11/2/07

LDS Authors in the National Market by Tristi Pinkston

[Thanks again to all who have sent guest blogs. I will eventually post all of them. Please feel free to send a guest blog at any time.]

As an LDS author, I've been very intrigued by the rise of national, although LDS, authors such as Stephenie Meyer and Shannon Hale. At [a recent] literacy fireside, my fellow authors and I answered a question that dealt with our take on the Meyer books. I find it very interesting that the books came up -- no other book series was specifically questioned. Why is that? Because they were written by a Mormon. That's what puts them on the radar.

Stephenie Meyer has done something phenomenal. She went out there, got her agent, got her publisher, is selling books like crazy, and is being talked about left and right. From a business standpoint, she has done everything right. There are few people in this country who don't know who she is. She also just happens to be a graduate of BYU.

When you look at her books and compare them to the national standard, they are very clean. The things being published for our consumption today run the gammut from slightly questionable to downright raunchy to outright erotica. Meyer's books would land on the innocent side of the equation.

When you look at her books from an LDS perspective, they are steamy. We would never allow our daughters to snuggle up in bed with their boyfriends. We certainly would never allow them to cavort with werewolves.

There are, however, a few points I would like to make.

The first is that while Meyer is Mormon, she didn't write these books specifically for the Mormon audience. She targeted the national market. She gave the national market something relatively clean to read. In addition, she's not writing about Mormon characters. A Mormon character will, of course, have stricter values. A non-Mormon character might not have been taught the same values. Perhaps they've been taught to wait until they're in love, rather than waiting until they're married. We can't judge a non-Mormon character by the same yardstick we would a Mormon character, any more than we would expect a non-Catholic to behave like a Catholic or a non-Protestant to behave like a Protestant.

Secondly, this is a fantasy. Be honest, now -- how many of us have daughters who are dating vampires? We can't say, "Well, my daughter would never be allowed to act like Bella," because no one can. Her situation is entirely made up and I find it a little bit funny that people keep saying, "If my daughter ..." Believe me, if my daughter was dating a vampire, a lot of things would be different. But this is fiction of the most imaginative kind. Trust me -- it's all pretend. You'll never have to face this in your own life.

Now, we do know that Mormons are reading these books like crazy. I'm going to give you my absolute honest opinion here -- and you all know that I don't prevaricate. Are these books too steamy?

I actually found Bella's advances toward Edward to be a little immature and embarrasing. He tells her no over and over again, and when she keeps pushing the issue, it becomes almost annoying. I didn't find those scenes to be particularly "steamy," I found them to be pushy.

Would I want my eleven-year-old daughter reading them? No. While they've been labeled as young adult, I would say these are books for an adult population. Just because the main character is a teen does not mean that the book is good for all teens. Take, for example, "To Kill a Mockingbird." The main character is a six-year-old girl, and yet I would never have a six-year-old read it. The age of the character does not always equate the age of the reader.

I've heard many parents say, and I completely agree, that the Meyer books present the perfect discussion platform for parents and their teen readers. You can talk to your daughters about why Bella's behavior is not appropriate and the consequences of her actions. You can discuss with them why they should be careful to avoid too much physical contact. Point of fact -- there are a great many bad young adult books out there, books that encourage mast*rbation, or*l s*x, abortion, and on and on. Our teenagers are picking up these books in their school libraries. They are reading them on their own time, and we don't know what is being introduced to their brains. We need open platforms to discuss what they are reading so we can help them make wise decisions.

This may sound like I'm 100% advocating these books for everyone. This brings me to the next point of discussion.

Every person has their own setpoint when it comes to reading. There are certain things that will offend me and won't offend you, and vice versa. I have seen LDS bloggers recommend books that I've picked up only to be shocked. You need to decide for yourself whether these books are appropriate for you. Again, I submit that they are cleaner than most everything else you'll find on the national market. I also remind you that they aren't written about LDS characters, and that has to be taken into consideration whenever you're reading a book by an LDS author.

I do know whereof I speak. In my first novel, my main character fathers a child out of wedlock. He was not LDS at the time and he was acting according to his teaching, which was that he should wait until he fell in love before he became intimate, and he did. Because of the limited light he had been given, he believed that he had behaved in a moral fashion. When he did join the church later in the book and came to understand the gravity of his sin, he went through a full repentance process and was baptized and then endowed. You cannot hold a person accountable for committing a sin they don't know they are committing.

