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Losing My Religion

On November 8th, the New York Times ran an article by one of its religion columnists titled “Mormons Offer Cautionary Lesson on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness” … which, naturally, set off at least half a dozen “Are you kidding me?” reactions in my brain.

The none-too-subtle implication that genre and YA fiction are inferior forms of literature? As someone who writes (and loves) YA sci-fi, yeah, I have a problem with that.

The conclusion that all “Mormon authors” write cheery, sunny stories? Well, some do. Just like some non-Mormon authors do. And some (plenty) don’t. Stop with the generalizing, please-and-thank-you.

Speaking of generalizing, that reference to parents telling children to only journal positive things, never negative? An isolated incident as far as I know, because I have never heard of any parents teaching that … and I grew up in Utah!

More than the article itself, though, I was really interested in the ensuing conversation I was able to observe among several Mormon (or not!) Utah-based authors. One noted that at signings and events, people are always remarking on her religion or asking her about it.

A published friend of mine is Lutheran. Yet that doesn’t ever seem to come up in her professional dealings as an author.

It raised the question for me: Am I a Mormon who happens to be an author, or an author who happens to be Mormon?

When it comes to my writing, I’m going to go with the latter. For one, I don’t write “Mormon literature.” More importantly, yes, my beliefs and background have had some influence on my stories … but so has the fact that I’m the middle child, the oldest girl, a math teacher, and a cellist. These aren’t things that create an “agenda” in my writing. They’re just things that have contributed to the lens I see the world through, and therefore naturally filter in varying degrees into my work.

Here’s the thing. Even when I do have an element that could be taken as reflective or symbolic of one thing or another, I don’t actually care about the reader taking it that way. I’ve had people read one of my manuscripts and say, “Wow, (X) was such a great symbol for _______.” Annnnnnd it’s nothing I was aiming for when I wrote it.

And that’s cool.

Even before I started writing, I never cared as much about an author’s intent as I did about the meaning the reader finds. (This was a problem when it came to English class.)

So that’s what I’m going to keep doing.

The title of this post doesn’t mean my religion is going anywhere. It just means what we should already know:

That generalizations and labels stink.

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2 Responses to “Losing My Religion”

  1. Joni says:

    Yes, this!

    As a Mormon, one of my pet-peeves has always been that once someone knows my religion, they assume they know everything about me–my tastes, my opinions, what I like to read, watch, or write. A lot of people can’t wrap their head around the fact that we Mormons are individuals just like everyone else.

    You don’t see articles about “Catholic authors” or “Jewish authors”, so why does it matter what “Mormon authors” write? (or if there are articles of this type, I’ve never seen them and they shouldn’t exist, just like articles about Mormon authors).

    Like you, I don’t write “Mormon literature”, I just write stories. Sure, my life experience and religion probably influence how my stories turn out, but I’m not going into it with an agenda.

  2. Stephanie B says:

    Awesome post! Generalizations and labels do stink! It doesn’t really matter what religion, race, gender, etc. any author is. What matters is what they write and its impact on readers. That’s what matters.

    Another example of people trying to put authors and literature in one of their tiny little boxes.

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