On being unsure what to say

2.17.12 | | 52 comments

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Note for those wondering when my next Bright Angels & Familiars post will be: not until the Mormon Lit Blitz has ended. Let’s all head over now and get caught up!

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For Christmas, I gave my mother a copy of Bound on Earth and my father a copy of On the Road to Heaven (the links are to my personal reviews of those books as written when I first read them). I had intended to write inside them why I was giving them these books (I matched them carefully, book to parent), but I never got around to it, so they were simply wrapped and handed over at my brother’s house and we never even spoke about them.

Then, at the bottom of a Valentine’s Day package of keychain dogs that say I ruff you woof woof! when you squeeze them, was the still pristine copy of On the Road to Heaven with a Post-it in my mother’s handwriting telling me this book was not for them and I could have it back thanks all the same.

I’m a little dizzy over this. I keep wanting to get more details from them, but every time I start thinking about doing so, I have no idea how to approach the subject without sounding . . . wrong. Accusative or angry or hurt or haughty or . . . something. So we haven’t talked about it.

My assumption is that they were offended by the book (though maybe not, maybe it was something else). But I still don’t know what to make of the book’s return. I’ve never had my parents return a gift before. I’m surprised that was what they decided to do. Why not just let it sit on a shelf or in a box somewhere? Why not donate it to a library sale? Why not something else? Why return it with an opaque note whose meaning I’m forced to guess at?

I don’t know what to make of this.

I said in my review of The Death of a Disco Dancer that

. . . I’ll be buying a copy for my mother (even though it says “nuts” and “balls” far too often for her taste): This book made me recognize my love for my mother in a way I too rarely do. Now, several days after finishing it, I’m still riding that buzz.

For that gift I was definitely planning on including a long note and admit the expectation that she might not read it but that the book’s appearance in her mail was a symbol of my love for her. But I don’t know, now. I’m not sure it’s worth the bother.

I have so many things I want to know about this returned gift. And so little confidence in my ability to ask the right questions.

But if my Dad—for whom On the Road to Heaven is mathematically the ideal book—can’t read it long enough to get the cover to stay slightly open when laid back down on the table—–

I’ve never been so depressed about the potential to bring Mormon lit to Mormons.

I mean—Emily and Laura loved this book, and they don’t go for smut!

Sigh.

Thank God—and I mean it literally—for the itty-bitty chunks of joy Mormon Lit Blitz is daily delivering right now. May it be sufficient to drown my sorrows.

52 comments: “On being unsure what to say

  1. Wm

    Maybe say that you’re sorry that they didn’t like On the Road to Heaven and then ask what she (they?) thought about Bound on Earth? That will help you diagnose whether it was just that particular title that is an issue.

  2. Laura

    A couple years ago I bought a copy of _The Conversion of Jeff Williams_ for my dad for his birthday. My dad was raised in California (Walnut Creek, holla!) then moved to Provo and got his undergraduate in literature at BYU when Doug Thayer was first being recognized as the IT man of Mormon Lit. I was sure he would love it. He read it through and called me wondering why I would send him this. I told him the reasons I loved it and he replied, “So you weren’t comparing me to the main character?” I said, “No. You aren’t like him at all. Except that you both lived in California and then Provo.” He replied with an “oh.” Then read the book again and really liked it. It’s been several years and he still brings that book up when he sees me. He also get a mystified expression every time he brings the book up. I chalk it up to the fact that most people still think of all Mormon lit as Jack Weyland and Anita Stansfield and then further complicate the whole thing by assuming we (the givers) think that the book somehow reflects them (the receivers). All that ends up being the perfect recipe for cognitive dissonance. Really. I second Wm. Bound on Earth might be a good way to break the ice.

    And, yes, for the record: On the Road to Heaven is wonderful and people don’t need to be wary of it. At all.

  3. Scott Hales

    Maybe your dad read my review of “On the Road to Heaven,” which I think is the only negative review of the novel out there.

    If that was the case…sorry.;)

    Good luck. I still think giving your mom “Death of a Disco Dancer” is a good idea.

    This post has made me want to recommend “The Tree House” to my dad, by the way. Maybe for Father’s Day.

  4. Emily M.

    I would be reeling too, and also not knowing what to say. Except that I see giving those particular books as a sign of respect; it would be for me. I gave my aunt a copy of Dispensation a while ago, which for me said “I think you’re cool and smart and therefore will appreciate this book.”

    I’m so sorry–family can be so tricky sometimes.

