Guest post by Karen Gowen of WiDo Publishing
The e-book opportunity has opened up entirely new markets for LDS fiction. WiDo Publishing doesn’t limit its books to Mormon fiction or shy away from it. We have several titles that deal with Mormon themes and include Mormon characters.
The question is: Do these books need warning labels? “Warning: Mormon characters may be present in this novel. If you have anything against seeing fictional Mormons or Mormonism depicted in your reading material in a positive light, read no further.”
It appears so from several comments reviewers have made. From a review on Arizona Guy by Raymond Spitzer: “Its real purpose is to present Mormonism in a warm and cozy light, which is okay as far as it goes, but I would prefer to know up front that I’m being set up for some soft proselytizing.”
The book is a mystery with a few LDS characters, not the main character. There’s one scene where Arizona guy accompanies an LDS character to church. He doesn’t stay for longer than the opening hymn as his friend, a cop, is called away. Where’s the proselytizing in that? That’s like saying a book with Catholic or Jewish characters is an effort at proselytizing if it shows these characters in a positive light and places a scene at their church or synagogue.
Our book Ghost Waves, by W. Everett Prusso, was making a run on Kindle sales lately after some free promotion, until this review hit:
“Religious Propaganda–The first chapter of this book starts off like any good pirate adventure book should…Caribbean islands, treasure kidnapping, etc, but then it goes to the main land and our first exposure to the protagonist’s family is their conversion to Mormonism. Their religion provides a legitimate historical backdrop/cause for the family to move west via a long voyage; however, it is laced with references that Brigham Young is the prophet of god, etc.
“I have nothing against religion, but when a pirate books has so many religious references in the beginning it should be advertised/marketed differently…..there is more on the agenda here than a swashbuckling pirate novel!”
Apparently this reader isn’t offended that the Mormons who traveled halfway around the world on the ship Brooklyn did so because of their belief in Brigham Young as a prophet of “god,” but that the characters actually stated such. This offended her sensibilities, making her feel like she was being preached at. Were they telling her as a reader to believe the same? No. Were they even main characters? No. It was simply a set-up to the rest of the story and a reason compelling enough for them to leave their homes and jobs and get on a ship.
This review hurt sales of Ghost Waves because of the heading: “Religious Propaganda.” Death knell to any work of fiction! And so far, it’s not been able to recover.
So, what is the answer? Keep all Mormon characters out of fiction that isn’t properly labeled as “LDS fiction”? Possibly, if authors want to reach the wider audience that is now available through e-book readers.
We tried this with the commercial women’s fiction release, Roxanne in La La Land by L.A. DeVaul. The author wanted to explore themes of modesty in the modeling industry. Her main character becomes a top model who must deal with the immodesty and nudity in the fashion industry. Originally, Roxanne was LDS, and DeVaul’s editor suggested she make her some other religion. She changed Roxanne to Methodist with a Jewish mother and Irish-Catholic father. Why bring up Mormon issues when it’s not necessary for the purpose of the book?
Sometimes a book is about Mormon issues, such as Ann Carbine Best’s In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets. This has been a big seller as an e-book, placing on numerous Amazon best-seller lists. Judging by reviews, readers haven’t seemed offended about the Mormonism depicted; probably due to the words “married in the Salt Lake Temple” in the first line of the description. A subtle “warning”—Beware: Mormon characters ahead, read at your own peril.
One would like to think that a reading public is more accepting about all kinds of religions, personal beliefs and practices depicted in fiction. And, of course, they are, as long as it isn’t Mormons shown as real, normal, positive characters. Then, we need the warning label.