What Bad Mormon Literature Do We Need?

6.28.06 | | 34 comments

One day, early in my career at a children’s book publisher here in New York, I told my boss how bad the books of another, well-known and well-established, children’s book publisher were in my view. To my surprise, he disagreed, and told me that this publisher and these books had played, and continued to play, an important role in the industry. He was right. I now know that every part of the book publishing industry needs bad books!

Why? Let me give you an example. The Garbage Pail Kids series was (and is) hated by many parents for its bathroom-style humor and formulaic stories. But the series is actually loved by elementary school teachers and librarians—because kids actually read them. Teachers push them to students, especially boys, who don’t read, or whose reading skills are not up to grade level. For many children, books like these serve as conduits to better literature. They not only learn reading skills with these books, but also learn to love reading. And as they mature and their skills no longer find these books a challenge, most students “graduate” to more sophisticated literature. Reading, it seems, breeds more reading. And even reading “junk” leads to reading more, and often better material.

Why is this true? Because when someone enjoys reading, they search for more to read, and with experience, they refine their tastes and what materials they like to read. While this might imply that popular literature is best, there is an element of truth there. Regardless of whether or not popular literature is great literature, great literature is often popular.

I actually believe that the same thing happens elsewhere in literature. Some works serve as doorways into a genre. It isn’t a question of bringing readers to better literature, just to different literature, the literature that interests those readers most. Like or hate The DaVinci Code, you have to admit that it has brought readers to historical books about Christianity, just like John Grisham’s works brought readers to legal thrillers.

While I know that these paths exist, I’m not sure at all what happens in Mormon literature. There is a fairly substantial divide between what we might call serious Mormon literature and popular Mormon literature. Does this divide get bridged at all? Does Dean Hughes’ Children of the Promise series get readers for Doug Thayer’s stories? Do readers of Rachel Ann Nunes go on to read Virginia Sorensen?

The sense I get from many educated readers is that they were turned off from reading any Mormon literature because what they found in LDS bookstores they considered to be of poor quality. And those that love the popular literature, are not, from what I can tell, moving on to serious or more challenging literature.

Nor do I see paths that draw new readers to popular literature. Sure friends recommend books to friends, and give books as gifts. But what kinds of books were these new readers reading before they picked up their first piece of Mormon literature, serious or not?

Given the relative lack of children’s and youth Mormon literature, it seems unlikely that children or youth are growing up reading enough Mormon literature that they naturally look for it when they are adults.

There are possible tracks from outside of Mormon literature. New readers might find serious Mormon literature after reading other serious literature. I’ve heard many times that LDS fans of romance literature often get sick of overly-explicit scenes and come looking for something “cleaner.”

But while there are a few obvious paths, I believe this might just be a weakness in Mormon literature — a lack of literature paths and the ‘bad’ works that draw readers to the good ones.

I hope I’m wrong. Please tell me where I am.

34 comments: “What Bad Mormon Literature Do We Need?

  1. Stephen Carter

    Sadly, I think you’re right, Kent.

    I remember the first time I heard about the Mormon literature class being offered at UVSC, I laughed. What, these people are going to be analyzing Charley?

    Of course, I was pleasantly surprised. And some of the class members were unpleasantly surprised. They were expecting Charley and Gene England was a wily one, starting us out with All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir and the first in the Work and Glory series (which didn’t get a good reception from the English majors), but then we headed into stuff that really threw many of the class members.

    From what I saw, they were expecting a literature that supported Mormonism lock, stock and barrel. What they found was a literature that challenged their conception of Mormonism. Many of them dropped the class.

    So I think the divide you’re seeing is an ideological one. A lot of Mormons see their religion as a life preserver. They aren’t interested in if the thing they’re holding onto was made by child labor in Bangladesh. So when they come into contact with writing that challenges their conceptions, they shy away from it. I remember one class member calling the book we were reading “spiritual pornography.”

    It’s kind of funny because Fiddler on the Roof is a favorite among Mormons, and it’s very much about challenging one’s faith. It just happens to be somebody else’s.

