SF&F Corner: What I’d Like to See in LDS Genre Fiction

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.

What changed?

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.

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30 Responses to SF&F Corner: What I’d Like to See in LDS Genre Fiction

  1. Th. says:

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    I remember back when someone else was editing Irreantum — I think it was Chris Bigelow — he was anxious for more stories of this type to be submitted. I don’t know if Irreantum’s current editors feel that way, but short fiction would be the way to develop writers. And if more people actually subscribed, to test the audience.

  2. Scott Parkin says:

    To me speculative fiction is freeing precisely because I can explore issues of character, morality, responsibility, philosophy, technology, politics, etc. without the need for anchor in the specifically real.

    I would think speculative fiction was a perfect medium for the LDS writer; if you can explore basic questions without the flags and labels of the Church–flags that trigger many people to be either more or less critical than is really useful–you can engage an interesting and thoughtful dialog with your reader at a core, fundamental level.

    Perhaps that’s dishonest–using stealth techniques to bypass easy filters. Except speculative fiction readers already know that, and it’s part of the reason we read. We’re looking for new ways to consider things. We want new views on old subjects in addition to completely new ideas. We’re looking to fake ourselves out just long enough to overcome our own biases and take a fresh look at issues most of us have long since decided we already know enough about.

    I like the idea; explore thoughts and reasons, not just conversion/diversion morality plays. Make the symbol and metaphor big so we can treat it for what it is and not get bogged down in question of accuracy to the here-and-now.

    I still believe literature can be deeply Mormon without ever directly using the cultural lexicon or familiar symbols. In fact, to explore deeply I almost believe it’s required.

  3. I still feel pretty strongly that good Mormon-flavored genre fiction is perhaps the most interesting, fruitful path we could follow. Lately I’ve been gorging myself on Tolkien and on speculative post-apocalypse novels, preparatory to some writing I’d like to do if I ever get the chance, and I’d love to see Zarahemla Books and other alternative publishers do more genre-type stuff, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, paranormal like Rachel describes, etc.

    Personally, however, I would probably never spend my time reading a fiction book of any kind published by Deseret or Covenant, because I don’t trust them to provide anything really provocative and interesting for my tastes. It’s the same reason I won’t eat at Olive Garden–too bland and predictable, by definition. The only way I’d pick up a book from those sources is if I heard lots of strong buzz from known, trusted sources.

  4. Angela H. says:

    Rachel, great post. I, too, have always been drawn to the types of books you describe. When I was a teenager I was obsessed with the supernatural novels of Lois Duncan (_The Third Eye_, _Stranger With My Face_), and two of my barely-begun and currently-shelved novels could be classified as speculative fiction. Or at least touching on the supernatural. But they’re shelved while I work on the novel that’s working for me best right now, a thoroughly realistic novel about dealing with grief and remarriage and polygamy that’s intended for an LDS audience (sigh). I sigh because I was originally intending to write a mainstream novel, but apparently I am where you were in the beginning of your career and can’t quite shake the Mormon stories yet. But I definitely want to get going on my other two ideas sometime here soon.

    I also agree that it would be nice to see more of this type of stuff for adults, but we do have a very interesting YA post-apocalyptic novel by former DB novelist Ally Condie coming out soon. Publisher’s Weekly calls the book "one of this year’s most talked about manuscripts." (You can read about Ally’s deal on PW’s site here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/index.asp?layout=talkbackCommentsFull&talk_back_header_id=6635839&articleid=CA6710139 ). I’m excited about reading this one and hope Ally has tons of success.

    And Th., I’m definitely interested in publishing speculative fiction in Irreantum. In the most recent issue, we have a post-apocalyptic story by Orson Scott Card and an excerpt from a novel by Charmayne Gubler Warnock with magical elements. Two of my favorite stories from 2008′s double issue (Jack Harrell’s "Calling and Election" and Mark Brown’s "Cause") definitely fit Rachel’s definition of "contemporary paranormal." So no reluctance here. I’d encourage anybody writing speculative fiction to send their stuff to Irreantum, definitely.

  5. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    I’ll add to Angela’s run-down that the next issue of [i]Irreantum[/i] will have a story by Thom Duncan ("When We Remembered Zion") that is both apocalyptic and, arguably, paranormal, but within some very interesting and distinct Mormon parameters. Watch for it.

