Wednesday, March 21, 2007

More Thoughts on Writing

Here are some more questions and answers from that college student who was interviewing me. (I haven't heard from her in a while—maybe we're done, or maybe she got bored).

I'm interested in your feelings about writing about the controversial topics. Do you think most LDS readers are tolerant of it, or are we still too afraid of our feelings and curiosities?

I am not very optimistic about the openness of most LDS readers to reading about controversial topics. There's a predominant idea that all our cultural material needs to function as positive propaganda for the faith and be "uplifting," which severely limits the creativity and originality of our culture.

I sense a logical fallacy in Mormon culture known as the slippery slope, the fear that if we take one step in the direction of allowing, say, a little frank sexuality or a little controversy into our culture, we'll soon slide all the way down into the gutter along with the rest of the world. Of course, I don't believe this is true, but maybe I'm just too worldly at heart and don't quite get it.

How do we forge forward? How do we encourage honest writing when it seems there's an entity out there who wants to "Big Brother" the LDS audience?

Mormons are fantastic at ignoring and freezing out anything they're not comfortable with. I think the only way to get around the conservative Mormon gatekeepers and readers is to make a big splash in the national market with some Mormon-oriented material, which will then force the Mormons to reckon with the challenging material.

So far, most of the buzz-generating nationally published books on Mormonism have been anti-Mormon in nature: Krakauer, Martha Beck, etc. But I'm hoping that more Mormon insiders will be able to produce literature that engages outsiders without denying or attacking the faith, especially in the area of fiction. Perhaps the person who has come closest to doing that so far is Orson Scott Card, but his influence doesn't seem to extend much beyond the sci-fi/fantasy genre market.

How do you deal with the controversy? Especially when the criticism isn't so much of your work, but of you personally?

When you write realistic contemporary fiction, you can't help but open up a window on your own mind and heart as an author, and if what conservative Mormon readers can sense there is not completely pure and uplifting, they definitely think less of you as a person. But again, I find that most Mormons tend to just ignore what and who they don't like, rather than do too much personal criticism. I admit that some of the response to my novel Kindred Spirits makes me want to see if I can write a different kind of book that could appeal to more Mormon readers, even if I'm disappointed in what I perceive as their narrowmindedness.

It seems we are directed to write light and uplifting pieces, but what if we haven't arrived to the light and uplifting place yet? Is there no value in reading the works of someone who struggles?

The value of producing work about unresolved struggles is that it gives people with their own unresolved struggles something to relate with. One big problem in our culture is that everyone seems to want to appear righteous and perfect, but that leaves a sizable minority feeling quite alienated. I value work that makes Mormon and non-Mormon readers alike say, "Hey, there's some real humanity there, not just gospel propaganda." Of course, gospel propaganda has its place, but I hate to see all our fiction follow that same mode.

What do you think LDS authors should do? What works or genres would you like to see in Mormon Literature?

Again, I think we need to write so well and so provocatively that we'll break into the national market and just bypass the LDS market. I don't think the LDS market will ever accomodate edgier literature that tries to break down the walls from within--the gatekeepers are just too strong and too worried about offending anyone. By "gatekeepers," I mean not only the editors at LDS-focused publishing companies but also the buyers at the LDS bookstores, who wield tremendous power over what the publishers are willing to try. At the end of the day, they're all serving LDS consumers whose primary desire is for stuff that doesn't upset and offend them.

I guess what I really want is more worldly Mormon literature, which may be too much of an oxymoron to ever work. I'd like to see some successful Mormon literary fiction along the lines of John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow, Joyce Carol Oates. I'd also like to see some well-done Mormon genre fiction that has a real edge, especially mysteries and speculative fiction. Again, Orson Scott Card has already done some good stuff in the speculative area, but I'd like to see more and different approaches.

1 comment:

Paradox said...

The newest Mormon on the scene in fiction that hasn't restricted herself to an LDS audience is Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series for young adults. She will have much of the same impact on the market as Orson Scott Card has once she becomes more established and perfects her writing ability.