    It reminds me of Joseph Campbell urging people to read other culture’s mythologies, because only in that way can we analyze mythology, as we are unable to see our own as mythology.

    For example, my wife doesn’t like the “realistic” movies and books that I do, she prefers fantasy. But as we’ve talked about what we read and watch, we realize that they’re both dealing with the same ideas. She just prefers to have that “once upon a time” buffer to let her know that this isn’t “real,” making it easier for her to deal with difficult subjects. That’s just the way she goes about things.

    So I imagine that you would find these same Mormons who don’t delve into their own literature willing to delve into other people’s challenging literature.

  2. Stephen Carter

    Here’s funny story. My wife resisted Captain Underpants for years until my son and I found one at the library and got hooked. She was very unhappy.

    In three weeks she’s going to be defending her dissertation entitled: What Would Captain Underpants Do? A Literary Analysis of Children In School.

  3. Stephen M (Ethesis)

    We just encountered Captain Underpants.

    Arghhh. What happened to Magic Treehouse and Gary Larsen?

    My wife just keeps shoveling books into the six-year-old’s hands as long as she reads them.

  4. Jettboy

    “The sense I get from many educated readers is that they were turned off from reading any Mormon literature because what they found in LDS bookstores they considered to be of poor quality. And those that love the popular literature, are not, from what I can tell, moving on to serious or more challenging literature.”

    That is because there isn’t enough serious or more challenging Mormon literature to read. It isn’t just lack of quality. Its lack of choice.

    General Christian literature has the same problems. For whatever reason, specifically religious fiction literature is difficult to write. It either turns out like a sermon or anti-religious. I have found the best “religious fiction” is when the religion is used more as a backdrop and character motivation than the center of attention. Story first and Religion second is what I say.

  5. Kent Larsen Post author

    Stephen Carter:

    Do you believe, after your experience in UVSC’s Mormon Literature class, that there is any way to bring people to Mormon literature?

    I assume that at least some students who took the class (including you, apparently) ended up with a positive view of Mormon literature that they didn’t have before. Obviously, the class itself is a kind of path to Mormon literature for some people.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that a class is a viable option for a lot of people. Is there another way?

  6. Kent Larsen Post author

    Jettboy:

    I understand your claim that there isn’t enough good Mormon literature.

    Do you say that based on the amount you have seen?

    Or based on research? (for example, have you looked at the list we posted here, The Canon of Mormon Literature)?

    Based on the above list, I’d say there are 25-50 quality Mormon novels that have been published. Is that enough? How much quality Mormon literature do we need to give readers the kind of choice they are looking for?

  7. Jettboy

    “How much quality Mormon literature do we need to give readers the kind of choice they are looking for?”

    First, I have seen that list, and personally don’t think there are more than ten. Not that I can list them off the top of my head at this time. I will have to look at it more closely. To answer the question: We need a consistantly published amount. Its not enough to have numbers. Otherwise, you just end up with a brick wall of reading. Perhaps that isn’t possible because of the size of our Church vs. the years and size of literature in general.

  8. Kent Larsen Post author

    Jettboy:

    >First, I have seen that list, and
    >personally don’t think there are
    >more than ten

    You realize that there are more titles out there than are on the list, right?

    Regardless, I suspect your standards are quite high. And under those standards you may be right — we don’t have enough.

    Part of the problem is that there are few publishers willing to publish hiqh-quality serious Mormon literature of the quality you are seeking.

    Essentially, serious Mormon literature is only published by Signature Books, one or two small independents, a handful of University presses, and occasionally national publishers. In terms of output, were lucky if we have 1 title a year of the quality you are seeking.

    But I also have to say that I think your standards are unreasonably high. The point of this thread is that some of the ‘bad’ literature actually brings readers to the good.

    Jettboy, can you suggest ‘bad’ literature that you think will do that?

