Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mopping the Lawn

By Darvell Hunt

A few days ago, I dreamed that my teenaged son was mopping our lawn with a big yellow rag mop. I’m not sure what would have prompted him to believe that the lawn was dirty or why a wet, yellow rag mop would be an appropriate way to clean it, yet that’s clearly what I saw him doing while I was asleep. The thought of mopping the lawn didn’t seem unusual to me at the time, but that my son had the initiative to mop the lawn on his own certainly did.

Creating truly great LDS stories does not involve writing about things we already know. We, as LDS people, all have everyday lives and experience LDS events. Fiction writing, even LDS fiction writing, should take us away into imaginary or unknown worlds where we see things that excite us, make us think, or make us feel something more than just what our normal LDS lives provide. There may be exceptions to this, of course, especially when dealing with romance in women’s literature, but even with this genre, women seem to be seeking either validation of their own romantic lives or something they think they might be missing.

Unfortunately, what I see being published in the LDS market today are too many stories that are ordinary, superficial, and even sappy or boring. That is not the sort of stories I write, so it’s becoming apparent to me why, after almost twenty years of attempting to write for the LDS market, that I have not yet had a novel accepted.

Frankly, I believe I’m to the point where publishers are reading my stuff and thinking it’s good, that it’s compelling writing, and it's interesting material, but they tell me that LDS readers don’t want to read that sort of thing. Well, I am an LDS reader and I do want to read that sort of thing. That’s probably why I find myself reading more mainstream fiction than LDS fiction.

If this truly the way things are in the Mormon media market, I think it’s a sad state of affairs to be in. I know that many LDS readers are craving LDS fiction that is currently not available, mostly, I think, because the “big LDS publishers” are unwilling to publish it. I have a hope that LDS publishers can expand their search for good, compelling LDS fiction and publish stories that are truly thought-provoking, yet still distinctly LDS. The LDS market can be grown to include those LDS members who do not currently read "our" fiction.

As for lawn mopping, I imagine that you’ve never actually seen a teenager out mopping the lawn with a big yellow rag mop. I am, however, willing to bet that I created a mental image of just such an activity in your mind—and I’m willing to further wager that the image you saw brought a smile to your lips, if not a chuckle.

Mopping the lawn is probably something you’ve never thought about, mostly because it doesn’t make sense—but if you could make it make sense, I would bet it would bomome a good story. Personally, I had never seen anyone do it until I saw my son with the mop while I slept. If you have never seen it either, I probably made you think about something new. That’s a good thing, in my opinion. Is mopping the lawn an appropriate story idea for LDS audiences? Sure, why not? Has this been done? I doubt it. Was it boring and sappy? You be the judge. I personally thought it was an amusing image in my head—that’s why I’m writing about it now. (Although writing about someone mopping the lawn is not specifically an LDS story, even if the mopper is LDS.)

I want to see fiction in the LDS market comparable to mopping the lawn—things that are a bit "out there" compared to typical LDS stories, but not so far that LDS readers can’t enjoy it. Is that too much to ask?

I challenge LDS writers to write stories like this and I also challenge LDS publishers to accept and publish these stories, so the rest of us can read them. That’s the only way really compelling LDS stories are going to end up in our niche market. I further hope that the LDS media market’s current situation doesn’t force these great stories into the national market, possibly watered down or spiced up, as national publishers may require.

I believe that we LDS people are a complex, passionate, and thinking people—so why can’t our published writing show that?


Annette Lyon said...

Ordinary, sappy, boring? Ouch. Some painful adjectives there. And yes, there are books in the market like that and make me want to throw them against the wall. But overall, there is a much higher quality book being published today than there was even five years ago. And think about what was out there ten, fifteen, and twenty years ago. We're lightyears past that.

The kind of book you're probably talking about that you want to read and write is probably also not a straight genre book--possibly more of a "literary" book. No matter whether you're in the LDS or the national market, those books are tough sales. Genre books claim the vast majority of book sales globally, because that's what most (of course not all) readers want and are willing to plunk down their money for--a fun escape, not a thinking and pondering experience.

All of the major LDS publishers have taken financial risks on great books they've loved and believed in--and then gotten burned because the public didn't buy them. Unfortunately, publishing is a business, and they can't print what doesn't pay the bills. They've learned through hard experience what does and does not sell to the majority.

I'm guessing you'd probably love what a lot of the smaller presses put out--the people who publish more for the love of great literature than as a money-making venture (I'm thinking of publishers like Parables). They're releasing books that appeal to the very real minority.

I hope you don't give up on the LDS market altogether (writing or reading)--just ask around for recommendations and be picky in what you pick up. I'm betting you can find titles you really enjoy.

Tristi Pinkston said...


Have you tried Zarahemla and Parables?

Anna Maria Junus said...

I don't think that it isn't that writers aren't writing them, it's that publishers aren't publishing them.

My suggestion is to not try and get into LDS publishing. It's a small world and you don't make any money and the restrictions are too many.

Get published in the big world and then write your LDS stories.

