Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mormons in Fantasy

Stephenie Meyer, Orson Scott Card, Brandon Sanderson, Shannon Hale, Tracy Hickman, Janette Rallison, Brandon Mull, Jessica Day George, James Dashner, Mette Harrison, Lindsey Leavitt, and more that I’ve forgotten. It seems as if there are many Mormon (short for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Not an acronym, but a long story) SF/F YA authors.

First off let me be clear, I am not trying to convert or push specific beliefs on anyone. However, some of you know I’m Mormon. All of you know I write. A few of you know I like to write and read MG and YA fantasy, or at least ones with fantastical elements. And it’s curious to me that people of my faith choose to write in fantasy, specifically young adult fantasy.

My Tai chi teacher (not Mormon) teases me that it’s because we’re more open to believing in the extraordinary. He’s teasing that he thinks we’re easily deluded. While I laugh good-naturedly at the joke, I think he might have something there. We are encouraged to be a creative people and to develop our talents. We also DO believe in things fantastical. We believe the church was restored through God the Father and his son Jesus Christ to a boy prophet and that scripture of the ancient people on the North American continent was held in reserve to be translated by that boy. We believe in old and living prophets, miracles, priesthood ministry, and a pre-mortal life—all topics hard to fathom.

A year and a half ago, The Boston Globe wrote an article on what they called a “surge” of Mormons publishing in young adult literature. (You can read the article here.) The article mentions how many writers are drawn to writing books for younger audiences, especially fantasies. They speculate Mormons are attracted to younger books because they are generally cleaner. (If we’re talking MG I’d agree, but YA as a whole doesn’t really have any boundaries that coincide with mine.) Another reason they give is that we are a family and child-centered organization and want to create more books kids would read. (Maybe that has some weight… then again many religions feel the same.)

The truth is I’m not convinced there is a high trend of Mormons than there is of any other religion publishing right now. YA alone is seeing a surge of writers independent of an author’s profile. There are almost 14 million Mormons but I couldn’t tell you the percentage that write books no more than I know how many Lutherans or atheists do.

What I think prompts the appearance of a lot of Mormon authors in YA is the prominence of a few in the last decade (Ahem… Stephenie Meyer). And kind of like everyone making a big deal about JFK being Catholic when he was elected president, a religion different than what’s been seen in that profession in the past is one that will make the news. Then again, I could be wrong, I often am. :)

So…

I’d love to hear what you think, whether you agree with me or whether you have other thoughts concerning ANY spiritual persuasion creating a preference in writing genre. (NOTE: Please be respectful of every visitor’s feelings, though! We are talking religion here, something not discussed without deep emotions.)

57 comments:

  1. I think it could possibly have an effect on what you put in your work - even if it's just an aspect of religious culture. For example, I'm a practicing Catholic, and I typically will have Catholic references (jokes sometimes) or traditions, even if it's not meant to be religious. Doesn't mean that religion necessarily has anything to do with writing, it's just a part of ourselves that we sometimes include in the story.

    Great post!

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  2. I think you have good thoughts here on why Mormons are writing and publishing so much YA fiction. I think it's also just part of a trend - which oftentimes have so many layers to them that it's impossible to separate out why things are happening. Still, I think your thoughts here are one of those layers.

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  3. Kathryn: I think you are absolutely right. Our religion is a big part of who we are and our cultural experiences, but not all. Thanks for your great insights!

    Michelle: Good point about the layers!

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  4. I think belief is a big part of who we all are--regardless of what that belief is--and it will seep into your story because your beliefs are what drive your own moral compass.

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  5. I think everything we believe in comes out in our writing. An agent once told me one of the reasons so many Mormons were getting published was because their work was refreshing. I like that. =D

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  6. Interesting post.

    I think there are trends in everything. Stephenie Meyer made it big, which encouraged other writers of her faith to write. The bigger impact was the increase in vampire books.

