I want to talk about LDS fiction, the kind Deseret Book and Covenant and Cedar Fort publish.

This is not a rant. I’m not being sarcastic, nasty, snarky, hateful, bitter, or any other pejorative one might chalk up to my tone. Whatever one might read into it, what I’m feeling right now is a deep sense of disappointment.

I have several LDS novels in my bookshelf by well-known LDS niche authors. There are two I have tried to start, but while the premises are interesting, they aren’t exactly my cuppa. The prose is adequate. They aren’t boring. I put them aside for when I’m in the mindset to read them.

This past week I started a book that’s right up my alley: contemporary romance. I was really looking forward to reading this book. Imagine my dismay when I started reading prose that is amateurish at worst, and at best, suited for 12-year-old girls. It is a series of choppy sentences strung together. There is no discernible rhythm to it. There is no ebb and flow. The dialogue is stilted and too infodumpy about LDS customs and rituals, which made me wonder for whom the book was intended, if not LDS. (We already know this stuff; don’t instruct us in our own culture.) There is no nuance, no allowance for a sophisticated reader, no subtext.

At the convergence of this post on the Association for Mormon Letters blog by Annette Lyon concerning the “clean”ness of books and an inability to find any clean romances in the national marketplace* and my soul-deep disappointment in the book I was struggling with (“soul-deep” is not hyperbole), I realized that LDS fiction needs to stop worrying about a book’s “clean”ness, because that’s the default position, and start concentrating on eradicating (sub)mediocrity.

 

 

*I’m not sure why it’s important, noteworthy, or desirable to have LDS fiction without LDS characters or anything relatable to the culture. You can get “clean” non-LDS fiction in the national marketplace. You cannot get LDS fiction in the national marketplace. If you’re gonna be niche, be niche.

 

18 Comments

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  2. Owie kazowie. Truth hurts, though.

  3. I agree 100%. I’ve borrowed a number of LDS novels from friends and I haven’t been able to finish any of them. The writing just blows me away with it’s terribleness. What are people thinking? It really annoys me.

  4. Moriah,

    Followed the link over from the AML blog.

    I really like this: “I’m not sure why it’s important, noteworthy, or desirable to have LDS fiction without LDS characters or anything relatable to the culture.”

    What I didn’t say over at AML (not wanting to offend) is that I honestly don’t get why DB is into publishing fiction at all. I’m all for such fiction being published, but don’t honestly see why publishing it is at all central to the mission of the Church. Especially if there’s nothing particularly Mormon to it and the only reason is to make stuff available that’s “clean.”

    (And I don’t buy the it-subsidizes-the-other-part-of-DB argument. The approved model for subsidizing key Church functions is through donations, not running for-profit businesses.)

  5. I honestly don’t get why DB is into publishing fiction at all.

    You know, that’s an awesome question. Never would’ve occurred to me to ask, either.

    It occurs to me that one theory might be that DB is an arm of CES and its fiction represents an expansion on the faith-promoting rumor teaching paradigm.

    And I don’t buy the it-subsidizes-the-other-part-of-DB argument. The approved model for subsidizing key Church functions is through donations, not running for-profit businesses.

    I have my doubts as to who is subsidizing whom. My sneaking suspicion is that DB operates at a loss. But it can afford to.

  6. I have no idea who’s subsidizing whom or making a profit. However, I’ve heard the “supporting GA books” argument put forward by some (not in DB) as one reason for their publication of fiction. I have no idea what DB’s own justifications would be–it’s a question I’d love to see asked sometime: not in a confrontational way, but more generally.

  7. My guess is that DB would say that they got in to publishing fiction to help out Mormon authors and to provide clean alternatives and that as the market has grown, their current publishing mix is in response to customer feedback and that there current mission is to serve their customers.

