Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ashamed of LDS Fiction?

There was recently an article in the Deseret News that talked about the author’s feeling of shame at reading and liking LDS fiction. She was embarrassed for her friends to know she read it and felt she should be reading more “weightier tomes.” (She's an English major). She never puts any LDS fiction on her Goodreads shelf (for fear of what others might think of her?) and, as she put it, “LDS fiction is like the mac and cheese at a grown-up buffet.” Although she liked LDS fiction, she thought it wasn’t very literary.

I was a little surprised.

I mean, I know LDS fiction has a stigma attached to it and that some people still believe that it is merely conversion stories or sappy stories. (And you can probably still find those out there.) But, for me, LDS fiction has improved by leaps and bounds over the last ten years and I find the stories available to me now are just as good as some nationally published books. The only difference is, in an LDS fiction book, I don’t have to worry about any language or other scenes popping up that I would prefer not to read.

For me, if I want a great mystery book, I immediately think of Stephanie Black, Josi Kilpack, or Jeff Savage who give me mysteries that curl my toes. And if I want a great suspense I’ll reach for the latest Traci Hunter Abramson or Jennie Hansen. My go-to historical romance authors would be Sarah Eden or H.B. Moore, I mean, there’s something for me in every genre that I am interested in---quality authors who produce quality stories. I don’t get the idea of people being ashamed of that.

Is LDS fiction a “guilty pleasure” for you? Do you tell other people that you read it? If not, why not? I’m truly interested in knowing.

And, if I may, who are your favorite LDS authors these days?

(If you’d like to read the entire Deseret News article that prompted this blog, click here.)


Betsy Love said...

Thank you Julie! I love LDS literature. I know I'm going to get a great story, and not have to worry about reading compromising smut. I hope you'll read my book when it comes out in a couple of weeks! Identity and LDS Novel.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Betsy, I'd love to read your book. If you have a review copy, I'd be willing to review it on the blog. :)

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

I'm not afraid to tell people I read lds fiction and I've actually helped change peoples mind by recommending just the right book by a favorite lds author. Don't forget Annette Lyon and michele Holmes when it comes to romance and dean Hughes in historical

Debra Erfert said...

I ran across that article a couple of days ago and the headline was intriguing enough to me that I clicked on it. Frankly, it left me confused. Yes, there are those light-hearted LDS fiction novels, and have a few sitting on my shelf, (okay, a lot of them, I love them, btw) but I expected them to be before I bought them, but I also have the more "weighty" ones too. (yours, Abramson,Brannon Green) But the author said she was embarrassed to admit reading LDS novels to woman who she said "had testimonies," so they were church members too--I just didn't get it.

In general publishing you can find everything from comic books to Dante's Inferno, and, this being the great U.S. of A, we get to choose for ourselves what we want to read, but to categorize a whole population of writers as "Mac & Cheese" is almost infuriating. I didn't realize that there was a bias against LDS published fiction novels amongst the church members. And if there is, then how on earth are we supposed to become legitimate/equal in the eyes of general population?

Excuse me now, I need to check my blood pressure.

RobisonWells said...

For what it's worth, I totally can understand where she's coming from, and I didn't have any real issues with the DesNews article. I actually thought it was good.

She wasn't bashing LDS fiction--she was saying she liked it. Honestly, if she was really embarrassed about reading LDS fiction, she wouldn't have confessed it in the newspaper.

You know me: I'm not an LDS fiction hater. I started the Whitney Awards because I love and believe in LDS fiction. But just because I love it doesn't mean I don't recognize that there's a very real stigma, or even that that stigma is derived from a very legitimate place. Yes, there's a lot of great LDS fiction, and yes, it's getting better all the time, but there's a lot of crap, and there used to be a lot more crap. I absolutely don't blame anyone for not liking LDS fiction, or for being embarrassed about carrying it around.

Someone who agrees with the negative LDS fiction stigma shouldn't make us sad and it doesn't make them wrong. All it means is that the LDS fic they've encountered happens to be some of the not-so-great stuff.

