their circumstances.
"Some people have challenges that the rest of us look at and wonder how they endure, and yet Elizabeth will tell you that life is always good, that there is always hope that life will get better, and we decide whether we are happy or not," Stewart said.
"This is a book about faith. This is a book about her belief that she wasn’t alone, that God was with her, even in the most horrible times, and he sent her signs along the way, tender mercies if you will, to let her know she hadn’t been forgotten."
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