What Offends the Mormon Reader?

In an earlier post here at the AML Blog (and again during a panel discussion at last weekend’s AML Conference) Chris Bigelow admitted that even though Seagull Book had requested ordering information on the anthology I edited, Dispensation: Latter-Day Fiction, he felt it was important to warn the buyer that this book’s content is PG-13.  First of all, I’m not surprised that Chris hasn’t heard back from the buyer (although I am very, very encouraged that the buyer even contacted Chris at all).  But–perhaps surprisingly?–I don’t fault Chris one bit for issuing the warning that may have affected this anthology’s ability to hit the shelves in a Seagull store.  I mean, I’ve dreamt of one of my titles being available at Deseret Book or Seagull.  I’ve lamented the fact that smallish publishers like Zarahemla and Parables will never score significant sales unless one of their books breaks through and shows up in these stores.  So why wouldn’t I want the anthology I edited to be that book?

Well . . . because I know that the average Seagull shopper probably wouldn’t like it, or would at least find its contents incongruous with the type of work they’d come to expect at a Seagull store.  And that if problems or complaints arose, it might do financial damage to Zarahemla Books if the anthologies were returned.  It might (who knows?) even do damage to my own reputation or ability to have a book sold in these stores at some point in the future.  I probably wouldn’t have felt the same way had Bound on Earth been able to break into DB or Seagull–there is more challenging or disturbing material in Dispensation than in Bound on Earth, in my opinion–but even BoE could have raised some hackles.  After all, even though the novel received a positive review in The Deseret News and the reviewer felt that the book was ultimately uplifting, he did warn potential readers about some mild sexual references that some might find gratuitous or jarring, especially if these readers were expecting a “typical LDS-market novel.”  I found this slightly disconcerting, since I thought the sexual references in my novel were pretty dang mild.  There had to be some sexual references, though, because the novel–a novel for adult readers–was primarily about marriage, and sex is a big part of marriage. But apparently the perception is that any references to sex might be read as “gratuitous” to some Mormon readers.  I don’t disagree that this is probably true.

The problem some LDS readers might have with Dispensation is less about sex (there’s not much of it) and more about the depiction of evil.  Of course, I’ve always been a big fan of the following statement by Brigham Young:

“‘Shall I sit down and read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants all the time?’ says one. Yes, if you please, and when you have done, you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth, in addition to reading those books. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil, and its consequences.”

-Journal of Discourses 2:34

It’s true that some of the short stories in this anthology could be described as disturbing.  Not all, but some.  They take on the subject of evil and its consequences.  Doug Thayer’s amazing and harrowing story, “Wolves,” is about a young Mormon man who gets attacked and violated by a gang in a 1940s hobo camp; in Phyllis Barber’s excellent “Bread for Gunnar,” a woman watches while her neighbor allows himself to burn to death.  Other stories aren’t this violent, but they are complicated: there’s a Native American girl, unhappy and misunderstood living among her new Mormon family in the Indian Placement Program; a bishop’s wife who walks out on her husband (but for only a day), her mind full of curse words, a few occasionally escaping out of her mouth; a seminary teacher  accused of all manner of sinfulness, but who bears his afflictions with the faithfulness of Job.

These are not stories that all Mormon readers will enjoy or appreciate.  But I also believe that these are stories that many Mormon readers could enjoy or appreciate, if these stories are approached with an open mind and a willingness to set aside certain expectations about what Mormon literature must be.  And I was very careful in my selections.  Although there is some language in the anthology, it’s rare and of the PG-13 variety.  There is very little sex and the depictions of violence are realistic without being gratuitous.  I wanted this anthology to be one that could be taught in a BYU class, for example, without too many student complaints about inappropriate content.  I wanted this anthology to be one that a believing Mormon could read without feeling that the writers had an anti-Mormon agenda.  I wanted this anthology to represent the complexities and contradictions inherent in our human condition without wallowing in darkness or, conversely, relying on easy answers or empty platitudes.  I wanted this anthology to be both Mormon and Literature. And I do think it’s both.  But I don’t think it would fit on the shelves at Seagull Book.