    Two decades ago, grunge hit the scene. I think it made record producers look at what was going on in Seattle more seriously. Maybe Meyer gave Mormon writers a bigger chance. Or not, because it's not like most of us state our religion in our queries.

    What are the stats for ex-Catholics who converted to Judaism? I want to hop on that publishing train!

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  7. Whoa! I just blogged about a weird experience I had the other day regarding this sort of topic. Have a read I'd love to hear your opinion on it :)

    www.damselinadirtydress.com

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  8. Interesting post. I'm Mormon but don't write either YA or Fantasy. Wonder where that puts me LOL.

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  9. I didn't know about Stephanie Meyer being Mormon. I also didn't know about the idea of Mormons publishing more fantasy than other genres. I'm not convinced that's true but I don't know enough about it to form an opinion. I found your thoughts on the issue fascinating, in that Mormons like creative ideas and different possibilities.

    I've never really thought about the idea of a religion or faith gravitating towards one genre over another but there might be some truth in it. I'll have to do more research.

    Great post, Jackee!

    Jai

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  10. I want to apologize for all these duplicates. Blogger went crazy. It booted me off. It gave me an error message. Then all the comments appeared.

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  11. I agree your faith definitely affects your work and what you write - no matter how much you try to escape it (if you want to...).

    Interesting question, Jackee!

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  12. Aren't we kind of "pushed" towards fantasy as children anyway? How many childrens books AREN'T some what based on fictional/fantastical characters?

    So maybe the question could be, what makes Mormons stick to the fantasy genre as we grow up? Do we stay there more than other religions? Is it because we tend to STAY more religious through our adult life, more so than adults in other religions, so the "fantastical" concepts (like you point out) of religion, deity, and immortal life are more comfortable for us?

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  13. I've noticed the number of Mormon MG and YA writers though didn't make the SF/F connection. Interesting and probably right on.

    I'm a Christian, and my faith definitely plays into what I write, though never overtly. I hope kids walk away from my books knowing of their dignity and worth.

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  14. Laura: Too true! And I think that goes with anyone's moral compass, no matter what their reglious beliefs.

    Carolyn: Thanks so much for sharing what that agent said. I like that too! :o)

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  15. Theresa: LOL! I sent you email in response, but I'm going to reply here too because your comment was so cute. You bring up some great points about Stephenie Meyer and I think you might be right. Writers might not state what their religion is in their queries, but they think, "well if she, another Mormon, can do it then maybe I can too." People always tell me that SM was a Mormon so that means I should a) either hit her up to get me published or b) if she did it as a Mormon than I should be able too. :o) People are funny!


    Nicole: Awesome! I'll check it out.

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  16. Karen: That puts you in a class by yourself. LOL! Which means we ALL adore you. I guess I could say I end up writing more historical too (though kid’s books still).

    Jai: I’m not convinced of it with Mormons either. But if you do research religion and genre influence, I’d love to see what you come up with!

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  17. Lots of interesting comments! ;) I went and read the article in the Boston Globe and I love what Berry said, "Scripture is the ultimate fantastic literature. Everything else is milquetoast compared to the parting of the Red Sea."
    I hadn't thought of that aspect before, but it is so true. Scripture reads like fantasy,... no wonder we are drawn to reading that genre! :) Glad you put this post out there!

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  18. Talli: I think you’re right. Even when it’s unintentional! :o)

    Janille: Certainly the first books English-speakers give their kids have fantastical elements. And those are excellent questions. If you ever have some more thoughts on their answers, I’d love to hear! :o)

    Caroline: That’s exactly how I feel. I don’t mean to choose one genre (within kid’s books) more than another or preach a moral or Jesus Christ, but sometimes those elements creep in covertly, without intention. Can’t wait to read May B.!

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  19. Brooke: That was my favorite quote from the article too. :o) So the question follows, is it a Judeo-Christian genre attachment more than a Mormon attachment then?