  5. Th.

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    It feels particularly personal not just because I carefully chose the book, but also because I dedicate so much time to this literature, I feel like I’ve just been told I’m wasting my life.

    This must be what it felt like to be a teenager . . . .

  6. Jonathan Langford

    A most illustrative incident. This, in a nutshell, presents one of many issues that makes the issue of Mormon literature so fraught.

    In-family conversations about books are perilous and fraught with potential pitfalls (sometimes even landmines), but also represent the only way forward in a case like this. It’s also a conversation I suspect you will have to have sometime, just because (a) books are so important to you, and (b) as things are, it’s this big area of (possibly mutual) misunderstanding. Certainly you’re going to be very reluctant to give them stuff in the future unless you find out why they reacted that way.

    A key issue, I find, is the different responses that different readers have to the same book, especially when those reactions relate to whether a story is spiritually uplifting or not. Many members of the Church have a very hard time accepting the notion that a story can be genuinely uplifting for one person even if it “drives away the Spirit” for someone else. Very often, the message is that if I don’t find a particular story offensive to the Spirit, it’s because I’m not as spiritually sensitive as someone else. Getting to the point where my sister and I could accept that she and I were genuinely experiencing different things when we read the same story took several long, honest, careful conversations. I don’t know that this is what’s going on in this case, but it *might* be, for reasons that you would have no way of knowing.

    The first step, as I see it, is to have a conversation with your mother about Bound in Heaven. Has she read it? Did she like it? What did she like and what did she dislike about it?

    Then you move onto OTRTH. Consider using language like the following: “I sent Dad a copy of OTRTH because I’d enjoyed it and thought he would too. For me, it [top-level statement of why you liked it]. Obviously, he didn’t have that kind of experience, based on the fact that you sent it back to me. Can we talk about that? I’d like to understand what his reaction (or your reaction) to the book was, and what it was about the book that made you feel that way about it.”

    In my family, we’ve pretty much reached the point where books are given with the assumption that there will be a conversation afterwards. Outside my family, I’ve started accompanying loans of books with the comment that all I expect is that when they’re done with the book, they’ll be willing to have a conversation with me telling what their reaction was — positive or negative — and why. That kind of conversation can only happen, though, if there’s an honest recognition that it really is valid for different people to have different reactions, and an interest in sharing those reactions — not arguing about who is right or wrong. If that can be pulled off.

  7. FoxyJ

    Several years ago I tried giving my dad a copy of Falling Toward Heaven because he likes to read and I thought he would like it. He’s an inactive Mormon and reads Dialogue and it seemed like a good gift. Last year I realized that it was sitting in their bookcase still wrapped in plastic. I think that was mostly due to inattention/dysfunction/forgetfulness, not a willful desire to ignore the book. Who knows.

    At the same time I gave my mom a copy of a book by Virginia Sorensen because I thought she’d like it. I have not idea if she did or not or if she even read it. My mom is a reader, but getting her to read new things is surprisingly difficult. If it wasn’t something she read once 20 years or go or that comes from an author she’s already familiar with or in a genre she loves, forget it. As you can see, I’ve also become somewhat cynical about trying to recommend books to my parents.

    I still feel a little offended by the library patron a few months ago who recoiled in horror when I suggested that she try some of Heather Moore’s Book of Mormon books. She quickly informed that the BOM was much to sacred to turn into literature and that she would never read something like that.

    Recommending books to people requires a thick skin sometimes.

  8. Angela H.

    Th., that’s tough. It’s so hard to know what will offend people — even our parents. (And it’s so much more emotionally fraught when it’s our loved ones who get offended by something that we find moving or powerful.) I wonder what your mom will think of Bound on Earth, if she ever reads it. I remember when the Deseret News did a review of BoE that mentioned that some readers might find the sexual references “gratuitous.” For the life of me, I couldn’t conceive of what gratuitous references the reviewer was talking about. Then my 85-year-old Grandpa, a former bishop, sent me an email that said, “I’ve been searching and searching for those references and still can’t find em!” Made my day.

    Have your parents expressed any interest in Monsters and Mormons? For me, being the editor of Dispensation is trickier than being the author of BoE. I feel like I have to explain it carefully when a nice, well-meaning woman in the ward who rarely, if ever, reads literary fiction (let alone short stories, let alone short stories by Mormon authors that don’t have a didactic purpose) mentions she’d like to get a copy. “So, yeah, there’s one story where a bishop commits suicide by putting his head on the railroad tracks, just fyi . . .”