One final observation.  I just finished reading James Dashner’s YA novel The Maze Runner.  It’s an exciting, well-plotted, gripping read.  Both my 13 year old son and I tore through it in just a couple of days.  But it’s also a very violent book in many ways.  Young men are possessed, tortured, killed.  The characters engage in bloody and realistically depicted battles.  There’s even a great deal of “swearing”–or at least The Maze Runner‘s version of swearing.   The boys have been inside the maze for a while and have created their own curse words:  “slinthead” and “shuck-face” are two of my favorites.  They also say “bugger” and “bloody” a lot, so apparently British swear words didn’t undergo the same metamorphosis that the American ones did. Actually, I thought Dashner came up with a pretty ingenious way of dealing with the fact that a bunch of teenaged boys trapped in the center of a maze would be swearing up a storm, and that such language would be inappropriate in a YA novel.  Written by a Mormon guy.  Still, reading Dashner’s book made me despair a little.  Why will Mormon readers accept this in a fantasy novel for teens, but such things would be considered inappropriate in a realistic novel for adults?  It’s true that The Maze Runner wasn’t published by an LDS publisher . . . but it is carried in Deseret Book.   I’m sure one reason this novel will be seen as acceptable by most Mormon readers is because The Maze Runner is speculative fiction, while Dispensation’s stories are mostly realistic.  Such acceptance might also be because The Maze Runner‘s characters aren’t overtly Mormon, but Dispensation‘s characters are.  (I’ve often wondered what Twilight‘s reception might have been by both Mormon and non-Mormon readers if Bella Swan had been a Mormon.)

But I’d still love to hear your opinions.  What do you think offends Mormon readers, and why?

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35 Responses to What Offends the Mormon Reader?

  1. Wm Morris says:

    But I also just finished reading The Maze Runner. It was quite the emotionally intense, almost sadistic, beat down. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading (a lot depends on what happens in the sequels so in fact I suggest waiting to read it until the other two volumes come out). I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under the age of 14-15, even then parents should preview the book.

    In regards to the swearing — yeah, I didn’t like it. Slint and clunk were okay. But the use of shuck crosses the bounds of propriety, imo. I won’t say too much more about the novel here — I’ll save it for my GoodReads review, but the fact that Desert Book would carry it is quite the puzzler. I felt much less violated by Angel Falling Softly than the Maze Runner.

    I can’t answer your main question. The more data points I hear related to what offends Mormon readers, the more confused things seem.

  2. Eric Russell says:

    Considering that (I’m guessing) about 95% of Deseret/Seagull customers actually do watch PG-13 movies, the question isn’t what offends Mormons. It’s what offends the vocal portion of the most conservative 5% of Mormons, because it’s [i]that[/i] group of people that Deseret/Seagull are afraid of offending.

  3. Th. says:

    .

    I have a sense that those who are frequently offended take pride in the offence they find as it is proof of their greater righteousness — and you can’t control for that. Granted, this is me being judgmental, but I we must be wise, right? What more can be said?

    http://thmazing.blogspot.com/2007/01/damnation-of-orson-scott-card.html

    What if writers living near the Seagull Book had some in and had a signing, rendering the book nonreturnable and putting a face on the volume? It’s much harder to call someone evil you have met.

    Granted this would have required more work and, I suppose, come with the risks listed above, but I can’t in good conscious ever be okay with telling people no, you’re not ready for this, and not letting them partake.

    I’ve been lending out lots of Mormon books to local friends (including BoE, but not Disp which I haven’t finished reading yet) and it’s not hard to find converts. But they can’t find what they don’t know exists.

    In my lookings, there seems to be a hunger for fiction from the radical middle. But until that hunger is defined, people aren’t really even sure what it is they’re feeling, or how to satiate it.

    I’m not saying Chris made the wrong choice — just that I would have made a different choice. I generally prefer grand failure over wondering what might have been. Part of the reason I’m a dangerous casserole-maker.

  4. The professional offense taker takes offense first and then casts about for a reason why. Hence the futility of trying to placate. Though there will always be those Pavlovian dead-enders who believe that if they could just control all the environmental inputs, that promised "new man" would come rolling off the assembly line, this is about maintaining the power to define a social group by deciding who and what belongs in it. Mormon art at the margins is "acceptable" (marginally) to the extent that it doesn’t attempt to–or succeed in–defining what the parameters of its own acceptability are.

  5. Th. says:

    .

    That’s a compelling argument, Eugene.

  6. I think what offends orthodox LDS readers is reality itself. Yeah, some LDS fiction introduces challenging themes and situations, but it’s still very sanitized and propagandized. LDS fiction is still a LONG way from being able to show full-bodied reality, and I don’t think it ever will.