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  20. Wow. This is a VERY interesting post, Jackee. And the comment thread is very interesting too. I think we are likely to include pieces of who we are and what we believe in our writing, whether intentionally or subconsciously. And I love Carolyn V.'s comment about Mormon stories feeling refreshing. :-)

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  21. How interesting and very intriguing! I've never really thought of one writing genre appealing more to a certain religion!

    I'm really intrigued.

    But I always like how the spirituality of a religion is used positively in creating art be it in architecture, in paintings, music, poetry.. spiritual beliefs can be so life-affirming and beautiful when used this way, I think!

    Thanks for a very thoughtful piece! take care
    x

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  22. Thanks for this interesting article, Jackee.

    I have noticed the number of Mormons in the genre, and a lot of my writer-blogger-friends are Mormon (like you!). There also seem to be a lot of female Mormon writers. I've wondered if it's because the Mormon church likes women to stay home with their children, and as a result there are a lot of highly educated Mormon women who need a creative outlet?

    I'm a college-educated woman who stays home with my kids and I write. So, even though I'm a Christian and not Mormon, I kind of support my own general theory on the subject. (Ooh, but wait, I don't write fantasy! Darn.) ;)

    Amy

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  23. hi miss jackee! i gotta admit i dont know so much about mormons or even about religon stuff. i just think its part of how we got raised that come out in what we write. i could see stuff my mom taught me in my words and stuff i got from sunday school when i was real little. i dont guess its so important who writes what just so its good.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  24. I remember reading Kirsten White's post about one of the possible reasons for the (maybe?) high percentage of Mormon YA writers is due to many Mormons being stay-at-home moms, the result of the family-oriented Mormon culture. Combined that with the possible emphasis on literature, this could be one of the reasons.

    But I definitely do agree that the percentage isn't as high as it seems -- or as people make it out to be. The number might be inflated due to some of the more prominent bestselling authors being Mormons.

    Emy Shin (my new blog)

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  25. I don't know the answers! I'm a Christian, and I know that sometimes I organically include some of those beliefs in a story. Or maybe it's not even the religion I've included, but more a way of life. When I read a good book, I never care who wrote it or why. I just love reading a good story.

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  26. I really don't think Stephenie Meyer is to blame for more Mormons being published now. Most of the LDS people I know who are published now--known names like Shannon Hale, Brandon Sanderson, et al--were published before Twilight ever came out. She might have made people more *aware* of other Mormons, but I really don't think that she caused too many bandwagon writers.

    Even people published years later, like Aprilynne Pike, were her contemporaries (they shared a writing group back in the day), not followers.

    I would say that the great children's lit community in Utah, including an active, informative SCBWI and some really great conferences (WIFYR, LTUE, Conduit, World Horror 1 year, etc etc, not to mention the huge emphasis within Mormon communities on amateur writing for journals, Primary programs, etc.), not to mention a great writing program at BYU (I took some really great children's writing classes there in 2000-2001, when Stephenie Meyer was also still just a student learning to write), are more likely to be the root of the issue than anything Stephenie Meyer did singlehandedly.

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  27. I've seen similar posts in the last few months. I don't look into the private lives of any of the authors I read. As a general rule, all I know is what they put on the book flap "Married with two dogs and lives in X" so I wouldn't be able to identify any trends.

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  28. Interesting question! I don't often think much about the religion or other background info of authors.

    I wonder if trends might spring from someone advertising one aspect of their bio (example religion) and therefore becoming a role model for others in the same group. Good discussion! :)

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  29. i think fantasy is one of the best vehicles for showing that there's good and evil in the world, and that it can be overcome if you have the faith to do it. very good, thought-provoking post.

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  30. Interesting question. But I think I agree with you that there aren't necessarily more percentage-wise than any other particular religion. Stephanie Meyer's amazing success does stand out, though, so perhaps that's why people have noticed.

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  31. Shannon: I believe you’re right! We certainly can speak from our experiences better than the alternative as writers.

    Old Kitty: These are great thoughts! I agree about art and etc. One of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had was standing in front of the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica.

