Author Archives: William Morris

We have a name for the Mormon alternate history mini-anthology (plus submissions update)

4.12.16 | | 4 comments

I have two updates in relation to the Mormon alternate history anthology I’m editing.

A name!

With Monsters & Mormons the name came first and the commitment to doing the actual anthology later so it was clear what to call it. With this one, I’ve been bouncing various ideas off of Theric and none have really worked until now (that’s why in the call for submissions, there’s no title stated). But I think I finally have it: States of Deseret will be the name of the anthology (unless I change my name between now and publication [but I don’t think I will–I like this one]).

Submissions!

I am reading them. Thanks again to all those who submitted. I hope to have my initial read through completed by the end of the month and then responses to everyone in the latter part of May. Thanks for your patience. I know it’s not fun to wait.

Submissions due Saturday for Mormon alternate history anthology

3.16.16 | | 3 comments

NOTE: the deadline has passed and submissions are now closed.

Just a reminder that submissions for the Mormon alternate history mini-anthology I’m editing are due by end of the day Saturday, March 19. End of the day = midnight Pacific Daylight Time. Although I won’t be up then so if it’s in my inbox when I check my email Sunday morning, it’ll be okay. Be warned, though, that I have to get up for church meetings, and I’m on Central Time so it’ll be early Sunday morning (plus, it’s the Sabbath, then: Saturday is a special day — it’s the day we finish stories that feature Mormons in alternate historical timelines).

If you haven’t even started writing yet, don’t despair. There’s still time! A 1,500 words flash piece or even a 3-4k short story can easily be written in a day or two or four. So get to it!

Short on ideas? Here’s where you can get some:

Good luck! I eagerly await your submissions.

Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories on sale

2.10.16 | | 2 comments

To celebrate it being one of three AML Awards finalists for short story collection, I have dropped the price of Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories to $2.99. Buy it from your online store of choice: Amazon | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

I’m also hoping to bring in a few more sales to plump up the pool of funds for contributors to my upcoming Mormon alternate history anthology. We’re currently at $165. I will supplement that total out of my own pocket to get to what we need to in order to pay the contributors to the anthology (likely somewhere $225-275). But it’d be nice to be able to fund some or all the rest of it from book sales.

If you bought the story collection at the higher price, you’re the best and a true patron of Mormon arts. Please consider nudging other people in your life to buy it. Or gift it to someone who might enjoy it.

If you haven’t bought it, I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it — but I can say that it’ll be one of the most interesting bits of Mormon culture you’ve ever spent $3 on.

Mormon alternate history anthology: background reading

2.8.16 | | 6 comments

Interested in contributing to (or reading) the Mormon alternate history anthology I am editing (deadline for submissions is March 19!)? Curious about what alternate historical fiction is all about? Here are some works to consider reading:

Mormon Alternate History

For the Strength of the Hills” by Lee Allred. This novella is one of the most re-printed stories in Mormon literature and one of the earliest (if not the earliest) iterations of the sub-sub-genre.  

“Traitors and Tyrants” by John Nakamura Remy and Galen Dara in Monsters & MormonsThis short comic mixes pulp adventure tropes with steampunk and features Erasmus Snow and his plural wives on a trip to Japan.

City of the Saints by D.J. Butler is also a Mormon alternate history steampunk story. It features such characters as Orson Pratt, inventor of the airship, Sam Clemens and his steam truck, and Egyptian antiquities exhibitor Edgar Allen Poe.

Note: Orson Scott Card’s The Tales of Alvin Maker is considered to be alternate history, but it doesn’t really fit with what I’m asking for because it involves the use of magic. Alternate technologies are okay with me (e.g. steampunk/dieselpunk) but magic isn’t something I’m interested in for this particular anthology.

