The Populist’s Soapbox: LDS Fiction: It’s Not Just LDS Anymore

Last week a Deseret News reporters interviewed me about Band of Sisters and the Flat Daddy Project. I’ve done several interviews recently, but this particular reporter asked something no one had yet.

Her question, and my answer to it, have kept me thinking ever since. She’d read the book before the interview (a rare and rather pleasant occurrence), so she had a better idea of what to ask. Among the questions I’d been asked already:

  • Are the wives in the book fictionalized versions of the ones I interviewed? (No. Not even close. I used the interview information to figure out how my characters would react. All of the interviewees were all pretty close in age (26-33 years old, I think). The wives in my book range from 20-55.
  • How did I learn about the Flat Daddy Project? (Through THIS blog.)
  • Am I a military wife? (Nope. No family members have even been deployed in my lifetime. Dad’s a Vietnam vet, but he came home before I was born. My brother was in the Air Force but never deployed. The book was inspired by watching my friend’s deployment.)
And so on.

Then came the interesting question:

Were some specific topics in the book things I had to fight with my publisher to keep in the story?

In other words, did Covenant, my conservative publisher, balk at a book that discussed sensitive, difficult subjects? (I won’t include spoilers here, so let’s just say that Marianne’s daughter has more than one very serious issue. If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about.)

I was thrilled to be able to say that none of those things ever came up. Not once. No one, not my editor, the committee, or anyone else at Covenant so much as even mentioned those subjects.

To me, that says a few wonderful things:

1) LDS publishers (and Covenant, in my case) are more and more willing to publish stories that reflect reality. That includes stories with no easy, tie-it-in-a-tidy-bow answers. Their books can still have a Christian world view of problems and how to approach them, but the books also acknowledge that you won’t avoid trials just because you’re a good person. Bad stuff happens. Marianne and her daughter tackle her issues with a Gospel-perspective, but at the end of the book, everything’s not hunky-dory.

2) Likewise, readers are more and more accepting of that change; they WANT to read about real women facing real problems.

Then I thought about other novels recently published in the market and some upcoming ones, and I got even more excited about how this market is shifting. First off, the sheer quality of the literature is better than it has been, EVER. Period.
Side note: Frankly, I get seriously annoyed when people assume that the only possible reason a writer would publish in this market is because they aren’t good enough to make it nationally. Makes my eye twitch furiously.

Now, there’s another exciting change in the market:

3) More and more, I’m seeing books that don’t necessarily have LDS themes, but that are simply clean alternatives to national genres that often contain material that Mormon readers would rather not have in their books, whether that means language, bedroom scenes, gore, or the like.

Sarah M. Eden writes books set in the Regency era, which was before the LDS Church was founded and therefore, by a strict definition, cannot be LDS fiction. When she seeking publication nationally, Sarah got many, many encouraging letters from agents and editors essentially telling her, “You’re a great writer! We’ll publish you if you add some steamy scenes into your books!”

In recent years, the Regency Romance market has veered into smut. (Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave at what’s out there now.) Sarah refused to “smuttify” her books, effectively closing off the national market to herself. She was left with self-publishing until Seeking Persephone (currently out of print but likely to be reprinted traditionally) was a Whitney Award finalist last year. That’s when Covenant took a chance on her, even though her new book, Courting Miss Lancaster, has no connection to Mormonism whatsoever.

In other words, Covenant is listening to their readers, who simply want great books they don’t have to be on guard with. (Quick! Turn the page. And crap! That one, too! Skimming, skimming, skimming . . .)

Finally, Regency Romance fans have a fantastic, well-written alternative. (Did you catch that? WELL-WRITTEN. As in, just as good as any national Regency.)

Rachel is one of the two top-selling female writers in the LDS market, and she’s known for both romances and women’s fiction. But Rachel also happens to love the paranormal genre, and she wanted to write some, especially since the current national paranormal market has veered the same direction as the national Regency market: toward the gutter.

Not knowing whether a paranormal novel would sell to readers used to LDS-themed fiction, Deseret Book took a risk in publishing Imprints, the first book of its kind in this market. But again: finally, a CLEAN alternative to having to skip passages and squint your eyes every few pages to avoid the bad stuff.

What started out as something fun and different to write for Josi has turned into ragingly popular series. (Devil’s Food Cake, the most recent book, was #1 on Deseret Book’s online bestsellers list for some time, and I think it just slipped to #2, right after Lund’s The Undaunted. Not shabby.) Going in, Josi didn’t expect Deseret Book to even want the first book, Lemon Tart. First off, Josi is known for her issue-driven women’s fiction like Unsung Lullaby and Her Good Name. But there was another element as well: Lemon Tart has absolutely zero Mormon anything in it. Sadie herself is clearly Christian, but there are hints that she’s from some other denomination.

To her surprise, Deseret Book snatched it up. Then they requested more books in the series, to the tune of two a year (so far: Lemon Tart (a current Whitney finalist), English Trifle, and Devil’s Food Cake. Later this year we’ll see Key Lime Pie, and next year, Blueberry Crumble). Again, a fun, clean mystery series without any worry about running into questionable scenes, language, and more, and the books just so happen to have nothing Mormon-ish in them.

The Shandra Covingington Mystery Series, byJeffrey S. Savage
This a clean mystery series from Covenant. Shandra makes an occasional Mormon joke, but beyond that, the Church isn’t really mentioned, and it certainly isn’t the point. Shandra’s murder-solving skills (and her obsession with food) are the focus.

One of the best romance writers I know, Michele (Whitney Award winner for Best Romance, 2007 with Counting Stars) manages to keep the chemistry alive without heading into either cliche or the gutter. But here’s the fun part with this book: the main characters aren’t LDS. A police officer on the case is Mormon, but check it out: no one converts!

Dangerous Memories, by Jeffrey S. Savage
There’s a good chance that this horror novel will be published by Covenant in the relatively near future. No joke. Covenant maybe soon releasing a HORROR novel. (Did you ever think you’d see the day?)

There are plenty more examples (I personally loved N. C. Allen’s Legend of the Jewel, G. G. Grandagriff’s The Last Waltz, and many more.), but it’s probably enough to simply say that the market is in an exciting place right now, with welcome changes coming around every bend.

No, not everything is stellar (and I can quietly point you away from what not to read, though I’ll deny ever saying so :-). But there’s so much more quality stuff on the shelves than there used to be.

If you don’t know where to start, drop me a note saying what kinds of books you typically enjoy. I’m betting I can find a good-quality LDS counterpart.

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4 Responses to The Populist’s Soapbox: LDS Fiction: It’s Not Just LDS Anymore

  1. Angela H. says:

    Great post, Annette. Thanks for keeping us abreast on all these exciting new developments, and congrats on your new book, too. I need to get my hands on it!

  2. I love that there’s such a variety of LDS-market fiction available. Great post, Annette. Can’t wait to read your book.

  3. Great post, Annette. Congrates for your approach. Just waiting for your copy.:)

  4. Pingback: Andrew Hall’s 2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review: Mormon Market | A Motley Vision

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