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 ofÂ magnanimityÂ 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 Hallstromâ€™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 bookâ€”even though I know heâ€™s no stranger to Mormon studies. More likely, his comment sprang from the common misconception among Mormonsâ€”and we all know itâ€™s thereâ€”that fiction written by Latter-day Saints about Latter-day Saints and for Latter-day Saints isnâ€™t worth reading. Not by anyone over the age of fourteen, at least. And even then, itâ€™s still disposable.
A lot of reasons have been tossed out there for why this misconception exists. Typically detractors reference Mormon fictionâ€™s apparent predilection for cheese, sentimentality, and didacticismâ€”not to mention its â€œunrealisticâ€ 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, Mormonismâ€™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 detractorsâ€”these dear brothers and sisters who conflate all Mormon fiction with Weyland and Charlyâ€”have never read a word written by the guy. More to the point, though, Iâ€™d be willing to bet that even if they haveâ€”and loathed itâ€”theyâ€™ve still never taken the time to see what else Mormon fiction has to offer. In this respect, theyâ€™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 canâ€™t blame Mormon fictionâ€™s detractors for their ignorance. Itâ€™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.comâ€™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 doesnâ€™t have toâ€”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 â€œpeople who love Mormonism andâ€â€”believe it or not!â€”â€œlove great writing.â€ 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 weâ€™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 lifeâ€”fiction that mirrors the lives of its readers.
Yes, the Blitz acceptsâ€”and has already receivedâ€”poetry and speculative fiction submissions, which I imagine will have a prominent place among the finalists.**** But Iâ€™d also like to see the work of some of our best practitioners of â€œFaithful Realismâ€â€”or whatever it is you want to call itâ€”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 â€œthe spectacled fathers and mothersâ€ 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 effortsâ€”and the efforts of talented Mormon writersâ€”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 â€œspectacled fathers and mothersâ€ of our day?
**Thatâ€™s right! We want to get the entire Bloggernacle involved in spreading the words about the contest. If you write a Mormon-themed blogâ€”no matter the sizeâ€”and would like to advertise the Blitz in February, contact us at Mormonlitblitz@gmail.com and weâ€™ll put you on the list.
***Contest co-coordinator James Goldberg has already called for a â€œpoetically appropriate one thousand and oneâ€ submissions. Do you want to let him down?
****I say â€œI imagineâ€ because I havenâ€™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.