    In my opinion, if anything happens in real life, it should be able to appear in the pages of serious literature. This goes for sex, swearing, violence, abusive bishops, lack of faith, mistakes made by the Church, apostasy, etc. Yeah, it can become gratuitous if it gets out of proportion, but just including it judiciously as necessary to the story is not gratuitous, which means "not called for by the circumstances."

    You know, they say that Zion equals the pure in heart, so maybe that’s why orthodox LDS readers won’t abide Mormon literature that depicts impurities: because it doesn’t clearly, directly help the cause of building Zion.

    And I dunno, maybe they’re right. Maybe the impulse to depict reality in literature comes from the natural man, not the Zion-bound Saint. Maybe it’s all just "vain imaginations," a distracting waste of time at best, including the vapid LDS fiction too.

    But I love it anyway and wouldn’t want to give up reading and writing realistic literature. I like to wallow in human reality, including true-crime articles. I don’t even really like redemptive literature; I get plenty of that in the scriptures. I just like the big, glorious mess. Oh, the humanity!

    I just don’t think literature is godly. I think it’s human, a human tool of groping toward understanding and a therapeutic outlet for the pressures of earthly life. Maybe that’s why LDS readers don’t like it; they sense deep down that it is unholy and impure.

  7. Th. says:

    .

    Well, Chris — at least we have Brigham Young on our side.

    I’m way more scared of him than Molly or Peter.

  8. jose says:

    I read a very offensive book that I recently purchased from Deseret Book that I started to read to my elementary-aged children. I was not given any such warning as to the rating. The book describes a fratricide, a drunken man’s nakedness, an incestuous relationship between two daughters and their father, implied homosexual activity of an entire city, genitalia mutilation, a father attempting to kill his son until the voices in his head told him not to. The list goes on. I should have been told this was rated NC-17.

  9. Thom Duncan says:

    What is most interesting about this conversation is that it is happening at all, or rather, that it is still happening. I started writing specificially for the LDS community back in 1973 and even in those ancient times, publishers worried about swear words or (in my case, since most of my output was theatrical), producers worried about suggestives scenes. [b]Thirty[/b] years later and the subject is still paramount in the minds of readers and producers of LDS-oriented art, instead of such discussions having been relegated to "quaintness." Trying to put a positive spin on things (which, as those who know me, is not my wont), I think in another thirty years, if not sooner, these kinds of concerns will have been properly footnoted in the history of LDS fiction and future readers will be concerned about such inconsequential things as plot, characterization, and style.

  10. Moriah Jovan says:

    [b]I read a very offensive book that I recently purchased from Deseret Book that I started to read to my elementary-aged children. I was not given any such warning as to the rating. The book describes a fratricide, a drunken man’s nakedness, an incestuous relationship between two daughters and their father, implied homosexual activity of an entire city, genitalia mutilation, a father attempting to kill his son until the voices in his head told him not to. The list goes on. I should have been told this was rated NC-17. [/b]

    ROFLMAO!!!

  11. Angela wrote: "I know that the average Seagull shopper probably wouldn’t like it, or would at least find its contents incongruous with the type of work they’d come to expect at a Seagull store."

    I think you hit the nail on the head with that, and especially the last part. Seagull/DB’s market niche is "safe" fiction.

    The problem with this is that Seagull/DB is the only infrastructure out there for getting books with Mormon content to Mormon readers. There isn’t an infrastructure for connecting Mormon books with a more realistic flavor to Mormon readers.

    I agree completely that there are many LDS readers who would like more realistic Mormon fiction. I’ve tested it with my own book. But there’s no real way I know of letting them know it’s out there. This, if I had a wish list for Mormon literature, would be at the very top.

    • Dennis Clark says:

      Actually, isn’t this blog intended to be a new infrastructure of getting books with Mormon content to Mormon readers? I can buy any book discussed so far at Amazon or Barnes & Noble online or at AbeBooks — even out-of-print books like Richard Scowcroft’s Children of the covenant.

      Who goes to Seagull / DB any more?

  12. Angela H. says:

    Thom, I too hope that 30 years from now, Mormon readers will be less likely to get caught up in a discussion over swear words and more likely to be drawn to literature based on its merits. I do think, though, that in the case of Deseret Book and Seagull as places where books are [i]sold[/i], things are even more conservative now than they were 30 years ago. There were many titles on these store’s shelves when I was young that wouldn’t be there now.

