10/11/07

LDS Literary Fiction

I do a lot of reading in the LDS market and have found that nearly all of the books being published are more formula fiction, whereas the books being published nationally are more literary. Do you think that there's a place in the LDS market for literary books, and, why aren't we seeing them on the LDS market? Beulah

LDS literary novels don't come across my desk very often. I've seen a few attempts, but nothing of publishable quality. I'm sure the big publishers see more than I do, but they, too, must feel they're not up to par because they aren't publishing many.

There are a few that come close--I liked The Kaleidoscope Season by Sharon Downing Jarvis. There might be others, but nothing that really zooms into my mind as an outstanding LDS literary book. (But then, I'm tired right now and my brain is a little foggy. Perhaps I'm overlooking the obvious. Readers, help me out. Post titles in the comments section of books you think might qualify as LDS literary fiction-and why.)

A few years ago I saw a handful of published books that billed themselves as LDS literary fiction, but in my opinion, they weren't very good and they didn't sell well.

Is there a place for LDS literary fiction? I hope so but often "literary" is synonymous with "realistic" and there are lots of LDS readers who don't like the realism, who are uncomfortable with the soul-searching and life-questioning themes of the literary novel.

Why aren't we seeing them? In addition to the lack of good manuscripts, again, money is the bottom line. We know genre fiction sells; literary fiction is a risk. But I'd like to think that if I got a really good mss, it would be a risk I could convince the bean counters around here to take.

7 comments:

Josi said...

I'm not great at determining genre sometimes, but I think Arianne Cope's "The Coming of Elijah" would be considered Literary fiction. And Janet Jensen's "Don't you marry the Mormon boys" might fit that as well, but it doesn't come out for a couple more months.

I think one of the struggles is that a lot of literary fiction is deep soul searching and finding oneself and usually ends with a separation between the character and God, or their family, or their standards. The LDS market seems to want to see the gap between those things bridged rather than widened. That's my opinion anyway.

Traci Hunter Abramson said...

The other thing to consider is that much of LDS fiction is a substitute for genres that often have offensive material in the mainstream versions. I think it's more likely to find literary fiction in the mainstream that isn't offensive to the LDS culture than it is in many other genres. For example, trying to find a typical romance that follows LDS standards is extremely difficult.

Who knows? Those LDS literary authors out there might just find their way into the mainstream and end up with great success.

Andrew Hall said...

Oh my yes, there is wonderful Mormon literary fiction. Unfortunately only a bit of it is on the shelves of Deseret Book and Seagull. I would agree with Josi that "a lot of literary fiction is deep soul searching and finding oneself".
But I would strongly disagree that it "usually ends with a separation between the character and God, or their family, or their standards." Yes, there is some literary fiction like that, but there is plenty that is ultimately faith afirming. They do show troubles, doubts, and fears on the way, however, and that puts some readers off. Those who want a deeply satisfying literary experience that connects with their beliefs will find themselves greatly rewarded.

Unfortunately Signature Press has been the most reliable publisher of such fiction, and because their non-fiction titles are sometimes controversial, their fiction titles are for the most part not stocked in DB/Seagull.

Aspen Books was a reliable publisher of "literary and faithful" fiction in the early and mid 1990s, but they disappeared.
Chris Bigelow at Zarahemla Press and Elizabeth Perry Bently at Parables Publishing are trying to step into that gap, but it has been a struggle.

Here are my reccomendations for great "literary but faithful" fiction from recent years:

Levi Peterson. The Backslider. Signature, 1986.
A fantastic but challenging novel of a young Mormon man who thinks God can not love him because of his sins. An amazing final scene in which he has a vision of a forgiving Christ.
Peterson also has two good short story collections, "The Canyons of Grace" and "Night Soil".

Margaret Blair Young.
House Without Walls. Deseret Book, 1991. Great novel about Jews, Mormons, and Germany.
Salvador. Aspen, 1992. Fantastic novel about a young American woman in El Salvador.
Love Chains: Short Stories. Signature, 1997.
Standing on the Promises. Deseret Book, 2000-2002. Three volume historical fiction, co-written with Darius Gray, about Blacks in the Church.

Douglas Thayer. The Conversion of Jeff Williams. Signature, 2003.

Marilyn Brown. Serpent in Paradise. Cedar Fort, 2006.

Toni Sorensen Brown. Redemption Road. Covenant, 2006.

Also, look at the Association for Mormon Letters annual awards for good reccomendantions. Almost all of those I mentioned above won an AML award. You can see the list at
http://www.aml-online.org/awards/index.html

Other useful websites:
Mormon Literature Website
http://mldb.byu.edu/

Mormon Literature Database
http://mormonlit.lib.byu.edu/

Essay on the history of Mormon literature
http://mldb.byu.edu/progress.htm

A Motly Vision (a blog which covers current issues in Mormon Arts and Culture).
http://www.motleyvision.org/

(By the way, I think that some of the best recent writing by LDS authors has been in the national genre market. Shannon Hale's young adult novels and Brandon Sanderson's fantasy novels are as fine pieces of literature as you will find.)

Annette Lyon said...

I have to add Elizabeth Bentley's In a Dry Land.

Excellent book that tackles tough topics and in a literary way. It defies genre classification.

I disagree that "literary" is equivalent to "real." In my experience, the writing style for a literary novel is more complex, often richer. It takes time to read and savor the flavor of the words and images, while genre fiction doesn't worry nearly as much about the language and instead focuses on character and plot.

Nationally, true literary fiction doesn't sell that well, either. It has a small segment of the population who loves it, but genre fiction is what pulls in the big numbers, nationally or otherwise.

Carole Thayne said...

I'll agree with all the comments above. I've had one book rejected by my publisher because it was "too literary." They said that while they love literary fiction, it is a tough sell, and wasn't their niche.

There are wonderful LDS literary books out there, most have been mentioned already. Thumbs us for Backslider, by Levi Peterson, Arrianne Copes, "The Coming of Elijah." And I also very much enjoyed "A Serpent in Paradise" by Marilyn Brown. I'm sure there are many more that I don't know about, but these were three which I read and wholeheartedly endorse. I also love Douglas Thayer's writing, and Linda Silitoe did a wonderful novel called "Sideways to the Sun." And Janet Jensen's "Don't Marry the Mormon Boys" I had the privilege to read before publication. It will be an instant classic as well.

Kathryn Lynard Soper said...

It's all in the marketing. I won't buy fiction from D Book or Covenant because of their reputation, unless something comes highly recommended. Same with Signature. There's no established publisher of faithful, artistic fiction. Hopefully that will change.

Watch for Angela Hallstrom's novel-in-stories, Bound On Earth, coming from Parables early in 2008. Dynamite stuff. Could be a breakthrough novel for Parables, esp. if they get themselves a decent website and do some diligent marketing.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I recently discovered "I Am Not Wolf" by Roger Terry and really enjoyed it -- it's literary through CFI.