    Chris says he doesn’t trust Deseret or Covenant to print books that satisfy his taste. As I read Rachel’s post this morning (and thunk on it off and on today), I felt a wee bit disheartened. At first I thought it was because, like Chris, I’d given up on the hope that mainstream LDS publishers might someday allow the kinds of books Rachel speaks of. But really, after having lunch with a thoroughly enculturated Mormon, homesick as all get-out after her recent move from Utah to Texas, a woman who wouldn’t see an R rated film if her life depended on it, I realized that maybe what I’ve really given up on is the notion that mainstream LDS readers will accept such books. Particularly paranormal stories, unless the paranormal experience is proven to be either a man-made con (think [i]Scooby Doo[/i]) or the by-product of the devil. But I don’t think even that would fly. (Hello [i]Brother Brigham[/i])

    I suspect, if it is to happen, it will only occur if the writer is accepted (and therefore trusted)already as a mainstream writer. Someone exactly like Rachel. (So you go, girl!) But to call young writers to the task of creating paranormal Mormon fiction for the Mormon market? I just can’t envision an outside-the-establishment writer–even if he or she is a temple recommmend carrying, church leaderly type–breaking in this way.

    Of course, my lack of imagination will limit no one but myself. If a writer feels compelled to push his/her work forward in this way, all power to ‘em. I’ll slap down the bucks to encourage it–which is what we should be doing for Rachel’s [i]Imprints[/i]

  6. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    I do wish, also, that someone could explain to me why it is that stories from the Mormon world can’t touch a national audience.

  7. Th. says:

    .

    Who says they can’t, Lisa. Just because they haven’t doesn’t mean they won’t. Maybe becoming a staple is too much to ask, but breakout books twice a decade? I see it happening. (Though can it happen if Angela herself sees her book as limited to Mormons only?)

    And, Angela, "Calling and Election" and "Cause" don’t <i>have</i> <a href="http://thmazing.blogspot.com/2008/12/new-irreantum.html">to be read</a> as paranormal. (Snakes really do that after all.) And OSC is OSC. I haven’t read Warnock’s story yet, but you can see why I was unsure?

    I was pretty sure you would say yes though — and I’m mulling over a story in this vein I intend to send you sometime. Plus, I just pointed you out to a sf friend of mine who’s working on a Mormony project.

    In other news, I want to overcome my own DB/Covt prejudices, but that costs money. So I haven’t done it yet. But I will, darn it. I will.

  8. Th. says:

    .

    Ah. I see html does not work here. I apologize for the mess.

  9. Annette Lyon says:

    Oh, Chris, how much you’ve missed and WILL miss. Your attitude is exactly what I was ranting about in my post–the view that the market has nothing new to provide. When was the last time you read a genre novel in the general LDS market? You obviously have no plans to read more.

    Have you tried a Shandra Covington book (by Jeffrey S. Savage)? How about one of Josi S. Kilpack’s issue-driven novels? (She doesn’t flinch from getting REAL, and DB is her publisher.) Stephanie Black’s Whitney winner (Fool Me Twice) in the mystery/suspense genre from last year was a great novel. If you want real and gritty, read Julie Wright’s My Not-So-Fairy-Tale Life. The books starts out with a heroine who does drugs, sleeps around, and is about as non-Mormon as you can get–and such a nasty person that she’s very hard to like. And yet you do and you root for her.

    If you refuse to even check out genre titles from the bigger publishers because you ASSUME they’re all crap and have nothing to offer your tastes, you’re just contributing to the problem. Starting up Zarahemla might help (at least in providing something to YOUR tastes), but you’re one of thousands of readers who blow off the rest of the market because they assume what’s in it–without really knowing.

    That attitude drives. Me. Nuts.

    You can’t argue intelligibly about a market you don’t know about or read.