Other Alternate History Works/Resources

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. A key text in alternate history, the novel takes place in a 1962 America that has been partitioned in two by the Axis powers Japan and Germany. All the more remarkable in that it is also a meta-narrative about alternate history.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by American Michael Chabon is a key influence on my own alternate history story “The Darkest Abyss in America”. It take place 60 years after a (in our actual timeline rejected) proposal to temporary settle WWII-era Jewish refugees in Sitka, Alaska is passed.

Uchronia is the go-to online database of alternate history works.

The Sideways Award is the major aware in the genre.

There is a lot more out there, but this is a good start. Anybody have other reading suggestions?

Call for Submissions: Mormon Alternate History Anthology

10.29.15 | | 12 comments

NOTE: Submissions are now closed! Many thanks to all those who submitted stories.

Submissions are now open for the Mormon alternate history anthology I am editing and publishing with the help of Theric Jepson of Peculiar Pages . Details are below but the gist is: submit flash fiction (<2500 words) and short stories (3000-6000 words) that fit the theme by March 19, 2016. Payment will be a token amount ($15 for the short pieces; $25 for the longer ones), but it will be actual payment for Mormon short fiction, which is, sadly, all too rare a thing.

Before we get to all the mechanics, though, let me explain why I want to put together this particular anthology at this time:

1. It’s been 4 years since we published Monsters & Mormons. It’s time for me to put the editor of Mormon fiction hat on again.

2. About 40 of you very nice people purchased a copy of my Mormon short story collection, which means I have a little over $150 to re-invest in the Mormon lit community (and by the time I’m ready to pay contributors sales may even cover the entire $225-250 budget I have for the anthology).

3. While there is lovely Mormon fiction and poetry being published, history remains the dominant narrative form in Mormon Studies. I want to put Mormon fiction writers in dialogue with that (and mess with it a bit too, of course). And I also like that alternate history is a place where I think both genre and literary fiction writers can do good, interesting work.

4. For all that Mormonism has changed vastly since the end of WWII — becoming more international, more diverse, higher profile, and larger in scale — its basic form and status hasn’t actually changed all that much. We are still very much in the correlated/internationalized/North America-centered/middle-class-centered mode. Certainly technology and society has changed quite a bit, but the Boomer, GenX and Millennial* Mormon experience is not as dramatically different as the earlier periods of our history are from each other. This concerns me because I suspect that we are moving into an era where Mormonism will be more different from the current now than the current now is from the past four decades. I believe that Mormon alternate history is a genre that can (and should) be of interest right now among the Mormon audience because it helps us realize that our beliefs and policies, our ways of worship and community, our formal and informal social and economic structures are not set in stone for all time. If transitions are coming then it might be useful to understand that how current Mormonism exists in the world isn’t how it always has been or needed to be. It also helps us experience other ways of being Mormons and of being Mormons in relation to the rest of society.

5. Most importantly, alternate history is simply an interesting way of exploring the Mormon experience. There’s a vast storehouse of events, characters, documents, decisions, doctrines, and experiences that make up the past 195 years of Mormonism. Let’s use that storehouse to increase the small but important storehouse of Mormon fiction.

SUBMISSIONS INSTRUCTIONS

Email submissions as an attachment in .rtf, .doc or .docx format to submissions AT motleyvision DOT org. In the subject line put either [FLASH] TITLE OF STORY or [SHORT STORY] TITLE OF STORY. See below for word counts for flash and short story submissions.

In the body of the email include your name, mailing address** and any biographical info or writing credits that relate to the story and/or Mormon fiction and/or your career as a writer. If available, include a link to a blog, website, online resume/works published page, twitter account — anything that will provide some context to your work. A brief note on the key historical events, facts, books, journal articles or other sources that informed the story is welcome but not required.

Pseudonyms are discouraged, but will be allowed for special circumstances — please include that consideration in your e-mail if you would like it.

Deadline: March 19, 2016 (at midnight Pacific Time)

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR   

SHORT STORIES: Must be between 3,000 and 6,000 words. And I will be enforcing those parameters (although I will give a wee bit of latitude because different programs can produce slightly different word counts). I realize that it’s hard to conjure up an alternate fiction world in such a short amount of space. It’s also a delicious, fun challenge.