I'd like to move this discussion on to "Austenland," by Shannon Hale. This book had a few steamy moments in it as well. For me, they were a little steamier even than the Meyer books. However, many of the same principles apply -- it was written for the national market, and Hale gave the national market something cleaner than it's used to seeing. The characters were not LDS and were not raised with LDS standards, and so we can't expect them to behave in an LDS fashion.

Many have argued that these authors have betrayed their beliefs by writing these books. I'd like to ask, how can we judge what these authors believe? We know that they are LDS, and so we know what the tenants of their religion are. But how can we say that they aren't living up to their beliefs when we can't ascertain their own unique way of looking at their religion? Each of us has our own special way of relating to God and of looking at the gospel. I can't say whether or not you're living up to your beliefs any more than you can say I'm not living up to mine. I can't judge your relationship with God and I wouldn't care to. I'm certainly not going to try to determine whether or not these ladies are still "good enough" to be Mormons. That's completely wrong and it's not my job. I would sure hate for someone to follow me around for the day and then proclaim my level of spirituality based on how I spread my peanut butter when they can't see what's going on inside me. That's invasive, insensitive, and holier-than-thou.

Another question to be posed. Let's say you've decided you'd like to go on a mission to the jungles of Africa. Can you do an effective job from your living room, or would it be best for you to go out into the jungles and find the people you're trying to reach? I'd like to plant the thought that perhaps Hale and Myers, by writing for the national market, are doing some missionary work in that market to introduce people to cleaner fiction. They couldn't do that sitting on their couches -- they had to go out there and find the people who needed reaching. That meant making a foray into the national market, playing with the big boys and showing them a whole new game.

If these books had been written by any other author, we'd be judging them based on the books themselves. If someone named, say, Jenny Smith, had written Twilight, Jenny Smith from Oshkosh who was perhaps Episcopalian or Baptist, we wouldn't even be sitting here having this discussion. But because Meyer is Mormon, suddenly she's under all this scrutiny. People are questioning her morals. They're wondering if she's a good Mormon or a bad Mormon. They're saying that she's trying to teach our youth questionable behavior. Isn't it just possible that she wanted to tell a story? Isn't it possible that all this hoo-hah has been created by us rather than by her?

Tristi Pinkston
LDS Historical Fiction Author
Media Reviewer
http://www.tristipinkston.com
http://tristipinkston.blogspot.com
http://members.families.com/tristipie/blog

15 comments:

A. Riley said...

I agree with this. When I read books by Mary Higgins Clark or other national type authors, I'm not offended by the fact that those characters don't have the same morals and beliefs that I have.

And like it was said, they are writing for the national market, not the LDS market. They are giving the nation something cleaner to read, and maybe even possibly helping others be able to be published even though it isn't "sexy" enough.

We aren't suppose to be judging each other anyway. What is an LDS painter painted a picture of a lady and she was wearing a red sleeveless dress? Are we going to say that's wrong for them to paint someone not wearing LDS standards?

A. Riley said...

..... The last paragraph is suppose to read "What if a LDS painter".

So many typos there.

Janet Jensen said...

Tristi: Well stated! I will share your column with my book club, which had a hot debate on whether the Meyer books "crossed the line" and what age group is mature enough to read them.

I had to laugh when thinking about the series, though: "You think YOU'VE got problems? My parents are divorced, I've always taken care of my flaky mother, who's now in love with a younger baseball player, who's a nice, guy, so because three is a crowd, I've moved in with my Dad, a man I hardly know, who lives in a strange and gloomy rainy town where the sun rarely shines and the woods are populated with vampires and werewolves, and one of them is my best friend, and one of them is the only man (vampire) I will ever love, and I was nearly killed by another vampire, and I nearly drowned, and I'm told I smell so delicious, every vampire would like to eat me for dinner . . . . and that's only in the first two volumes!"

LOL, when a teenage girl thinks of her own problems, they pale in comparison.

Ally Condie said...

Tristi, I agree with many of your main arguments (we should be responsible for seeking out our own reading, we should dialogue with our kids about what they are reading and use literature as a jumping-off point for that discussion, we should withhold from judging others). However, this paragraph gave me pause:

"Secondly, this is a fantasy. Be honest, now -- how many of us have daughters who are dating vampires? We can't say, 'Well, my daughter would never be allowed to act like Bella,' because no one can. Her situation is entirely made up and I find it a little bit funny that people keep saying, 'If my daughter ...' Believe me, if my daughter was dating a vampire, a lot of things would be different. But this is fiction of the most imaginative kind. Trust me -- it's all pretend. You'll never have to face this in your own life.

