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.