FLASH PIECES: Must be 2,500 words or less. While a well-crafted piece of flash fiction is always welcome, for these I highly recommend choosing a non-short story form. By that I mean creating a text that reveals the alternate condition of Mormonism in your timeline by masquerading as being from that timeline. This could mean a: newspaper or magazine article, letter(s), telegram(s), trial transcript, hymn/popular song, excerpt from a play or opera libretto, government report, deposition, journal entry, feuilleton, field notes, sermon, lecture, review, bibliography/table of contents, ship manifest, menu, gossip column, news reel or silent film transcript, etc.     

ALSO: No reprints. No chapters from novels. You may have something already written that would be a good fit, but I think it’s quite likely that you’ll better your chances of catching my eye by writing something specifically for the anthology.

Text only. No graphic novels this time (sorry — love them, but they’re not the right fit for this project).

I plan on selecting 5 or 6 short stories and 7 or 8 pieces of flash fiction for the anthology.  Submissions should be of interest to the Mormon audience. Just like with Monsters & Mormons, content should not exceed PG-13 in terms of violence, language and sexuality.

Work from writers who are non-LDS, women, international Mormons and Mormons from diverse backgrounds are highly encouraged. New writers are also welcome.

While Monsters & Mormon slanted more pulp, I expect this anthology to slant more literary, although, of course, the most important thing is that you write an excellent story with well-crafted prose that has an interesting Mormon alternate history concept and as rich world building and characterization as can be accomplished within the space limitations.

About that concept: for this anthology the alternate history must be post-1800 (no Book of Mormon stuff) and pre-2020 (so no alternate history science fiction) and Mormonism must be central to the story even if it is dealt with in a subtle or oblique manner. Restoration and Pioneer era stories are very welcome, but I’m also very interested in stories from alternate 20th centuries.

Any fantastical elements must be within the realm of Mormon worldview/doctrine/folk doctrine and of alt-history science, physics and engineering. The use of well-known figures from Mormon and world history is fine. It can also get a bit gimmicky if you’re not careful.

And while it may be tempting to get a little didactic with the concept or the characters, stories that are overtly Utopian/Dystopian or have political or theological axes to grind probably won’t land well with me. So if you’re trying to make a point, make sure the art and craft of the story complicates it. Or even better: let the extrapolation of your alternate timeline jumping off point be the primary driver of your thinking and writing.

OTHER INFORMATION

Title: TBD
Publisher: Peculiar Pages (just like Monsters & Mormons)
Editor: William Morris
Length: 30,000 to 60,000 words
Publication: Fall 2016 (likely September or October)
Format: ebook only (we are considering crowd funding an expanded print version but a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen)
Booksellers: Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Nook (Barnes & Noble); we’ll also consider other online vendors and direct sales

Rights & Payment: Worldwide English exclusive for 10 months from date of publication. We’ll be using a modified version of the SFWA contract. As mentioned above payment will be $15 for flash fiction and $25 for short stories. Should net profits from sales of the anthology exceed my and Theric’s monetary investment in it, there is the potential for royalty payments for the authors (but that’s a small potential — based on our knowledge of the Mormon market for short fiction this anthology will likely come in at a loss or [cross your fingers] as a break-even venture). All of this will be spelled out in the contract. The crowd funded, expanded print anthology will be a separate contract and payment should it come to pass.

That’s all I have. There will be more posts in the future with potential ideas and resources and further reading. Now: what questions do you have for me? If you prefer not to post them in the comments below, contact me at the submissions email listed above or on Twitter @motleyvision.

*Heh

**This is so if you are selected for the anthology, I don’t have to send out a batch of emails asking where to send the check and a signed copy of the contact. If you don’t feel comfortable with me having your mailing address then include an additional, reliable way of contacting you (as in: an alternate email address, a number you can be texted at, a twitter handle, etc.).