  8. Responding to William: That’s perfectly respectable as a justification for a company. I still remember, though, back when the Church divested itself of the Primary Children’s Hospital and lots of other Church-owned businesses on the grounds that they didn’t clearly tie to the threefold mission of the Church. (In fact, I think the articulation of the threefold mission of the Church came largely as a tool to distinguish the Church’s “key operations” from others that were more peripheral.) In most arenas, the Church is careful to stay out of business competition unless there’s a clear tie-in to its own institutional interests and mission. Publishing fiction, especially fiction with no particularly LDS slant, seems like an odd departure from that.

    I agree that DB is acting more or less like any other corporation in defining its own market niche and so forth and so on, though like Moriah I think that in responding to customer feedback they way they seem to they’re painting themselves into an ever-narrower corner. (I’m thinking of her comment about her mother and aunts over at the AML blog.) But for better or worse, a big part of what gives DB its unique power in the LDS marketplace is its institutional connection. So I think it’s justifiable to question that connection, particularly when practically speaking it seems to shut out a lot of other players — and when its “market decisions” have the potential to be taken as edicts about what is and isn’t appropriate for Mormon readers to read.

  9. Oh, I’m not saying that that response is defensible. I just think that that’s the one that would be made and the assumption seems to be that that’s all that needs to be considered (and I’m basing this on some of the public pronouncements that have come out when controversy arises).

  10. .

    Talking with people at DB, I think there aren’t any settled answers to these questions.

  11. Dude wonders how Ms. Dew would respond.

  12. The Franchise

    I’m thinking about Theric’s post on the 13th article of faith here. “Virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” does not mean “lacking depictions of transgressing the law of chastity.”

    I enjoy fluff fiction on occassion, but to say _Baptists at our Barbeque_ fulfills that standard better than _The Shawshank Redemption_ due to the relative amounts of profanity, vulgarity, sexuality, theft, and violence in each story would be indefensible.

  13. Funny you should say that. Yesterday, Dutcher was quoted at me: “…passionately adhere to the guideline that it is better to tell an R-rated truth than a G-rated lie.”

    I never saw Baptists at our Barbecue because around here, Baptists (most often of the Southern variety) wouldn’t show up to a Mormon’s barbecue at all, so to me, the premise was flawed. And after the things I’ve heard about it… Whooo boy. This Tarantino & Kevin Smith fan isn’t going anywhere near it.

  14. I read the first few chapters of your book.

    “It is a series of choppy sentences strung together. There is no discernible rhythm to it. There is no ebb and flow.”

    This is exactly how I would describe your writing. It is not captivating at all, and is difficult at best to follow. Just because it passes a spell test and grammar check doesn’t mean it is good writing. Throwing in as many F bombs as you can doesn’t make it exciting ether.

  15. Well, thanks for trying it, anyway. :) It’s not for everyone, either stylistically or content-ly.

  16. OutandAbout,

    MoJo’s books aren’t quite my cup of tea either. However, there’s a difference between “not captivating” and “insulting the reader’s intelligence,” which I believe is where she’s coming from in her disappointment with the LDS novel she initially referred to.

    To the rest: I’m not LDS and I’m not very politically inclined so I’ve nothing else to add. I did want to step in and point out the difference between personal preferences and audience awareness, though.

  17. .

    BatourB was an even crappier movie than book. And that’s saying something.

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  19. I love this post. It’s exactly what I’ve been thinking for some time now.

    I wonder, though, if it’s a sign of a general decline in the literacy of this nation. I’ve read a few novels lately that made me wonder how the luminaries of NY could have put their clout behind stories that should have never made it beyond AU fanfiction. They had the same flaws you discussed in your post, but non-LDS so no religious infodump. One in particular had some potential, but didn’t even appear to be edited beyond checking for spelling and punctuation.

    Also not ranting here, btw. Just dismayed at what I’ve been seeing.

  20. Thanks, Amy!

    It’s not about literacy. It’s about what will sell (i.e., does the author have a fanbase/platform) and cost (i.e., not enough editors to go around anymore, so nothing gets edited).

    Basically, the big publishers think we’re stupid and will buy any tripe they sell so it doesn’t matter.

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