  9. Jettboy

    Your correct. My literary tastes can be very high, even for general fiction. What I have found is actually that Sci-Fi written by Mormons has done what “bad” literature seems to do by your explanation. This is the case even for non-LDS. But, once they find out there isn’t much, if any, general Mormon fiction of quality than they shrug their shoulders and move on.

  10. Stephen Carter

    Kent said:
    I assume that at least some students who took the class (including you, apparently) ended up with a positive view of Mormon literature that they didn’t have before. Obviously, the class itself is a kind of path to Mormon literature for some people.

    I reply:
    My wife took that class with me. And she didn’t get into Mormon lit at all. It just wasn’t her bag.

    Then Kent asked:
    Do you believe, after your experience in UVSC’s Mormon Literature class, that there is any way to bring people to Mormon literature?

    I reply:

    The first thing that comes to mind is to make movies about these books we want to push. But that’s pretty unreachable.

    But I’ve been thinking about your “bad books” idea, and I think you have a good point. Here’s an idea on how to write good bad books.

    First of all, let go of the idea that Mormonism must come out as true in the end; let go of feeling like you have to “dispel myths.” Second, insist that Mormonism be only an element of the story, instead of letting it take over the story. This is hard to do because, everyone knows how stuff goes in Catholicism and Judaism, so they can just tell their stories without having to explain everything as they go along. But Mormonism is new enough, and we feel protective enough of it, that we feel like it has to be presented purely and undefiled, and above all, in such a way that we don’t look weird.

    I say, let Church mythology and practice look a little weird. Let it have some personality. And don’t let it take over. New York Doll could do it. So can we.

    Using these ideas as a springboard we could start writing genre pieces (as Jetboy has seen in some sci-fi books) for a mainstream market that use elements of Mormonism. If the market becomes saturated with depictions of Mormonism, we’ll eventually have the ubiquity that will grease the wheels of more literary storytelling.

    For example, if we wanted to infest the spooky book genre: a family moves into an old polygamous house out in the middle of nowhere. Weird things start happening. We find out in the end that three polygamous wives went crazy there all alone 100 years ago and wove together some uniquely Mormon spells. The family must put them to rest somehow.

    Or: the ghost of a man from early Utah haunts a person until he or she seeks out the ghost’s corpse. The ghost feels that he needs blood atonement performed for some act he was never punished for in mortal life.

    Or: a spirit cast out with Satan looks as though she is trying to destroy a person in mortal life, but at the end we realize that she has been helping the person in a perverse way because they had been friends in the premortal life.

    These are silly (and they’ve probably all been done). I admit it. But the thing that I think is constructive about these story outlines is that they do not take up the “is the church true or not?” axe. They just take a piece of the Mormon mythology and riff on it.

    In Malcolm Gladwell’s _Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking_ he talks about a comedy improv troop. Their only rule is that if someone sets down a premise, you must run with it. Good stories build momentum. They take things to an extreme and explore the strange corners.

    Also, the Mormon worldview could probably add unique twists to the spooky story genre. Like the idea (apocryphal, as I have heard, but still a great storytelling premise) that spirits sent to outer darkness degenerate until they become pure matter and are reformed in the great spiritual recycling program. Could those bits retain vestiges of their former incarnations and pass those on to later carnations?

    Any Sunday school teacher would stop me right here for speculative thinking beyond the bounds the brethren have set. But I think that’s one thing that stops Mormons from being able to write (it has certainly been a barrier to me), always thinking that you have to present truth as the correlation committee would endorse it. That any foray into speculation is dangerous ground.

    When I first tried coming up with Mormon ghost stories I kept running into this wall that said, “Well, all the character has to do is raise his arm to the square, or repent, read his scriptures and pray and everything will be all right.” So if resolving the story is really that easy, the only way to make a story of any length is to make the characters stupid so they take a long time to figure out the obvious.

    So, as authors, we have to admit that resolutions are hard to come by, and that our characters have to struggle and come up with difficult solutions or our stories will never be any good.

