Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Debate Continues

There’s an interesting discussion circulating in parts of the LDS-literary blog world:

What is the definition of "LDS fiction"?

Here are my two cents on the issue.

A lot of people say that LDS fiction is simply work that upholds LDS values. With that definition, Peace Like a River by Lief Enger would be LDS fiction, but (great book that it is) no one could really argue that it belongs under that designation.

Others say the LDS fiction must have Mormon characters or plot lines. It can, but doesn’t have to. I can think of several titles that I’d consider LDS fiction that don’t mention or even hint at the Church.

There’s the argument that LDS fiction has two criteria: that it’s by LDS writers AND maintains the basic values of the Church. Perhaps. That might be a good goal to shoot for. But in my mind, the reality isn’t there.

Personally, for my own writing and reading of LDS fiction, I stand with the crowd of wanting LDS fiction to be "virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy," high-quality literature that doesn't resort to the baseness that a lot of national stuff does.

That’s pretty much the standard that the big LDS houses like Deseret Book and Covenant try to uphold, even if, at times, their conservative pendulum tends to swing a bit hard right.

But what do you do with more liberal LDS presses like Signature and Zarahemla? Those are run by LDS people, and they publish writers who feel driven to write something that, for whatever reason, might be more offensive or who otherwise don’t fit the DB/Covenant mold.

Granted, their books are largely aimed at the left side of Mormon-dom, but can we deny their existence if we don’t approve of what they publish? Who are we to judge?

While I personally don’t read their more liberal publications that don't maintain my values, there is a segment of LDS people that does gravitate there and enjoys the fare offered.

I have a hard time telling those writers and publishers that they shouldn't be creating what they feel driven to. That’s not my place.

Telling them that they’re wrong to write or publish what they do strikes me as a bad thing, and not only in a free speech kind of way. It also smacks of the very kind of judgment I don’t feel that I, as a Christian, should be making about other people and the way they conduct their lives and, by extension, their art.

It could also be because I feel passionately about my own work and would bristle if someone told me that I was wrong or immoral to write what I do. I’m sure people have been offended by my work (even though it’s published by very-conservative Covenant Communications). In fact, I know for a fact that one scene has offended at least one person. (And for those of you who’ve read all my work, I’m betting it’s not one you’re thinking of.)

I’d hate to think that any reader would vilify me for writing that or any other scene. I write my stories how I think they should be.

When I think of "LDS fiction," I personally do think about the cleaner, values-centered writing that most people picture when they hear that term. And I hope that we as a people will not only improve our game from a literary standpoint, but that we’ll do so while upholding high moral standards.

But . . .

Maybe what we are trying to encapsulate by the term, "LDS fiction" should be called something else altogether.

Why? Because I, for one, don’t feel like I can point fingers at someone who is LDS, writing about LDS themes and characters for an LDS audience and tell them that they can’t call what they do "LDS fiction"—that they can’t be part of the club—because I think their work is offensive. What if I came across a book I despised and thought was immoral? It still wouldn't be my place to say it’s not LDS fiction, not when it’s saturated with LDS-ness.

What I can do is say what I’d like about the fiction currently on shelves. I can support books by Mormon writers who I think exemplify what our fiction can be. I can say what I hope it will be in the future and do whatever I can to support the market and the writers (and aspiring writers) in it.

But I personally can’t rip the "LDS fiction" label off someone else just because I don’t like the way it looks on them.

So what’s the answer? Call the more liberal works something else? Call the more conservative books by another term? Something else altogether? I have no idea. But I have a feeling the debate won’t go away any time soon.


Alison Wonderland said...

I certainly have not been a part of this debate but I think I'd put it where I put the term Mormon. I'm willing to consider anyone Mormon who calls themself (him or herself) Mormon. Jack-Mormon, Gay, Temple worthy or not. If someone wants the label Mormon, I'm willing to go with it.
I'd put LDS fiction in that same boat. If you as a writer call it LDS good on you! I am LDS but my novel is definitely not LDS fiction. I don't really think that makes it evil or immoral but I wouldn't consider it LDS so it's not.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I love your comment about supporting the fiction we love and the writers we enjoy reading. In the end, that might be the only way this "debate" is solved. People will buy what they want to read and if the potentially offensive books sell as well as the very conservative books among the LDS population, that might be the answer right there. (I'm still trying to figure out what was offensive in your books :)

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

You expressed this so well, Annette. It gets a bit silly, this need to label and call names, but I guess that's how our minds work.

It's a bit odd to be reading these posts and thinking about my own work and wondering how it might be categorized if it ever came under public scrutiny.

Very thought-provoking.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I guess I haven't really thought about it much before. Thanks!

Unknown said...

hi annette ~ thanks for sharing your insight. when i reach for LDS books, i expect to not be embarrassed by anything i read inside. kathleen :)

3 for school said...

I liked what Alison said above though. You can't make people conform to such-and-such, but on the other hand, you don't have to buy it either! Money talks to authors too.

That said, it is very disappointing to pick up a book of LDS fiction and find values so out of the way of LDS values. Others, not of the LDS faith, believe it to represent the LDS faith. For that reason, there are publishers that I am skittish of buying from unless I hear a good review from a trusted source. (From someone that I trust their literary critiques.)

Tristi Pinkston said...

This is why I've been a proponent of genre terms. I don't have a problem with someone publishing a book with LDS characters who aren't necessarily acting LDS as long as I know what to expect from the book. I'd prefer to see it given a different genre term. It's like, picking up a book that's labeled a romance and getting a cookbook instead. If I want a romance, I should get a romance. If I want a cookbook, I should get a cookbook. We all have the right to choose what we want to write and what we want to read, but I'd like to see genre terms more clearly outlined so we all get what we want.

Unknown said...

tristi's cookbook comment is great. i would hate to pick up one of the LDS books expecting something and find sex scene pages in it. it would be like bait and switch ... a trick. like tristi said, getting a cookbook when you expecting something else.

thanks for coming by. always a pleasure to hear from you.

great day to ya, kathleen :)

Annette Lyon said...

Tristi, that's sort of what I was thinking. Not sure how to implement it, though.

Happy face, The good news is that LDS bookstores don't generally carry the more liberal stuff. You're pretty safe picking up stuff from Seagull or DB. But it's also good to be aware of the more fringe publishers so you can make more educated decisions.

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

I write speculative fiction. Full of action, bad guys, angst, a little romance and life lessons. These stories are my love... my babies perse.
My desire is to be published and my desired realm is the LDS market because I want to write clean fiction.
This is where I run into a problem. The more conservative LDS publishers don't publish spec fiction, they say theres no market. While I see that there is very few Scifi Spec fic. published in the realm, I wonder why. I know there are readers out there that would buy a good clean spec, fic work. I also know writers that write good, clean work. Where is an author like me supposed to go?
Last thought, are pub. like Zarehemla that bad?



Annette Lyon said...

Michelle, I think the spec. fiction market is starting to open up a little bit, but you're right; it's a tough nut to crack.

And no, Zarahemla, Signature, and the aren't all bad. They've both published a lot of good books that simply wouldn't have had an outlet anywhere else (one example would be Douglas Thayer's work--he's considered by some to be the father of LDS literature and isn't "liberal" or "offensive").

But if you're concerned about running into potentially offensive material, you're safer staying with the houses that simply don't go there, like DB and Covenant.

Brillig said...

Wow. This is all very eye-opening to me. I hadn't realized that there was a debate-- or that it mattered much! Ha! So... yeah. Interesting stuff.

But mostly, you've intrigued me with your scandal! Ooooh, I LOVE that you offended someone ! (Is that weird...?) I wanna know all about it.


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