Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Do I Write About?

What are the types of things you write about?

For many years, I've tried to write fairly realistic contemporary stories about people feeling their way through modern life and related challenges, usually with Mormon themes and with spiritual elements that non-Mormon readers would call magic realism but that Mormons could conceivably believe are actual supernatural manifestations. For my master's thesis at BYU, I wrote a novella about some missionaries who get caught up in strange situation when one of them becomes covertly involved with a woman and starts a rock band as an alternative mode of proselytizing. More recently, I spent many years trying different approaches on writing a memoir about my own mission experiences--actually, a more accurate term for my approach would probably be "autobiographical novel," since I felt that I was filling in many gaps with creative invention. However, a complete book-length work never did materialize.

My stuff so far has tended to deal with sex quite a lot and fairly explicitly, which seems a little strange because I have an average libido, a healthy marriage, no predilection toward pornography--in short, I am not preoccupied with sex in my conscious day-to-day life. I suppose one big reason is that I admire the novelist John Updike so much and really enjoy how he handles sex in his novels, though he certainly doesn't have the moral compass that I value in Mormonism. Also, I did have some problems with chastity in my teen and young-adult years, so I may still be trying to come to terms with my own repentance through my writing, though I stopped the immoral behaviors nearly twenty years ago. While I went through all the repentance hoops, I don't remember feeling much mystical emotional resolution either in terms of deep remorse or joyful redemption, so maybe that lack of emotional closure is why I've been trying to revisit this territory in my fiction writing, which I find is heavily influenced by subconscious factors.

My first completed full-length novel was Kindred Spirits, which I self-published recently through my own company called Zarahemla Books, which also publishes other people's books. It's the story of a woman in Boston who gets very deeply involved with a bunch of carnal, worldly people and tries to keep her Mormon identity intact, and it involves a fair bit of sex and some religious satire--as a result, many Mormon readers are finding it too perverse for their tastes. Overall, I'm finding that this novel is too worldly for most Mormons and too Mormon for most worldly readers. Plus, I'm getting complaints that people aren't satisfied by elements of the plot, especially the conclusion, where I found that I wasn't able to allow the characters to become fully ripe in either wickedness or redemption, so I left it perhaps too ambiguous. But personally I really like the novel and am pleased with nearly all aspects of it, even though in some ways it's a somewhat poor reflection on where I'm at spiritually and religiously. In the end, pleasing myself was more important to me than trying to please other readers--in some ways, perhaps this novel represents my adolescence as an artist (and one reader did comment that it came across as "mental masturbation" to him). I wrote a novel that I would want to read and hoped there would be others like me, but it's been a pretty tough crowd so far, although I do have a handful of supportive fans.

In some ways I think I got some things out of my system with Kindred Spirits and learned some hard realities about the crazy venture of trying to become a novelist, and now I'm turning to a new area of fiction writing--or really, turning back to aspects of my old Dungeons & Dragons days in some ways, as far as using the imagination is concerned. I'm currently attempting a speculative novel about the near-future events of the last days, and it does involve some fantasy-type elements, although I hope within the realm of Mormon supernatural possibility. With a plot that doesn't revolve around
sexuality and include satirical and subversive elements, maybe I'll be able to write something that more people will feel comfortable reading, which I have to admit is not an aspiration I'm able to completely dismiss. In fact, my target audience for this new project is the mainstream LDS fiction market, which I've never been interested in writing for before.

Of course, all along the way I've been earning my living with other kinds of writing and editing besides creative fiction. I've done lots of pseudo-journalistic writing for the Ensign, published three nonfiction books on Mormonism and one book of satire, and worked in corporate and marketing communications, churning out promotional literature--some of which, come to think of it, does have fictional elements...

1 comment:

Rusch said...

I feel that same way. Most of my writing in for me and in the end don't care what other people think. Although I am a whore for attention. As for what I write, I see myself as an observant ameture philosopher. Unfortunately I fail to see spirituality in most novels but appreciate when people interpret and present their interpretations. Though I love Shakespeare. Anyways, I like the blog. I will be moving to Provo this summer to go back to school. Maybe we could do lunch or something.