Monday, April 20, 2015

The Future of the "Mormon Novel"

Nephi Anderson forged the path of the Mormon Novel with Added Upon. While the work was revolutionary in it's own right, it soon gave way to works of more palpable aesthetic and further creativity such as Mountains Between Us and Will Wonders Never Cease.

I certainly hope the pioneering will not end with these works. Instead, I hope we will continue to improving and expanding the tradition, particularly in the following areas:

Mormon-inspired National Market Novels:
Should LDS literature only be for LDS people? 
Maybe not.
Can people outside our culture still appreciate and understand the experiences and feelings of Mormons? 
I think yes. Mormons have a lot to offer. 

I appreciated, in words of Luisa Perkins, novels that are "profoundly LDS, but not overtly LDS." Since authors in general are (obviously) inspired by what they personally see and experience, it makes perfect sense for LDS authors take the peculiar aspects of their rebellion, lives, and cultures ro inspire novels. Orson Scott Card used our LDS heritage to inspire Seventh Son. Our beliefs in Joseph Smith and restoration are intriguing and spectacular--what else goes in a novel-writing formula?
Going along the same vein, Luisa Perkins explored the possibilities tied with our beliefs in body and spirits and took creative libertiesto complicate and push ideas of spirit and body further. Perkins published her novel with a LDS Publishing company, but like Card, she wrote a Mormon-inspired story that didn't require a Mormon reader.

Mormon Characters for General Audiences
Even better, I recently read LDS author Emily Wing Smith's Back When You Were Easier to Love published by Penguin Group. This book feature an LDS girl, struggling to fit in with Mormon culture in Utah, but it was written to a wider audience (as obvious by the publisher). This book was more masterfully written than many of the other Mormon novels I've read this semester, and I have no doubt a non-LDS reader would enjoy it just as much as an LDS one.

Along the same lines, A.E. Cannon wrote a successful historical fiction novel featuring a newly-converted LDS girl traveling from England to Utah to join the saints. Though I've yet to read it, I know the novel focuses her experiences on her voyage, caring for a baby who's mother died on board. Doesn't that sound appealing to more audiences than the LDS one? I'd hope for more of this kind of novel. If there's books about Jews and Catholics and Muslims enjoyed by people of all faiths, why not Mormons too?

National Market Worthy Novels for LDS Audiences:
Now, it does make sense that some explorations would be bogged down with Mormon culture explanations and are therefore best written for a specifically LDS audience. I don't think there's anything wrong with this genre, and it some cases it might be prefered. However, I can't stress enough that wish the stylistic crafting will continue to reach higher standards. As someone interested in publishing YA, I've taken classes severally creative writing classes from nationally published authors and read as much as I can to become a better YA writer.

Of course, I've still got a long way to go (hoping to find an agent for my first novel by December), but even with my small experience, I can recognize the major writing flaws in many of the books we have read (see my Jenny Proctor post for more specifics). While I liked each book, I couldn't fully enjoy the majority of them because of the rookie mistakes that I've trained to see and correct.And even though other people not as interesting in publishing may not be able to name the problems coming up in these novels, they still affect the how they feel about the novel.

It's not that these authors are bad writers, but in my maybe-not-humble-enough opinion, they are not ready to publish. They need to hone their craft further: mastering show don't tell, developing character, trimming wordiness, correcting unnatural dialogue, etc.

Why wouldn't we want future Mormon authors can write to skill level of nationally-published authors?

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