The Mormon fiction writer and self-censorship

10.6.15 | | 17 comments

Back in July I made the claim that most Mormon writers shouldn’t worry about the spectre of excommunication (and then complicated that with several caveats). Not everyone agrees with that assertion. And, to be sure, the climate for Mormon fiction writers is unevenly distributed and could change (and please note again: I’m talking about fiction writers — nonfiction is a different thing entirely). But assuming I’m right about that, does that mean the Mormon fiction writer is completely free to write what they want to write? Or will be they be tempted (or perhaps even coerced) into self-censorship? And is self-censorship always a very bad thing to do? What follows may be obvious, but I hope that by structuring my thought this way, it’ll be of some use in teasing out notions of self-censorship and Mormon fiction writing.

Writing is Communication

Writing fiction is an act of communication. But it’s a special act of communication: it’s one in which the author is demanding (or at least suggesting) attention. It’s saying: this is something I have created that is worth spending time (and money) on. It is an act of one-way communication, and the author sets the terms of the communication. Granted, especially in the age of the internet, readers can react to the work directly or indirectly with the author, but that’s not the same act of communication as what the novel or story or poem demands. There’s a level of formality in presenting a completed creative work. But the very nature of that process, that one-way act of ego means that the author has ultimate control of what goes in and what doesn’t go into a work. What doesn’t go in is self-censorship. It also may simply be good communication and good artistic creation.

All Writers Are Part of Communities

That writing is communication is especially true because very few writers create (or publish) in a vacuum. For all their introvertedness (a cliche, but one that so often fits), fiction writers are part of various communities and usually want community approval (or at least attention) for their creative work. Otherwise they’d write only for the drawer. Certainly, it’s complicated for writers in that they may prefer certain communities pay a certain kind of attention to their work over other communities (and other kinds of attention). And some communities you are born into and some you fall into and some you consciously choose. We all have family members, friends, peers, agents, editors, critics, community members, fellow fans/enthusiasts, neighbors, etc. It’s a complex melange that is constantly in flux. But being situated in communities means that there’s no such thing as a pure creative work-to-reader transaction. The creation, contents, packaging and distribution of creative work all happen within a welter of community concerns, attitudes, histories and relationships.

Mormon Writers & Community

I have mixed feelings about claims of Mormon exceptionalism. But I do think that in some ways Mormons may present a special case (or at least a different case) when it comes to self-censorship and community. It’s possible that issues of self-censorship might be more difficult for some Mormon writers to navigate. But I don’t know about that. While it’s true that Mormon writers may have to worry about busybody ward members and concerned bishops and inflexible stake presidents, it’s also true that very few writers are not part of a community (or communities) that have certain ideologies, sacred cows, discourse boundaries, etc. plus those who formally or informally boundary police the community. Very few writers have relationships only with people who think exactly like them. In very few instances is art going to not lead to the potential for friction. This is especially true of minority literatures where, like in Mormonism, you have communities that because of their minority status are concerned with how they are being presented outside of their community.

The big exception, of course, is that while other communities may shun or ignore writers who offend them, because Mormonism as a culture is interwoven so deeply with the LDS Church, the act of excommunication is somewhat more draconian than the way other communities police their boundaries. Although as I wrote in my previous post, it’s not clear that it’s something to be actively feared. And, of course, how draconian it feels as a threat is dependent on the fiction writer’s interest in remaining in good standing with the Church.