Speaking from experience here.

Darvell Hunt said...

Thanks for your comments, Annette. Sometimes, I believe, my frankness gets me into trouble. I'm not sure if this is one of those times--I don't think so, but the jury is still out.

And, just to clear the air, I certainly wasn't talking about YOUR books. LOL.

But yes, I HAVE found some LDS books to be sappy and boring--even ones that sell very well in the LDS market.

So, I'm not necessary saying that the books don't have merit and that people don't enjoy reading them, because obviously they ARE enjoyed considerably if they sell well.

I'm saying that *I* don't always enjoy reading them. And it's becoming aparent to me that a possible reason that my books are not being accepted is that they are not LDS marketable in the CURRENT marketplace.

That's why I'm suggesting the LDS market can be GROWN, to include people like me--people who are LDS and are heavy readers, but do not enjoy reading a large portion of the LDS fiction market.

I'm not sure sure I'm talking about literary stuff, though. I'm not a general fan of literary literature. I have been know to enjoy some of it, but, interestly, my favorite "literary novel" is by Stephen King. Impossible? Perhaps. But some of his later stuff is much different from his earlier writing--het's getting older and he's changing. Some of his stuff (SOME, I said!) is very beautiful to read.

Yes, publishing is a business. Publishers like to accept books like other books they've already sold, because they know the market is there to receive them. Taking risks on unknowns can lose you money. I understand that, but it still frustrates me.

I haven't given up. Really. I still want to publish LDS-specific stories. I even want to write stories that are SO LDS that they cannot work in the national market. I hope LDS readers out there are ready for something like that. I think they are. In fact, I've just started an LDS romance novel that fits under this category--so that means, it appears, that I havne't given up.

Again, thanks for your comments. It's always good to hear what you have to say

Darvell Hunt said...

Thanks for visiting, Tristi. I am always interested in your comments.

Interestingly, both Zarahemla and Parables has shown interest in an LDS thriller novel I'm working on. Zarahemla is interested in seeing a few things rewritten, however. I'll see how these leads turn out.


Darvell Hunt said...

Well stated, Anna, my old friend. Glad to see you here again. I think you just might be right.


Annette Lyon said...

I wouldn't take it personally if you did mean one of mine. :)

I think we're in agreement for the most part--the LDS market is sort of stuck in a rut, both in subject matter as well as in size.

I've thought for years that there's got to be a way to expand it--doing so would only be a good thing, for readers, writers, AND publishers. Only I have no idea how it can be expanded.

You'd need to simultaneously expand the readership (people who won't give LDS fiction the time of day or who haven't read any in years and think it's all drivel)and the authorship (new voices, fresh insights, different styles).

I don't know how either could be accomplished, but I sure hope someone figures it out.

Darvell Hunt said...

I agree with you, Annette, that probably the biggest hurdle in growing the LDS market is convincing LDS members who do not read LDS fiction that it's worth reading.

I'm not sure how we can do that--but we can start by writing it. Since I'm not a publisher, though, that's about as far as I can take it on my own, hence my frustration.

It's an ugly Catch-22 to be in--how do we provide these types of stories when our target audience isn't even looking for it? Big problem there.


C. Michelle Jefferies said...

I agree with both Darvell and Annette.

I read modern romance and for the most part I stick with LDS Authors for OBVIOUS reasons. However, I love Sci/fi Fantasy and Adventure but the national market is filled with smut just like national romance, and there is no alternative.

Except us.

There is no reason to have language and suggestive scenes in a book when it is not wanted. I can write a great book with no lauguage and clean romantic scenes and still have all the action and adventure needed to make a great book.

We can change the market, we just have to keep working at it. I have submitted my MS to Covenant and will be pitching it to Cedar Fort in a week. Wish me luck.


Jenn said...

I think it's a sheer numbers game.

Let's just make up some numbers since I don't have any at hand.

If there are 100,000 people who are writing for the national market, and 1,000 companies publishing their work, there will be, say, 100 books that are really amazing quality.

If there are 1,000 people who are writing for the LDS market, and 10 companies publishing their work, , how many books that are really amazing quality will surface to the top?

You do the math. :D

It's pretty amazing how great the books in the LDS market really are considering the above equation, don't you think?

Darvell Hunt said...

You know, Jennifer, I agree with you. Getting a book published is like winning the lottery. You buy your ticket and hope your number comes up.

It's also a matter of getting the right story to the right editor at exactly the right time. There's no way to know how to do this, so we just submit. Even with doing our homework on what editors and publishing houses prefer what type of stories, it's still a crap shoot. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't.

Another problem with the LDS market being a numbers game is the limited number of LDS publishers. There are thousands of publishers in the national market, but once you've made the rounds to the LDS publishers, what else is there to do? Self publish?

Even so, when I am told in rejections that the people who visit LDS book stores don't buy the types of stories that I'm submitting, I begin to think there's more to it than just being a numbers game.

Thanks for your insight, Jennifer. I appreciate you visiting our blog.