    When people read this kind of stuff will they say, “Hey, those Mormons are too weird?” I don’t think so. John Bellaires’ spooky young adult books are steeped in Catholicism, and all kinds of weird stuff happens. I usually come out of one of his books saying, “Man, that is soooo cool that Catholicism has such vast reservoirs of mythology and stories to work with.”

    So, writing stuff like this won’t change the world. But you weren’t asking for that.

  11. Laraine Wilkins

    As editor of a journal for Mormon literature, I am constantly astounded at the number of excellent writers out there whose work is unknown. It’s not a matter of quantity or quality so much as a matter of access. Kent mentions that publishers aren’t willing to publish Mormon lit because there’s no market. But I’ve been toying with the idea of starting my own publishing business for a while and marketing the idea of Mormon lit–as a serious genre–to a wider audience. I won’t share my trade secret about how I would do that. And who knows whether I’ll ever take it on as a project. But I do know of at least 3 people who are starting new publishing ventures for serious Mormon lit. With that many hands in the pot right now, maybe Signature won’t be the only publisher for such work much longer.

  12. scott bronson

    Laraine–

    Why don’t you tell us a little more about those three “upstart” adventurists? I’d sure like to know who they are. I thought I had a publisher for a work of mine but I haven’t heard from them in four months. My last two emails have been ignored. I’m about ready to shop around some more. Or should I be a little more patient and wait to see what you come up with?

    scott bronson

  13. C. L. Hanson

    One of the new publishing ventures you’re talking about is Christopher Bigelow’s “Zarahemla Books” right?

    He seems to be doing what some of you are requesting — focusing on a story rather than on proving Mormonism.

  14. Eric Russell

    The idea sounds good in theory, but does it really work that way? I mean, do people who read popular fiction frequently actually start reading classic and literary fiction? I suppose some might. But I think the vast majority of people just keep reading what they already like. I also think, however, that people are inclined to read what’s popular, whether it’s good or not. Maybe what we really need is just more literary titles on the DB top ten list.

  15. Stephen Carter

    That’s great that Chris Bigelow is getting into publishing. He’s the type who gets stuff done. LIke when he was running Irreantum, every other Mormon mag was behind schedule. But he was right on top of things.

  16. Kent Larsen Post author

    Laraine:

    I’m not sure who you are including in the 3 ventures for publishing serious Mormon lit. I’d say that is probably too many. The real challenge to publishing is NOT getting the book printed (see my post on self publishing and its difficulties). The challenge is selling the books in any appreciable quantity. If you can’t sell books or don’t have some experience in the industry, I’d discourage anyone from getting into this. You really have to be able to sell.

    But it is certainly true that we can use more effort in this area than we have now.

  17. Kent Larsen Post author

    Eric wrote:
    The idea sounds good in theory, but does it really work that way? I mean, do people who read popular fiction frequently actually start reading classic and literary fiction?

    Well, that isn’t really my point. I’m not interested in bringing popular fiction readers to literary fiction. I am interested in bringing readers to Mormon literature, be it popular or literary.

    I’m afraid some of the comments have tended to discuss literary fiction more than Mormon works in general.

    To be honest, I wish more of the comments here would address that issue — how to bring readers in general, not just literary readers.

  18. C. L. Hanson

    Kent wrote:
    I am interested in bringing readers to Mormon literature, be it popular or literary.

    I think with niche fiction word-of-mouth is especially important. The Internet can be a fantastic tool for facilitating viral marketing.

    One thing you might consider — if you guys haven’t already done this somewhere — would be to make a big website with a page for each LDS lit work you can think of. Each page would be a little like an Amazon page (with a picture, description, and the possibility for users to send in reviews and rankings), and could maybe link to the book’s actual Amazon page and/or the description of the book on the publisher’s site.

  19. Kent Larsen Post author

    C.L.Hanson:
    make a big website with a page for each LDS lit work you can think of. Each page would be a little like an Amazon page (with a picture, description, and the possibility for users to send in reviews and rankings), and could maybe link to the book’s actual Amazon page and/or the description of the book on the publisher’s site.

