Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Interview I Gave at BYU (Part 1)

Today and tomorrow, I'll post the transcript of an interview I gave to a couple of students from BYU's Inscape literary magazine.

Katherine: I’m curious about how you feel about being an LDS writer, how that flavors your work, and whether that’s an important thing to you or not.

Yeah, it’s really important to me to be an LDS writer. It’s almost the only unique thing I really have to offer, I think. So I tap into that a lot, and yet I’m also a little bit rebellious against some aspects of the LDS culture too, so on one side I want to be an LDS writer who writes about LDS things, and on the other hand I want to push boundaries a little. And that’s a little bit of a no-man’s land. But, yeah, I fully embrace being an LDS writer.

David: When and how did you first get published?

I was a big player of Dungeons and Dragons—you know that role-playing game? My first publication was when I started my own little magazine—a fanzine for Dungeons and Dragons—and I published my own stuff. First professional publication—that probably didn’t happen until I started working at the Ensign. Since then, I’ve published a few stories, reviews, essays, and humor pieces in the Mormon journals Irreantum and Sunstone. And then my first book that I published was Mormonism For Dummies, and that was a lot of fun to write. I’ve since published four additional books on Mormon themes.

Katherine: What trends do you see in LDS writing today, and what trends would you like to see more of?

I would like to hope that there’s a trend toward a little more adventurous LDS fiction. I mean, for a long time now, we’ve had a very established boundary of what you can write about in books intended for Deseret Book and Seagull Book, and we still have some fairly rigid constraints on content. My hope and motivation is that there’s room for a trend of fiction that’s a little more adventurous, takes a few more risks, pushes a few boundaries, and yet still is ultimately affirming to our faith. And that’s a really difficult line to straddle. But there are some small publishers that are putting things out. There’s a lot of resistance to that kind of thing, so we’ll see what comes.

David: We’ve been talking about writing in the LDS genre. What led you to write in that genre?

I didn’t realize at first that I could be a writer who wrote about LDS things. I was at Emerson College in Boston, and I was the only Latter-day Saint there as far as I knew. I worked in a bookstore, and one day I saw a book come through by a writer named Walter Kirn. He grew up LDS for a time and then left the faith. He came out with this book of short stories, and several of them had to do with Mormon characters, and it was the first time I had read fiction in a nationally published book that really dealt directly with the Mormon experience. Some of his stories were even favorable toward Mormonism, even though he hadn’t stuck with it.

That was my epiphany of “hey, wait a minute, there’s a real untapped potential to dramatize the Mormon experience through contemporary fiction.” I wanted to do it for non-LDS audiences at first. That’s what really got me started. I wanted to write a memoir of my missionary experiences for a non-LDS audience. That’s when I really started putting some effort into writing from an LDS perspective. I had some interesting experiences with it and didn’t get a book published from it, but I came close.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of this interview

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