    Amy: I certainly prove that theory too. :o) It wasn’t until I wanted to stay home (rather than finish the PhD I was working on) that the floodgates of stories reopened. You might have something there I hadn’t noticed!

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  32. Lenny: “just so it’s good” Truer words never spoken, Lenny! Nothing else matters but that.

    Sandy: I’ll have to see if I can find Kiersten’s blog post. I didn’t know she had one about this topic! I can tell you of the 84 writer friends I have on Facebook, 33% are Mormons who write some form of fantasy and all moms. So maybe I’m wrong and there is something to a high number of Mormons writing in YA.

    Julie: I never care either, just as long as it’s fairly “clean”. You bring up a marvelous point; it is more a way of life rather than a religious, subconscious agenda.

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  33. Stacy: Sorry if I implied that I blamed Stephenie Meyer. Rather, I mean exactly as you say—she made people more aware. I knew and loved the work of the authors you mentioned long before I knew what Twilight was because I read their genres more. And I don’t think Mormon authors coming out are bandwagoners at all, I am just surprised when their religious affiliation comes up. Thanks for sharing those great ideas as to why Utah might have a higher abundance of writers. That’s really cool about Aprilynne Pike—I didn’t know that!

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  34. Jones: Ooooooooh….. aaaaaaaaahhhhh….. :o)

    Vicki: You’ll have to point me to the other posts you’ve seen because here I thought I was touching a horrible taboo talking about religion. It took every ounce of courage I had to post it! LOL!

    Jemi: If it’s a good story, it’s a good story, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter where it comes from, like any other avenue of entertainment and art. :o) I can’t remember where I saw it, but a blog a couple years ago posted a lamentation that the blog’s author couldn’t get published unless he was a Mormon mom with three kids. He could have been kidding, but sure made me think what kind of weight goes into a bio!

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  35. Michelle: Great idea—I forgot about that one! Good and evil and black and white are axioms in both fantasy books and religion that would appeal to many religions. :o)

    Janet: I think you’re right, but I don’t know the percentages. :o) In any case, thank you so much for understanding what I was trying to say! It means a lot.

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  36. Interesting post. I think all writers reveal their world view to some respect when they write. I'm a Christian and I know I do, though I don't focus on it purposely.

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  37. Great post - I don't think I know any more about authors than what's on their official bios (except JK Rowling, because I also saw that special a couple years back ;) ).

    It's an interesting thought that one's religion can influence their choice of genre. I'd agree with many of the posters here that your own personal beliefs will drift into your work, for sure... but I'd suspect MG/YA SF/F writers choose their genre because they are kids at heart more than any one other thing. I think that's why I did - sure it's clean (mostly), and there's usually story elements that can be compared to religions and/or morals, but I wonder if it's really more the opportunity provided (as mentioned earlier) that simply makes it appear there are more authors of a given faith. I suspect the greater number would be the socio-economic group of stay-at-home moms who carved out the time to write. That would make more sense to me - and yeah, there's lots of Mormons in that group. Coincidence, then that there are so many published in the Mormon faith. Or I could just be way off base! ;)

    What a great post Jackee - I'm going to be thinking about this for awhile now! :)

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  38. I had some great writing professors at BYU, but I know not all of the writers went to school there.

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  39. Interesting post, Jackee. I didn't realize all those authors you named were Mormons, I just knew Stephenie Meyer was. That's a lot of big names!

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  40. Interesting post, Jackee. I didn't realize all those authors you named were Mormons, I just knew Stephenie Meyer was. That's a lot of big names!

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  41. I'm not sure, but there are also many many people writing and publishing that aren't mormon. I think mormons stick out because it's a way to identify a writer. And because of a couple biggies, like Meyers. And fantasy is huge right now, so that's not surprising either. If there's more to it, we'll never know. Now, if 90 percent of writers getting published were mormon, then I'd take note. :)

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  42. Elle: I’m sure that’s true. In the interview J. K. Rowling just did with Oprah she said her Christian values came out subconsciously in Harry Potter.