    *Deep breath.*

    End of rant. :)

  10. No worries, Annette, I totally see your point and even agree with it, in theory and principle. I just don’t have the time to gamble on DB/Covenant, because I’ve been burned a few times before and there’s just so much other stuff to gamble on, beyond Mormonism. Like I said, what I need in order to take the plunge with a DB/Covenant book is somebody whose taste I trust (and probably more than one such somebodies) to say, "Hey, this one is different, you’ve got to read it," and plus it has to be a genre and a topic and story that naturally interests me as well. I don’t just mean a review on AML-List from someone I don’t know, because I know some Mollys and Peters are AML-List reviewers too; I mean a recommendation from someone whose taste I know and trust, people like William Morris and Angela Hallstrom. It’s a limitation on my part, yes, but that’s where I’m at.

    Keep up the passion on this. It’s a very crucial conversation to be having in the Mormon literary community: the question of whether DB/Covenant can ever really be trusted to provide fully engaging, worthwhile literature.

  11. Annette Lyon says:

    I’ve been burned too, Chris–I totally get that. Definitely get recommendations from people you know and trust. I’m willing to throw out some if you ever want a loud opinion. :)

  12. Angela H. says:

    Th., just to clarify, I DEFINITELY think that books with Mormon characters and conflicts and themes can have a national impact. But the specific book I’m working on right now is better suited to a Mormon audience than it is to a national one for reasons that are too lengthy to go into here (and I don’t want to threadjack). And I suppose that "Calling and Election" and "Cause" don’t HAVE to be read as speculative, but geez, "Calling and Election," especially, is full of speculation, and supernatural stuff is flying all over the place. And, yes, OSC is OSC, but I specifically asked if we could reprint "Elephants of Poznan" because I thought it was such an amazing story.

    Irreantum publishes speculative fiction.

    And Lisa, I so agree that an writer like Rachel with an established, trusted reputation in the LDS market can do things and go places in her fiction that a lesser-known writer can’t. So go Rachel! I plan to read this new book too.

    And Annette, I can understand your frustrations. There are many authors published by DB and Covenant I have yet to read, and I’m reluctant to offer ANY opinion about the state of mainstream LDS fiction because I know that I’m pretty uninformed. (I’ve read a ton of LDS short fiction, but I don’t read many LDS novels apart from Zarahemla/Parables titles.) I need to get better informed. I’ve been burned though, too . . . but I’m still planning to read a couple of titles from last year’s Whitney awards that were recommended to me by Emily Milner. They’re just buried in my stack of gotta-read books.

  13. Th. says:

    .

    "Elephants of Poznan" *is* a great story. And the one that follows it in his new collection is great too — and it’s a Noah story.

    Which is why I, as I read them, screamed at the pages, "HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME??? I’M COMING OUT WITH THE FOB BIBLE IN ONE MONTH!!! AND YOU’RE PUBLISHING A COLLECTION OF BIBLE STORIES???" Seriously, Card. Give the little guy a chance.

    I blame him utterly and completely that we never made the NYTBs List. Only room in the market for one Mormon-penned OT riff at a time, I always say.

  14. Ed Snow says:

    I’d love to see more in the way of alternative Mormon history novels.

  15. Jacob says:

    I love the urban fantasy genre, too, and have speculated on what it would take to insert Mormonism into such a world. I think it might help if your particular flavor of UF created intransversible distance from the real world. I mean some current series try very hard to be possible, but many of them take place in an alternate reality that is simply irreconcilable with current-day events. It seems to me that if you gave yourself enough distance that you really [i]couldn’t[/i] transport your characters to the modern, "real", world that it would be hard(er) to come across as transgressing the reader’s sense of reality. Plus, readers of the genre are used to (and expect) that kind of distance already.

    I’d really like to see one of those tough female characters in a Sunday School lesson. Giving or receiving…

  16. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    Another proponent of speculative fiction who is looking forward to your book, Rachel.

    And thanks for the book recommendations, Annette.

    So many books, so little time. <sigh!>

  17. Moriah Jovan says:

    In my opinion, more speculative/SF&F/urban fantasy fiction to disguise our culture, doctrine, symbols, metaphors, jargon, lexicon–the things that make us peculiar–is the LAST thing we need.

    It’s been done. It keeps being done. It’s always going to be done because somehow we just can’t cowboy up and expose our culture, doctrine, symbols, metaphors, jargon, lexicon because we’re terrified of being ridiculed.

    Yes, I do think it’s cowardly to continue to want to disguise it.