I think one of the things that Meyer does admirably is anchor Bella's story in the real world quite firmly. Bella is mortal--a "normal" girl--she lives in an actual town. The issues she faces (temptation, morality, first love, physical intimacy) are very, very VERY real to young girls. And the situations she is in--alone with a boy,for whom she has strong feelings etc.--are also quite real. And I'll even go so far as to stretch the comparison and say that there are plenty of predatory guys out there. GIrls identify so strongly with Bella. I saw them dressed as her for Halloween. "I Love Edward Cullen" is written all over the play structure at our playroom.

To many teenage girls, and to many readers,myself included, the fact that the story is fantasy doesn't make it any less real to them. The constructs of the story may have some fantasy elements, but the very real elements of desire, love, dangerous-but-appealing boys are all true to real life.

Not trying to argue with you (I enjoyed your post) but I wanted to articulate how I felt on that point. :)

Rachelle said...

Tristi,
This was excellent and I loved the points you covered. The special thing about books is they leave so much to the imagination. We get to picture in our head as we read. I think some people are more worried because they get a great visual picture of things, maybe even more detailed than the words on the page.
What I would love to ask anyone who is bashing Meyers is, "What did you watch on television last night?" If you're gonna be holier than thou, then you better be it all the way! My husband and I don't watch anything on TV currently because it's all trash, but we think that because we're not desensitized to the filth on most of the major programs. This is a whole other world of media and we all have to make choices as to how we will let the media affect us. I'm figuring that most of the people that we hear bashing Meyers have watched something very recently that is 100 times worse than the "steamiest" scene in her book.

I admire Meyers for her unique writing abilities and her clean novels. I can't wait to get started on Eclipse!

Ronda Hinrichsen said...

I recently heard a phrase that I LOVE, and I think it applies here:
Don't judge someone else simply because they've chosen a different sin than you have.
Pretty good, huh?

Tristi Pinkston said...

Thanks for all these great comments!

Ally, I agree with you -- girls do identify with Bella quite a bit. This is why I think the books are a great discussion platform between parents and their daughters. (I only say daughters because I don't know too many teenage boys who have been reading the books. :) The story gives us a jumping off place to discuss the boundaries of physical contact and how to know when enough is enough. When I said you'd never be faced with this situation, I did mean quite literally -- your daughter never will date a vampire and have a best friend who is a werewolf. The physical aspect is very real.

Ronda, that's an awesome quote.

Emily said...

I agree with you. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post on the topic. My neighborhood book group is reading Austenland right now. I'll be surprised if this doesn't come up.

ally said...

Tristi, I think we agree on that point. Our daughters will never date vampires and have werewolf best friends.

They could, however, be in intimate situations with boys (hopefully as intimate as Bella's, but who knows!), have two guys that like them at the same time, and fall in love with someone who is dangerous and (to a parent's eyes) unhealthy for them.

I think that may be what parents worry about--those very real situations shown in the story that can and will arise in their daughters' lives.

You say that the moms who are saying, "Well, my daughter would never be allowed to act like Bella," are wrong because "no one can" is what I disagree with. Their daughters could act like Bella. The could unbutton their shirts while straddling the boy of their dreams as Bella does, whether he's a vampire or not. That's what gives them pause. That could really happen.

Not trying to play devil's advocate here (I've read Meyer's books and found much to admire in them as well as much to think about) but I do see where parents are coming from with this comment.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Ally,

We are on the same page. My comment that "no one can act like Bella" was meant satirically and obviously didn't come across as such -- I'll have to work on that.

Paul West said...

I've been having this very discussion with non-LDS writers on other forums. I have a bit of a different take on this issue.

Instead of re-hashing all my comments here, if you want to see my response to this issue, go to my blog site where I've posted my comments and the comments of a non-LDS fellow writer friend.

http://valona.blogspot.com/

Tristi Pinkston said...

Your blog was great, Paul -- thanks for sharing the link.

Paul West said...

I hope it didn't step on what you were trying to say. I think we can be edgy, even steamy. Just as long as we don't cross that line of decency.

My own book has a lot of edgy characters who use profanity. I just don't write the words. I elude to them to create a sense of reality, not recreate reality.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Nope, not stepped on at all!

Heather B. Moore said...

I just read a NY Times Bestseller fantasy novel--written for teens. It was WAY more provocative, harsh language, etc. than Meyer's work. I say--great job Stephenie for keeping it relatively clean.