Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone! While everyone else in the country is cracking open a cold brewski, you and I, good little Mormons that we are, will read books or something. Anyway, we won’t be drinking beers.
But if we were drinking beers, I hope we wouldn’t be drinking Coors. I don’t know a lot about beer (really! I don’t!) but I do know one thing: beersnobs agree that to really enjoy the flavor of a beer, you can’t drink it too cold. (This sounds legit to me—careful attention has proven that the same is true of cranberry juice.) more
So, I finished Eric Jepson’s novel, BYUCK. I found it hilarious, heartwarming, and refreshing. The description of BYU (and Happy Valley) culture from the perspective of someone who wasn’t bred and born in it, who could therefore look at it from an outsider’s perspective, delighted and amused me. As I read the story, I remembered my own bemused feelings entering happy-valley culture for the first time. And I breathed a deep sigh of relief that I do not live in Provo anymore.
It also brought memories of a story I wrote about six or seven years ago that was very similar (not in writing quality, but in subject matter, characters, setup.) Nobody has read it except for my family and the editorial board at Covenant, who eventually tabled and then rejected it, saying the audience was too narrow for them to spend money to publish it. I’m grateful for that now, because it wasn’t very well written and I needed the time to learn how to write properly before critics got at it.
But I found myself wondering, after I finished BYUCK, and as I looked back on the experience with Covenant: where is the place for that sort of writing; for the works of LDS writers writing about our LDS culture? And where is that sort of writing going, now that things are changing so drastically in the industry? Could this sort of writing appeal to a general, not just LDS audience, and how would we accomplish that?
There are some stories that are more narrowly focused on an LDS audience (and I’d argue BYUCK is an example of that; inside jokes only Mormons would get, mormon dialect, etc). There are some one could argue might appeal to a broader audience–Moriah Jovan’s Magdalene, Steven Peck’s Scholar of Moab. But would they?
I’m wondering, too. What if something amazing, and literary, and focused entirely within the LDS experience (aka the Great Mormon Novel) would be considered even generally marketable by anyone. What if someone did write something along the lines of Potok’s works. Would anyone read it (and of course, *we* would. But would anyone beyond the world of LDS lit advocacy read it?)
I was thinking about how in general, people who consume LDS fiction are looking for an uplifting story that will make them feel better about their life and the challenges of being LDS in a world that’s not too kind to us. That’s often why I read it. I want an inspiring story about pioneers, or an uplifting romance (guilty) or something that makes me laugh at and love the absurdities of my culture and my life (like BYUCK, or Joni Hilton’s work).
And when we look at the audience for literary fiction, there are other issues. Is Mormonism really taken seriously enough, considered fascinating enough, to be a worthy subject of study? In general I feel like religion is out of vogue in the literary world. Maybe that’s pessimistic of me.
My question is, where is our audience? Do we have to channel things in a commercial direction, create the sorts of plots LDS readers will enjoy, in order to feed them some more complex and even controversial stuff? And if we’re trying to write to a general audience, what do we have to do to make it consumable to that audience? What have others done? What are some success and failure stories?
So I finally read Levi Peterson’s The Backslider. And unlike other rites of passage (I’m looking at you, Moby Dick), The Backslider exceeded my expectations. Perhaps it had an unfair advantage, given my longstanding (and well documented) ambivalence for rural-Utah fiction. But part of the reason I’ve gotten frustrated with such fiction is that it’s just not as terrific as The Backslider. Anyway, if you want my review, go here. Today we’re talking about the novel’s covers over time.
I believe this is the original cover from 1986. It has a cowboy but it’s all kinds of boring. I mean, it’s fine, but . . . that’s all it is.
This is the 1990 mass-market paperback and the copy I read. It’s also a pretty boring cover, but it doesn’t scream 80s Utah publishing either. Actually, I have no idea what this cover’s telling me. It’s not really saying anything to me. But it’s not embarrassing to carry around.
Frank looks too old to me here, but I do like the sense of literary gravitas mixed with a small town press putting out it’s local cowboy poet. That’s kind of charming.
This one for the new-this-year edition confuses me. Is it aimed at Dwight Yoakam fans? Is it aimed at the ladies? Tough guys? I can’t tell.
Now, we haven’t had many Molit novels make it through four covers. Of itself, it’s rather an accomplishment. That I’m not terribly satisfied with any of them points to something else. But nevermind that. What sort of cover would you give it? Or, which is your favorite among these four?
I feel, as a new LDS fiction writer, like I am on shifting, volatile ground right now. I see LDS publishing companies that are smaller and more independent either shutting down business or struggling to stay afloat, while the bigger publishers slowly consume each other until they become one Frankenstien-like conglomeration; you submit to one, and get rejected by all. I read submission suggestions on the websites of LDS publishers and see that just about everyone is asking for literature that appeals to a wider audience than just LDS people. And this recent interview with Lyle Mortimer, who is in fact the CEO of CFI, my own publishing company, leaves me in a bit of a cold sweat. I guess comparatively, it’s not such a bad thing that my first book has only sold around 1400 copies so far. But it also points to a much more worrisome thing… something that maybe isn’t going to go away at all. more
I’ve written before about the once great status of Mormon theatre, and the infrastructure it once enjoyed. So I was pleased to find comments about the beginning of this infrastructure from Horace G. Whitney, longtime Deseret News editor-in-chief and the paper’s drama critic. In my opinion infrastructure, broadly conceived, accounts for much of what has happened in Mormon drama over the past century. Whitney, in the article below, describes a vision of how drama could operate under the MIA and ward amusement committees (which were roughly the equivalent of the recently disbanded ward activities committees, I assume).
A few weeks ago a book by the Brazilian language entrepreneur and LDS Church member Carlos “Wizard” Martins, who started the massive Wizard Language Schools chain (similar to Berlitz), reached the bestseller lists in Brazil. I’m fairly sure that the book Desperte o milionário que há em você (Awake the Millionaire Inside of You) is, I believe, the first by a Brazilian Mormon to reach the bestseller list.
I first heard of his book just before it was launched in April, and I didn’t give it much thought then—I’m not really in the book’s the target audience of those seeking a financial fortune and I suspect I could just as easily get a copy of the book that started this genre, Napoleon Hill’s 1937 self-help classic Think and Grow Rich, to say nothing of the various similar books penned by Mormons here in the U.S. But now that Martins has achieved a Mormon milestone in Brazil, I have to wonder if he is the first Mormon to reach the best seller list with a book not originally written in English?
A few days I came across a link to a blog post about what to read this summer: 101 Books To Read This Summer Instead of ’50 Shades of Grey.’ I thought it was a clever way of suggesting classic books to read and classifying those books. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to do the same thing for Mormon books?