Guest post by Therese Doucet
Strange Violin Editions is the new kid on the block in Mormon(ish) publishing, and since Chris Bigelow was kind enough to invite me to do a guest post for AML’s Publisher’s Corner, I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce both the press and myself (since for now, Strange Violin Editions and I are pretty much synonymous).
I was a practicing Mormon up until age 24, when I left the Church and became a dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through atheist, which is what I still consider myself. For a long time, I was a little touchy about my Mormon past, and virtually cut myself off from my old circles of Mormon friends, even ones I’d been close with as an undergraduate at BYU. This was less because of resentment towards Mormonism than because I didn’t want to offend anyone when the inevitable questions came up about why I left. (It seemed easier to let everyone assume it was because I couldn’t hack the lifestyle than to explain I’d actually loved many aspects of my life in the Church and had left solely for intellectual reasons.)
More than a dozen years later I was married with a small daughter and doing the stay-at-home mom thing. To keep my brain alive, I started writing nonfiction essays and novels. Writers are always being told to write what they know, so I wrote a novel about a devout young Mormon woman who leaves the Church for intellectual reasons. At that point, it would never have occurred to me to think of myself as a Mormon writer or to approach a press like Signature that specializes in Mormon-themed books. Instead, I made a concerted effort to find a mainstream literary agent who could, I hoped, land me a book deal with a mainstream publisher.
Despite some encouraging interest, this didn’t yield the hoped-for results, so I started to research self-publishing. While the barriers to entry into the publishing world have fallen much lower in recent years, there’s still a learning curve one can ascend ad infinitum. Determined to do the thing properly, I was not only making a heavy investment of time, learning, and money, I was discovering that I freaking loved pretty much every aspect of it. (Apart from marketing, which I don’t think anyone really likes except for those scarily extroverted types we all hated in high school.) And wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, to give something back to the literary community by publishing other writers’ work too?
Thus was born Strange Violin Editions and its debut book, my novel A Lost Argument. My original intent was to publish writing by other former Mormons. I knew of at least a few who’d self-published books; what if in the future such books could find a home with my press? Sure, as a small independent publisher, it’d be a small-time way to start an author’s career, but it’d be an improvement over the status quo of available opportunities. And for me as a publisher it’d be a way to serve a niche audience that didn’t seem well-served by mainstream or LDS publishers. It seemed like apart from Signature Books (which I really became aware of only later), and the odd sensationalist anti-Mormon blockbuster nonfiction book from a Big Six publisher, no one was really publishing books by former Mormons, and certainly not novels from a secular viewpoint where Mormonism nevertheless played some kind of interesting role.
My idea for what Strange Violin Editions can and should publish has since expanded to more of an inclusive, Big Tent notion of Mormon literature. Before I started A Lost Argument, I was unaware that there was such a thing as Mormon literature. To me, if there were such a thing it would have consisted basically of Jack Weyland novels. (Not to knock Jack Weyland. I recall loving his books at around age 14 or so.) But when I set out to write my own book, I started to look for other books with a similar plot line. While I didn’t find much that met that description, to my surprise I discovered a handful of books I thoroughly enjoyed that were written by practicing Mormons, in which the protagonists remained Mormon, particularly Levi Peterson’s The Backslider and Elna Baker’s New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance.
I also discovered wonderful authors writing on the fringes of Mormonism, such as the late, stunningly gifted Virginia Sorenson. As time has passed and I’ve formed more acquaintances with books and people and publishers in both the LDS and ex-LDS literary communities, Mormon literature broadly conceived has come to seem like something well worth supporting and contributing to, particularly insofar as it includes high-quality writing in conversation with the broader world outside Mormonism.
I envision Strange Violin Editions as filling a role somewhere between Zarahemla Books and Signature Books. Like Zarahemla, I’m especially interested in publishing fiction, memoirs, and essays, and I’m open to publishing edgy and innovative stuff. Like Signature, I’m open to publishing works by non-Mormons or former Mormons writing about Mormonism, and works that may not be considered particularly faith-promoting. (See the online submission guidelines.) However, unlike Signature, I won’t be publishing scholarly works (at least not to start with), since I don’t have the resources to ensure adequate peer review. I also have the benefit, or the disadvantage depending on how you see it, of being able to afford to take more risks with the titles I acquire, because I’m approaching this enterprise as an art-for-art’s-sake type of thing rather than as a source of profit.
Strange Violin Editions’s next title (after A Lost Argument) will be BYU professor Steve Peck’s haunting existential novella, A Short Stay in Hell, with a slated publication date of March 23, 2012. With the recent publication of Peck’s highly anticipated full-length novel The Scholar of Moab by Torrey House Books, A Short Stay in Hell has been talked about recently, and I look forward to sating the curiosity of those who didn’t get the chance to read it in its earlier self-published incarnation. To me, one of the many wonderful things about the novella is the way it exploits fiction’s ability to transport readers safely over terrain that might be thought too dangerous ever to approach in reality. In the book’s speculative scenario, believing and unbelieving readers alike can vicariously experience an existence in which the worldview they’ve always lived by turns out to be wrong. Can we live with the consequences of being so mistaken, existentially speaking? Read and find out.
I’m also pleased to announce Strange Violin Editions has reached an agreement to publish Eric Jepson’s novel Byuck in July of 2012. Many of you know Jepson as the editor of the Monsters and Mormons and Fire in the Pasture anthologies and as a previous Publisher’s Corner guest. A few may also remember that a few years back Byuck was on one blogger’s Christmas wish list over at A Motley Vision. Quirky and fun, this is a much lighter, more Mormonly orthodox, and less unsettling book than Strange Violin Editions’s first two titles, and will make a great, diversifying addition to the press’s catalog.
I hope to publish at least three books a year and am actively on the hunt for more titles to bring out for 2012 through 2014. So writers, now’s the time to dig out that manuscript you’ve got tucked away in a drawer and submit to Strange Violin Editions.