We all know how it works

I read that once in a comment on a Mormon women’s writer’s blog bemoaning explicit sex in books. If I recall correctly, it was one where a bunch of the Deseret Book-published writers gather, because it was a “name” who said it. I don’t remember if my book was the one under discussion or not. Didn’t matter.

“We all know how it works.”

What struck me then and still does is that, No, we don’t all know how it works, especially the girls who’re told not to do that. I wanted to say something, but I’m not fond of walking into lions’ dens for the hell of it. This, that no, our girls don’t know how it works, is a ginormous problem. Not only do we not teach them what it is, what they’re supposed to be abstaining from, we teach them they have to dress so as to keep the boys from wanting to make them do it.

Then there’s this: When Virgins Collide, in which the newlyweds never do quite figure out how to do it right. I wonder where they are now and if they finally figured it out by trial and error or if they scraped up the courage to research the topic or if they gave up completely after kid number three. I shed tears to think that woman may never have an orgasm.

And this: Single, Female, Mormon, Alone, in which a 32-year-old woman had to go to Planned Parenthood for a Pap smear and an IUD because, I guess, she didn’t know she could call up a gynecologist to get that done. Seriously? Thirty-two? You’ve never had an exam?

No, Big Name Important Mormon Writer Person, we don’t all know how it works. Because useful, necessary details don’t get passed along. Talk about purple words and euphemisms! And because we aren’t taught, many of us have long-lasting difficulties trying to navigate something that’s so much fun! Or should be. But no! Since we all know how it works, we’re all having fun, right?

Theric, who’s my editor when he’s available (he did Stay and Magdalene), reviewed Paso Doble. He said this:

I know her work is too explicit for many Mormon writers, but I think you should read her anyway. We need to deal with sexuality more as a people and reading her work is a great place to consider how it can be done.

Yes, we do need to deal with sexuality more as a people because we’re regressing, not progressing. Throwback Thursday on Facebook, wherein I see pictures of my (devout) cousins from the 60s, 70s, and early 80s, make the contrast between what was considered “modest” then and what’s considered “modest” now makes that clear. We would be looked at askance now for what we were wearing then, when our (still) devout mothers were dressing us. I could see XX TD sent home from activity night for wearing what we wore then.

And then Scott Hales, the creator of the comic “Garden of Enid, Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl,” slid something into one of his comics that just floored me. (It took me about all day to see the sly wink in my direction.) (But I was busy writing sessytimes!):

But my not seeing that in-joke at first made me think how much I identified with Enid, where my sex education came from bodice rippers because in Young Women’s we were talking about “necking,” “petting,” and “self-abuse.” It’s true! Media is where we fill in the blanks and puzzle over labeling! Thank heavens for bodice rippers!

I don’t know  what they teach now.  They don’t let me near Young Women’s. I think they think I’m a bad influence or something. Not sure.

I answer XX’s questions straight up and give as much advice and knowledge as I believe she can understand. She’s 11. She’s very well educated on the topic. And when she hits puberty, I’m going to take her to the doctor to get her on birth control. She knows what I expect her not to do (explicitly). I operate under the premise “It’s better to have and not need, than need and not have.” I also don’t trust horndog boys who might play fast and loose with the “I love you”s and definitions of consent.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this since Theric’s review and Enid’s singular observation. I’m thinking that if a girl has to learn about sex from romance novels, well, at least she’ll get a good idea what goes on without all those purple words getting in the way. And I’m thinking, if she has to learn about sex from romance novels, she might as well pick mine.

Pssst, girls. Start with Paso Doble.

Or just ask your mother.

Being honest with your fellow man

Jennie Hansen is a respected reviewer/writer in Mormon fiction. She reviews at Meridian Magazine and (I believe) is a judge for the Whitney Awards.

She is also a LIAR.


I have been very unhappily mostly silent about this for two years now, but one of her latest blog posts, “A Reviewer’s Confession,” has me seeing red and I’ll be damned if I sit silent any longer.