All Writers Self-Censor

Because writing is an act of communication and all writers are parts of communities, I believe that all writers self-censor. Self-censorship happens along many lines. Sometimes it’s self-censorship driven by fear of how people  will react to their work if it is published un-self-censored. Sometimes it’s self-censorship where the author realizes that they don’t actually want to communicate what they originally had thought they wanted to communicate or they need to do it in a different way because by doing so they will be able to better communicate with their audience (sometimes that comes because of feedback from a good editor). Sometimes it’s not a matter of fear of how people will react, but the realization that what your art may be pushing you towards isn’t going to lead to a fruitful ongoing relationship with people (or with the field as a whole or with your personal artistic legacy). And beyond that, I also believe that writers self-censor in what experiences they intake that fuel their creativity, and what projects they choose to focus on, and what forms they pour their creative energies into, and what world views (ideologies) they have active in their brain. All creative endeavor comes down to individual acts of selection that create a unique work. While there are times when that process is more self-conscious than others, and I do think that the initial act of writing fiction is usually better when it isn’t quite so self-conscious, the fact remains that all writers self-censor.

But What About Artistic Integrity?

What about artists being true to themselves? By giving into self-censorship aren’t they violating artistic integrity? Maybe. Like most things, it’s a matter of degrees. Some self-censorship could be a rather damaging violation of artistic integrity. But I think that’s less likely a problem than we might think*. Besides: I don’t believe in artistic integrity. I believe that art comes from struggle and conflict and that means it inherently doesn’t have integrity—it’s not a gestalt, a whole. It’s a process, a dialogue. And there might be formal or ideological or poetic or psychological concerns or models that work themselves into the struggle of creation that are actually leading your work in the wrong direction. Sometimes the ingredients in the alchemical process aren’t the right ones (or the right amounts). Changing up those ingredients might not be self-censorship. They might just be self-correcting.

And the problem with creating art is that it’s so easy to be dramatic and self-indulgent about it. To feel like what you have to say needs to be not only said but heard and only in a way that is true to your particular vision (at that particular point in time). The problem with that is that all of us who write fiction** are damaged, ego-driven human beings with limited skills using a set of vocabularies, syntaxes, narrative shapes, etc. That are also limited. And the problem with that is that our fiction goes out to damaged, ego-driven human beings with limited skills to interpret it. That’s what’s so scary about it and also what’s beautiful about it. It’s good to have a well-wrought final product. But I doubt that any final creative products are works of pure integrity.

And note that I haven’t touched yet on market concerns and how those impact fiction writing. That’s another seit of concerns that warps works of fiction (although very often not as much as one would think and sometimes in ways that are just fine). Note also that this post is only about self-censorship. Actual censorship is a different topic albeit one that can cause writers to self-censor***.

There Will Be Offense Taken

All of the above means both that whatever you do, you’re going to offend someone somewhere. And that whatever your artistic vision, there’s no shame in being mindful of your relationships, of your communities. If you care about people, take care not to offend them (or to make sure that the relationship is such that you’ll be able to work through the offense). Or: don’t worry about other people. Unless you want to. The choice is yours.

For me the question of self-censorship is an insidious one because it lures the artist too much into self-indulgent romantic notions about authorship and creativity that needlessly create friction between the artist and those around them. Presenting fictional narratives is a fraught, hubristic act. Things could (will) get messy. Do the best you can to make sure what you’re presenting communicates what you’re trying to communicate in the best (most beautiful, most rhetorically effective, most formally interesting) way possible and don’t worry about the rest. Until you need to worry. And then either dismiss the criticism or take it in and learn from it. Either heal and nurture the relationship or let it go. Self-censorship is not this one-time thing that violates a potentially perfect work of fiction. It’s editing. It’s an act of communication and community negotiation. It’s doing the work.

Self Censorship & Inspiration

So that’s where I’m at on the the issue of self-censorship. But I have a specifically Mormon wrinkle to add (although this may also be useful other people of faith): Let me first acknowledge that I have an instinctive distrust of writers who talk about inspiration. Not that I don’t think that it doesn’t happen (I believe that it does), but because I think it’s too often used as a label to short-circuit criticism of work that is amateurish, sentimental and/or didactic. It sets up the readers. How can you argue against inspiration? (Incidentally, the same is true of self-expression. How can you argue against expression of self?). Heck, even if it isn’t couched in terms of inspiration, I have a distrust of any special claims (this is for the good of, this accomplishes, every person like this/who is this must read this…) made on behalf of ideological work that a story is supposed to do.