    I think it might be easier to just have the Mormon equivalent of Amazon.com — since Deseret Book won’t do it.

    You are correct, I think. We do need this.

  20. Christy Stevenson

    I completely agree with your tragic assessment! I thought I’d be a renegade and write some LDS fiction that would not only tell a quaint story but actually force LDS readers to think. I spent two years getting my hopes up with various LDS publishers– they raved about the writing, but in the end, the marketing/new product committee decided it was “too intense” for the market. I hoped they would see that the market was very limited because the majority of serious readers refused to read LDS fiction, and wouldn’t the market benefit from raising the literary bar? In the end, I decided to self-publish and never write LDS fiction again. Those who have read my novel, all LDS, have loved it and praised it immensely, so I am still proud of it as a piece of literature and I am glad I didn’t fluff it up. I have to hold on to an artistic integrity; I’m simply not a commercial novelist. Anyway, if you’re interested, it’s called Sunshine, and it’s at Amazon. Thanks for your support!

  21. Kent Larsen Post author

    Christy:

    You obviously didn’t read my post on self-publishing (see http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=133). Your best bet, in my opinion, would be to publish with one of the new crop of small LDS publishers who are willing to take on works that are “too intense” for the market.

    In any case, I wish you luck. The position you are in can be quite difficult. But publishing it yourself has a lot of downsides, unless you have a strong knowledge of the market.

  22. Tristi Pinkston

    I have to admit, I’m a bit concerned by the statement, “I’d say there are 25-50 quality Mormon novels that have been published.” Does that mean ever, as in, total? Wow, that’s a really harsh yardstick. I’m assuming this judgment was made after reading all the LDS fiction that has ever been published?

    I’ve been a professional media reviewer for the last two years, and have spent quite a lot of time reviewing books not only in the LDS market, but nationally. I would say that in the last two years alone, I have found easily one hundred LDS novels that were fine pieces, and I’m not easy to please.

    I must confess, I’m also concerned with the idea that a book must somehow challenge Mormonism in order to be a worthwhile book. I’ve read many books that portray persons who are living the gospel to the fullest extent and yet still manage to present a good story.

  23. William Morris

    I think it all depends on what one means by quality — a fine piece isn’t necessarily one that is deserving of canonical status. That is, a book that supports multiple readings and generates criticism, that should be taught in Mormon literature courses, etc.

    Certainly, one could make the argument more genre (as opposed to literary fiction) novels should be considered “quality” (as in deserving canonical status), but I think that by the mainstream standards of literary fiction, 25-50 is probably right.

    Quality isn’t exactly the word I would use — worthy of consideration for inclusion in the canon of Mormon literature is probably the best phrase. But even then, I’m not convinced we’re at a point in Mormon literature where we should be talking canon anyway.

    In terms of the idea that “a book must somehow challenge Mormonism in order to be a worthwhile book.”

    I don’t think that’s the case either. In fact, most of the books I have personally championed here at AMV, don’t challenge Mormonism. And I think if you delve into AMV, you’ll find that that’s very much the case.

    But then again, people have different ideas of what it means to challenge Mormonism. For example, I think books like _Angel of the Danube_, _On the Road to Heaven_, _Leaving Moscow_, _Salvador_,, _Vernal Promises)_, and yes even _Angel Falling Softly_ affirm Mormonism. None of them challenge the basic tenets of the LDS Church. None of them criticize the General Authorities or reveal stuff about the temple. All of the assume the divinity of Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I don’t know that every single character in the novels are “living the gospel to the fullest extent” — but I would have to know more about what you mean by the fullest extent to say. And somehow I doubt that every character in the novels you are referring to with that statement live the gospel to the fullest extent. If they did, it seems like there’d be no conflict (and I use that in a very broad sense of the term — my preference for Mormon novels is minor conflict, minor drama that illustrates how imperfect Mormons handle living the gospel in a fallen world) to drive the plot.

