I have big plans for the future, and since it’s almost the new year, I’ll share them with you. I’m going to join a martial arts club with my children and obtain a concealed handgun permit.
No, I’m not looking for more family togetherness. With four of my six children at home, I’m still up to my neck in family togetherness. Nor am I afraid someone’s going to break into my house. In fact, my home alarm is ninety-nine percent for keeping my teenagers in and only one percent for keeping would-be burglars out.
So what am I up to?
First a caveat: I have published twenty-nine books in the Mormon market. I’ve written about drugs, AIDS, abuse, death, infidelity, adoption, abortion, suicide, blended families, conversion to the gospel, and much more. All of my stories save the last four have LDS characters and are centered around LDS themes and communities, here or abroad. But one day I woke up and there were no more LDS stories waiting in my sea of ideas—or at least none that were demanding immediate attention. I was finished.
I’m not sure. I do know that my LDS stories helped me explore my faith and feelings on different issues within the LDS experience. There is perhaps no better way to understand your own beliefs than to write about them in such an intimate environment—alone with nothing but your thoughts and your computer. I believe all writers must at some point work through their beliefs and testimonies in the stories they tell, and I think these stories have great value, especially for the youth or new members of the Church. People see the light, have trials, and join the Church. Or they are tested and come to a higher understanding. Their lives change for the better. Miracles happen.
What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. As I said, I’ve written many of those stories. Once I even wanted to attempt writing the Great Mormon Novel to publish in the national market, but the half-finished book is still sitting in a file on my hard drive, untouched for several years. Suddenly these novels no longer hold my full interest—either to write or to read. Perhaps because I feel fully converted—to both the gospel and my perception of it. Or perhaps because, though the quality of LDS literature has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade, I simply don’t want to read about someone joining the Church or a crisis of faith.
I take full blame for my change.
No, maybe I don’t. I think I’ll blame it on my upbringing, since that’s the thing to do these days. As a child I was a huge reader, and on one certain trip to the bookmobile, my life changed forever: I found a fantasy novel and became enthralled at the new worlds that opened to me.
Fast forward thirty years. I still read a lot—everything from genre to literary novels, from picture books to young adult novels, Harry Potter to old classics. I find my taste in literature changes in waves, and I often emulate those waves in my work.
So what do I want to see within the LDS market with my latest wave?
Don’t hold your breath. It’s not earth-shattering, and some of you may even roll your eyes. Recently I’ve rediscovered my early fascination with fantasy and science-fiction—but with a contemporary twist—and I’ve been devouring contemporary paranormal and urban fantasy in the national market. I love the tough female heroines, who take time from battles with evil to do favors for friends or worry about their love life. This interest has extended to film so I’m up on the new series Sanctuary and Fringe, and I’m a regular viewer of Ghost Whisperer and similar TV shows. Yes, sometimes I pick the plots to pieces, but I find myself fascinated with the concept of non-quite-normal humans living among us in a contemporary setting. Both the national adult and teen markets are rife with this type of novel, but the sexual and gore content in the adult novels can be a turn-off, and I can’t stand the high school setting and teenage angst in most YA novels.
What I’d like to see published by the larger LDS publishers is contemporary adult paranormal novels with strong LDS female protagonists, written in first person and full of non-stop action. Genre fiction that is accessible to the average reader and that may or may not explore the characters’ faith but doesn’t become didactic. Not an easy request. Why? Partially because there is a line currently drawn between paranormal and spiritual gifts that LDS publishers must watch carefully.
Case in point. My fifth non-LDS novel, Imprints, which will be released in March, is a contemporary paranormal. My character receives imprints from certain objects which allows her to see what the owner experienced while holding the object. With this gift she is able to track missing persons and resolve a host of other problems. The gift also carries its share of heartache. The novel is first person and has no LDS characters, swearing, or questionable relationships. Even so, because of the paranormal content, the novel only squeaked by the board at my publisher.
Since Imprints is a release primarily for the LDS market, certain revisions were required—particularly a slight toning down the violence and making sure my character’s “gift” wouldn’t be misconstrued as a gift of the Spirit. I understand the reasoning for this. I’ve been in the market long enough to see certain readers complain of the most innocent phrasing or scenes. However, the unfortunate side result of this latter revision was that it essentially removed God from my novel. The paranormal element became not a gift from heaven, but something nature programmed by accident into my character’s genetic makeup. A talent like singing or a feature like brown hair, instead of something resembling the gift of tongues or the gift of discernment.
I can live with that, and I enthusiastically applaud Shadow Mountain for publishing my novel despite the paranormal aspect. As an imprint of Deseret Book, the largest LDS publisher, I realize they are taking a risk because of their largely conservative readership. These readers are the same people who sent hundreds of negative letters about a certain vampire series, prompting the publisher to remove the books from the stores. Offending your market is never a wise business move. At the same time, much of their readership loved those same vampires stories because of their relative cleanliness and lack of graphic violence. Relative being the key word here.
I believe there is an untapped LDS market in adult genre literature for these types of stories, and a completely whole new world of exploration awaiting LDS authors publishing in the market. I’d like to see compelling stories about paranormal gifts within the Mormon context. What about a Mormon shape-shifter? A person who sees the dead? A ordinary Mormon housewife who receives visions of the future? A woman I know claims her mother has such visions, and I’d love to see something like this explored.
Will we write these novels? Well, I’m sure a few are being written now—Hunting Gideon by Jessica Draper is the closest I’ve seen published that has the feel of what I’m looking for—but getting them out in the market in any large quantity will be difficult. It’s one thing to have a small paranormal or futuristic element in an obviously non-LDS novel, but to write a book encompasses both religion and the paranormal—it’s just not going to happen on a large scale for sometime, if ever.
Do I think there is a market for these stories? Oh, yes. But as I said before, it would have to be accessible to the average reader for it to be worthwhile to the publisher—gripping genre fiction that compels from the first page. The paranormal strangeness, be it fantasy or science, would have to maintain certain truths and standards.
Some of you may point out the difficulty in combining a religious world with a paranormal one. You may feel it’s impossible to successfully combine an LDS viewpoint with a Fringe or Sanctuary-type world. I agree that there will be some stories that wouldn’t work, but as a friend once reminded me: “God said He created man in His image.” To those who love speculative fiction, this at leaves a lot of other creations wide open. Also, future advances in science will continue to change our lives in very real ways—yet Mormonism will still be as true then as it is now. So why not begin imagining those changes now and put them in a contemporary setting? I believe there are plenty of speculative stories we can tell and remain true to our Mormon beliefs.
Even with that, I wouldn’t want to work in the complaint department. Too many LDS readers have a long way to go in separating fiction from reality. I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve written to assure people that no matter how an idea might have been sparked by real-life events, all my fiction really is make-believe.
So it’s probably not going to happen right away. For now I’ll keep reading books published by Roc and Ace in the national market and hope to attract enough LDS readers for Imprints to enable me to write a sequel or two. If I succeed, my new handgun permit and martial arts training should be very useful research.