    And, you know what? I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve made my peace with that. Deseret Book’s mission is not to promote great literature. When one boils it down, Deseret Book’s mission is to sell books and other materials that aid Latter-day Saints in their attempts to live a gospel-centered life, with a little entertainment thrown in for good measure. It’s important that the books they publish for entertainment not cross any lines of propriety because DB is owned by the church. It’s the where those lines are drawn–and how–that can get messy and frustrating. It’s the reason why I do occasionally despair that books like The Maze Runner are sold but other less "dark" (but more realistic) novels are not.

    I also think that it’s even harder to write realistic *fiction* and get general acceptance from church members than it is to write realistic non-fiction. For example, take a look at the list of non-fiction titles at DB and the range of difficult topics they explore: http://deseretbook.com/store/browse/4 Pornography addiction, homosexuality, dealing with "toxic relationships," religious doubt. But when these topics are dealt with frankly and realistically in fiction–even when the tone is friendly to the church or the outcome involves a character turning toward faith–LDS readers are much more likely to be uncomfortable. Is it because the authors of such books are "choosing" these difficult events or nebulous outcomes for their characters, whereas those writing non-fiction are describing the literal hand they’ve been dealt? I don’t know.

    I think the same is true of the events in the Bible that Jose described. Most LDS see these things as real events, true things that happened that were recorded because God wanted them to be. While some of these events are tough to read about even in that context (e.g., most Sunday School classes gloss over the whole Lot-and-his-daughters episode), it’s different in some readers’ minds when an author purposely chooses to include such events in a story. I suppose Shakespeare gets a pass because he writes in King James English. And he’s Shakespeare.

    I do have a lot of hope for Mormon literature–its continued growth and maturation. But I don’t think DB or Seagull are going to be the outlets for such works of literature because promoting complicated, artistically-rendered, realistic fictional depictions of Mormon life is not the point of DB’s mission.

  13. Abel Keogh says:

    I think a lot of the problem has to do with the rating systems for movies, video games, and other forms of entertainment. For too long we (LDS and others) have let others (who may or may not share our beliefs, morals, etc.) rate things for us instead of using our own judgment to decide what we watch on TV or in a movie theatre or play on the Xbox.

    A lot of people I know won’t see rated R movies–no matter how uplifting the message of the movie may be (e.g., The Shawshank Redemption, Gran Torino) because of language, sex, or violence, but have no problem seeing a PG-13 movie with horrible messages and morals simply because it has an “approved” rating. And while I don’t have a problem with standards, I find it odd that LDS and other good people let complete strangers decide what they will or won’t watch instead of using the Spirit to decide whether its appropriate or not.

    Since some people are apparently unable to think for themselves, LDS writers and publishers should take advantage of this come up with their own rating system for books. That way instead of using our God-given judgment we can let others decide tell us what’s in it.

    Just think, your anthology could get the equivalent of a PG-13 rating and suddenly people wouldn’t have a problem buying it. :-)

  14. KUER (University of Utah) used to play gospel music Sunday morning (they recently switched to BBC and NPR). A couple of years ago, they tried interspersing the music with readings from the Bible. Except they chose a contemporary, colloquial translation. And they started with Genesis. Well, that lasted about two weeks. I knew it was a mistake from the start, even coming from the University of Utah. It was like waking up to Dr. Phil uncensored. I’m all in favor of modern English translations, but they should have stuck to the New Testament.

  15. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    I have no hope of converting those who would be offended by anything in [i]Dispensation[/i] into literary readers. In fact, I like that LDS lit fic flies under their radar and think Chris did a good thing.

    Its like this: I knew this guy at BYU who told me he wanted to be a writer someday, but he’d have to wait until his mother died before he dared write the novel he had plotted out. Wouldn’t tell me why. I categorized him as an idiot.

    But one day I found myself wanting to write an essay that I worried might upset my non-member mother. I remembered this guy, decided I didn’t want to be his kind of idiot. Besides, I told myself, what were the odds my Catholic mother would ever read it? Zero. So I wrote it. And saw it published. Such freedom! I repeated the process.