    Writing for the Mormon market is a tricky, tricky business.

  9. Theric Jepson Post author

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    I know they fear for my heretic artsy soul. I wonder what they would think of Monsters & Mormons. Maybe I’ll have to find out.

  10. Katya

    I know they fear for my heretic artsy soul.

    I’m sorry to hear that. I guess I always assumed they raised you to be a artsy heretic. :(

  11. Jettboy

    As an avid reader I would still no more read those books than I would read the Deseret Book fiction. I detest books about Mormons and wish I could read more stories that simply had Mormons (like Orson Scott Card’s “Lost Boys”). My dream is finding more books that read kind of like this: There is a story, really any story. The main character is a Mormon, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he was Catholic other than as a Mormon he acts and reacts differently than a Catholic would. If its set in, say, Provo then it might as well be set in some New England suburb. Of course since its set in, say, Provo there are peculiarities to that town although it could just as easily have been another town. I don’t know if you get my drift or not. Self-conscious literature is annoying to me.

  12. Theric Jepson Post author

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    I’m not sure how you draw a line between books about Mormon and books with Mormons who behave like Mormons. That strikes me as an indefinable distinction.

  13. Moriah Jovan

    My dream is finding more books that read kind of like this: There is a story, really any story. The main character is a Mormon…

    Oh! You’re in luck! I got your dream right here.

    But…I’ve read you enough to know that you really don’t mean you want ANY story.

    Th., I feel for you. Don’t know what to say other than that.

  14. jks

    I don’t have any idea about your background or your parents’ story because I am not a regular reader of your blog. But I just have to add my family’s story. My sister (who had a shakier relationship with my parents at the time) gave my dad VHS set about Winston Churchill. Well, it sat on the shelf and when she came home to visit the following year it was still in its package. So…..she wrapped it up and gave it to him again.
    I wasn’t there, but I wish I knew how that went. All I know is that now they laugh about it. And I admire her guts. My dad is a good guy and they can communicate much better now.

  15. Jettboy

    Moriah Jovan, your probably right, although I’m not sure exactly what you mean. I am a science fiction and paranormal geek. There might be some stories from Mormons and Monsters I might like, but the examples I’ve seen from some of the entries still feel forced.

  16. Jettboy

    Th., I would suggest you read, or ponder if you already have, Orson Scott Card’s “Lost Boys” as a perfect example. The same, even having all its weaknesses and Mormon miscues, “The Devil’s Colony” with the Indian Mormon. I have never personally written a Mormon based story. I wouldn’t begin to know how without feeling insincere and pedantic.

  17. Moriah Jovan

    What I mean is that you said you’d like to read ANY story with a Mormon character just tooling around in the world the way a Mormon would…versus something insincere and pedantic. I understand what you mean, but sometimes, those stories involve other things that I know (from previous postings throughout the bloggernacle) would make you uncomfortable. Mine would. But then you don’t actually want ANY story. You want one in a genre you like without the things that make you uncomfortable. Totally understandable. Even I have my squick points and genres and subjects and things I will not read. (I don’t like thrillers where the villain has a POV, for instance.)

    So usually, when people start drilling down what they do and do not want to read, it starts to get so specific that it’s impossible to please those people.

    I suspect this is what happens with Mormon lit. People really do want Jack Weyland. Some want it better written. Some want a side of sparkly vampire. Some don’t want as heavy YM/YW morality-tale language, but a little is good. Some want all three, or more. But they DON’T want The World intruding upon this tale to make them uncomfortable. Yet they want some realism/verisimilitude.

    To the people who are adamant about such specifics, I can only say, “Write it yourself or hire someone to write it for you.”

  18. Moriah Jovan

    Re MoLit and “nobody” wanting to read it: I personally think the effort should be made regardless of a work’s reception. SOMEBODY will find it and it will be valuable to them. It’s a body of work that will someday inform someone that there were people out there working and publishing in spite of the odds. It’s probably true that “nobody” wants to read it. But writers are going to write anyway. It needs to be available for that one person now or in he future who will know, understand, appreciate, and possibly take inspiration from it.

    And now I feel the need to re-read ANTHEM for the 432rd time.

  19. Wm

    I totally agree, MoJo. Excellent comment (except for the Anthem sentence [wink]).

  20. Jonathan Langford

    Excellent comment Moriah. Especially the following:

    “I personally think the effort should be made regardless of a work’s reception. SOMEBODY will find it and it will be valuable to them.”

