Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Poll for Readers, or Please Write My Blog For Me

by Stephanie Black

In last week’s blog, I discussed the question Jeff Savage raised about formulas in genre novels and how irked I would be if a mystery ended with the crime not solved. A post by Steven in the comment trail sparked a brief discussion about reader expectations for LDS fiction. Today I’d like to continue that discussion.

What are the formulas for LDS fiction—or are there any (beyond the fact that readers expect it to be clean)? For example, Steven suggested that people expect the climax of the book to highlight an LDS teaching (“The Lesson”), even in humorous fiction. (Steven, I hope you don’t mind my borrowing your comments for this blog—I found them very interesting).

What are YOUR expectations when you pick up an LDS novel? Do those expectations apply no matter what type of LDS novel you’re reading (mystery, romance, suspense, sci fi, historical, literary, etc.)?

If you feel there are formulas that apply to LDS fiction, do you like or dislike those formulas? For example, if you expect that an LDS novel will have specifically LDS content—characters who are members of the church, references to the church and so on--would it bother you if a novel didn’t contain specific LDS references?

What would induce you to pick up an LDS novel over a national market novel? Or vice versa?

Do you read the same genre in LDS fiction that you do in the national market? (For instance, you read both LDS and national market historicals) or do you have different reading tastes for national and LDS books (you read LDS romances but national mysteries)?

What would you like to see more of in the LDS market?

I am now attentively awaiting your feedback. Post away!


At 5/31/2006 3:23 PM, Blogger Sweebler said...

I rarely read LDS fiction, unless you mail it to me. Although, I did just purchase Jeffery Savage's House of Secrets, but I'm saving that for when I have jury duty next week.

I don't read it because I live on the East Coast, 3 hours from the closest LDS bookstore, and there is no such thing in my library, and I'm too wimpy to ask the librarian about inter-library loan.

But, now that I've gotten that out of the way. The thing that turns me off the most from LDS fiction is when it has the "lesson" in it. If lessons are learned, fine. But I don't want a big build up to, "Why, breaking the law of chastity does lead to heartbreak! While Alma was right, Wickedness never was happiness! I'm so glad I read this book."

I just want a good story. I'm not picky about genre, I just want to relate or like the characters (when I was reading The Poisonwood Bible--not LDS fiction--I kept rooting for the ants to finish the people off, they were all so annoying and stupid. Go ants!).

If I want a lesson I'll read non-fiction.

At 5/31/2006 3:43 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

I want good to triumph over evil whether I'm reading LDS fiction or general fiction. I enjoy most genres except science fiction that is too far afield and horror of the blood and evil variety--the Poe type is fine. I don't like preachy, moralistic novels. The subtle message that comes through as part of the action is fine, but I don't want to be hit over the head or have a blatant "lesson" explained to me. If there are LDS elements to the story, I want them doctrinally accurate. I also prefer action to cerebral plots and a hero and heroin I can like and respect. I could go on, but that will do for now.

At 5/31/2006 8:47 PM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

I agree, if there is a "lesson" it better not be presented as "And thus we see. . ."

I also don't want doctine explained to death either. If your character is joining the church, fine, just don't reprint every missionary discussion as part of the exposition. Assume your readers are familiar with the basics and let the plot determine what doctrine gets brought out by showing it not by preaching it.

I rarely buy LDS fiction unless it has been highly recommended by someone who shares my tastes. I rarely buy fiction at all because I am unlikely to re-read it/use it as a reference. So someone has to really sell me on it. (Robison E you'll be pleased to know that Stephanie Black insisted I buy your book--because of the creative swearing among other things).

p.s. to jennie--I think you meant heroine instead of heroin :) Of course that could be another example of good over evil.

At 5/31/2006 9:07 PM, Blogger Steven said...

To kind of argue against myself in a way, it would seem that tastes are changing.

Ten, fifteen years ago readers expected the teaching point to be a little bit more obvious. Or maybe that's just a function of how old I was then. (And never mind what that was.) And maybe that was a function of the fact that back then you could find a larger percentage of mainstream novels that were clean.

Nowadays it's harder. So perhaps more people are simply looking for good clean fiction out of LDS authors.

One could argue that in a way the very cleanness of the novel is the teaching point. Who knows? I'd be willing to bet, however, that if the novel didn't have some point where there was at least a subtle teaching moment, they'd notice subconsciously. I did say "subtle" in my comments last week, just to be clear.