But while I have an instinctive distrust of talking about it, I also believe in seeking it. It seems to me that Mormon fiction writers shouldn’t worry about self-censorship during the initial act of creation. They should create what they feel compelled to create. However, it also seems to me that they should seek inspiration before/as they create, and they should (as we’re asked to do with other choices in life) test the final work against inspiration. If that process then causes you to go back and edit the work, then do it. In other words: revelation is a way to short-circuit worry over self-censorship. If one feels good about the work as is, then it is what it should be. If one doesn’t, then changing/editing it isn’t self-censorship—it’s acting on inspiration. But here’s the trick: you must be brutally honest with yourself in the process and you have to be worthy (and, yes, that’s a loaded word; I leave what that should mean up to the individual author). You have to strive to be humble about and a skeptic of your own work. Not an easy thing to do. But I believe that it’s worth doing (even though I fail to do so over and over again and too often feel buffeted by various ideological and aesthetic winds).

But Wait: One More Thing

I’m not going to end on such a sappy (although valid and sincere) point. I have one more thought for Mormon fiction writers: self-censorship is only a problem if you have an interesting point of view. It’s only a problem if you’re suppressing or marring work that is unique and truly interesting. It’s only important if something valuable is lost when you self-censor. Most fiction writers aren’t that interesting. Before you worry about self-censorship, worry about that. I’ll expand on that harsh-seeming pronouncement in my next post: Mormon writers and courage.

* I speak mainly about U.S. Fiction writers here. The United States has lax libel laws, fairly strong freedom of speech laws, and diverse marketplaces for distributing creative work. The situation may be very different for Mormon fiction writers of other nationalities.

** And really all of us who tell stories (which means all of us).

*** Censorship and Mormon fiction is an interesting topic and were it pervasive, I could see how it could lead to widespread self-censorship among Mormon writers. We’d need verifiable data points to determine that. All those I’m aware of only pertain to employees of the Church (including CES/BYU). Andrew Hall’s comment on the post on excommunication provides a few data points. I have heard of a couple of others. But the boundaries on those aren’t clear and times change, and it’s also not clear what bearing that should have on Mormons who aren’t employees of the Church. I’d also note that employees of other major socio-cultural institutions often face some of the same issues.

Liner Notes for Fast Offering

9.7.15 | | 2 comments

My short story “Fast Offering” was published in the Summer 2015 issue of Dialogue (if you’re not currently a subscriber you can buy a PDF copy of the story or issue individually — or even better sign up for a subscription and get access to it right away as well as to all of Dialogue’s archives). Electronic subscribers got access to it a couple of weeks ago. Print subscribers should soon receive their copy (if they haven’t already). Whatever way you access it, note that the issue also includes poems by AMVer S.P. Bailey and Emma Lou Thayne plus a bunch of other great writing.

The following liner notes to the story don’t contain any spoilers:

1. “Fast Offering” is the most traditional Mormon short story I have written: it’s solidly in the faithful realism school of Mormon lit (e.g. contemporary literary fiction that deals directly with Mormon [often Utah Mormon] characters and assumes that the LDS Church is true but complicates what that means for the lives of the fictional characters depicted) and features a setting—a small southern Utah town (Kanab) in the early 1980s—a situation-adultery—and a character—a precocious deacon—that scream faithful realism so much that I almost didn’t send it into Dialogue. This is not a William Morris story, I thought, with a bit of chagrin. But, of course, it very much is. I just had a moment of denial about it.

