Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Great Mormon Novel

Musing over many things lately.

On the writing side of things, I was getting very discouraged because I keep getting rejections, and I haven't looked at my novel for a while so I'm not sure it's any good anyway, and I just couldn't get excited and into writing the next novel. So I stopped to re-evaluate, and realized that I need to just go back to writing what I feel like writing, telling my stories for me with no other audience in mind, and stop worrying about selling them. That's what the editing phase is for. Then I realized that I've been only querying agents who specialize in fantasy, but that is probably the wrong approach because, while the "Poison Spindle Problem" could be classified as fantasy, the next two novels I am working on are definitively NOT fantasy. One is a Western, and the other is a Thriller (complete with terrorists and plots to destroy Las Vegas). So getting a Sci-fi/Fantasy agent for my career would be a mistake--most of what I'm going to write is not sci-fi or fantasy. So I got on the agents search website and looked up agents that do both fantasy and thrillers. Only 12 came up. Six of them already sent rejection letters. One of the other twelve actually requested my stuff and we lost the packet before mailing it--and then the whole job thing and the whole Christmas thing and the whole get home thing came up, and I haven't thought about it since then. I couldn't find any info online that made me excited about her, anyway.

So today I decided to rethink, and I looked her up online again and realized that last time I misspelled her last name. So the only info I got about her came from people who also misspelled her last name. This time, spelling her name right, I found out that she is the managing agent of an agency that was established in 1928 and is the agency for such well-known people as Mary Higgins Clark and the estate of John Steinbeck. Had I found out this info before I sent the query, it never would have gone out because she's not listed on many sites as specializing in the areas I think I write. But she does specialize in "Women's Fiction," which could include what I write, I think. Doesn't matter--she wanted to see more. So tonight I wrote I nice letter apologizing for the delay and sent her what she asked for. Why WOULDN'T I want to work with one of the top agents at one of the top agencies?

She'll probably say no, too (as have three of the top agencies after looking at my stuff), but it's flattering that she wanted to see more!

So, with that encouragement, I have been once again pondering that recurring question that comes up among intellectual Mormon writers: Is there, and will there ever be, "The Great Mormon Novel"? It is parallel to the "Great American Novel" debate that will never be settled. It always comes up among my writing friends, who are all sure that Mormons ought to be writing great literature but they aren't for some reason and why is that? Is it that "Everyone who is good never suffers" belief that seems to permeate the church? Or the "Righteousness is rewarded with financial gain" belief? Or that Mormon men and women are too busy to write? Or too out of touch with struggles? Or is it that the way we solve problems is something we don't want to splash around in a "literary" novel? Are we afraid people won't understand so we just don't talk? Are Mormons afraid of real honesty with themselves? And why is it that everyone who seems to be writing Mormon Literary Fiction is apostate? And why do non-apostates either write "inspirational" literature, or gospel commentary, or "relationship" books?

And then, after all those questions, finally the most pertinent questions to the debate surface: What exactly is a "great" novel, and what exactly is a "mormon" novel? Those two things must be defined in order determine which book most closely fits the classification. And those things are much harder to define than they seem.

Tim says the "Great Mormon Novel" has been written. By Orson Scott Card. And it's called "Lost Boys." He says it is a fabulous picture of what it means to be Mormon, and how our culture works, both in pleasant times and under stress, and all the foibles and strenghts of the culture. And, using the Great American Novel debate as a paradigm, he says that fits most closely with what people are looking for.

But Mormons reject it because it deals with touchy issues that Mormons like to pretend don't exist (priesthood holders who are pedophiles?). And because Card SWEARS in his book.

So can the "Great Mormon Novel" be one that is rejected by Mormons for not following the standards they have set? (I personally like Card's work. He is a fabulous writer).

I always come from the debates saying, "Fine. I'll write the Great Mormon Novel." And then I think about it more clearly and say, "Oh, yeah. The Great anything Novel has to be literary fiction, and I don't read or write that kind of crap." And why is it that so many of the members I know who like "Literary Fiction" don't actually believe in the church? Is the key to the whole issue?

But it always leads to a second debate for me, which I DON'T bring up with my Intellectual friends. That is: Where is all the Escapist fiction written by Mormons to Mormon standards? Mormons balk at reading works by Mormons that has swearing or graphic sex in it (nobody seems to mention violence, but that bothers me a lot), but they want to read escapist fiction, so they read the same stuff (swearing, violence, sex) written by non-members. So if people are going to read for fun anyway, why aren't we producing stuff that's fun to read and Clean--to our standards?

You are countering, Yes, but there's Heimerdinger. And The Work and The Glory. And Charly. Yes. But three is not enough. And not everyone likes historical fiction and romance.

And why not write stuff that is "Mormon", and Mormon appropriate, but also accessible to a general audience? There are a few who are doing this--and this is what I think Mormon writers should be doing. Anne Perry does it. Card does (although there is that swearing issue). And there are a couple of others (Mom reads a series where the protagonist is a detective who also is a member, I assume written by a member).

And this seems to be the real issue. Far more important than the "Great Mormon Novel" issue. Why are we not flooding the world with good, edifying literature (and art, and film), that tells great, fun stories that are exciting, entertaining, and righteous? I personally know several authors (Jon included) who have the talent and the ideas. And Satan is doing his part to flood the earth with trash. So why not counter, and fill the earth with great fun stuff? They can even be Mormon stories, but isn't it time to stop excluding the rest of the world from our art and make great stuff that everyone can enjoy? Surely we can do that without denying who and what we are, and without making a spectacle of sacred things....

Now that is a challenge I think I can take up.

1 comment:

morelightthanburden said...

Honestly, I have wondered if part of the reason we aren't flooding the world is because we are all too busy trying to keep up with all the basic 'requirements' of our religion; families, meetings, community, missionary work, food storage, genealogy . . . I think it is hard to take all the time, energy, emotion and focus to do these works.

We were actually having this discussion at Christmastime with my family, though mostly focused on the the theater-music industry (as that is where most of my family's efforts seem to focus). We spoke of how there aren't really any top LDS entertainers on Broadway. We came down to a few reasons; they are not willing to make the compromises that must usually be made to rise to the top in the industry (immodest costumes, language, scenes, etc.).

Second, the idea that to 'give over to your muse,' as it were, is something that is usually very hard to do and stay grounded in reality--at least in the Gospel sense. Is this impossible to do? No, but very difficult.