    I have no problem with genre fiction (as I do, actually, write genre fiction), and I want to see us in the genre fiction, highs and lows and warts and shining moments– But I want to see it explicitly portrayed and explained, grounded in reality with "real" and contemporary people (not through worldbuilding), and completely unapologetic about it.

    The closest thing I’ve seen to it is The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale, and even then it didn’t have enough to suit me.

  18. Moriah Jovan says:

    And one more thing:

    >>>It’s been done. It keeps being done. It’s always going to be done because somehow we just can’t cowboy up and expose our culture, doctrine, symbols, metaphors, jargon, lexicon because we’re terrified of being ridiculed.<<<

    Meantime, other people will do it for us, define us, put their view of our culture out there for consumption– Which view is entirely incorrect, but the world at large won’t know that because we’re not doing it for ourselves.

  19. Kathleen Woodbury says:

    Seems to me that there are two different things being talked about here, and I understand Rachel to be talking about only one of them.

    My apologies if I’m confused.

    I agree that we should be telling our own stories to national audiences, through national publishers, as we are able to do that. Of course we should be able to tell those stories better than anyone on the outside looking in.

    I also agree that I would like to see LDS publishers publish more fiction about LDS characters experiencing paranormal and other speculative fiction kinds of stories. To my understanding, this is what Rachel is talking about for the most part.

  20. Moriah Jovan says:

    >>>I would like to see LDS publishers publish more fiction about LDS characters experiencing paranormal and other speculative fiction kinds of stories.<<<

    *sigh* I really must have missed the boat altogether. If the point was for an LDS character to experience something paranormal/supernatural, then I’m all for that!

    I think I’m then not understanding what "speculative fiction" in the context of this post and discussion means.

    In 1999, I submitted a post-apoc to Covenant, which was turned down as being "too speculative." Well, yes, it was. It was a colony of single Mormon women trying to survive and yet be faithful in a war-torn post-apocalyptic US. By default, post-apoc is speculative.

    Is that an example of what we’re talking about here?

  21. This is a fascinating conversation to me since I had a similar conversation with an editor who told me they really liked my writing style and they thought my story setting was very intriguing . . . but I was also told that DB and Covenant would not take it because the acquisitions boards of each were too conservative for an "Old-Testament-like setting on another planet". I was told that the publisher would reconsider if I moved the setting from the other planet back to the lands of Israel. The editor was kind, and I appreciated the encouragement they gave me. But I needed to keep looking before I changed it.

    Thankfully, I found a publisher willing to take a risk with the story, allowing me to keep the setting (the whole reason I wrote what I did), just the way it was.

    In light of what everyone has said here, I would be very curious to see what you think about the back-liner for my book, coming out in March with Valor Publishing:

    Three tribes are at war on the planet Gan, unaware that the sign of Christ’s birth on an unknown world – Earth – is about to appear in the heavens. During a bloody skirmish with Gideonite troops, Jonathan of Daniel spares Pekah, a young enemy soldier, gaining his trust forever. These two distant brothers from estranged tribes covenant with each other to end the war being waged by a self-proclaimed emperor, and soon discover the intentions of a far more dangerous foe named Rezon – a sinister general bent on ruling those he can bring into subjection and destroying all others. In the end, Pekah’s selfless bravery is the means by which all the tribes are united. But there are dissenters, and Rezon escapes a well-deserved fate. When the promised heavenly signs appear, will there be peace at last, or will the malefactors once again threaten the safety of them all?

    I agonized with this story as I wrote it, wondering if it would be too Mormon for other Christians to accept, and too fringe for conservative Mormons to swallow, even though we believe that there are other creations out there. These are the subjects which a Gospel Doctrine teacher will steer the class away from so that we can get back to the lesson at hand. I understand why we don’t dwell on them much in class, and accept that. But even with friends and family, we don’t talk about these things very often. Too… speculative.

    Why did I write it? Speculative Fiction in genre (A sci-fi/fantasy-like setting but with no myth/magic/sci-fi-tech), this book was intended to scratch my own itch. I wanted to write something I would enjoy reading. I like to read Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, and Sci-Fi.

    I would have to agree with Rachel that there are not a lot of these types of speculative fiction or paranormal books available in the LDS market, or at least not many I have found.