Really, that's why I started the Whitneys: not to claim that all LDS fiction is great, but to give people a starting-off place as they learn more about the great aspects of the genre.

So, when I hear that someone is embarrassed about it (but that they still like it) I don't think there's a problem there. It means they're still willing to read it despite the stigma. And when they write about it, as Penny Bowler did, that means they're helping to diminish the stigma. This DesNews article was a good thing for LDS fiction.

Jennie said...

I found this article a little on the sily side and it epitomizes what is wrong with some LDS fiction, shallow thinking. If she's ashamed to admit on Good Reads that she reads it, why is she broadcasting that she likes it in the newspaper? Frankly I find a lot of trite nonsense being called LDS fiction. At the same time I'm finding LDS fiction that is better than anything being published nationally. And it doesn't need those good old crutches of explicit sex, nauseating violence, or over-used expletives. As for writers I enjoy, between your blog and the commenters, most have been listed, but to that list I'd add Gregg Luke, Gale Sears, N.C. Allen,Toni Sorensen, Julie Bellon, Michele Bell, Jeff Savage, Carol Warburton, and Marcia Mickelson. There are many others I enjoy too, but those are the names that come to mind. I'm constantly discovering new writers too that bring an exciting new dimension to LDS fiction. I find that too often people who put down LDS fiction, judge it all based on one or two novels, that aren't even the same genre they would choose in main stream fiction.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Rob, I appreciate you bringing that perspective. It gives me something to think about, although like Jennie, I am puzzled that she wouldn't want people knowing on GoodReads that she reads it, but broadcasts it in the newspaper. I really hope she does do as she says in the last line and reads the next LDS novel without guilt.

Jennie, I totally agree, I'm finding new LDS novelists all the time that bring something great to the genre. It's an exciting time to be a reader.

Debra, I agree, it was a little confusing to me, too. But it did start some discussion so maybe it's a good thing in the end.

LuAnn, I just reviewed Michele's Captive Heart. I really enjoyed it!

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. I've really enjoyed reading them!

Mindi said...

I enjoy LDS fiction and have been "caught" reading it on airplanes, at the swimming pool, etc. Like others, I can understand why some don't because some of it is not good writing. I can think of one author in particular that drives me up the wall and gets away with things I consider either stupid or really pushing what ought to be published and labeled "LDS".

Jenny P. said...

I think she mentioned her good reads opposition to lds fiction to create an effective angle for her news article. Obviously, she isn't really embarrassed, as Rob mentioned. Because she DID write about her feelings in the paper. Writing from an editorial perspective is difficult. It's easy to come across as preachy or judgmental. A great way to overcome that is to write about your own feelings, your own judgments, so you aren't calling people out on theirs. So maybe, just maybe, she feigned a bit of her embarrassment for the sake of her article?

As for my own opinions on lds fiction, I grew up in and currently live in North Carolina, so the only lds fiction books I have read are those that I have purchased. Our libraries don't carry them and in general, our exposure is much less. For that reason, I have very little awareness of the opinions and attitudes that exist within LDS culture towards LDS literature. I will say this though. I live in the south, where mainstream Christian fiction is huge. And guess what? A lot of it isn't very good. I think it's because religion is a very personal, and a very emotional thing. It's difficult to write about it without seeming hoky or cheesy. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, or that it can't be done well.

My first book, published with Covenant, so yes, a very LDS fiction book, is scheduled to come out in 2013. But here's the thing... I didn't set out to be an LDS Author. I had a story that I wanted to tell, and so I told it. Because it happened to have a few LDS themes, I published it with Covenant. I hope people read it, and like it. Does it really need to be more complicated than that?

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Mindi, now I'm dying to know who that author is!

Jenny P. you make some good points. Religion is a very personal thing and it touches everyone differently. Maybe that's why there's such a wide range of opinions on the topic. :) And congratulations on your book! I'd love to know what it's about.

Anonymous said...