    Debbie: The SAHM thing is certainly a factor, though I would argue I’m busier now at home than I was working full-time and teaching at two universities on the side. Also, five of those I listed are male and I know many blog friends work, have a family, and still manage to write. Thanks for your wonderful thoughts—I hope I don’t keep you up at night thinking! Ha, ha.

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  43. Myrna: I had some good ones too. Although I seemed to notice they weren’t as personable as my natural resource professors… maybe that was just me, though!

    Susan: Thanks! It’s good to see you back, my bloggy friend!

    Laura: Absolutely my point that there are many religions (or lack of) publishing in the YA F genre. I’m just wondering why their religious preference comes up when other don’t.

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  44. There may be something there. People with faith ARE more apt to believe in extraordinary things. Also, besides writing for yourself, spiritual people do everything for the glory of God, so they write to serve Him, as well--providing extra drive to do awesome things :)

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  45. Judith: Good point! I know some of my blogging friends that feel God has called them to write, to uplift and inspire, so they keep plugging away to get published.

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  46. I like your thoughts! And it's an interesting post. I agree with you that Mormons might not be any bigger percentage than other authors with certain religions, but I hope the ones that do write are doing so with the intent of making the world of reading (YA or otherwise) better for all :)

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  47. I have to agree with Theresa. Maybe Stephanie Meyer has paved the way for writers of the same faith in recent years with her success.

    I also think that faith may play a part in our minds as writers as we may be more open to spiritual and or supernatural beliefs. I don't think it impacts what we write though.

    And yes, it would be interesting to see the stats for writers of other faiths. Maybe we do a quick poll on the New York Best Seller list? ;)

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  48. What a thought-provoking post!
    Because I write YA inspirational, time-travel novels that send my characters back to the ancient lands of the Book of Mormon, what I believe certainly influences what I write.

    As for Dashner, Meyer and the other authors you've mentioned, I do believe at the core of their writing their personal beliefs leak through to their stories. But that's just me.
    All I know is I love their stories!

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  49. Steph: I hope so too! :o) Publishing books is all about finding readers who can enjoy and relate to your books. It’s heartening to know people still want books (not ones just Mormons are publishing) that resonate with them, make their lives better.

    Talei: Wouldn’t the bestseller lists by religion be interesting? :o) I’ll have to convince someone (other than lazy me) to get on that! Actually, as Stacy points out in her comment, Stephenie Meyer isn’t one of the first bestseller Mormons on the list above. She’s just the richest and most well-known. (Ha, ha!)

    Kathi: I love their books too… as I’m sure I’ll love yours once I get it for Christmas. :o) I know my values leak through too, whether I mean to or not. They’re just a part of my emotional experience and it’s very hard to separate that from my stories, if not impossible.

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  50. Wonderful post, Jackee! I expect if you did the research on all the book and all the religions of the authors (currently on the market) you would probably find that the ratio probably matches the population ratio. I have no idea what that is. My guess would be that Catholics or Baptists are the most popular religions in the US, so I would guess that same ratio of authors might be about the same in a pie graph of all the books published in the US this year. I don't think I'm explaining my visual aids very well...two pie graphs one with the US population broken down into religions...another with US authors published this year broken down into religions. Then compare...

    Great post. Made me think! WTG! (wink)

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  51. Sharon: You make perfect sense! (But then again, I've take a lot of statistics. lol) It would be really interesting to see the overlay of the entire population of writers with their religion persuasion.

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  52. I new about Meyer and Card of course, but wow I didn't realize there were so many other famous Mormon authors, too. I just discovered Brandon Mull. Great stories!

    One commenter mentioned that fantasy is probably one of the best arenas for good vs. evil, and now dysptopian sf also seems to lean toward the good vs. evil arena, too, and these are my favorite genres. I am absolutely positive, being a born-again Christian, that's why I am drawn to these two genres for both reading and writing. Is the good vs evil arena important for Mormons, too?

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