Monday, April 12, 2010

The Changing Face of LDS Fiction

Last week a Deseret News reporters interviewed me about Band of Sisters and the Flat Daddy Project. I've done several interviews recently, but this particular reporter asked something no one had yet. (I'll link over when the piece runs.)

Her question, and my answer to it, have kept me thinking ever since. She'd read the book before the interview (a rare and rather pleasant occurrence), so she had a better idea of what to ask.

Among the questions I'd been asked already:
  • Are the wives in the book fictionalized versions of the ones I interviewed? (No. Not even close. I used the interview information to figure out how my characters would react. All of the interviewees were all pretty close in age (26-33 years old, I think). The wives in my book range from 20-55.
  • How did I learn about the Flat Daddy Project? (Through THIS blog.)
  • Am I a military wife? (Nope. No family members have even been deployed in my lifetime. Dad's a Vietnam vet, but he came home before I was born. My brother was in the Air Force but never deployed. The book was inspired by watching my friend's deployment.)
And so on.

Then came the interesting question:

Were some specific topics in the book things I had to fight with my publisher to keep in the story?

In other words, did Covenant, my conservative publisher, balk at a book that discussed sensitive, difficult subjects? (I won't include spoilers here, so let's just say that Marianne's daughter has more than one very serious issue. If you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about.)

I was thrilled to be able to say that none of those things ever came up. No one, not my editor, the committee, or anyone else at Covenant so much as mentioned those subjects.

To me, that says a few wonderful things:

1) LDS publishers (and Covenant, in my case) are more and more willing to publish stories that reflect reality. That includes stories with no easy, tie-it-in-a-tidy-bow answers. Their books can still have a Christian world view of problems and how to approach them, but the books also acknowledge that you won't avoid trials just because you're a good person. Bad stuff happens.

2) Likewise, readers are more and more accepting of that change; they WANT to read about real women facing real problems.

Then I thought about other novels recently published in the market and some upcoming ones, and I got even more excited about how this market is shifting. First off, the sheer quality of the literature is better than it has been, EVER. But that's not all.

Which leads us to another exciting change in the market:

3) More and more, I'm seeing books that don't necessarily have LDS themes, but that are simply clean alternatives to national genres that often contain material that Mormon readers would rather not have in their books, whether that means language, bedroom scenes, gore, or the like.


I know I've mentioned Sarah before, but she bears repeating. She writes books set in the Regency era, which was before the LDS Church was founded and therefore, by definition, cannot be LDS fiction. When she seeking publication nationally, Sarah got many, many encouraging letters from agents and editors, saying, "You're a great writer! We'll publish you if you add some steamy scenes into your books!"

See, the Regency Romance genre has veered into smut. (Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave at what's out there now.) Sarah refused to "smuttify" her books, effectively closing off the national publishing avenue. She was left with self-publishing until Seeking Persephone (which is currently out of print but likely to be reprinted) was a Whitney Award finalist. That's when Covenant took a chance on her, even though her new book, Courting Miss Lancaster, has no connection to Mormonism whatsoever.

In other words, Covenant is listening to their readers, who simply want great books they don't have to be on guard with. (Quick! Turn the page. And crap! That one, too! Skimming, skimming, skimming . . .)

Finally, Regency Romance fans have a fantastic, well-written and CLEAN alternative to the current stuff out there.

Rachel is one of the two top-selling female writers in the LDS market, and she's known for both romances and women's fiction. But Rachel also happens to love the paranormal genre, and she wanted to write some, especially since the current national paranormal market has veered the same direction as the national Regency market: toward the gutter.

Not knowing whether a paranormal novel would sell to readers used to LDS-themed fiction, Deseret Book took a risk in publishing Imprints, the first book of its kind in this market. But again: finally, a CLEAN alternative to having to skip passages and squint your eyes every few pages to avoid the bad stuff.

