Niches are nice, but…

I started a new book a couple of days ago. It’s easy when you start ripping off plots on purpose instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and then finding out someone else did it before you. First Hamlet, now the New Testament. Next thing you know, I’ll be rewriting Moby Dick.

Now, I can write for a Mormon audience. Or I can write for the romance audience. Or I can write for the general fiction audience (whatever that is). Well. I wrote for all three, because that’s what I like.

The Proviso is a romance novel. Actually, it’s three romance novels. It’s erotic (though not technically erotica), political, financial, and religious. I don’t think anything like it has been done, but I haven’t read every book out there, either. So the problem is, where do I market this puppy?

It’s too graphic (in sex and language) for your average Mormon reader. Yeah, you’re not going to find this at Deseret Book.

It’s got too much thinking and religion for your average erotica reader, which is not to say that straight erotica is bad (cause, you know, I’ve got my share); it just doesn’t fit the needs of someone who wants to read erotica.

Its politics are specific and on the fringes of any political spectrum you want to try to define. (Chanson asked me how I’d like to read about unreconstructed Marxists sitting around patting themselves on the back for how brilliant they are, and that was the funniest and most clever zinger I’ve been nailed with in a long time. I love zingers. Just make them brilliant.)

I love romance novels. I cut my teeth on the huge, sweeping, 50-dollar-word purple-prosed romance novels of the late ’70s when I had barely hit puberty. But I want romance in a way I don’t get from either the romance genre (or any of its sub-genres) NOR from Mormon romance (as discussed in a previous post). As far as I’m concerned, Mormons shouldn’t be asexualized just because of this little thing we call the Law of Chastity. In my mind, spirituality and sexuality are two sides of the same coin and neither should be trivialized in the face of the other.

What I had hoped, in writing The Proviso was that I could reach a larger, more secular audience who might not mind reading about Mormons doing wild’n’crazy things if it were smart and well written. When I read characters who are Catholic, I don’t need to be instructed about Hail Marys and rosaries and novenas. I know all that. It’s in the public lexicon. When I read characters who are Jewish, I don’t need to be instructed about Yom Kippur and Sabbat and synagogue. It’s in the public lexicon.

Mormonspeak is not. I want it to be. I want the general public to be able to pick up a book with Mormon characters and automatically understand what “wards” and “stakes” are, what “going to the temple” means (if only in general terms), what Sacrament Meeting is, Relief Society, and the priesthood. Does that mean opening myself (and, by extension, the lot of us) up for ridicule? Yes, but having our traditions, customs, and structures out in the public makes for an easier dialog all around. My Catholic friends can whine at me all they want about being a “lapsed” Catholic and I completely understand what that means; it’s a commonality of language that is so natural to us as a society we don’t even think about it.

By contrast, I’m not out to write the Great Mormon Novel, either. It might happen, but it’ll be entirely unintentional on my part. I write romance. I’m not Tom Wolfe. I’m not Umberto Eco. I’m not Neal Stephenson. But I sure as hell would like to be.

But for right now, I’m writing in a niche market. Possibly a niche market of three, which is me, myself, and I. So my latest work-in-progress is, naturally, a romance, but it’s more specifically Mormon than The Proviso.

What would do you think would happen if a widowed Mormon bishop meets up with an ex-prostitute?

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