In this confession, she said:

Only once did I give a book a one star rating and that was because the language was filthy and the author hadn’t researched LDS policy. (The author came unglued over my rating!)

Oh, Jennie. Honey. You haven’t seen unglued yet.

Why? Because you gave me that rating not actually having read the book. How do I know this? Because this:

the author hadn’t researched LDS policy

is patently untrue.

If you had read past the one-page prologue you would know that.

My journalism training had qualified me as a critic . . .

Apparently you didn’t learn how to check your facts (or other reviews) before opening your mouth.

You also probably don’t grok that part of the temple recommend interview where the bishop asks you if you’ve been honest with your fellow man. Or else you were honest and you don’t have a temple recommend.

I don’t know if you were part of the judging panel for the Whitney Award committee or not, but if you were, that adds another layer of fraud to your pattern of behavior for this book—and is the catalyst for my having come unglued at your “review.”

You lied about reading my book.

In church vernacular, then, I challenge you to:

1) actually read the book and rescind your lie


2) declare publicly that you read the entirety of Magdalene. Anywhere will do: your blog, Goodreads, my blog, Meridian magazine.

But before you attempt #2, I want to direct your attention to Scott Hales’s review (he who is also a respected scholar of Mormon literature), the Exponent II review, and the Publisher’s Weekly review, all of which refute your claim that I did not research church policy.

You lied about reading that book, Jennie. That by itself is dishonorable and worthy of contempt. If you were assigned to read it for the Whitneys, you also tarnished the integrity of the awards.

Own it and confess.

Reviewing too close to home

I wrote on this topic two months ago.

I still don’t know what to do, but I’m losing my patience because I discovered that writers of some of the stuff that’s really bad are giving writing advice. Oy. Stop it. You’re not qualified to give writing advice. Really*.

In light of this post and this comment,

in light of a recent romancelandia kerfuffle about writers/unpublished authors reviewing,

in light of Mormons’ cultural tendency to say nice or nothing at all,

in light of the fact that I’m a reader first and I’ve spent money on these books and I have a reader’s perspective and want to express it,

in light of the fact that writers reviewing is generally fraught with dangers, not the least of which is shitting in your own nest,

in light of the fact that my work is in no way intended for a Mormon market**…

I’m still conflicted.

Mostly I don’t relish the idea of people like OutAndAbout (and I think I know who wrote that comment) coming to bash me for MY writing. It hurts my feelings. Yes, there. I said it. It hurts my feelings. Dirty little secret: It hurts every writer’s feelings.

On the other hand, there’s a very small minority of Mormons who’d brave my stuff anyway, so the worst criticism I’m bound to get—probably anonymously—is that I’m too graphic and my characters swear and they DNF’d it after the first two pages. Okay. And?

I’ve got several Mormon novels on my TBR list (albeit heavily weighted for stuff that’s been pre-vetted by readers with whose taste I get along). One I’m reading, The Road Show by Braden Bell, is pretty good. It’s not a page-turner and it’s episodic (natch, written by a playwright/screenwriter), but that’s never bothered me unless badly done. It gets a little churchy-heavy-handed in spots, but I like it.

I read Angela Hallstrom’s book Bound on Earth and I loved it. I’m dying to write a review of that, but I have nothing to say other than “I loved it” and respond to some reviews I read on Goodreads. Oh, and that it’s a novel a short-story-writer-who’s-not-a-novelist would’ve written (which is both its weakness and its strength). I’m interested to see if she can write a long work that’s not a series of interconnecting/interdependent vignettes strung together.

So what to do. What to do.

As a compromise, I created a new alter-ego to review, but I don’t like doing that. I’m not cut out to sustain such an act.