    Sometimes I think we get too caught up in talking about the “one true approach” to Mormon Lit, the key that will unlock the hearts of readers — without taking proper account of the fact that different people read for different reasons, and therefore want to read different things. It’s a lot of different sandboxes, not just one. It’s pointless to blame writers for working in one sandbox (that interests them), versus a different one (that doesn’t). And equally pointless to blame readers for that.

  21. Sarah Dunster

    This post makes my bloid heat up a little, that she would just send it back in such a way…ostensibly polite but sending a very clear message. I think I fear that this will be the reaction a few of my family members have to some of what I write, if said writing ever makes it out of the closet. This might go back to the discussiion we had a few posts ago about “avoid the appearance of evil” vs writing about real stuff. I think that this issue/conflict or whatever with LDS readers (which I think readers apply in much greater measure to L D S writers) us a large piece of the struggle of MoLit.

  22. Wm

    Usually my family is giving me works of Mormon lit rather than the other way around. I wonder how much my parents have spent with Zarahemla Books and Peculiar Pages. At least $100 over the years. Likely more.

    [not trying to make comparisons, here — just musing on how experiences differ in this regard]

  23. Moriah Jovan

    Thanks, Jonathan. Every time I start to get discouraged about my sales or whatever (i.e., that I’m not a gazillionaire by now), I go look at this: http://pinterest.com/pin/41658365272861960/

    Look at the comment below it. I didn’t know that person from Eve.

    I’ve always held the vague philosophy that if it reaches That One Person, it’ll all be worth it, but I didn’t know how much of an impact it could make until I saw that.

    That person finally tracked me down on Twitter and told me what she meant and while I’m not at liberty to share, what she ended up doing was remarkable.

    Re books as gifts: We in my family all know better than to give each other gifts of books. To us, they’re very personal things. That’s what Amazon gift certificates are for. Then again, we aren’t the most sentimental family ever.

  24. Moriah Jovan

    It’s pointless to blame writers for working in one sandbox (that interests them), versus a different one (that doesn’t). And equally pointless to blame readers for that.

    I totally agree. And what readers don’t always understand about non-spec writers is that we write for OURSELVES first.

  25. Jettboy

    Moriah Jovan, I mean no disrespect, but its not a matter of uncomfortable and so only proves you don’t know me. Not that there is a problem with that because frankly the Internet isn’t really the total sum of an individual. I don’t read Deseret Book novels for the same reason I wouldn’t read The Lonely Polygamist. They don’t at all feel true to Mormonism that I know and recognize. The problem is more unrelatable than uncomfortable.

    I would love to read about a Mormon family who had a drunk father and how they cope with that without all becoming either apostates or angels. To be more true to my own interests, it would be interesting to have a story about the struggles of a Mormon colony on a distant planet. They have to worry as much about growing crops for food, creating shelter, and fighting off indigenous beasts as they do religious concerns.

    That isn’t to say a fine line doesn’t exist. I just think the only one to have ever pulled it off consistently is Orson Scott Card. Since my story writing philosophy is let the story tell itself I have never had a reason to introduce Mormon characters. Even though I have a feeling some of them are Mormon without actual identification. Not that I am very good at writing having never formally been published.

  26. Wm

    You might try Leaving Moscow, Jettboy. It’s a conversion story, but it’s not as insistent as many conversion stories, and it’s very frank and nuanced about both drug and alcohol use and hippies and rednecks.

    Also: I think for most writers the philosophy is to let the story tell itself. But as you say, it’s really an issue of relatable-ness.

  27. Moriah Jovan

    I guess I don’t know how you can make the assertion that a book you have never read doesn’t at all feel true to Mormonism.

    In addition, I gave you a link to a book that IS, by almost every LDS reviewer’s definition, a book that is true to Mormonism and otherwise EXACTLY what you asked for, and you haven’t referenced that book. Furthermore, I’ve not seen you mention Angela’s most excellent book BOUND ON EARTH, also something that fits the criteria you put forth, Card/paranormal notwithstanding.

    As for whether I know you or not from your comments, no, I don’t KNOW you, but I do know enough OF you to make some educated guesses about opinions you might hold/form about certain things.

  28. Theric Jepson Post author

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    It suddenly has occurred to me that my old post “The Damnation of Orson Scott Card is apropos.” (Especially to Sarah.)

