David Farland didn’t have the best childhood.
When he was 11 years old, his grandfather, who was in the mafia and believed young Dave wanted to follow in his footsteps, tried to explain the best ways to commit crime.
Millions of people around the world are grateful the boy didn’t take the advice.
Farland, born John David Wolverton, is the author of over 50 novels. His latest book, “Nightingale,” was the winner of the International Book Award for Young Adult Fiction and the grand-prize winner of the Hollywood Book Festival, according to nightingalenovel.com.
In addition to writing novels and short stories, Farland has been a mentor to some of the most famous writers today, including Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn series), Stephenie Meyer (Twilight series), Jessica Day George (Dragon Slippers series), James Dashner (Maze Runner series), Dan Wells (I Am Not a Serial Killer series) and Brandon Mull (Fablehaven series).
But Farland’s path to becoming an author — and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — was lined with challenges.
“I was born and raised in Oregon and, of course, back in the 1960s it was a pretty wild time, especially in Oregon with all of the hippies coming north and settling in our area,” Farland said. “At one point when I was 13 years old, I remember looking around at the number of communes that had spread out in our area, and within about a 10-mile range of where I lived I could count 55 different communes.”
Farland was exposed to drugs but soon found that the lifestyle of those living around him wasn’t what he wanted.
“By the time I was 13, I was looking around the world and it just didn’t make sense,” Farland said. “So, I sat down at the age of 13 and made a list of rules for my life. I had a lot of almost monastic kinds of rules for a 13-year-old who’s being raised in such a loose society, but I just looked at this society and I said, ‘Well, this is stupid. This is really dangerous, and I’m not going to do this.’ And I’ve always lived by my rules. I’ve never felt like I needed to force them on anybody, but that was really kind of what got me thinking about life.”
These rules included that he would not smoke or do drugs, he would not follow his grandfather into the mob and he would not have premarital sex.
Farland was introduced to Mormonism when his older brother and sister-in-law joined the LDS Church.
“They had actually heard about (the church) from a brother-in-law who had been a drug addict and had radically changed and everybody that knew him said, ‘We’ve got to go find out about this church,’" Farland said. "He probably had at least 50 people follow him into the church after he converted because it was such a powerful thing."
Farland’s brother and sister-in-law invited him to listen to the missionaries, and he accepted the challenge to read the Book of Mormon and pray.
“There’s a picture that kind of floats around the Internet that (has) a church building with a sign that says, ‘Don’t pray about the Mormon church. That’s how they get you,'" Farland said. "Well, they came and they gave me the Book of Mormon and challenged me to pray, and I felt that (getting baptized) was the right thing to do."
After serving a full-time mission to Chicago, Farland attended Brigham Young University in Provo. It was there that he decided he wanted to write novels, even if he had another full-time job.
In 1987, Farland won the Writers of the Future Gold Award and landed him book deals that have continued since that day. Later, Farland taught a class at BYU where he helped mentor authors who would go on to write best-selling books.
“David Farland has been one of the most influential figures in my writing career,” said Sanderson, who took Farland’s class as an undergraduate at BYU. “When I took Dave’s class I had written six novels, so I was already on the path to becoming a writer. What Dave did is give me tools to understand what it is that I was already doing instinctively. And he gave me the confidence that I could do it.”
While mentoring famous authors and traveling the world is an exciting part of the job, the best thing about being an author, according to Farland, is when fans come to him and tell him how his stories have affected them.
“I got an email a couple of years ago from a fellow who had a chronic fatal disease, and he said, ‘I’m in chronic pain, and I’m hooked to a morphine pump and have been for the last eight years, and the only time I could get off morphine was the time I was reading your books. It took me so much off of my pain,'" Farland said. "There is a lot of challenges to (writing) but that’s the reward; you touch people."
Being a member of the LDS Church has helped Farland keep things in perspective.
“I have a belief that you can’t be a great writer without being a great person,” Farland said. “And by that (I) mean, you can be a really talented writer, you can write like Shakespeare, you can write the most beautiful prose on the planet, but if you use it for the wrong purposes then your writing ultimately serves an evil purpose. I think that my faith makes me a better person and because of that it makes me a better writer.”