    But I also agree with Annette–there are some great books available in other areas/genres which are not the stereotypical Mormon conversion story. I have read the books referred to (by Savage and Black), and thoroughly enjoyed them. There are others.

    Just my two cents. It may appear that I am a fence-sitter in this conversation. Perhaps I am. :)

  22. Scott Parkin says:

    [quote]In my opinion, more speculative/SF&F/urban fantasy fiction to disguise our culture, doctrine, symbols, metaphors, jargon, lexicon–the things that make us peculiar–is the LAST thing we need.

    It’s been done. It keeps being done. It’s always going to be done because somehow we just can’t cowboy up and expose our culture, doctrine, symbols, metaphors, jargon, lexicon because we’re terrified of being ridiculed.[/quote]

    I appreciate the firmness of your statements here, but as I think you’re addressing my comments more than Rachel’s post, let me clarify my own thoughts.

    There’s a significant difference between burying concepts out of fear and using metaphors to explore concepts out of a desire to get past the gag reflex. I agree with you that hiding from your subject matter is useful nor generally interesting.

    Bad Mormon sf [i]has[/i] been done to death (as has bad SF in general), and is why I tend to agree with Chris that LDS publishers are less likely to deliver something worth reading. From my (admittedly limited) perspective LDS publishers require too much orthodoxy and/or pseudo-correlation and don’t allow the extended metaphorical exploration that makes SF interesting.

    I would never advocate doing one instead of the other, but I do believe that every writer needs to find the genre and structure that makes most sense to them. If Rachel believes she can more effectively explore the (inherently Mormon) stories in her heart by dealing with magic realism and psi-powers (not my cup of tea, btw.) then more power to her. If you find that straight literary-academic or realistic presentation best reveals the stories you find worthwhile, then you should charge down that path with reckless abandon.

    I honestly get tired of proscriptions about what kinds of stories Mormons [i]should[/i] be telling, and what kinds of methods or genres or metaphors are [i]most[/i] appropriate or correct (or which should be jettisoned).

    Use whatever means you need to tell the story that you need to tell. If there’s an audience–as there is for SF in general, and magic realism in particular–then your chances of success in meeting your audience on their terms (or in other words, holding their interest and attention) increases if you entertain using conventions of genre in addition to your unique story or viewpoint.

    My argument is that SF genre readers are specifically interested in creative settings and/or exotic cultures. That baseline interest creates one more reason for the reader to engage a text that meets them on those terms. Since the first goal of literature is to be read, it seems reasonable to leverage existing audiences by meeting them on their own terms, and crafting your story to take advantage of the baseline conceits of that genre–be it historical, romance, travelogue, sf, fantasy, alternate history, or any other.

    A lazy writer can use genre as a dodge, but that’s true of any story of any sort. There’s nothing special about SF that generates weak fiction–though many sf fans will read bad fiction simply because it’s sf, meaning that even bad sf can sometimes find a sizeable audience.

    Why wouldn’t a Mormon genre writer want to take advantage of that?

  23. Scott Parkin says:

    The end of that second paragraph should read "…hiding from your subject matter is *neither* useful nor generally interesting."

    In the end, I think the driving force should be the story you want to tell, and genre is a natural result of either your own passion or the proper form for telling that particular story.

    I would like to see more straight-up stories of the personal memoir type, but I don’t see that as exclusive of straight sf stories informed by (and containing elements of) Mormon thought offered as color rather than focus.

    Both types will appear to different readers, and what I want more than anything is a larger reader base that engages somehow.

  24. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Annette, thanks for the recommendations. I just ordered a Kilpack book and [i]My Not So Fairy Tale Life[/i]. Used. So there isn’t much of a financial "risk." Hoping to be converted…

    And Chris, I also ordered some books from Zarahemla that I’ve been putting off getting. All are going to be placed on the bottom of my stack of books to read, under all the Wallace Stegner books I received for Christmas (yahoo!), but I’ll get to them.

    Well, I’ll start them. :-)

  25. Moriah Jovan says:

    Scott, yes, actually, my firmness *was* directed toward your post, not Rachel’s, so I’ll address that.