    Jettboy: favor: could you list some books you’ve read other than Lost Boys that is either a good example or a bad example? One data point isn’t really enough to know what you mean. (Just make sure they’re books you’ve read as so far you’ve mostly discussed books you haven’t read, and that makes it hard to know whether or not they’re actually true examples.)

  29. Jettboy

    TJ, I would go with Orson Scott Card’s “Saints,” and his series of stories “Folk of the Fringe” as other examples. Why can’t I list others? Because either I have no way of getting them at a library or even library loan that might also be included (I buy books I really like) or I have never run into any others.

    All I am trying to say, I guess, is that if a reader such as myself who feels they are well read is hesitant to pick up Mormon literature, I can see why casual Mormon readers would be also. Its hard to trust when you have been burned so many times. Since I have had poor history with Mormon literature then I’m not going to spend much time or money on something with a poor track record. To put it another way as an outsider if you will, you (meaning pretty much any writers of Mormon fiction) have a reputation problem not entirely in your control.

  30. Wm

    If you’d prefer not to say publicly, Jettboy, feel free to email me: william At motleyvision DT org.

    I’m interested in where this reputation problem is coming from. I would guess that’s coming from several different directions.

  31. Sarah Dunster

    “how long till I join the ranks of Mormon authors generally assumed to be apostate ne’er-do-wells who sold their soul for fame and glory? How long till I am diagnosed with a split personality and worldliness and evil? How long till I am damned?”

    Oh, you’ve expressed it so well.

    The frustrating thing is, people I know will hold up someone like Gerald Lund (no offense to Gerald Lund) as a writer of LDS classics. I read it and I feel like I’m reading a soap opera… it feels like junk food, to me. I loved Jack Weyland as a teen because he actually wrote about real issues… “Sarah” by Jack Weyland, for instance, was a story about a girl who was impregnated by her incestuous father. IT was banned for a little while from LDS bookshelves. But I found redeeming themes in his stories (which, when you think about it, can be a tad edgy because of the issues they bring up.)

    I feel like the LDS culture can use an infusion of reality. As someone who has gone through some brutal reality, and had people around me not know exactly what to do with me as a result (even though none of it was due to my “unrighteousness” or poor choices) I feel that there is a piece/message missing from the gospel as we preach it from pulpits; that bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, bad people can do good things or become good people and essentially good people can make horrible mistakes/fall off the path, etc. I think we tend to hold in our own stories of redemption or repentance because there is a strong message (I don’t know where it comes from) that we don’t talk about our sins or struggles out of fear it’ll bring someone else down.

    Sigh.

    But the thing is, just like Eve (not that I’m comparing myself to the mother of all living or anything) I think we need to know the good from the evil, and you have to portray one to highlight the other sometimes.

    And Theric… high fives…9th generation Californian here.

    And Hell is a place, and Damn is a verb. The reason I don’t use them generally is simply because they’re kind of a rude thing to say to someone :D

  32. Katya

    I feel like the LDS culture can use an infusion of reality.

    I think this is one of the really frustrating things about the reception of books like No Going Back. Pulling that book from the shelves of BYU Bookstore or blocking its review in the BYU alumni magazine won’t stop gay Mormon teenagers from existing, it just means that Mormons (both gay and straight) will have one fewer tool at their disposal in navigating the extraordinarily difficult intersection of homosexuality and Mormonism.

  33. Eugene

    I think the problem here is a confusion of means and ends. The means: Mormons writing what they know. The ends: Mormons writing for Mormons. The fact that the Venn diagrams overlap doesn’t mean they will predictably overlap. It is a fool’s errand to force the one onto the other.

    This is true of all fiction. The various genre sects relish sniping at each other, but in the end there’s simply no accounting for taste. The fan still earnestly believes that his favored genre ought to be beloved by all. But even the most wildly popular works fall significantly short of true universality.

    In other words, (sub)genre is far more predictive of shared tastes than the presence of common elements among disparate genres. I would no more expect Mormons to like the same literature because they are Mormon than I would expect them to eat the same food or speak the same language.

  34. Theric Jepson Post author

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    Sarah: And here we are. It’s a life I suppose.

    Jettboy: Without these negative examples you mention but leave unstated, I really can’t understand what you mean. I can’t see any reason not to call out books you don’t like. Call them out. Say why they didn’t work. So far the only bad example you’ve mentioned is The Lonely Polygamist which you haven’t read. You can’t be burned unless you stick some oatmeal in your mouth.

    Me, I’ve stopped complaining about certain sectors of the LDS market because I’m not reading them. I don’t know what they’re up to, when I’m honest.

