Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

If You're Looking for a Good Read . . .

by Stephanie Black

I’m usually an “entertainment” reader when it comes to fiction. Though it makes me sound a bit shallow, I’ll admit I’m not on the hunt for deep, profound, instructive novels. I want a fun read. If I learn something in the course of the story, awesome, but what interests me most is the story itself. Is it compelling? Do I care about the characters? Am I eager to find out what happens or is it one of those “I paid fourteen dollars for this book and I'm going to finish it if it kills me” experiences? In the case of LDS fiction, are doctrinal or spiritual elements woven seamlessly into the story, enriching it while not feeling preachy, or tending to bring the plot to a screeching halt?

But a good story is not enough. I also care about the writing. As I’m sure my fellow writers can attest, once you start studying and writing fiction yourself, you become WAY more picky of a reader. Things that I never would have noticed before now irritate me. So I want a good story and good writing.

Recently I read a book that not only filled both these requirements for a good read (good story plus good writing), but also included the bonus of teaching me something. I’m not opposed to learning something in my fiction, see. I just don’t want the story to drag or stop in order for the learning to take place, and in the case of Tristi Pinkston’s compelling Season of Sacrifice, the story moves along at a rapid pace.

I was particularly interested in this book because it deals with the story of the “Hole in the Rock” pioneers who settled the San Juan, and I had ancestors at Hole in the Rock. Season of Sacrifice centers around Tristi’s ancestor, Ben Perkins, and his two wives, sisters Mary Ann and Sarah Williams. Ben, with experience gained in the mines in Wales, played a vital role in blasting the way through the rock, allowing the pioneers to run their wagons down an extremely steep cliff in order to fulfill the call they’d been given to settle the San Juan Valley.

The courage and tenacity demonstrated by these pioneers is astounding. When seemingly insurmountable obstacles loomed, they conquered them through tremendous faith, determination and sheer guts. I’m kind of scared of steep hills, and the thought of sending a wagon down a rock chute—I’m thinking that riding the paved hills of San Francisco in a minivan is enough for me. Climbing in a wagon and shooting down the side of a mountain would have been terror beyond terror for me! But these faithful pioneers wouldn’t let anything stop them. The Lord had called them to settle the San Juan and they were going to do it, no matter what it took. And they succeeded.

Ironically, the most emotionally wrenching part of the story comes after the pioneers have settled in their new home. Ben knows that it is time for him to fulfill the counsel given in his patriarchal blessing and take a second wife. He’s been happily married to Mary Ann for many years, but now knows that Mary Ann’s sister, Sarah, is the woman who should be his second wife. This decision is fraught with pain for both sisters and for Ben as they struggle to do as the Lord has required of them. Reading of their struggles was an eye-opener for me. It’s so easy to put the early saints on a pedestal and think oh, they were so strong and so faithful that of course they could deal with this requirement without batting an eye. But this was incredibly hard for them, and I was so caught up in their lives that when the story ended, I felt like, “No! I want more! Go on!”

Season of Sacrifice is a compelling and inspiring story of people whose faith could move mountains—whether that meant blasting through rock or blasting through mountains of emotional pain. Kudos to Tristi Pinkston for sharing the story of these faithful people.


At 5/21/2008 7:51 PM, Blogger Melanie J. said...

I was really caught by your comment on how as a writer, you've become a much pickier reader. As a fledgling writer, I thought it might be a unique experience to subconciously parse everything I read now. It's distracting, especially when (as you said) something that would have been fine before now makes me flinch because I can see the seams where it was put together and the writing feels heavy handed. On the other hand, I totally dig great writing in a whole new way. The turn of a phrase, a well-developed character, thoughtful conflicts and resolutions....all give me a satisfied little thrill. I guess I'm wondering if, as I take even more classes and continue to write, in your experience will the distraction eventually fade or get worse?

At 5/22/2008 1:04 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I don't think the distraction will fade, unfortunately! You'll have your own ideas of what makes good technique and will find it jarring when a book doesn't meet those standards. But writers have very different viewpoints on what constitutes good writing, so what one writer finds jarringly bad, another might find wonderful. It can be so subjective.

For me, how much I'm enjoying a book overall has a lot to do with how picky I am. If I'm really gripped by the story, I won't nitpick as much because I'll read right past issues that would have bugged me in a book I didn't find as gripping.


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