  24. Kent Larsen Post author

    Tristi:

    William is quite right in his answer to your concerns. Let me add a few observations:

    First, the use of the word “quality” was Jetboy’s use of the term — everyone else using the term simply accepted his definition. I believe he was both refering to more literary concerns, as William points out, AND to a much higher standard than even most U.S. book publishers use — i.e., quality as in what high literary criticism would consider quality.

    The answer here lies in different tastes in what the reader wants. The vast majority of readers, regardless of religious belief, are content with stories that you consider quality stories: fine writing that engages the reader. But there are plenty of those (think of all the Ph.D.s in English and related fields from the thousands of Universities in the U.S. and elsewhere — those that at least secretly consider themselves intellectuals) who have higher standards. They’ve read and liked “Ulysses” or “Gravity’s Rainbow” or “Blindness” and want something that gives them as intellectually satisfying an experience. Of course its hard for them to get this from Mormon Literature. I too wish we had our “Shakespeares and Miltons” as Elder Orson F. Whitney put it. We’re not there yet.

    As for “Challenging” Mormonism, I think you left out a word or two. Most of the time we talk above about “challenging literature.” The only person that talked about challenging beliefs was Stephen Carter, and he actually said:

    “literature that challenged their conception of Mormonism”

    Notice that he did not say “literature that challenged Mormonism.” There is a HUGE difference here. Every one of us have ideas that we have developed in our lives that are not 100% based on the gospel, but that we believe to some extent are Mormon. They are our “conceptions of Mormonism.” They are extrapolations, personal beliefs and what we have accepted from our culture, not the gospel itself. These are often NOT correct, and deserve to be challenged.

    You have probably heard these in Fast and Testimony meeting, despite their dubious nature. They include things like the belief that since everyone should stand on their own two feet, we don’t need to help the homeless.

    IMO, there is certainly a place for literature that challenges such conceptions of Mormonism — and whatever other weaknesses have developed in the culture that surrounds the Church.

    —-

    I have to add one additional issue here. I’ve begun to notice more and more the gulf in understanding between those that are seeking this high literature and those that are simply looking for a good story told well. Between those that read for intellectual stimulation and to learn from works that change their worldview and those that want to be entertained for a few hours in a way that is comfortable in their version of Mormon culture.

    I wrote the above post in part to fight this gulf. I don’t think there is anything to gain from overemphasizing these differences. Of course there will be a lot of fine literature that entertains a lot of Church members. We need that literature. We also need the “challenging” literature that Stephen Carter and Jetboy talked about. The unfortunate thing in the LDS market today is that the latter has been calumnized as unfaithful and largely excluded from LDS bookstores who seem to believe that it is somehow evil or that it won’t sell.

    We need both of these badly. A strong set of “challenging” literature will go a long way towards helping many people understand and reconcile their lives to the Gospel. Let’s work together so that both groups get what they need.

  25. Jonathan Langford

    Interesting post and thread. I’m glad the discussion here restarted so that I became aware of it.

    I think there are two separate issues here that Kent’s post opened up:
    * How to get people reading more challenging stuff
    * How to draw in readers for Mormon literature

    I won’t disagree that the first can (and ideally does) happen. One of the things I really like about sf&f as a category is that people often do move from less sophisticated to more sophisticated stuff–especially adolescent readers as they get older. The community of sf&f readers tends to encourage this: “Oh, so you liked David Eddings? Then you really ought to try David Farland.” That sort of thing.

    I *don’t* think there’s a corresponding progression from popular to literary fiction. Certainly there’s not a large enough body of Mormon literature to draw someone along in some kind of progression from popular to literary fiction. And I’m not sure how one would do it anyway.

    So instead, the challenge for Mormon literature has to focus on #2–that is, drawing in the readers that already have an interest in the kind of literature that we might want to promote, but know not where to find it.

    I think that in order to address that, we need to ask: Why *Mormon* literature in particular? Why would a reader with a taste for the literary have any interest in reading Mormon stories in particular, as opposed to all the other literary offerings that are out there?