    Eugene: This is true enough. Though I would vote for branching out of our comfort genres now and then.

  35. Jonathan Langford

    Jettboy: I, too, like the idea of fiction where the main character’s Mormonness is only incidental to the story (but still realistic). From the examples you cite by Card, though, it also sounds like you’re open to stories (like Folk of the Fringe and Saints) where the Mormonness of the characters is pretty central to the story. Card’s story “West,” for example, is (in my view) an astonishingly good science fiction story, that just happens to also be a classic Mormon conversion story that even ends with a baptism! Kudos to Card for pulling that off, in a way that helps make religious belief sympathic and understandable for nonreligious readers.

    I also think I understand your point when you say that if you with your interests have been “turned off” to Mormon fiction, then there’s definitely a problem of perception out there, at least — and possibly a problem with what’s available. What it sounds like is that you had some early negative experiences with Mormon literature. Since then, you haven’t been willing to try something unless you already have reason to trust the brand name (as with Card). But I can’t be sure this is the case, because you haven’t given sufficient specifics, at least as part of this conversation.

    Partly for this reason, I think that to really advance the conversation, you have to be willing to name names. Which titles and authors have “burned” you? Which have you tried and found that they weren’t offering what you’re looking for, whatever that may be? This is an important question because it speaks to whether the kind of stories you’d like to read (a) aren’t being written, or (b) maybe are being written but aren’t getting to the people who might like them.

    Take No Going Back, for example — my novel about a gay Mormon teenager who is trying to stay faithful to his religious beliefs. On the surface, it sounds like it includes many of the elements you’re looking for. Realistic depiction of a Mormon character struggling with a challenge anyone might face? Check. True to the Mormonism you would know and recognize? I can’t be sure, but I did my darnedest to show contemporary Mormon life in a suburban ward from what many readers have told me is a pretty realistic point of view. Written in a way that makes religion understandable to non-Mormon readers? Rather to my surprise, I’ve had non-Mormons (and non-believers) who said that was the case.

    So what is it about No Going Back that would make you dislike it? The fact that the central conflict revolves around a point of Mormon belief? Some way that the novel isn’t true to your experience of Mormon life? Simple lack of interest in the basic conflict of the story? Not much I can do about that last one, but it would still be worth knowing.

    I’m not saying that whatever tastes you have are wrong: they’re yours, and in trying to understand whatever segment of the market you represent, it’s important to understand where you’re coming from. Nor would I want to argue with you if (for example) you said that you’d tried No Going Back and didn’t like it. But I’d want to know *why*.

    And if you haven’t tried No Going Back, I’d want to know what it is about the packaging of it (how it’s been presented and discussed) that made you unwilling to try it.

    And if your answer is that you simply aren’t willing to try any Mormon fiction anymore unless it’s an author you know from elsewhere, then I guess there’s nothing further to say. There might be a hundred Mormon fiction titles out there you would like, but unless you’re willing to try them, how will you ever know?

  36. Jettboy

    I understand why so many of you have asked me to give examples of Mormon literature that disappointed me. We might be at a point that the discussion can’t move forward because I haven’t read Mormon fiction is a very long time, or have only read the back or the first chapters and not been impressed. Many years ago I almost passed up Orson Scott Card’s works simply because I knew he was Mormon. The level of writing skill I found was simply that bad. This was at a time that he was the only recognizable Mormon who was writing for a national market.