2. I didn’t plan on writing this story. It snuck up on me. Indeed, the idea for it came to me a few months after I had decided to take a break from writing Mormon fiction except for the occasional Mormon Lit Blitz entry. What caused me to fall off the wagon? I read Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro in June 2014. Two things from that reading experience infected my mind and wouldn’t leave without the exorcism of writing the story: 1) the detailed, merciless attention Munro pays to the emotional lives of her characters and 2) the way that she is willing to switch point of view characters in a short story. I probably could have fought off the first. The second, however, was a formal experimentation thing and that’s like catnip to me and all of a sudden my mind came up with a uniquely Mormon way to transition point of view changes throughout a fairly standard literary fiction short story. The idea occurred in June. I wrote 1500 words of the story, sat on it for a few months, and then wrote the rest of it in October and November.

3. The story originally had two more point of view characters and was 3,000 words longer. Dialogue Journal’s wonderful fiction editor Heather Marx suggested that I pare down the povs and reduce the story down to a more traditional ~6,000-word length. She thought it needed to be more a short story and less the start of a novel. She was right. So I made the cuts. I’m very pleased with the end result. I may also have plans for the characters I axed. But right now I’m not focusing on Mormon fiction. I’m back on the wagon and writing only genre fiction. Of course, you never know what might knock me off it again.

4. “Fast Offering” takes place in Kanab, Utah, in the late spring of 1981. The main character Welden Shumway lives in the third ward of the Kanab Stake. I lived in the third ward of the Kanab Stake in 1981. The story isn’t autobiographical in the sense that I was only 9 in 1981, the adulterous couple and the house they live in are completely made up, and I was pretty happy to live in Kanab when I was kid and, other than a vague idea of attending BYU, never thought about whether I might need to leave the town up some day up until we moved away the summer I was 12. On the other hand, many of the physical details are pulled from memory. And the overall sense of what small town Mormon life is like is somewhat autobiographical, although it’s also been warped by the passage of time as well as my reading of Mormon fiction. This story might be as much Doug Thayer fiction as it is William Morris memory. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

5. After reading through the prior four points, I’m frustrated by the reluctance I sense, that it’s almost an apologetic, as if I have to explain the existence of the story because it conflicts with my own personal sense of who I am as a fiction writer and a voice in the world of Mormon Lit. There might be something to that. But I think there’s something else going on. “Fast Offering” feels like an inflection point for my Mormon fiction writing (that, remember, I’m not actively pursuing at the moment). I don’t think that it’s all that different from the stories in Dark Watch and other Mormon American stories (now available—your purchase supports my Mormon alternate history anthology) — not on the reader end. But on the author end it felt very different. And it’s frustrating to me that this is the story that feels like that. Partly because it is somewhat autobiographical; partly because it is faithful realism; partly because I don’t necessarily like the characters I write about in the story (even though I love them). It feels like both a step backward and a step forward.

6. Stay (patiently) tuned?

Mormon fiction writers and the spectre of excommunication

7.15.15 | | 25 comments

I recently had a Twitter conversation with Mette Ivie Harrison about an experience where at an author appearance in Logan she met an LDS author who was afraid to be honest about their Mormonism in the current climate because of the possibility of excommunication. I’m not going to repeat the particulars of the conversation because I don’t think it’s fair to transport the context of a Twitter conversation with its character limit constraints to the longer form of blogging. So instead I’m going to start with an observation and then a claim based off of that observation.

The Observation

Most Mormon fiction writers who leave the LDS Church do so because they become alienated from it. That’s not a good thing or (I hope) an inevitable thing. It also often leads to active members of the Church dismissing their work, which is often (but not always) unfortunate, especially since I think Mormons should seek to develop a better of understanding of the Mormon experience when it doesn’t match up with their own.

But for this post I want to stick with the formal relationship of an author with the LDS Church. The reason for that is that over my 17+ years of interacting with the Mormon literature community, I’ve periodically seen a conventional wisdom expressed in various ways that the great Mormon novelist will inevitably be excommunicated. Or more generally: LDS writers can’t write candidly about the Mormon experience because then they’d be excommunicated.

The Claim

I’m going to make a claim about this fear and then complicate it. The claim is this: Mormon fiction writers don’t need to worry about excommunication because of the content of their fiction*.

