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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Books by Mormons about Mormons for Readers Who Aren't Mormons

Most of the Mormon authors who've become household names in the national marketplace, like Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game), Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Shannon Hale (The Goose Girl), and the queen in the realm of Mormon authors, Stephanie Meyers (Twilight)--to name a very, very few of the many amazing Mormon authors out there--write speculative fiction, fantasy and sic-fi. Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) writes historicalThey don't write books that feature Mormon characters trying live their Mormon lives. (Except Shannon Hale--and I'll get to her soon.)

And I understand why this is true. First, economics. But also, the nature of art is to bury the truth it's built on at its core. Katherine Paterson (who I actually got to meet a few months ago) says our faith and values should be the "bones and sinews" of fiction. I did that with Sing me to Sleep. Taken by Storm was another story.

I didn't realize how rare a faithful Mormon girl struggling through the pages of a YA novel published by a big six publisher was until I moved to Arizona and met Janette Rallison (My Fair Godmother) who writes contemporary YA rom-coms and now several fun and exciting fantasies.

At my first Changing Hands event, Janette grabbed my arm and said, "How did you get that published? My editors made me cut all the Mormon stuff."

If someone wants to write a book dissing Mormons--or exposing Mormons--or mocking Mormons, the marketplace grins and extends a fat paycheck, great reviews, and big awards. But a faithful Mormon girl? A realistic depiction? Complete with prayers, visions, and abstinence? Are you kidding?

There are also loads of Mormon authors who write LDS fiction for the LDS market. Why didn't I just stick with that? Why was I insane enough to think I could sell Leesie and Michael's story to a national audience?

(Truth is, I couldn't. Not until Stephanie Meyers and Twilight revolutionized the YA world. Thank you, Edward, for making abstinence hot.)

Year after year I came close to a deal. Time after time it all fell apart. Why didn't I give up? Write something else? I did write two more books. But I couldn't make myself shelve Taken by Storm. I kept revising and reinventing it.


I would love to ask Shannon Hale how she came to write The Actor and the Housewife. It is about a Mormon housewife who becomes best friends with a Hollywood actor. It's not a pretty, Newbury fantasy for kids. It's face-paced, even wittier than her Austenland books, and depicts a faithful Mormon woman's life as realistically as I tried to show Leesie's. I laughed and cried my eyes out. My guess is Shannon Hale wrote The Actor and the Housewife first, but couldn't get it published until her Newbury success with The Goose Girl. Awards yield readers. Readers yield power to publish! Hooray because this book is great. It's now on my favorites list. It's the only other book I've read that presents a faithful Mormon-heroine in a contemporary, honest setting. (If you know of others, please enlighten me in the comments!)

When I was a BYU student, I discovered Chaim Potok--specifically, My Name is Asher Lev. I loved how he brought us into the intimate struggle of a young Jewish artist. If Chaim Potok could bring the world remarkable Jewish young adults coming of age, why couldn't I attempt the same for a Mormon farm girl?

I didn't try--for over twenty years. And then Michael walked into my head, and he needed a Leesie.


6 comments:

  1. I loved Taken By Storm! I was raised Catholic and am married to a Jewish man and have had the privilege to learn about these 2 religions most of my life. I have always been curious about my friends and their paths of faith and Taken By Storm was a rare chance to learn about the Mormon religion. I loved that it was so true to the experience. Plus the writing is gorgeous. I'm glad you worked so hard to get it out there. I think it's important for teens to get to go to all kinds of worlds as they grow up, because I believe it helps us to be tolerant and open to the differences in others. And also, is a chance to learn the ways in which we are alike. Reading is a way to do that and is pretty powerful. It's surprising really, that it wasn't easier to get this book published when you think about that power and how it can make our world a better place to be!

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  2. Thanks, Kathi! You are one of the reasons I kept at it. Those of you who love Michael and Leesie owe Kathi a lot! She was my critique partner all the way through the long, dark years of rejection. She sold her book, SHATTERED (which you all need to read), the same time I sold TAKEN BY STORM. It was great to both break through together. SHATTERED is about a teen violinist whose abusive father breaks her violin. It's a beautiful book. You'll love it.

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  3. Angela, you pose very important questions. It seems that when it comes to faith, let alone religion, in contemporary American culture, it's all or nothing. And "all" and "nothing" both have their own large audiences. Current political correctness perplexingly denigrates some faiths more than others, Mormons high on the list. Keep up the good work of writing what's true and heartfelt. Readers of all kinds will respond

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  4. Thank you, Ann. One group of Mormon writers who have shared their day-to-day Mormon lives unabashedly is the Mormon Mommy Bloggers. Stephanie Nielson, nieniedialogues.com, is perhaps the most famous. She wrote a fun blog about her kids and hubby that included recipes, craft projects and tributes to motherhood. And then a plane crash changed everything. She was burned over 80% of her body. She blogged her way through her recovery. She's been on Oprah, 60 Minutes, and Fox News. There's a movie coming out I think. Last night I read her book, that Hyperion published this year, HEAVEN IS HERE. It's a memoir--not a novel. It shows a real life Mormon family in action--from both sides of the line that separates this life from the next. It's frank and honest and intimate. And filled with divine evidence of God's love. Beautifully done.

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  5. Susan from Bloggin' Bout Books reminded me on my FaceBook page that Emily Wing Smith's books are set in a small Utah town--which of course made me want to read her new one--BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE. It's very fun--and she captures small town-ness and Utah culture in a lighthearted way. Susan calls it "a gem" and she's right.

    When I was in the middle of a big TAKEN BY STORM revision--changing all Leesie's sections to poetry, rescuing Michael's dive logs, and filling in the rest of the puzzle with their chat logs--I returned to Vermont College to be a graduate assistant for Winter Residency. Emily was graduating, and I loved getting to know her. I got to hear her reading from her novel that eventually became, THE WAY HE LIVED. Plus, I went to her graduate lecture that was on novel collages--exactly what I was trying to to do with Michael and Leesie. Fantastic lecture. She gave me the vocabulary for what I was doing. Okay. I guess I need to write a new post.

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  6. Have you read Slumming by Kristen Randle? It's been awhile since I read it, but I'm pretty sure it's pubbed by one of the big six and has one or two main characters who are Mormon.

    Interesting question--I'll keep thinking about it.

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