Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Great, Now I Have Guilt

Well I missed my turn yesterday, but since Sariah slid her poopy diaper stories to Monday last week, I figure I get some slack. Besides, who knows if Mr. Rob-I’m-so-cool-I-can-skip-four-weeks-and-still-get-more-comments-than-anyone-when-I-come-back-Wells will post today or not? So, yeah, you came looking for laughs from Rob or potty stories from Sariah, but you’ve got me.

With a build-up like that, you know this is a going to be a good post. But you might be wrong. So don’t get your hopes up. What I wanted to talk about today is writing the stories we want to without guilt. This is a tough topic because as Mormons we think we should feel guilty about something, anything. If we don’t feel guilty, it means we haven’t done anything wrong, which means we think we are perfect, which clearly we are not, which is a sin, which . . . makes us feel guilty. So we might as well just feel guilty in the first place.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a horror novel. I already felt a little guilty about that, because (aside from the fact that it’s what you’re supposed to do) Mormons shouldn’t write horror. We should write stories of conversion, or faith, or—failing that—women who take time out from teaching Primary to catch international crime rings, while falling in love with handsome spies. (Who hopefully discover faith and convert.)

As I was out working on a ward service project, (Yeah, I did that once.) a woman in the ward asked what I was writing. I told her it was a horror novel. She rolled her eyes and said, “Well, I guess that’s what sells.” Which, of course, made me feel guilty. I mean how could you not? People all around you are writing about pioneers, crime-fighting Primary teachers, and faith-promoting stories, and you’re writing about the ghost of a dead boy that is hitting people in the head with an axe. I know! You feel guilty just reading that last sentence when you could have been studying your Gospel Doctrine lesson, right?

So here I am finishing up a story called, The Fourth Nephite. I love this story. It’s a fun mix of fantasy, action, and Church History. I like the character. I like the bad guy. And I get to use some great lines that Joseph Smith actually said, like, “Trying to teach people the gospel is like trying to split a hickory knot with a corn dodger for a wedge and a pumpkin for a mallet.” This is a really fun story that I think will get a lot of kids interested in learning more about Church history. Yay for me right? Right. I am having a ball researching and writing this story.

But then there is this other story I am working on that takes place in Hell. That alone inspires guilt because you’re saying a four letter word every time you tell someone about your book. And then you get to the part where humans have been damned. Now you feel like you have to go wash out your mouth with soap. And just wait until people find out the demons are the good guys!

So the key is to just write LDS books. Except then you get accused of priestcraft. I’m sorry I have to laugh a little bit here. But this is true. I have actually heard people complain that anyone who takes money for writing a book with LDS themes or messages is guilty of priestcraft. The good news is everyone who I’ve heard make this suggestion is a) a wanna be writer, b) cranky by nature, c) slightly or more crazy. But yeah, there are people who think we should never take money for writing books with LDS themes. So there’s something else to feel guilty about.

But here’s the thing. Think of the best novels you have read. The ones that really stayed with you afterward and made you think. Remember those books that touched you in a way no other work of fiction had. Some of those are probably LDS. But I’ll bet many of them are not. Some of them might be clear stories of faith and the gospel. Others could have these same elements woven more subtly into the story. If you are a good person, (and I know you are, even though admitting it might make you feel a little guilty) your stories are going to have strong moral messages even though you didn’t set out to put them there. Your values, your beliefs, your moral compass, will shine through no matter what stories you tell.

Your horror novel might feature a police chief who failed to save his own wife and who is struggling with a belief in the afterlife. Your story about demons might actually be shining a light on the problems with putting ourselves above others, or judging unrighteously. Your romance may point out the hard decisions we have to make when we are faced with what the world thinks we want compared to what we really need. Your fantasy might show how we can turn our weaknesses into strengths.

Think about the best lessons you’ve taught your children. Were they all in church or family home evening? Or did some of them come when you were taking out the trash, or going to a movie, or struggling with a son or daughter’s mistake? Write the stories you love. Write the stories that catch you and call to you as you drift off to sleep. Write the stories that resonate inside you.

Yes there will be decisions to make. Do you include bad language? How much violence is too much? When does a romance scene cross the line? But don’t base those decisions on what someone else might say. People will judge you no matter what your write, and some of them will find you lacking. But if you remain true to yourself, and write the books that touch your heart, for every person who thinks you’ve failed, there will be a dozen who are touched by your words.

There are plenty of reasons to feel guilty. (Like skipping four weeks of posts, Rob!) Don’t let your writing become one of them.


At 12/01/2009 8:07 PM, Blogger Laura said...

I jumped off the diving board and into a new genre. Thanks for the post. I'm feeling a lot less guilty about it. I don't even have to use swear words to tell the story. No, it isn't a horror, thank goodness, but I don't do LDS fiction anyway, so I guess it might not matter what I write.