    Of course, that was before Al Gore invented the internet. My mother has found these essays online. But the beautiful part is that she’s never made any comment. Just sits silently, hoping, I imagine, that I don’t include her in what I write ever again. In other words, she behaves much better now. (Hi Mom.)Now [i]that’s[/i] freedom!

    So I’m happy to keep those readers who’d be offended unaware of [i]Dispensation[/i] or any other lit fic work. Let the work–which is about them in many cases–take root and grow among those who are already inclined to appreciate it. Then, when the offendable readers find out what we’ve been up to, maybe, just maybe, they’ll mind their p’s and q’s in the hope that we won’t write about them anymore. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)

    Something tells me there might be fallacy in my argument…

    [Disclaimer: I promise I wasn't unkind, unfair, or disrespectful to my mother, who is wonderful. But I did speak intimately about my own experience and she played a part in that. Shoot me.]

  16. [i]Gran Torino[/i] may well be the best atonement allegory ever to come out of Hollywood. A good example of the spiritual vacuousness of the MPAA rating system, and the absurdity of using it as a yardstick of moral probity.

  17. Melinda W. says:

    I have a very good friend who is a very orthodox Mormon. She doesn’t read LDS fiction at all because they are all too cheesy and full of cliches and platitudes. I’ve given her a book or two, and she likes the book I’m writing, but in general, she’s written off the entire LDS publishing market as too corny based on what she’s seen at Deseret Book.

    There are readers who would like realistic, edgy, faithful Mormon fiction, but they don’t know where to find it, and I don’t know how you would go about marketing to them.

    I agree with Eric Russell’s comment (#2), where he said that DB is afraid of offending the vocal 5% of readers who complain about offensive elements.

  18. Th. says:

    .

    Maybe Deseret Book should but in some saloon style doors and keep books from Zarahemla and Parables behind them.

    That would be awesome.

  19. jendoop says:

    Great post and conversation!

    Abel’s got a point I agree with – the whole idea of encouraging the saints to turn over their judgment to a business endeavor seems to be against our treasured ideas about agency. Even if that business is Deseret Book.

    Is there any room to convince Seagull that they could be a breakout success if they carried "fringe" lit as well as Deseret Book approved lit? I bet a Seagull curtained room would give many a great thrill of rebelliousness while at the same time expanding minds.

  20. karen says:

    I think it totally depends on the person. I have an internet friend who won’t allow her girls to read Twilight books. I, personally, didn’t think they were that bad although I didn’t like the writing. They were more boring than bad, in my opinion. Women in her ward used them as object lessons in YW – carried them to class – and castigated my friend for not allowing her daughters to read the books. I don’t think fiction like that belongs preached to our youth but I do think it’s important for parents to read what their kids are reading so they can have discussions – pro or con – about the literature their kids are absorbing.
    As for the Maze Runner – I didn’t care for the ‘swearing’. I know James and was rather shocked at that part of his writing. I guess to each his own. I’ve asked my critique group for suggestions for my current WIP and one lady keeps suggesting I bring in the ‘power’ of the priesthood. She’s very big on the word ‘power’. I’m not.
    I don’t write for a Mormon audience because most (not all, but most) "Mormon" novels are sappy in my opinion. I don’t want to write sappy literature; I want to write something that will make people think and you can’t do that without at least a laundered version of sin. We don’t get married and live happily ever after. God never intended that we should. We don’t grow up with no trials or temptations. If we think that’s the way our lives are going, we’re burying our heads in the sand. Yet some Mormon parents try to teach their kids that that’s what they can and should expect. It’s ridiculous.
    I don’t think we need a bunch of swearing in our literature. I don’t think we need graphic sexuality or sin of any type. But i think we owe it to our readers to acknowledge that sin is out there and we all deal with it – hopefully in productive ways. We as writers have the responsibility to teach just that.

  21. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    For the record, Karen, I’m a part of the Mormon audience, the part that, like you, doesn’t care for "sappy literature." I read and I shell out money for books, including those written by and for Mormons like me. I don’t know who you are, besides your first name, but if your career needs some "launching," the LDS literary community (read as [i]Irreantum, Dialogue, Sunstone[/i]) are new-writer friendly. Reconsider.