    My own personal answer would be: Because as a Mormon, there are some issues I care about that are different from those in the non-Mormon world. There are elements of my life that aren’t addressed in general literature, because they’re particular to my Mormon situation. Those include doctrinal issues, cultural issues, and things that fall into some kind of middle ground–those “conceptions of Mormonism” that Kent mentioned.

    I suspect that if we looked at the general demographics of reading in the U.S., we’d find an overall balance that’s not all that different from the balance within the Mormon community, as regards matters like more challenging versus less challenging literature, sf&f versus Romance versus mainstream, etc. Trying to change the characteristics of the audience will be, at best, a long haul.

    I’d like to think of something witty and brilliant to end this off with, but can’t think of anything… I will say that the story I’m currently writing isn’t terribly stylistically sophisticated, but is likely to be challenging for a Mormon audience just because of the subject matter–even though I see the only significant audience as being Mormon. (Hence my lack of expectation to make any money off it, even if it gets published.) So there are many different varieties of literature to match up with specific niches.

  26. Th.

    .

    Something has been troubling me about this thread since I first found it last year but only today, thanks to Jonathan’s comment, have I figured out what it is. I will try to explain.

    The problem with a canon is that it necessarily implies works that are long dead and buried in a grave of accolades. It’s not easy for a new work to earn a spot. If Hamlet were performed for the first time in human history this weekend, no one would be sure what to make of it. Vertigo‘s screenwriter wrote the greatest film in human history, but never had another screen credit because it was (for Hitchcock) a flop. The idea of a canon excludes new work. And more vital than Jonathan’s “How to get people reading more challenging stuff” is how to get people writing more challenging stuff. We need a living ‘canon’, by which I mean we need a constant stream of greatness. Even if we had 300 books of canon quality, if they were all published pre1975, then Mormon literature is as dead as Roman literature.

    A corollary: Eagerness to exclude from the Canon of Challenging Work means that new work that is challenging on the surface is much more likely to be accepted into the club than mainstream-seeming work that churns below the surface.

    I don’t like focusing on finding our canon. I think it distracts us from the real task of reading and appreciating

  27. MoJo

    I apologize for bringing over something Th. said on Toward an LDS Cinema in response to a question Adam asked. I have no clue if it breaches blogiquette to do this or not, but I think it sums up the discussion here perfectly:

    I think we as artists are failing our people. We do not provide consumers of every taste and temperament with what they need.

    I’m going to assum Th. meant LDS consumers.

    I’m going to speak from a “worldly” genre romance perspective here because that’s where I’m coming from.

    Kent said:

    I’ve heard many times that LDS fans of romance literature often get sick of overly-explicit scenes and come looking for something “cleaner.”

    They’re not looking hard enough. It exists and it exists in droves. What they want is romance portrayed how we LDS do it, which is fairly singular in any religious community. Dating and romance in the church has its own language, its own set of unique issues, its own, ah, Rules of Engagement, and the language and issues and rules CHANGE as one ages without having married or if one has divorced (with or without children) or if one is widowed (older or not so much). All of that is unique to dating/romance in the church.

    However. As time goes on in LDS Publishing, the romance becomes more and more sanitized (shall I say homogenized?) to the point that merely the idea that a dating relationship will culminate in sex. No, it stops either at “will you marry me?” or post-temple marriage and the pictures have been taken and the newly wedded and heretofore sexless couple has driven away.

    I’ve been reading a lot of LDS romance lately so I can speak with some first-hand knowledge. I have chosen not to mention this on my blog or review any of these because they’ve run together in my mind (much like “worldly” genre romance has, which is why I’m not reading much of it, either).

    It can be clean without being explicit. IMO, Eugene’s book was not explicit and the relationship between the bishop and his wife was completely appropriate, yet there was a great hue and cry in the land.

