A Novel Professor: Todd Petersen's Latest Work hits Store Shelves

Published: November 23, 2009 | Read Time: 3 minutes

SUU Professor Todd Robert Petersen closed a nine-year chapter of his life recently when his second novel, Rift, was added to store bookshelves. 

Petersen, associate professor of English, says he is happy to finally see his hard work in print. And considering that his latest novel has already won the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel award in 2008, and with positive reviews from state and local media, Petersen’s efforts seem well worth his labors. 

An LDS-themed story, Rift, as Petersen put it, “is about splits.” The protagonist, a retired Jens Thorsen from Sanpete County, Utah, uses his newly freed time to visit people around his community. Through these visits, story upon story unfolds, showing the interconnectedness, conflict and even isolation that exist within small close-knit communities. 

And though Petersen’s efforts are specific to a small Mormon community, he feels his book is easily transferrable to any other religion or culture, as the elements that cause the "rifts" within his specific small town underlie very basic human emotions and flaws regardless of geographical location or religious values. 

In addition to an engaging story-line, Petersen feels – and his critics have confirmed – that Rift is funny and entertaining. As to his thoughts of the book’s strongest moments, Petersen explains, "There are two very sad parts in the book, and I just love the sad parts. I try to make it funny with a quick shot of really sad. I like best the mix of the tragic and comic." 

Looking back further than the nine years it has taken him to write Rift, Petersen says the story actually began when he was a student at Northern Arizona University. He was inspired, so to speak, by his "crazy roommates from Snowflake, Arizona," and he sought to explore the small town atmosphere in his writing. Jens Thorsen surfaced as a character in one of his short stories, but Petersen liked the character so much that he decided to write a novel based on the Thorsen he had only begun to create. 

From there, Petersen and his wife moved to Utah, and the following decade was filled with starts and stops, as dictated by life, family and careers. A patient writer, Petersen described his writing process as one that regularly crossed peaks of productivity and lows of, as he put it, “everything else.” He worked in bursts over the years, writing for a few months at a time and then putting his manuscript away for a while. 

Now complete, Petersen looks back on his process with confidence, explaining, "When you make spaghetti sauce, you just have to put it on the back burner and let it simmer." In fact, at one point, Petersen put his book away for an entire year because of the birth of a child, and, as he put it, “when I came back I saw it fresh.” Petersen credits his overall success to these starts and stops which allowed him to keep a critical eye on his work’s development. 

Whatever his method, it seems to be working. In addition to the 2008 Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel award, given through Utah Valley University, Petersen has won other awards for his writing, including the 2007 ARTY Award for Best Book of Mormon Fiction by Salt Lake City Weekly for his first book, Long After Dark. 

Moving on, Petersen is now focused on marketing his book to a wider audience before its upcoming hard release slated for some time in the next few months, when it will become more widely available. Meanwhile, the soft release of Rift is currently available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. It can also be found through many local vendors, including Mountain West Books and the University Book Store.

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