Judge Not Thine Authors

Sunday, August 31, 2008

This blog entry isn't about dieting and exercise at all. Regardless, I would love any input on this topic. Thank you.

I blog little, and I rant less. In general, I prefer to live by a "what they do is their business and I don't have time for that" kind of attitude. However, my mind has been ranting all day and now my fingers are translating it all into text.

Though I haven't yet read Stephanie Meyer's books, I have taken a recent interest in her career because 1) she's a female author 2) she's a fantasy fiction author 3) she's LDS. I completely intend to read her work, especially after speaking with at least four friends who are fans of hers and who attest to her skill. However, today while working out with one of my best friends, who is also LDS, we discussed books that she could read with her 12-year-old daughter. I mentioned the recent buzz about Stephanie Meyer, and how I had recently heard that she was LDS and puts moral principles in her book. My friend replied (to the LDS reference,) "Yeah, there's a big controversy about that."

*ahem* Excuse me?

This is not the first time this dilemma has caught my attention. As an LDS writer who is trying to finish a set of fantasy fiction novels for publication, I have wondered whether or not to pick a nome de plume for my work. Read on for my justification.

This is a quote by Stephanie Meyer from a website called A Motley Vision: "Some Mormons, especially those who know me, are surprised by my choice of topics. “Vampires?” they say, with a critical lilt to their voices. Then they add self-righteously, “I don’t read those kinds of books.” (Not all Mormons say that, some are really enthusiastic). I hasten to explain to them that it’s not like that. Unconsciously, I put a lot of my basic beliefs into the story. Free agency is a big theme, as is sacrifice. One very kind fan wrote to me and said, “instead of gore and horror there was lyrical beauty.” (Okay, so she was probably too kind). Even after I explain all that, I still have LDS friends (and extended family) who look at me funny."

Tracy Hickman dealt with the same thing. As co-author beside Margaret Weis of the Dragonlance series, Hickman developed a world called Krynn that is very similar to Tolkien's world, with many of the same mythological peoples. One facet of the world is that it is ruled by multiple gods, and these warring gods play a crucial part in the Dragonlance saga. Of course, as Hickman proudly proclaims his LDS faith, he was criticized for writing about polytheistic fantasy worlds. He defends his work here:

Basically, the short justification is thus: It's fantasy. Make a distinction and either read the book or leave it on the shelf.

Orson Scott Card writes both science fiction works and pieces for the Church, his most popular work being a sci-fi story called "Ender's Game." He is very renowned for his writing, and the book he wrote on characters and viewpoint for Writer's Digest Books is my favorite and most influential piece on writing instruction yet. How much criticism has he undergone for writing about fantastic worlds and situations?

So why am I considering a pen name for my work?

I'm not at all ashamed of my work, and I love putting real situations and real characters into my stories. But if Stephanie Meyer comes under fire for writing about VAMPIRES (*gasp*) but does not put sex into her books, I feel I will be ostracized by not only some members in my ward but also certain members of the LDS community for the elements I put into my fiction. Do I care about what others think about me as a person based on my work? No, I already deal with a bit of ostracism for being a bit more eccentric than the mainstream cultural Mormon. But if people read Meyer/Hickman/Card and expect them to produce work of the same genre as Gerald Lund just because they are LDS, they are living in a separate kind of fantasy world. Because an author claims a strong LDS faith, are they disallowed an imagination, of adding specific imagery to their work, and basically thinking outside the box? How long will it be before I get an message in my Hotmail box urging me to ban the Twilight Series because it supports those fantastical elements, in the tradition of Harry Potter and The Golden Compass?

Several LDS friends have read my work, and I have always warned them, "It's PG-13," especially when some have suggested that I submit my work to LDS publishers. I know the LDS publisher's wont accept my work. I don't write sex scenes. There is violence (it's fantasy fiction!) but it's not graphic. And every bad decision and every antihero is rivaled by the consequences of those decisions. Let's see... in Heroes of Edurne, Eian is a duty-bound man who abstains from sexual encounters because he's unwed and isn't the kind of man who will leave bastard children along the countryside. But his best friend, Lucian, is not only openly gay but is the man who swoops in and provides Eian the aid he needs when Eian's own brother betrays the entire town. In the sequil, Werian Legacy, Aillhea is an impetuous girl who makes the decision to lie to the hero, Aeric, and engages in premarital sex because of some misguided ideals about love. When she gets pregnant and has to deal with the fact that Aeric's brother has a psychotic obsession about family, she realizes that her actions marked both her and her unborn child for death. The sex is not detailed... it happens between chapters, and there is no description of actions. As for the protagonists, even the antiheroes have valiant intentions and try to act for the greater good. I love my religion and I won't ever deny it. I know that my friends and fans will love my work and either not care what religion I am or will support my faith. But do I really want the critics to read my work and judge the Church, and maybe even say that I advocate homosexuality and premarital sex when I'm instead trying to portray that everybody has something to offer and that people can recover from their bad decisions?