I, personally, don't like every book to have a big old hammer whack me on the head with some lesson or other. I expect it from Jack Weyland just because that's what he does - you have to admit he's not exactly subtle about it, either. But I wouldn't expect it from Clair Poulson, for example. (I hope I spelled that name right - I'm too lazy to go check at the moment.)

So I guess my original knee-jerk comment last week was too simple. LDS fiction is becoming a more beefy and less simple overgenre. Even the subgenres within it are changing and evolving. I think this is good, but at the same time it has to change in a direction that readers are willing to accept. What is that direction? Who knows. If I knew, I'd be writing that exact book right now.

I suppose what would bother me the most was if the novel started out one way then all of a sudden changed on me and became something else entirely. I always introduce the book to the wall at that point, no matter what genre it is. I want internal consistency. I want at least one plot line to be clearly delineated as the main plot from start to end. Subplots can jump in and out all they want, but the main plot really needs to be there all the way through.

It's not just LDS fiction that has the potential to teach lessons. It's just that LDS fiction has, historically, restrained itself to LDS-related lessons. Does that make sense? If I read a LDS fiction book that was just a basic detective novel, I wouldn't expect a big fat LDS-ish lesson, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a little subtle undertone of variations on "crime doesn't pay." And if it had a soupcon of LDS-ness, well, I suppose that wouldn't bother me unduly.

Now that I've totally contradicted myself three or four times, I think I'll stop now. And merely close with this - as LDS fiction becomes less simple, what people expect of it becomes less easy to predict. With perhaps the single exception that it be clean. And, really, if we can write exciting, gripping fiction that is clean, isn't that a victory in itself?

At 5/31/2006 11:14 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

P.S. to mean aunt. My computer has a learning disability I fear. It can't spell, it puts spaces where I don't want spaces, leaves off capitals, and commits unpardonable grammatic sins. It's a good thing I have a really good editor when it comes to my books--it also helps when I cut my fingernails.

Steven, I agree that LDS fiction has changed in recent years and is still changing. I believe for the better. Writers like Betsy Green and Clair Poulson write primarily to entertain. If there's another message it is incidental. There are still some writers who write romances where the heroine gets out of her scrapes due to a man or a miracle, some who cram a doctrinal point or a principle down our throats, but there are more of us, I think, who are simply trying to tell a good story within the framework of our own LDS beliefs and standards.

At 5/31/2006 11:23 PM, Anonymous rakrose said...

I agree with all of the above. I don't want to be preached to. And I really don't like it when everyone in the book joins the Church. (Thank you, Stephanie, for not baptising anyone in your first book.) I want a little reality.

I expect LDS genre fiction to follow the basic genre conventions. You can throw in some twists, but the girl and guy better get together in the romance (or have a really good reason why they don't), I want good to triumph, and I want my mysteries solved--at least to a point. (It's okay to do an X-MEN ending. Everyone knows to stay through the end of the credits, right?)

At 6/01/2006 11:04 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Many thanks to everyone for their comments! And thanks to Steven for providing the spark for the blog and for the clarification--I apologize profoundly for not being more clear in restating your comments from last week.

I agree that what I want from LDS fiction is a gripping, clean story. Religious elements should be integral to the story and true to the characters so they form a natural and compelling part of the tale, not something that feels preachy or extraneous. In some LDS novels, the specific religious elements may be vital and the message plainly stated; in other novels, the message may simply be the unstated "good will triumph". Either method can work--as long as the story is compelling and believable.

At 6/03/2006 11:55 AM, Blogger annegb said...

Stephanie, you are masochistic--you had to know I would be reading this :).

I'm reading The Backslider by Levi Peterson, he has a part at the end where Jesus is talking to this guy, man to man. Jesus just says, "work on your problems, man." Basically.

I read Cage of Stars by Jaquelyn Mitchard, recently, she isn't LDS, her book was made into a movie,she's not the best writer, okay, period. Run on sentence :).
She tried to describe Mormonism (her main character was Mormon), she said she had a Mormon friend help her.

Know what? It sucked.

Kerry's book was good, it didn't sugar coat our lives, Jeff's a good writer ( that's all I've read)--I don't need the gutter, but I would like to see a real representation of life as I know it.

At 6/04/2006 10:51 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I admit, it did occur to me that I was taking a bit of a risk with this topic, annegb ;-)

Thanks for your comments!


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