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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Food for Thought: Will The Great Mormon Novel Ever Be Written?

Why, yes, I am having a posting fest today. My 2 oldest are at summer school (fun classes like ceramics and children's literature), my baby's napping, and my 4-year-old is absorbed in the green army men battling it out on the kitchen table. Without anyone whining, "Mommy, Mommy," I hardly know what to do with myself. Of course, there's laundry, ironing, vacuuming, dusting, etc., etc., but what fun would that be?

Actually, it was while clearing off the table (since war has broken out on one end, I figured I better make sure the other end is useable) that I came across an interesting article in Mormon Times. If you haven't heard of this publication, it comes in the mail along with Church News. Started in January 2008, it's published by Deseret News, but is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Anyway, it has some interesting articles and columns, several of which are written by well-known Mormons (Orson Scott Card) or at least those with familiar last names (Don Osmond). The article I'm referring to is by a columnist named Jerry Johnston. Now, I'll be honest, I usually just skim Mormon Times, but occasionally a headline will catch my eye, as did this one: "Great LDS novel can't be written because our religion allows few gray areas." Click on over and read it. It definitely provides some food for thought.

I know I often lament the quality (or lack thereof) of LDS novels, especially because many are so annoyingly unrealistic. However, I've definitely seen an improvement - novels like Kay Lynn Mangum's When the Bough Breaks and Angela Morrison's Taken By Storm show LDS life in a more honest way. Many talented Mormon writers are making names for themselves in the mainstream market - Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, etc. - but seem to shy away from the LDS market. Several Mormon authors have expressed to me the same concern Johnston has - they can't write a truly honest LDS novel without landing themselves in trouble. In light of all this, I, too, wonder - will we ever see the publication of The Great Mormon Novel, which Johnston defines as "a grand and glorious literary novel that is heralded by both the LDS faithful and the literary world?" Fascinating question. What do you think?


  1. I think I agree. I am often wondering what I can write that can be compelling and still hold true to my values. Everything I come up with is so full of saccharine at the end that it seems ruined.

  2. Love your blog! I recommend it to all my book-geek friends :D
    I rarely read any LDS lit because of this very reason. I was a huge Weyland fan as a teen, but as an adult I read one book by one of the "favorite" authors and it really soured me from LDS lit. They tend to be sappy, unrealistic and too "head in the clouds" for me. I would LOVE to see more LDS lit that actually works. :D

  3. I also have a hard time with LDS fiction. The stories always seem the same. Someone is not a member, and then by the end of the book they are. I know it could happen, but it happens in almost every book! I loved Taken By Storm by the way! It was such an eye opening book, with problems LDS teens face all the time now. I am also waiting for The Great Mormon Novel to be written one of these days. Let's hope it's someday soon!

  4. You know the worst part? It may be written someday but I will miss it - - all because I'm not reading those LDS novels!!! :) ;-)

  5. I disagree with Jerry Johnston, and wrote a bit about it on Times & Seasons. I also linked there to several other takes on Johnston's poorly reasoned article. [If nothing else, the idea that Mormonism is more black and white than other religions is demonstrably not true.]

    On a more practical level, there is, as I have been saying for some time, a problem in the LDS market, where certain kinds of books never reach the attention of the public, mainly because the stores are afraid to carry them.

    You can try looking at the works of the following authors for some better writing:

    Vardis Fisher, Lorene Pearson, Virginia Sorensen, Richard Scowcroft, Maurine Whipple, Levi Peterson, Brady Udall, Mary Clyde, Susan Elizabeth Howe, Eric Samuelsen, Douglas Thayer and Margaret Young.

    There are likely others also that I've left out inadvertently.

  6. Interesting comments, everybody. If you haven't clicked over to read the article Kent Larson referred to in his comment, you should. It's a much more in depth discussion on this topic.

    My conclusion is this: I agree with both Johnston and Larson. I think LDS writers are afraid to write about Mormon culture in an honest way because they don't want to be critical and because they fear it will turn people away from the church. I also agree with Larson that LDS authors shouldn't be intimidated, that they should "let people see us and understand us" as he says. Of course, that's easy for me to say ...

    Kent - Thanks for the author recommendations. I had Thayer as a professor at BYU, and some of his stuff was required reading. I wasn't that impressed, but it's been a number of years now, so perhaps I should give him another try. I'll be sure to check out the others you mentioned.

    Keep commenting, everybody. I find this subject fascinating.

  7. Kent - I just realized I spelled your name wrong in my comment. My apologies.

  8. You know, most of the time this conversation makes me angry because I feel very strongly in favor of LDS Literature. Having read the original article and several other blog post on this (A motley Vision has a few good thoughts too), I found this time around I didn't get as angry. It all has to do with reading I'm NOT Really a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, recently. It is a gem of genius written by a Mormon author. DB would never publish it ever. But then again neither would a American publisher at first. It had to sell in the freakin' UK. You can lambast LDS Fiction for all of its weaknesses but every other genre has similar weaknesses too. Cliches, stereotypes, cruches, exist in all types of fiction and in every market. Basically, I realized I might never have found Wells book, ever. It's published in the UK! If I hadn't heard him mentioned several times by Brandon Sanderson. Then mentioned by my Husband and then spent a $100 to go to a writers conference and saw the book on the table and thought my husband might like to read it. It has a really catchy cover. I might not have even read it! It was a horror novel, and I don't read horror. And espeically not horror novels that are about serial killers either.

    That's when I realized that you aren't going to find great books unless you are actively looking for them and trying them out. If you are interested in Mormon literature and want it to be great, stop sitting on the sidelines and looking down your nose at it. Seriously, pick up books until you find one you like then try to find more like it. It isn't the author's responsibility to write the Great Mormon novel it's the readers responsibility to accept it as so. Everyone that says LDS fiction only has such and such books. LDS fiction will never produce great stuff. Mormon authors can't deal with dark themes has cheated themselves out of finding exactly what they wanted by holding that opinion. Those that actually seek to find will find the hidden gems.

    No offense intended to those that dislike LDS Fiction. It's okay if finding those hidden gems isn't worth it to you. Each person has their own things they are passionate about.


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