The unnamed book I previously linked has been haunting me (not in a good way) for months, because this is what the market base for Mormon fiction, the one that wants clean and good (e.g., my mother), associate with Mormon fiction. They are the people who need to be brought back into the Mormon fiction fold, and they aren’t going to be unless Mormon fiction improves. It can’t improve unless someone just says, “This sucks. It should never have been published. Next!”

Yeah, it’s clean.

But it still sucks.

*But am I? No. It’s why I don’t give writing advice. At least not publicly. It’s hard to give writing advice to someone who feels free to harshly critique your stuff with great (if dubious) authority, but wants you to comment on theirs and the only thing you can say is, “It’s dead boring.” But instead you give advice on how to improve it, and they insist they’ve written a flawless masterpiece. And really, there’s nothing technically wrong with it except it’s dead boring. Boring sucks. First rule of writing: Don’t suck.

**Because I refuse to be held accountable for your salvation.

I am God (part 2)

Lisa at Feminist Mormon Housewives had asked Giselle Galen about her creative process for a series of compare/contrast posts for fMh, and Galen kindly brought me into the conversation of creating art; more specifically, art as a form of worship.

This coincided with a post on AML wherein a novelist/publisher wondered if God cared about our art or even wanted us to cease making it.

After using Galen and Theric as a sounding board, I wrote a bit for Lisa, and figured I’d share it here, too:

I’m a novelist. I write Mormon characters (in varying states of grace with the church) who have sex. On the page. While I’ll admit that can be seen as gimmicky, it’s really not. I write what I want to read, and I want to read characters who are like me and not The Other, The Freak, The Cultist, The Satan Worshipper, The Molly Mormon, The Longsuffering Sister, The Polygamist, The Weird Neighbor, The Prude.

Other than writing what I want to read and expressing myself in my chosen art form, my broader goal is to plant our culture and traditions and jargon into the national consciousness the way Catholicism and Judaism permeate it—a common vocabulary even if one doesn’t believe or practice that faith. Everybody knows what a rosary is and what it’s for, what mass, diocese, parish, and priest mean. Everyone knows what a yarmulke is and what it symbolizes, what synagogue, Passover, Hannukah, and bar mitzvah mean. Nobody knows us by anything but our magic underwear. They don’t know what sacrament meeting, stake, ward, and bishop mean. If we don’t define ourselves for the world, the world will define us for us, and they do. And it sticks.

I’m also an active, practicing Mormon with a pagan streak a mile wide. If it weren’t for the belief that we can become gods and spend the eternities creating, I wouldn’t bother with the church at all, and I probably wouldn’t even bother with Christianity. I am willing to jump through whatever hoops I need to just in case what I believe—what I hope to be true—is, in fact, true. If it’s not, it won’t make any difference in the long run because I refuse to believe any other alternative. If I burn in a lake of fire, so be it.

That forms the core of my artistic philosophy: Creating art is practicing to become a god.

Specifically, creating paper people with souls, intellect, and free will is practicing to become God.

(Most days when I watch the news, I wonder if the Creator we worship isn’t still practicing and just hasn’t gotten it right yet. If that is so, I like to imagine we’ll all get an abject apology.)

My favorite thing to imagine is that one day, Father or Mother, whichever one likes the detail work, looked into the ocean and said, “Hm. Those could use some color.” He or She picked up a brush in one hand, and a dory fish in the other and went to town.

I like to think Father was doodling in His lab, doing some structural calculations, sketched something out and said to Himself, “They’ll call that the Fibonacci sequence and I’ll laugh my butt off while they try to figure it out.”

A dildo fit for a goddess

I express my spirituality not in small part through sexuality. I think once one starts down the path of the Mother, then pagan philosophies, it winds up there anyway. Hello, Beltane.

So I like to think Mother was sculpting in the afterglow of some really good sex and sculpted anthurium to hold onto her lover when He was off doing something else. Galen phrased it “a dildo fit for a goddess.”