    >>>I do believe that every writer needs to find the genre and structure that makes most sense to them.<<<

    I believe that, too. However, I took the tone of your post to mean to deliberately choose a genre for its utility in disguising "us" and sneaking it into the national consciousness–not because one is passionate about writing in that genre.

    >>>In the end, I think the driving force should be the story you want to tell, and genre is a natural result of either your own passion or the proper form for telling that particular story.<<<

    I understand and I agree.

  26. The drawing of lines defining what’s "acceptable" in "LDS fiction" versus "Mormon fiction" versus "fiction with Mormons in it" has come up previously on the AML-list. I’ve concluded that it’s a futile effort. Or more specifically, there isn’t an analogue scale. It’s binary: you’re either over the line or you’re not. And because the line is so subjective (drawn by the biggest complainers at the moment), not being over the line has come to mean standing a few light years behind it.

    While editing [i]Angel Falling Softly,[/i] we assumed the sex scenes would provoke the most ire, so they got the trimmed the most. Wrong line, it turns out. The majority of the objections instead focused on Rachel not being a good and proper bishop’s wife (which, um, is the whole point–what, the Saul/Endor references weren’t clear enough?), and even worse, the fact that vampires and Mormons were even occupying the same universe.

    Despite the fact that I think I came up with a pretty good purely biological explanation for traditional literary vampirism. Considering the widespread affection among Mormons for C.S. Lewis, mixing Christian and fantasy tropes is apparently fine as long as all the Mormons vacate the premises first (or perhaps most Mormons simply haven’t read that much Lewis).

    [i]The Path of Dreams[/i] is all Mormon all the time, with fantasy elements. A similar amount of (frankly pointless) handwringing went on during the editing process over what would be acceptable to Mormon audiences. At this point, though, a lot more non-Mormons have read it than Mormons, so, hey, no problem.

    The sequel introduces Hindu and Buddhist gods into the mix, alongside the explicit Mormon elements, and not as metaphors (okay, they could be read as such). But this time around, I’m not going to try and guess where the "line" is. I’d only end up compromising the story I want to tell without mollifying the easily-offended one iota (actually reading a book is not required to take offense).

    I think one of the best "religious" characters in fantasy is Scully on [i]The X-Files,[/i] a lapsed Catholic whose encounters with the fantastic force her to reevaluate her faith. When will such a character become possible in "conventional" Mormon fiction? Not anytime soon.

  27. An interesting example of how paranormal gifts can be successfully integrated into sf&f stories, together with mentions of deity (though nothing specifically Mormon), is provided in the People stories by Zenna Henderson. Who, by the way, just happened to be an (inactive) Mormon.

    I suspect that Henderson’s approach is a bit too purely science-fictiony (and not sufficiently Mormon) to accomplish what Rachel wants. Still, it’s an interesting case study–particularly since the way Henderson does it manages to be completely non-offensive. I bet that Covenant would publish her stuff, if she was still writing. Of course, she didn’t need Covenant, since she managed to succeed in the national market quite well.

    The caution I would give is that as an sf&f reader, I’m not really interested in stories where the paranormal is a cool idea the author uses to develop the story but isn’t developed in a realistic way. I’m not sure exactly how to state what I mean more clearly… Basically, science fiction especially (and fantasy to a lesser degree) is a mature genre that is largely about world-creation (as Scott stated). Even if the world is our own contemporary world but with a few differences, I want to see that world developed in an interesting way. Just putting in a paranormal gift or two won’t be enough to draw me into the story.

    Which isn’t to say that a good story can’t be written that way. Just that it won’t appeal to me. Basically, including a paranormal element isn’t enough to appeal to an sf&f audience–the story has to do the other things sf&f readers are looking for as well.

  28. Thanks for all your comments. I was out of the country when my blog actually posted, without Internet connection, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the comments when I returned. I appreciate the insight and discussion. After reading your words, I do feel we are a long distance away from what I’m dreaming about, but I continue to hope that it will happen . . . someday. For now, I’m going to start writing the sequel to Imprints.

  29. To the moderators/admins of the blog:

    Can you blog the commenter "loans"? I keep getting notifications from the spammer. Thanks. Daron

  30. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    We’re working on a way to block spam comments. In the meantime, the original poster (in this case, Rachel) can delete spam posts.

    I’ve been deleting them as soon as I know about them.

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