    In short, these stories have bored me. In order to avoid any controversy (and therefore have a shot at getting published) there is no variation on the theme. There is no tackling of sexual issues beyond abuse (e.g., the heroine was sexually abused and is dealing with that in healthy or unhealthy ways) and/or past indiscretions and/or healthy sexual desire and/or the difficulty of celibacy. The subtext is always SEX IS BAD and therefore A Subject To Be Avoided.

    As someone on another blog wrote (with which I do agree): We all know how it works.

    Apparently not, since I can count 3 blogs on LDS sexuality and a couple of Sunstone articles which deal with the sexual dysfunction of the never-having-been-talked-to. The anger, the bitterness, the years of unpleasant relations with one’s spouse, and what I like to call the Uneven Yoke of the Marriage Bed.

    But let’s look beyond that because the explicitness of the work and/or how sexual tension/desire works in a uniquely LDS dating/romance situation is not the point.

    The point is in how the lack of any hint of a whiff of such has seeped into the stories themselves. Stories that might otherwise be engaging AND G-rated are also sanitized, homogenized.

    And I didn’t realize that until I began reading a piece that is unique and engaging and funny and TOTALLY G-rated that has found no place in LDS Publishing. Why? It doesn’t challenge the church. It’s not even challenging anyone’s assumptions about the church. The protagonist’s romantic cluelessness is cute and pathetic without being cloying or unrealistic.

    I’ll tell you why: It’s really different. Its formatting is unconventional. The way it’s presented is unconventional and the reader is expected to be able to catch the nuances and nothing is spelled out for the reader.

    Every point in the LDS romance work I’ve been reading is explained to death and usually with a heavy didactic hand. No thanks. I see no nuance, no leaving things (things NOT having to do with sex) to the reader’s imagination, no challenge of the reader’s INTELLECT. (Which is one reason I loved Eugene’s book so much.)

    Again, this complaint isn’t exclusive to LDS romance by any stretch. If I want light and fluffy, I go to “worldly” genre romance where I’m also not preached at. I can get that at church, thanks. But at least in “worldly” genre romance, I’ve got a ton of subgenres to choose from that hit my spot and if my favorites don’t do it, I know how to find what might. LDS romance doesn’t have that range or depth. I, a potential LDS consumer of LDS romance, am not being served.

    I am only one, but I can’t believe I’m THE only one.

    /rant

  28. MoJo

    Proofread, Mojo.

    …the romance becomes more and more sanitized (shall I say homogenized?) to the point that merely the idea that a dating relationship will culminate in sex…

    …doesn’t exist.

    As someone on another blog wrote (with which I do agree): We all know how it works.

    …do NOT agree…

  29. Th.

    .

    My reading in Mormon letters has been expanding expanding expanding the last couple years and I’m now coming around to the idea that we have plenty of great writers. We do. And they could write us plenty of great books. And there will soon be sufficient means to publication.

    But how will readers find them?

    That’s our real problem.

  30. MoJo

    Well, Th., at this point, that’s EVERYBODY’S problem.

    In the convergence of traditional publishing cutting back drastically and requiring their authors to sellsellsell and prove their numbers, e-publishers ramping up, and self-publishing having become more than accessible, everybody’s out there hustling to be seen.

    The breakouts won’t be the best books, and maybe not even good books. They’ll be the ones whose authors get the most attention.

    My genre is not only on the cutting edge of electronic publishing, but it’s pushing it hard, evangelizing the e-book.

    I think LDS publishing across the board has a unique opportunity here to be right up there with genre romance and reach a segment of readers (albeit microscopic at the moment) who prefer to read on an electronic device. It could embrace the future and be that much farther ahead in terms of workflow process and e-book distribution when readers catch up to the wonders of reading electronically.

    E-books are like that rack of stuff at the checkout aisle: impulse, all impulse. It’s immediate and now and cheap. Put a collection of intriguing e-books in front of people, and they don’t have time to talk themselves out of spending money.

    But that’s just the view from where I sit. Being in electronic format will be, in the not-so-distant future, a deciding factor for authors (including LDS ones) getting their works A) looked at and B) bought.

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