What started out as something fun and different write for Josi has turned into ragingly popular series. (Devil's Food Cake, the most recent book, has been #1 on Deseret Book's online bestsellers list for some time now.) But going in, Josi didn't expect Deseret Book to even want Lemon Tart. First off, she was known for her issue-driven women's fiction. But there was another element as well: Lemon Tart has absolutely zero Mormon anything in it. Sadie herself is clearly Christian, but there are hints that she's from some other denomination.

To her surprise, Deseret Book snatched it up. Then they requested more books in the series, to the tune of two a year (so far: Lemon Tart, English Trifle, and Devil's Food Cake. Later this year we'll see Key Lime Pie, and next year, Blueberry Crumble). Again, a fun, clean mystery series without any worry about running into questionable scenes, language, and more, and the books just so happen to have nothing Mormon-ish in them.

The Shandra Covingington Mystery Series, by Jeffrey S. Savage
Covenant's clean mystery series. Shandra makes an occasional Mormon joke, but beyond that, the Church isn't mentioned, and it certainly isn't the point. Shandra's murder-solving skills (and her obsession with food) are the focus.

For fans: yes, Jeff is finally giving us Shandra's next installment! Bobby's been lying on the floor bleeding for long enough. The next Shandra book is coming this summer.


One of the best romance writers I know, Michele manages to keep the chemistry alive without heading into either cliche or the gutter. But here's the fun part with this book: the main characters aren't LDS. There is one LDS connection: a police officer on the case is Mormon. But check it out: no one converts!

Dangerous Memories, by Jeffrey S. Savage
There's a good chance that this horror novel will be published by Covenant in the relatively near future. No joke. Covenant maybe soon releasing a HORROR novel. (Did you ever think you'd see the day?)



I could go on and on, but it's probably enough to simply say that the market is in an exciting place right now, with welcome changes coming around every bend.

If you haven't tried reading an LDS novel recently (or haven't tried a NEW author lately), give it another shot. No, not everything is stellar (and I can quietly point you away from what not to read, though I'll deny ever saying so :-). But there's so much more quality stuff on the shelves than there used to be.

If you don't know where to start, drop me a note saying what kinds of books you typically enjoy. I'm betting I can find a good-quality LDS counterpart.

32 comments:

Cheri Chesley said...

Yay!! and as writers, it's our job to get the word out so everyone looking for clean reads will be able to find what they want :)Great post, as usual!

Ronda Hinrichsen said...

Thanks for writing this, Annette. It's so, so nice to have a place where readers can find a CLEAN read in any genre they want. Wahoo for the LDS publishers being willing to take that need under their wing and fly with it!

Kristina P. said...

I think this is great. I think that's one reason I don't really read a lot of LDS fiction is because I prefer real stories. Good to know you can have clean and real.

Daron D. Fraley said...

Great post, Annette.

I recently had yet another bad experience with a national market book which was highly recommended by the book store clerk. When they learned a little bit about mine, they said, "Oh! That sounds a little bit like this book...", and so I bought a copy.

It was so incredibly NOT like my book. In fact, it offended me on more than one level. Didn't finish it. Traded it in for something I knew I could trust: Fablehaven 5.

I love to read. But I am not going to put up with smut, vulgar expressions, etc. A story does not have to be LDS themed for me to like it. It just has to be clean.

A huge THANK YOU to all of the LDS authors who write clean fiction for both the LDS market AND the national market! I wouldn't be reading much otherwise.

Krista said...

Thanks, Annette! Being fairly new to LDS fiction (as a reader AND a writer) I am more and more appreciative of the way new authors are striving for excellence. I'm sharing this post with my writing group, book club, and friends.
My LDS book club (I run it, but it's a democracy ;)) tends to shy away from LDS fiction, but I'm trying to bring them around because it is SUCH a challenge to find titles that don't offend! I'm getting to sprinkle in a few here and there (including Band of Sisters!). I'll keep trying, and lists like this one help.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Yay, Annette! Great post. I agree with everything, and appreciate being part of this market. The talent keeps growing and the competition is impressive, which helps to ensure quality writing.

Nicely done!

LisAway said...

Man, I would love to read any of those. It's quite exciting that these books are being published and that you can find good, clean books that don't have an obvious religious tone (not that I mind that, but now there's more variety). Very cool.