At 12/01/2009 9:11 PM, Blogger Sheila said...

I love the idea about the crime-fighting Primary teachers. Boy, could I tell you some stories about Primary teachers after I was Primary President for 4 years!

This was a great post always say the best things.

At 12/01/2009 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck with your guilt, Jeff. And the priestcraft.

Hey. Did you know that on blogger, every day can be Monday. No kidding. If you're posting on Rob's day, or Kerry's, or Sariah's, or those two other midweek women, it can still be Monday. You just have to know one little secret.

Go to your edit dialogue box, the place where you write your posts. In the lower left hand corner there is a link that says something like: POST OPTIONS. Click the link and a gray box opens below your input dialogue box. In the upper right hand corner of that gray box is a date and time stamp. Just put in any day you want and then resubmit your post and you're good to go. What's even cooler is that once your post is posted, you can go back and update the date and time stamp for say, December 22nd, 2012 and it will post on your blog with that date two years into the future. That way YOUR post will always be at the top ahead of poppy Sariah, lazy boy Rob, Benevolent Bellon, Crazy-out-of-her-mind California Dreamin Stephanie, and Angel Kerry.

Just thought you'd like to know.

At 12/01/2009 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and another hint.

If you should happen to get your post finished ahead of time, which, for nearly all, if not all, frog bloggers, is probably an astrophysical impossibility, just use the date and time stamp to date it for Monday, or whenever you post and AS LONG AS YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY POSTED YOUR POST, it will cue up in line and post on the date and time you put into the stamp.

Pretty cool, eh?

Try it. You'll like it.

Except Rob who died of paint inhilation while working on Next summer's 24th of July float. So sad.

At 12/01/2009 11:27 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Great post, Jeff. Funny becuase I'm reading a book where the main character blames her responsible, duty-bound, and guilt-filled life on her Puritan ancestors. I guess Mormons aren't the only ones :)

At 12/02/2009 12:31 AM, Blogger Charlie Moore said...

I'm only replying because I'm sick and tired of Rob-whatever you called him-Wells getting the most comments all the time. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be on this blog, but we Idaho Mormons can be a confrontational antagonistic bunch.

I think LDS authors are telling some great stories in several different genres. Many are promoting faith or some other good virtue in their own way. It is good, however, to remind those who read our words that yes, while we write stories of horror, or suspense, or murder, or international espionage, we are still, in real life, good card carrying (temple recommend) Mormons who always put our Lord first and if the reader looks closely enough the uplifting message is always there. But, hey, when your doing this for a living (I am not), you must write what a publisher believes will sell.

If I see Rob-whatever you called ... Wells getting a ton of comments on his next post, I will post here again with more arbitrary comments that really don't amount to anything coherent just to keep you in the lead.

Good luck with all your writing, Jeff. And, only one service project??? You need to beef up that statistic.


At 12/02/2009 12:57 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

I've been feeling guilty lately. Several weeks ago -- or is it months now? -- I finished a very long fanfic novella and immediately announced I was going to turn my talents to LDS literature. Then I was struck by writer's block. I could not think of a single thing to write that would fit the LDS market. Nothing worked. Nothing inspired me. I could not think of a plot. Or characters. Or anything. I began to doubt my own abilities and see myself as a slacker and a failure.

Then I opened up a file on my computer that I had made over a year ago and promptly forgotten about. It was an outline for (you guessed it) a fanfic. But the story caught me and wouldn't let go. I found myself thinking about it when I was falling asleep, and waking up, and brushing my teeth, and even (gasp!) when I knelt down to say my prayers. What else could I do but start writing? It's coming along nicely now, with litle details leaping into my imagination all the time. I'm slowly getting over my doubts about my writing abilities. I might just be able to produce something good after all, even if it's not what I originally hoped for. Thank you for helping me not to feel guilty that I'm not writing LDS lit (at least not yet.)

I just wish someone would pay me for my fanfics, though.

At 12/02/2009 11:11 AM, Blogger Josi said...

Do you feel guilty that I read your post instead of washing my dishes? I hope not, because it was time well spent. Great post, great points; much needed.

At 12/02/2009 11:53 AM, Blogger T.J. said...

I don't think you should feel guilty. Shoot, when people look at me in disgust for things I have done I just read Matthew 7:5-7 to them and ask them what they've done wrong in their life. Ok, I don't really do that, but you know that if more people took that scripture to heart there'd be a lot less eye-rolls a whole lot less guilt.

At 12/02/2009 1:09 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Jeff and Anon, you can schedule your post ahead of time even if you have already posted it. Go to your dashboard, click on edit posts, then edit for the post you want to change. Go to the options as before and change your date and time stamp, then click the save now button. After you have done that, hit the publish button and you have now published a previously published post at a different time.


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