Complication 1: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about excommunication if their fiction exists alongside with affiliation with other activities/groups that could lead to excommunication. That is, it’s possible that fiction could be used a data point in showing that the writer is actively working against the LDS Church, but if the concerns are limited to what is represented in the fiction then all current evidence suggests that

Complication 2: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about excommunication if their fiction isn’t well-wrought fiction. That is, if you’re writing polemics against the LDS Church or crossing hard boundaries (certain depictions of the temple or LDS Church leaders) then, yeah, that could be a problem. But that’s not good fiction. And that’s not honest fiction either.

Complication 3: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about fellow members reporting their fiction to LDS Church authorities. My understanding is that this happens (or happened — I have no idea if it’s ongoing) to Orson Scott Card quite a bit. If one is a believing, active LDS in good standing, then this won’t be an issue. If one is not, then it could be because it could precipitate declarations of honesty on the part of the author that could lead to disfellowship and potentially excommunication.

Complication 4: Mormon fiction writers who specifically write for the LDS market** need to worry about their relationship with the LDS Church. I believe that hypocrisy is deadly for writers of all stripes and active LDS who become disaffiliated*** from the Church should stop writing for the LDS market. I recognize that that’s a harsh stance with difficult social and economic consequences and deserves a longer treatment (which I may attempt at some point).

Complication 5: All of the above is in relation to Mormon fiction writers who specifically write about Mormonism and/or target the active LDS audience. I’m trying to think of a scenario where writers who don’t write Mormon content could find themselves in a situation where their fiction impacts their Church membership. I suppose Mormon writers of erotica could be at risk for excommunication. I don’t know how much of a risk, although I imagine it would largely depend on what kind and how out they were as an erotica writer.

So except for Complications 4 and 5, I don’t see how the Mormon writer of fiction with doubts, fears, stances that differ from the LDS Church, etc. is in a different position from any other member with doubts, fears, differing stances, etc. And 4 and 5 relate to specific marketing categories an author has a choice to engage in or not. In other words, excommunication shouldn’t be a worry for LDS writers vis a vis their fiction.

But all the above is specifically only about the content of the author’s fiction in relationship with the Church. When it comes to the act of writing fiction itself, a different dynamic may be in play. Because while excommunication is something that either happens or doesn’t, there is a complex matrix of personal, familial, and social relationships and beliefs that impact the Mormon writer when they go to write fiction. That’s what I’ll be exploring in my follow-up post: Self Censorship and the Mormon Author.

For now, I’m interested in discussing:

1. Any complications I have missed
2. Any complications I have I downplayed too much
3. Why the fear of excommunication persists among Mormon authors even though none have been excommunicated for their fiction****

*For non-LDS readers, excommunication is a formal process by which members of the LDS Church may be restricted from some aspects of Church membership or lose their membership in the LDS Church. It is generally reserved for acts like adultery, murder, felony crimes, etc., but there have been a few instances when members of the Church have been disciplined for what they have said. Largely, that is because they have specifically arrayed themselves against the Church, but they’re also complicated cases with, naturally, differing views on the ultimate reasons for the excommunication as well as a variety of dynamics and individualized situations and information that often is not public. For more, see Church Disciplinary Councils at LDS.org.

**This is where the LDS vs. Mormon terminology is useful (even though I dislike dogmatic usages of the two terms in opposition to each other) in that by LDS market I mean the publishers and retail outlets that specifically market to faithful, active members of the LDS Church. The Mormon market, in my view, includes the LDS Market but also brings in any and all publishers, retailers and audiences who are interested in work about the Mormon experience.

***I am not going to attempt to delineate what level/type of disaffiliation should trigger a voluntary removal from the LDS market. That’s a matter of individual conscience.

****As Andrew Hall reminded me on Twitter, Brian Evenson did lose his position at BYU because of concerns over his fiction and Neil LaBute was disfellowshipped for his portrayal of Mormons and violence in his fiction. Both eventually became disaffiliated from the LDS Church.