Wm says: Scott asked me to post this. I was loathe to do so because I’m going to enter the contest so why would I want more competition? But I have a reputation of magnanimity to uphold so here it is…
A New Plea for Fiction
by Scott Hales
The other day, I posted on Facebook that the publication agreement for a review I wrote of Angela Hallstrom’s Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction had come in the mail. Among the comments that followed was one that suggested the book should have been called Latter-day Fiction: Disposable.
Now, I doubt the guy who made the comment had ever read the book—even though I know he’s no stranger to Mormon studies. More likely, his comment sprang from the common misconception among Mormons—and we all know it’s there—that fiction written by Latter-day Saints about Latter-day Saints and for Latter-day Saints isn’t worth reading. Not by anyone over the age of fourteen, at least. And even then, it’s still disposable.
A lot of reasons have been tossed out there for why this misconception exists. Typically detractors reference Mormon fiction’s apparent predilection for cheese, sentimentality, and didacticism—not to mention its “unrealistic” depiction of the world and the easy way it resolves the conflicts (or non-conflicts) that fuel its plots. As proof, they point to the work of someone like Jack Weyland, Mormonism’s great literary scapegoat, and novels like Charly, his supposed magnum opus horrendus.
Now, I may be wrong, but I have a theory that most of these detractors—these dear brothers and sisters who conflate all Mormon fiction with Weyland and Charly—have never read a word written by the guy. More to the point, though, I’d be willing to bet that even if they have—and loathed it—they’ve still never taken the time to see what else Mormon fiction has to offer. In this respect, they’re not unlike teenagers who refuse to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark because they thought Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls sucked fry sauce.
Of course, we can’t blame Mormon fiction’s detractors for their ignorance. It’s not like the best Mormon fiction is on the bookshelves at any of the Barnes & Nobles in the Cincinnati area, where I live, or advertised on Amazon.com’s main page. Nor is it always found on the shelves at Deseret or Seagull Books. Too often, great Mormon fiction goes unread because its primary audience does not know how and where to find it.
So the misconceptions persist, and Mormon fiction remains disposable.
But it doesn’t have to—not if we all do our part to bust the Jello mold Mormon fiction has been trapped inside since Sam first kissed Charly. As stated in its Call for Submissions, the upcoming Mormon Lit Blitz has been designed specifically to carry Mormon fiction to the Latter-day masses, the “people who love Mormonism and”—believe it or not!—“love great writing.” What better chance is there to bring great Mormon fiction to readers than a contest that seeks to flood the Bloggernacle with Mormon literature?**
Already we’ve received nearly forty submissions, and we fully expect to receive many more before the January 15th deadline.*** Today, however, I am making a special plea for fiction submissions that depict contemporary Mormon life—fiction that mirrors the lives of its readers.
Yes, the Blitz accepts—and has already received—poetry and speculative fiction submissions, which I imagine will have a prominent place among the finalists.**** But I’d also like to see the work of some of our best practitioners of “Faithful Realism”—or whatever it is you want to call it—featured as well. So often, Latter-day Saint readers know the Orson Scott Cards, Stephenie Meyers, Ally Condies, and Brandon Sandersons, but they do not know the Douglas Thayers, Todd Robert Petersens, and Angela Hallstroms out there.***** My hope is that the Mormon Lit Blitz will help even out the playing field.
In 1898, Nephi Anderson made a similar plea to readers of The Improvement Era. At the time, members of the Church were largely suspicious of fiction, particularly novels, and worried that it had a negative effect on society. Anderson boldly argued otherwise, challenging the sermonly notions of “the spectacled fathers and mothers” of the day, and praising fiction for its ability to speak to the minds and hearts of the rising generation.
In many ways, Mormon culture is now at a crossroads. Not since the days of Anderson and the Home Literature crowd has Mormon creative work been more accessible to the reading masses. True, official Church publications and printing presses have largely steered away from fiction, but small presses, independent journals, and blogs have done their best to pick up the slack. Sadly, their efforts—and the efforts of talented Mormon writers—go unnoticed all too often.
So, if you write stories about contemporary Mormon life, I plead with you to submit to the Mormon Lit Blitz. We need your work, along with the work of our talented genre writers, to prove that Latter-day fiction is not disposable, is not some reeking piece of candy stuck to the underside of a table in the Cultural Hall.
Through the Mormon Lit Blitz, we have a chance to introduce Mormon fiction to a wider audience. As I see it, we can either seize that chance, however great or small it may prove to be, or let people like the guy on Facebook continue to revel in their misconceptions of and faithlessness in Mormon culture.
Is it not time to stick it to the “spectacled fathers and mothers” of our day?
**That’s right! We want to get the entire Bloggernacle involved in spreading the words about the contest. If you write a Mormon-themed blog—no matter the size—and would like to advertise the Blitz in February, contact us at Mormonlitblitz@gmail.com and we’ll put you on the list.
***Contest co-coordinator James Goldberg has already called for a “poetically appropriate one thousand and one” submissions. Do you want to let him down?
****I say “I imagine” because I haven’t read any of the submissions yet.
*****Before I get mauled by all the SF&F folk out there, I should also say that Latter-day Saint readers also ought to know more about the Eric James Stones and Lee Allreds out there.