  22. Angela, I agree with your comments on nonfiction. Mormons are, in fact, commanded to keep journals, personal histories, family histories, etc. When I use the term "Mormon literature," what I really mean is realistic Mormon fiction. Why would any Mormon in his or her right mind want to dream up fake realistic stories depicting impurity and imperfection when there is already so much messy human reality around us and in our nonfiction (including scripture)? If a Mormon’s going to use his or her imagination to make up stories, they better darn well be pure and uplifting. At least, this is the mindset I imagine most orthodox Mormons have about Mormon fiction, whether they realize it consciously or not.

  23. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    I think it’s a "nature of truth" problem, and maybe I’ll do a blog post about it–after I get it all clear in my mind.

  24. What makes the problem all the more vexing is that even the orthodox will generally give a pass to (or simply ignore) Mormon artists as long as they keep a proper distance from Mormon society. The question comes down to who controls the image Mormon society presents to the world, because how Mormons see themselves reflected in the "gentile" mirror will inevitably influence how they see themselves. The authority and status of the interpreter thus becomes paramount in judging the authority of any one particular vision.

  25. Scott Parkin says:

    I think it’s less about making stuff up than it is about exploring a Mormon person’s attempt to understand life rather than attempting to explore the value of the culture itself (or its institutions).

    I think we’ve seen a basic shift in how Mormon authors approach fiction over the past few years, but the market perception is still stuck in 20-50 year old assumptions–as are the publishers that serve that established market.

    Part of the problem is a lack of relative diversity in publishers. The consolidation of Bookcraft (and later, Covenant) into DB is that the market lost a way to separate 1) doctrinal and nonfiction works from 2) faith promoting fiction (and it complement, 2a) faith demoting fiction) from 3) general fiction of specific interest to Mormon readers. This last category has been radically under-served, and is where I would put Mormon realistic fiction.

    There have been smaller publishers over the years (Aspen, Horizon, others) that attempted to serve this third category, but they have suffered either from an apathetic (aka, undeveloped/underdeveloped) market, or the tendency to target DB and its conflation of all three categories–with the result that they first mix type 2/3, then reach out to do type 1 with the result that readers expect correlation in all three categories.

    This is essentially what both Covenant and Signature did; the only two publishers to actually establish both a track record and an independent market identity (Cedar Fort is a different story altogether).

    The effect is that Mormon readers tend to see Mormon publishers as agents of the culture–aka, as explaining our doctrines to ourselves, or as essentially celebrating the superiority of our own social and cultural practices. In that role, fiction that explores struggle, challenge, or identity independent of the culture is viewed as somehow opposed to building the core through positive reinforcement.

    That’s the essential flaw of a for-us-by-us (FUBU) market identity with publishers competing to serve that market–it is, by definition, insular and prone to a narrowing of vision.

    That’s why I think part of the next wave (though not all of it by any means) has to be an outside-in approach where we publish our stories for others, and let those stories enter our culture and markets through general market (non-LDS) publishers after passing through a larger market first. Pull first the readers, and later a subset of the publishers into a larger market context.

    The problem is that such a strategy takes decades, not years, and no one has committed to the long haul. Chris Bigelow mentions that one of his biggest struggles with Zarahemla is boredom, and I think that’s a real challenge. Dutcher jettisoned us as a creative target at least partly because he couldn’t translate initial interest into a solidified market identity in five years, and he gave up on the effort–he had a living to make and couldn’t wait for us to coalesce an identity. The same is largely true of the other attempts.

    To Chris’s point, helping to identify/create that market is a slog through years of tiny sales numbers, good stories that are too FUBU to fit, and generalized criticism within the culture for failing to conform to the established standard. The broader market will tend to see such a venture as at least odd, and potentially as a nefarious attempt at viral proselyting. The only way to establish the new market is to wait them out and prove you’re serious, and earn their respect through sheer time and quality of offering.

    Sadly, there’s neither much money nor much glory in that. Forty years later you get an honorary lifetime membership in AML and newer publishers capitalize on the market you helped create. The breakout story can happen, but those usually break out of well-established market segments, and Mormon realistic fiction is poorly established both inside and outside of our culture markets at this point.

  26. Th. says:

    .

    Scott. What you say is true. And the truth shall throw you into a funk.

  27. Scott Parkin says:

    Two thoughts/clarifications–

    First, in mentioning Signature as an example of conflating markets (they started as fiction and eventually branched into non-fiction, specifically history and commentary), I did not mean to imply that they competed with DB as a correlated publisher. Signature is noted for covering a viewpoint that is decidedly challenging to the DB-correlated concept.