Stephanie Black said...

Great post, Annette. I love that there's more variety in LDS-published fiction.

Jennie said...

Nice job, Annette. In the seventeen years I've been writing LDS fiction I've seen huge strides in both the quality and variety of books by LDS authors. I love both the specifically LDS oriented novels by good writers and the ones that are just good, clean reads. There's still a lot of poor writing getting published, but there is in the national market too. I'm just glad the LDS publishers have gotten away from the "one size fits all" kind of books and are reaching out to readers of every genre.

Julie Wright said...

great post and totally true. I love that the publishers are reaching their readers and expanding their lists. it's a good sign for all of us reader and writer alike.

Angie said...

We definitely need more clean and uplifting literature out there!

Rebecca said...

Thanks for the list! I'm hoping to pick up some books while in UT next week!

I am so glad that there's an alternative out there now. I am afraid to pick up an unknown author in our library because I don't know what smut I may find.

Lara said...

I love that this is happening. And thanks for all of the recommendations! I'll have to add a few more to my ever growing to read list.

Laura said...

I love the shift to clean mainstream that I've been seeing. It's encouraging to see writers allowed to face real issues and still have the LDS market support.

Thanks for this encouraging post!

Amanda D said...

This is a great post, Annette. The books available have changed and it's great. Now if we could just get my library to get more of them!

That Girl said...

Thank you thank you for the recommendations!

Debbie / Cranberry Fries said...

Fabulous post about the market, publishing and great authors. I've read a handful of these stories and I agree, they're so great!

Julie P said...

This is a great list, Annette. Thank you!

L.T. Elliot said...

What a great post, Annette! I'm so glad you got asked those questions because look at what you did with it. So many excellent authors who wrote great books and now more people will know where to find them! =D

An Ordinary Mom said...

This post really needed to be written. In fact, it needed to be written a few years back. Thank you ... it will be fun to link to :) !!

I really enjoyed reading "All the Stars in Heaven." Most excellent book. I need to get my hands on several of the other books you mentioned.

And if you feel like emailing me in all your spare time, can you elaborate on which books to avoid :) ?!? Thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

You may want to redefine your definition of what CAN NOT BE LDS FICTION. If its anything set in an era prior to the year 1820, then Heather Moore's work on Alma, Abinadi, and Alma the Younger would not be, technically, LDS fiction. Nor would all the novels written by Hiemerdinger. And there are some other PRE-1820s novels that I think would be considered LDS fiction.

In fact, what about books set in the pre-existence? That's well before 1820. And what about ancestors of Joseph Smith who lived in the regency era. What about a prelude to Glory Jane Austen kind of book.

And then there's Prelude to Glory itself, set in the Revolutionary period which is nudging pretty close to the Regency period and it is considered LDS lit. At least Deseret Book thought it was.

Okay, so you get my drift. You just spilled out a definition without thinking about it and now you have to retract your definition because a gifted novelist could set a novel in any time period and write in any genre, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, romance, general fiction, etc. and still make it an LDS novel. They really could.

Ops. She leaped before she looked.

:)

Motherboard said...

I absolutely LOVE Josi Kilpack's books! LOVE THEM.

I have noticed the recent shift in the LDS market and I for one am shouting HALLELUJAH!

I like clean fiction, but not cheesy wrap it up in a nice little bow fiction. Conflict and reality is a good thing. You know, that whole opposition in all things?

Rebecca Talley said...

I started reading Newbery award winners and nominees and became so disillusioned at what's in kids' literature in the national marketplace. I even threw some of them in the trash.

I'm very excited to read Rachel's new book and am glad to see this marketing growing.

Great post.

Annette Lyon said...

Cute, Anon. (Or should I call you by your name, because it's obvious who you are?)

You knew exactly what I meant and deliberately misread me.

Prelude to Glory (and I could list others, like LC Lewis's series about the war of 1812) technically aren't LDS fiction even though they're published by LDS houses.