This is the kind of blog that I'm not writing for my own personal catharsis. I would like responses. Advocate, disagree, whatever. Let's get a discussion going. How do you feel about this subject?
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Marissa, you make great points. I have actually read the first two books by Stephenie Meyer. I loved the first one. It was beautifully written with a lot of great themes, particularly about overcoming one's natural desires (when they lead to sin). I didn't like the second one quite as much, simply because of the over-emphasis and glorification of teen love and because the main character whined a LOT and it got old. But it was still written well and had no objectionable content that I noticed.

    That being said, great literature is literature that spurs discussion, in my opinion. I don't think it is necessary for us to read (or write!) books that only espouse our own viewpoints and values, as long as the books are free from profanity and graphic sex. I love it when a book can clearly show consequences for sin, even if it is not enunciated in exactly that way.

    As far as using a pen name, my personal feeling is that you should use a pen name if you would like to maintain your privacy and keep your personal life and professional life separate. Of course, for that to work, you will also need to avoid having your picture on the book jacket as well! I expect that the criticism will come, regardless of your use of a pen name. You will be critiqued because "good Mormon girls don't write about that" or you will be critiqued for any of 100 other reasons. It is part and parcel of being a writer. So, which criticism would you find the easiest to deal with?
    3488 days ago
    I think you answered your own question:

    "what they do is their business and I don't have time for that"
    Do what's in your emoticon and be ready for the consequences whatever you decide!

    I'm not LDS, but play one on tv (really, my LDS friends say I'm a closet Mormon - lol) ... I lived in Utah for years and understand much of the culture. I grew up Catholic, married Catholic - my SIL is VERY Catholic (she should be a strict nun ;0) ... and wouldn't read Harry Potter. Our whole family loved Harry Potter. I know people who wouldn't read them based on the subject, but they missed out, didn't they?

    As for being judged ... if you put yourself out there, that's what it's all about! Let the judging begin and enjoy the ride!

    P.S. I "JUST" heard about this author/book from a friend in Utah who is getting ready to read it ... she's a 60-yr old Catholic and doesn't care the author is LDS :). LDS does have an image to live up to - and it sounds like you're a realist with your fantasy which might be very engaging for your intended audience (and teach something besides). Please do not correct this essay!

    Write ON under your own name I say!
    3490 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/1/2008 11:59:43 PM
    Sometimes I think people just take things way too seriously. I prefer to laugh at myself a bit.

    I prefer books that have good morals in them. It doesn't matter if they are written by LDS members or not. I also don't mind the fact that LDS members are writing fantasy books (my sister included). I am a science fiction watcher, and I think it's really cool when I see evidence of our beliefs coming through on the screen. Why can't that be the same in a book?

    I personally don't care for fantasy books as much, but that's just a personal preference. I have to read fantasy in small doses, including CS Lewis and the Narnia series! I never understood the problem with Harry Potter or others. Our neighbor (a Catholic) won't let her granddaughter read the Harry Potter books, but all my kids have, and I did, too. I read "Twilight" and thought it was a decent book, but unless it's picked for my reading club I probably won't read any of the others. Just personal preference, not because I disagree with stories about vampires. I think Stephanie Meyers is a very good writer. I'd give your books a try when you publish, too.
    3491 days ago
    Here are my two cents: I believe that sometimes, members of the Church get caught up in the "they're LDS, therefore they're good" mentality to the exclusion of all else. There is definitely a faction (if you will) that refuse to patronize an author, musician, or artist because they are not LDS. I do not belong to that group and believe wholeheartedly in endorsing a work based on its merit, not its creator. I never understood the controversy surrounding Harry Potter or Twilight. Sure they deal with themes that are outside "normal." So does life.

    I hate the "THOSE kind of books" attitude. Sheesh. I had a roommate who told me I was going to hell because the books I was reading weren't by an LDS author...I asked her if she'd be meeting me there for being judgmental...

    You go right ahead and write your books...and then let me know when they're published, because I'd LOVE to read them!
    3491 days ago
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