I got the impression from Penny Bowler, author of the Mormon Times article “LDS Fiction: A Guilty Pleasure?” (http://www.mormontimes.com/article/21317/LDS-fiction-a-guilty-pleasure), that it was her reading group that frowned on LDS fiction, not Penny. It’s apparent in the title of Penny’s article that she’s asking the question: Where does she stands on the changing quality of LDS-themed novels?

Penny did a very good job creating a humorous tension between her love of a new-found genre and her less-than admiring reading-group friends who hadn't and wouldn't pick up an LDS-themed novel. It was a fun, witty tension and she used the humor very effectively to explore the topic.

A careful reading of Penny’s article, at least in my view, shows a creative use of descriptions (the "mac and cheese" of the fiction world was one of my laugh-out-loud favorites) to describe, not "her" opinion, but the opinions of members of her reading group.

In her most subtle point; don’t you think she is revealing that her educated, socially elite, literate, fashionable, with-it reading group may not be so with it? After all, if they refuse to read LDS-themed novels and instead rely on outdated stereotypes and the biased opinions of others to form their opinion, how educated and with it can they be? In a back-handed way, Penny may actually be poking fun at her reluctant reading-group friends for holding a book burning sans the gasoline and matches.

Penny was clever, concise, clear, and, as Robison Wells noted, she had a point. There are a lot of crappy LDS-themed novels. There are also a lot of crappy non-LDS-themed novels. There used to be only crappy LDS-themed novels, where in the real world there has always been a choice: would you like crappy or not-crappy today? Paper or plastic? Oil or real whipped cream?

LDS readers rejoice! You’ve reached the summit. You’ve arrived. You are like the rest of the reading world. You now have crappy and not-crappy LDS-themed novels from which to choose (Princess Bride Warning: Choose Wisely!) LDS-themed novels no longer inhabit the cesspool. It’s a yard sale where you can find anything you're looking for at a pretty fair price because here, in LDS-novel land is “where you never pay full price for anything.”

Charlie Moore said...

If I read a book and enjoy it then (to me) it is good literature. Chances are someone else may feel differently and for them it was not good literature. For the last three years or so I have read mostly LDS themed books because I have a desire to be published within the LDS marketplace. Reading these books help me get a feel for what LDS publishers are looking for. I believe their standards are higher than what many realize. Incidentally, I've enjoyed all the LDS themed books I've read.

Everybody, whether LDS or not, has an opinion on everything. That is part of the natural man side of all of us. And, by the way, there is nothing wrong with a good conversion story. And there is nothing wrong with being spiritual for more than three hours on Sunday.

Sorry, Julie, if my comments are out of line for your blog. If they are, I apologize.


Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Not at all, Charlie. I'm really enjoying this discussion and I'm glad you added your perspective. :)

Gina said...

I will admit, I felt this way until about two years ago. But Annette Lyon and Braden Bell, among others, have changed my mind. Not to mention nationally sold LDS authors like Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner, Jason Wright, Orson Scott Card and Allie Condie, who adhere to the clean-cut standards while still appealing to a broader audience.

I think people are confusing "LDS Fiction" with "Christian Fiction", and there is a big difference, in my opinion. LDS fiction is fiction told from an LDS point of view (main character is LDS, all the characters are LDS, or everybody is just clean cut, etc) while Christian fiction is generally pushing a Christian agenda and comes off as preachy, cobbled together and cheesy. If you aren't there to read about how sexually promiscuous teens are going to hell, then you won't enjoy the story.

This is all my opinion, and I am sure there are those out there who disagree with me, but based on this, I can say that I am no longer ashamed of reading LDS fiction, and I certainly believe that it can be just as good as any other fiction on the shelves, regardless of intended audience.

Jon Spell said...

I have a similar feeling about LDS fiction that I do about Christian music. I think a lot of it exists because it fits the theme, not necessarily because it's good. That said, good LDS books (and good Christian music) do exist. The Whitney Awards prove that there are good ones out there. I can't tell if the whole genre is getting better or if I just picked the right group to follow. ;)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Gina, good point about the LDS and Christian fiction. I think what appeals to me the most is the clean-cut standards, like you said.

Jon, I have found so many great books through the Whitney awards that I probably wouldn't have otherwise.