    I will use “No Going Back” as an example of the problem along with “The Lonely Polygamist” when it comes to even deciding to pick up a book. That is the best I can do without going back and re-reading for criticism purposes. I don’t care to read about polygamists because I’m not one and from what I have heard from others its full of vulgarities (I don’t mean swear words). The other book probably doesn’t have those, but homosexuality is the concern of a small and vocal political minority that most Mormons don’t come in contact. I’ve never known to have met any homosexual Mormons. I believe 90 percent of Mormons haven’t either. Then there is “The Backslider,” the very name puts a question mark on its appropriateness. The description isn’t any better with its mention of the protagonist, “constrained only by strict moral education,” and “mask of feigned righteousness,” whose redemption from reading critics impresses few because its unconventional and perhaps blasphemous or he doesn’t leave the Church.
    The book above, “Bound on Earth,” sounds interesting, but the first thing I read is “I’ve been hearing a lot about How Feminist! this book is, but I’m not sure what people mean by this,” that doesn’t explain a lot. So, I clicked on the link’s link and found the gem of a quote, “But did my sister just go and write any run-of-the-mill novel? That’s like asking if anybody who drives a Prius voted for McCain. Of course not!” In other words, its not for the average politically conservative Mormon reader who, by the way, is shallow. I dug deeper to finally get an explanation of the book. It does sound interesting, but by this time wonder if I’m its audience.
    I then looked at the link at “On the Road to Heaven” to see what that would be like. It actually does sound interesting. Problem is there is no libraries, much less book stores, that carry it. This is one I might pick up and try if it became available. And, just for an expanded discussion? That “Death of a Disco Dancer” cover really needs changed if you want people to read the book. Is it horror? Is it a comedy? Is it 70s historical fiction? Is it all three? Is it even about Mormons since that is the only circles I have seen it discussed? (I know I can read what its about and even a criticism at Millenial Star, but the point is presentation).
    Wrapping it up, it comes down to at least four things that get in the way of a Mormon readership. There is lived experiences, politics, literary quality, and presentation. These are a lot to hurdle over with such a long history behind it without a good track record. Sometimes its a matter of wanting the best of both, or multiple, worlds whatever they might be and it can’t be pulled off. Not easy and I wish the best of luck.

  37. motleyvision

    FYI: as best I can tell the comment spam service we use puts comments that have the word {homosexual} or variants thereof into the comment moderation queue. So far I haven’t been able to find a way to whitelist words (on my end, I can only blacklist words). I will try to approve comments as soon as I can if they get held up in moderation, but please be aware that your comment may not show up immediately (actually, now that I think about it, it may be anything that contains the three letters S-E-X).

    Thanks,
    Wm

  38. Moriah Jovan

    Jettboy: I actually found your explanation helpful.

    Re BOUND ON EARTH, here’s my review, for what it’s worth: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/111181003

    I really don’t understand what you quoted, either.

    Please note I am not trying to push you into anything. I’m just trying to be helpful since it seemed you were on the fence about it.

    Re ON THE ROAD TO HEAVEN, do you read ebooks? If so, I’ll buy it for you.

  39. motleyvision

    Also: I want to make it clear that although I disagree with many of his conclusions, I welcome Jettboy’s engagement. I think it’s important that we hear varying perspectives on Mormon culture.

    –Wm

  40. Jonathan Langford

    Jettboy,

    Thanks for the feedback. That helps explain where you’re coming from, and is quite helpful.

    The issue that puts you off No Going Back, sad to say, is also (I think) the single biggest issue that has prevented the book from finding an audience. My brother-in-law, after reading the manuscript and praising it in high terms (largely for the friendship — nonsexual, I hasten to add — between the two main characters), put it this way: “But if I found a book on this topic in a bookstore somewhere, I’d put it back without looking further.”

    Ironically, people like that — and possibly you? — are really the intended and ideal target audience for No Going Back. (Orthodox LDS; broad enough in reading tastes to accept stuff more realistic than what you find on DB shelves; want engaging characters without being preached at — from the right or the left; no particular feeling that the gay issue has ever touched them personally.) And readers of that category have very often liked the book. They’re also highly unlikely to read it on their own. It’s a problem with no easy solution, so far as I can see.

    I hasten to add that I don’t know if you’d care personally for No Going Back. The characters lead fairly ordinary lives, and it’s mostly about being a teenager (and/or a bishop, bishop’s wife, etc.). And it has an ambivalent ending, which some readers find depressing. Certainly not to everyone’s taste. Unfortunately, the way things are in the Mormon market today, many who might like it are highly unlikely to ever try it…

    On a side point: I’d dispute is that 90% figure. Within my own ward, over the last 20 years or so, at least 3 youth have left the Church because they were gay. Anyone who’s been in the ward for 10 years or longer knows them and their parents.

    That’s not counting the many members you may know who are same-sex attracted but don’t talk about it, instead choosing to stay in the Church and deal with that challenge privately. Part of my meta-goal for writing No Going Back (along with the more immediate and important goal of writing a story with characters people would care about) was to help make Church members more aware of that group. We hear about the people who leave the Church, but not so much about or from those who choose to stay — because they generally don’t parade their situation. It seems to me that we all benefit from being better able to understand and sympathize with people who face that challenge. (Which sounds an awful lot like “It’s good for you!” — which is a lousy argument to read any story. But see also my more goal of writing a story readers care about for its own sake and the sake of its characters…)

  41. Jonathan Langford

    Wm,

    My latest post went through without moderation, which shoots your S-E-X theory. (I used the term “same-sex attracted.”)