Because sex is where creation begins with human beings. We created offspring before we created the tools to hunt, before we learned to farm. We started off with the Tree of Life, not the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but we needed to eat of the Tree of Knowledge to understand the Tree of Life.

I drew it in sacrament meeting. Sue me.

But then the doubt sets in and leads to: Are we created in God’s image or are we creating God in ours?

Does it matter? For better or worse or whatever reason or by whatever mechanism (why are creation and evolution mutually exclusive?), we’re here and we’re living our lives and there’s no getting out of it and no finding out the truth until we’re released from the bonds of mortality (or choose to take the bolt cutters to it ourselves).

When I form people and their worlds, and their characteristics, beliefs, and philosophies, then set them loose to see what they’ll do when I give them a particular set of circumstances, I am not worshipping God.

I am God.

These people are a disgrace

[wpaudio url=”http://moriahjovan.com/mojogce/(Hirschfelder%20-%20Shine)%20These%20People%20are%20a%20Disgrace.mp3″ text=”From the movie Shine”]

It was one of those little moments in life where everything becomes crystal clear.

Years and years ago. English 400-something. Summer course. American Lit. Very…strange…professor. Lemme talk about her for a sec.

I forget her name. I forget what she looks like. I remember a whole lot about her:

1) In the span of one year, she had been violently raped in her home by a stranger. Twice. Not the same stranger. And yet she was…

2) …annoyingly cheerful and filled with joy.

3) She was a complete ditz.

4) She was an evangelical Christian who got married in the Loose Park rose garden in a Buddhist ceremony.

5) She had a completely random way of teaching. If you could call it teaching.

6) One of the first things she said to the class (with great exuberance) was “I want to fuck your minds!”

7) She taught me one of the single most important lessons I have ever learned, so whatever I don’t remember about Prufrock or Leaves of Grass (and surely don’t care a whit), it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the life-changing thing she taught me.

I don’t remember the text under discussion. She rarely used it, anyway (goodbye $90 for yet another Norton’s). She made the shocking proposition (prompted by some discussion of Judaism that had nothing to do with American lit) that Eve may not have sinned by eating the apple, and that they had to eat the fruit for them to have children, to know good and evil, joy and sorrow, and that Adam was just too chickenshit to do it, so she took the initiative.

It was like the sun came out. My quiet contempt of her scatteredness vanished. I was so excited I went all Horshack OOOh OOOh OOOh!!! Mistah Kottah!!! Mistah Kottah!!!

I blurted, “Yes! That’s it! That’s exactly what happened!”

Suddenly, she was all business, totally sober, like an English professor should be. She stared at me and said, “No, that’s what you believe happened.”

I was embarrassed. The class was silent, but not looking at me. There were no contemptuous snickers at me, even though I probably deserved them. I suspect it was as much a teaching moment for a lot of other people as it was for me. How had I gotten to be a senior in college without having learned this? How had any of us?

Life-changing? Exaggeration? No. She distilled an entire lifetime of being told this is the truth and there is no other truth, and those who don’t believe this truth are worthy only of our contempt and then shattered it.

(As it happens, my playlist popped up with the soundtrack of Shine: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, hence the name of the post and appropriate track.)

Yesterday I happened upon a post by a well-educated adult who, for all her proclamations of learning empathy through fiction, displayed none for a flesh-and-blood woman. She proudly told of her shock and horror at this woman’s lack of understanding of The Truth, drew several condescending conclusions from what little the woman had told her, and then went on to pity her. I guess that’s the empathy part.

Yet she didn’t actually ask the woman why she did not buy into The Truth and made no effort to understand someone else’s point of view. Whether the author of the post agreed or not was irrelevant; it didn’t occur to her to ask why the woman felt that way. It didn’t even occur to her to think up possible reasons for the woman’s viewpoint.

I still believe that my truth is The Truth, but every once in a while I get shocked out of my comfy little philosophy by someone who thinks her Truth is or should be everyone else’s.