    Still Signature became largely identified and categorized as a response to DB–in other words, their identity was inextricably linked to the correlated marketplace (as, arguably, was their editorial policy). Whether a response, reflection, complement, or alternative, it still functionally slaves itself to DB’s market worldview–as do all known LDS publishers.

    I’m not criticizing the strategy, merely pointing out that it puts many players in competition for a limited segment.

    Second, my intent was not to put anyone in a funk (though that might well be an inevitable consequence), but rather to point out the nature of the challenge. Mormon authors should consider writing for markets other than DB and its competitors, and small press publishers should consider targeting non-Mormons first (and selecting stories based on that target market) as a means of bypassing the Mormon expectation of correlated fiction.

    As (I think) Angela suggested, we seem far more willing to accept things from the outside publishers that we wouldn’t tolerate from the inside ones.

    I think the publishing world is about to undergo a massive shakeup; now is exactly the right time for small press to take its shot and establish a new micro-market (or even a bunch of them). A little courage and a lot of patience have a decent chance of paying off if we can get some people to stick with it.

    Or so it seems to me.

  28. Moriah Jovan says:

    [b]…now is exactly the right time for small press to take its shot and establish a new micro-market (or even a bunch of them)…[/b]

    Had something interesting happen the last few weeks. I’ve been approached by three different genre romance writer friends, independent of each other (one just TODAY), asking me my opinion about stories they want to write desperately but are afraid to. They don’t want to waste time on manuscripts they’ll never be able to sell.

    One is a Jew. One’s a non-denominational born-again Christian. One is a Catholic.

    They came to me because they see what I’m doing with mine, and they want to grasp that freedom, too. What I envision is hardly LDS-centric; it’s FAITH centric because it appears we’re not the only ones with the FUBU mentality.

    Not that I ever doubted it. *koffZondervanskoff*

  29. Charmayne Warnock says:

    Quite frankly I think too many readers are offended by stories, etc. that make them think too hard.

  30. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    I agree, Charmayne, and I submit that doesn’t just apply to "the Mormon reader."

    The frustrating thing is to me is that when you consider how many people don’t even read (and how many of those are actually proud that they don’t read), the actual percentage of the population who read because they want what they read to make them think is almost miniscule.

    I also think it’s a little frustrating when you have people who read and read and read, and then when you talk to them about what they are reading, you realize that they must have been speed reading because they seem to have managed to not think about what they’ve read with any depth at all.

    The spectrum of people who read at all and the reasons why they read is long enough to make it hard to come to any very helpful conclusion about what, if anything, can be done to reach out to and really communicate anything without offending someone. Not all "couch potatoes" are watching tv–some are "reading" instead.

  31. db says:

    Kathleen’s comment most insightful. I wanted to meekly chime in on the possibility of broadening the landscape beyond basic caucasion Mormon writings. Maybe I’m dipping my toes in the wrong area, maybe AML is dealing with mainly fiction. But my feeling is that there could be more writing (and interest in) other cultures, understanding other religious backgrounds, that sort of thing. My general feeling is that Mormons aren’t interested in other cultures and in understanding (to build bridges to) Judaism, Islam, simply other countries, other than to send their missionaries out to those environments with great hopes of good numbers reported back. One objective is to have less careless "We – They" comments made in sunday school classes that try the patience of converts from those other environments. If there is interest in what I’m saying, I can spell it out more explicitly.

  32. Th. says:

    .

    You raise a good point: The stereotype of Mormons being offended by a four-letter word overwhelms the fact that other things do offend Mormons — like the we/they comments you mention, provincialism, etc.

  33. Compare those views of Brigham Young re: examining evil with the statements Boyd K Packer told D Michael Quinn when he was selected to the history faculty at BYU

    Elder Packer: "The truth is not uplifting. The truth destroys. And historians should tell only that part of the truth that is uplifting, and if it’s religious history, that’s faith-promoting." And he said, "Historians don’t like doing that, and that’s why I have a hard time with historians." Along with his later statements against intellectuals.

    I think the problem goes across the board in the Mormon faith which is that the faithful cannot stand up for themselves against temptation or against opposition. The leadership treats the members like children and the members do the same to themselves and each other. As if questioning cannot be tolerated. Nor any behavior that goes outside of that, to include behavior or topics in fiction and literature.

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