    Wm replies: actually it didn’t. If you are seeing it, it may be because you’re logged in to WordPress. I just released your previous comment from moderation and now have to release this one too. :-)

  42. Theric Jepson Post author

    .

    The old thing about two types of Mormons—those who know gay Mormons and those who don’t know they know gay Mormons—seems to me completely true.

    But that’s not the real focus of this string.

    The real problem, artswise, is that we’re building an excellent literature and no one wants to read it.

    Two suggestions, one for Jettboy, one for everyone.

    Jettboy: Now and at the Hour of Our Death

    Everyone: Mormon Lit Blitz

  43. Eugene

    I empathize with Jettboy’s complaints. Trying to articulate tastes when the granularity gets this fine is an exercise in mutual frustration. In my case, I end up relying on specific authors in specific genres, and then on the opinions of a tiny number of readers and reviewers I know share my specific tastes.

    The “try it, you’ll like it” approach is additionally fruitless when there are several million items already on the literary menu, and I know I’ll never get around to the ones I am far more confident about in my lifetime.

    Sturgeon’s Law says that 90 percent of what’s available is (according to our own tastes) crap. I’ll add a Pareto distribution on top of that, meaning that we’ll spend 80 percent of our time on 20 percent of that 10 percent. If you’re doing the math, we’re now down to 2 percent. So of course we’re choosy.

    On the production side, we can exhaustively research a market and craft stories to meet those well-defined expectations (e.g., Baen, Harlequin). Or we can write what we know and like and let the audience find us. Insisting that a reader ought to read this or that is the best way to ensure the opposite outcome.

    My time and attention is valuable. If “the best thing ever” turns out not to be, then once bitten, a dozen times shy.

  44. Jonathan Langford

    Wm (#45): Oops. Yeah, I’m logged into WordPress at present. I don’t understand why that would make a difference, but I’m not a techy by any means…

  45. Moriah Jovan

    What precipitates discussions like this (and I want to make it very clear that I do NOT think this is what Jettboy has done) is that people say, “Oh, I wish there was good Mormon fiction out there” and then shoot down every title you suggest. And then keep complaining about how there’s no good Mormon fiction out there.

  46. Wm

    Taste is an important factor, and I don’t think that any author should be hurt if his or her work just isn’t for some people.

    On the other hand, tastes don’t come pre-programmed. And it’s important to not narrow yourself too much and not let certain aspects of our engagement with culture atrophy. I’m an omnivorous consumer of fiction because I choose to be so. I have had moments in my life when I realized that I had been too narrow in my reading and was losing capacity to engage with other genres/forms, etc.

    While I can’t guarantee that an of the works I have recommended over the years are a can’t miss, they all do meet a professional level of craftsmanship and have something interesting to say.

    Which is to say: you’re totally right about granularity and taste, Eugene. At the same time, I don’t fully trust the argument from individual taste because taste is also a matter of choice. And tastes can (and should) evolve/change.

  47. Jettboy

    I want to thank the responses to my last lengthy one. I honestly didn’t think it would be helpful because its about why I have not picked up rather than my response to books. Although I agree with Wm that we need to get outside our comfort zone or known tastes, this post seems more about how to get people to do this.

    From what has been said above, this is what I think Theric and others could do better. Don’t just send books or advertisements about the books. Talk about them. Give reasons why someone should read them. Explain your intended audience. Don’t blurb, but discuss. I still don’t know what the mentioned books are about besides a bare bones description, but I am more interested in reading them because of what has been said; Most of all because you have recognized my concerns are legitimate even if disagree. Will I read them? I don’t know, but I don’t feel as worried about doing so if I decide to sooner or later.

  48. Jonathan Langford

    Jettboy (#51): Thanks again for your feedback. As you point out, it’s (at least possibly) a matter not just of what’s being published (or not), but also how it’s being packaged.

    Your comment about discussing books is why I try to review the books I read, and especially the ones I like. Of the books that have been part of the discussion here, I’ve only read and reviewed one (besides my own, of course): On the Road to Heaven, which I really liked. Here’s the link to my review: http://www.aml-online.org/Reviews/Review.aspx?id=4307

    And if you haven’t tried them, I strongly suspect that you’d like Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver books, which aren’t explicitly Mormon fiction at all but sound like they might be your kind of thing. Here’s my review: http://www.motleyvision.org/2011/destiny-demons-dan-wells/

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