**Which proves my point** that the publishing houses are putting out stuff that isn't directly LDS-themed.

Lewis's books are somewhat LDS themed, in that they bring in the Smith family as minor characters, and the intent of the series is to show the backdrop and historical events that prepared the way for the Restoration. But even that's a pretty big stretch to call it straight LDS fiction when it's really not.

As for Book of Mormon fiction (such as *cough, cough* yours), the fact that it's about LDS **scripture** makes it LDS.

Also, Heimerdinger's work begins in the present with LDS kids and uses time travel to Book of Mormon times, which makes his book LDS on TWO fronts.

As for making any genre LDS, why?

Sarah M. Eden is fantastically gifted writer. I suppose if she stretched and got obnoxious with her plot and characters, she could come up with some LDS tie-in with Regency England. But why bother? Her Regency work is great AS IS.

Another upcoming novel from Michele Paige Holmes isn't LDS at all--it's set in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It's AFTER 1830, but in a geographical area where making an LDS plot connection, while technically feasible some silly way, would be a major stretch (and and an annoying, obvious one to the reader--oh, look, the author purposely added that character/element/plot device to make the book LDS fiction!)

Again, WHY? If it's clean and GOOD, there's no reason to insert Mormonism simplyfor the sake of it.

So sorry, not retracting.

And that's all I'll say on that matter.

Anonymous said...

Annette:

I've always enjoyed your strightforwardness. It places you in the center of spirited discussions and its a lot of fun. I read something on your blog a year or so ago where you made an aside, wondering if you were too blunt. I don't think so. You're fiestiness, combined with your intelect, not only make you, you, they add a wonderful dimension of getting in with both hands and tossing ideas around. Its no wonder you're an author. Your mind (and your heart) are filled with all sorts of creative thought, intellectual ideas, and funny musings. And you're not afriad to express them, think about them outloud, and position yourself in the middle of the mix of swirling ideas and thoughtful discussion. You are wonderful. Simply wonderful. A credit to your family and your profession. And I love how you battle with words, how you throw out cross points, how you defend your points, consider other ideas, and work through your thoughts in public. Its not only a lot of fun, its inspiring.

As for me publishing any works, I have studied writing for some time, and I've tried my hand, and I hope to publish some things in the future.

I'll stop by again soon because I very much enjoy your posts. And I will try to refrain from posting which I rarely do. I meant to point out that a time definition for LDS fiction isn't as black and white as it may appear. And I was trying to do it in a snappy, fiesty way I figured you would appreciate. Dang it. I shouldn't try on other people's voice. It always brands me someone I'm not.

When I publish (soon I hope!) I will let you know.

Keep up the great blog...

Kimberly said...

You have just thoroughly whetted my appetite for the Storymakers bookstore. And I was just grinning like mad as I read this post. In my limited reading I've seen this trend as well and it's one I want to applaud.

Jo said...

That is way good news, I love to hear that institutions change to reflect the people.
There are few things I love more than a good read, thanks for the suggestions!

Michele Ashman Bell said...

What a great post, Annette. LDS Fiction continues to grow and expand in wonderful ways and the talent continues to amaze me. Such an exciting future ahead!

Luisa Perkins said...

This is such great news. I've read several of these, as you know, and they are wonderful additions to not only LDS fiction, but to fiction in general.

Shelley said...

Thanks for the list. I love stories about love, but am against the steamy scenes. Have you read "The Samurai's Garden"? It's a favorite.

New topic, I think chalkboard doors for every kid is a fantastic idea that I will likely steel this weekend. Oh the clever and pithy reminders I will leave for them!

Sheila said...

What an outstanding post Annette! I am thrilled to see so much quality writing coming from LDS writers. You wrote about so many of my favorite authors. I also am so happy that finally Bobby will get the medical help that he has needed all of these years. Thanks Jeff!!

Thank you for all you do for the writing community. When you come to podcast with us next, I would like for us to discuss this topic.
~~~~~~~

Sheila Staley : Book Reviewer
Come visit me at my blog at http://whynotbecauseisaidso.blogspot.com/

Heather said...

I haven't read any of these books, but now I want to. Thanks for the great post.

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