How Mormonism goads fiction writing
Sometimes, for family home evening, we brainstormed about the end of the world. That’s the first thing I thought when I saw an article in the New York Times on why Mormons have such a prominent place in YA fantasy fiction. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game are just the best known.
The article showcases shudder-inducing phrases like “clean fiction,” “values-based fiction” and “Proper Romance.” Also, accounts of unwanted attention from Church leaders, self-censorship, and how themes changed with disillusionment with the Church, much fueled by the Church’s cruel campaigns against same-sex marriage.
What goes unmentioned are the aspects of faith that push writerly disposition and discipline. When you have four pickle buckets of honey sitting on cinder blocks in your basement, of course you’ll play through the apocalypse. I thought myself magnanimous imagining how I’d share my canned beans with grubby, starving schoolmates, once they apologized for a slew of classroom slights. One of the few stories I remember from New Era (the now-defunct magazine for Mormon youth) was about a teenage girl obsessed with building a year’s supply of lipstick, because the commandment is to have on hand everything you’ll need for twelve months.*
And there’s the fact that getting to Mormon heaven means becoming a god and getting to create your own world. Yes, reader, I made plans. Rainbow blades of grass, a green sky rather than a blue one, telepathic clouds, dirt that tasted like chocolate, and sandstone that was a cross between gingerbread and graham crackers. (I hate campfire smoke but love s’mores.) I can still feel my disappointment learning that it wouldn’t be my world to create, but my eternal husband’s. Still, that belief spurred me to exercise imagination.
A third reason that goes unmentioned is discipline. The reporter interviews a BYU professor who believes Mormon homes have “an especially supportive literary culture,” with parents reading scriptures to their children. This is true. But we were also commanded to have a daily routine that included prayer, scripture study, and journal keeping. Many would-be writers say the hardest part is making writing part of their day. (There’s never enough time, but my struggle is the writing itself.) I am blessedly no longer on the path to salvation – but that urge for progress and daily practice remains. It underpins my regular writing routine.
One final thought: a hidden theme in LDS scripture is the importance of stories. The most morally complex Book of Mormon story is how God commands the to-be-prophet Nephi to kill Laban. The commandment to collect those stories on metal plates ranked higher than the commandment against murder. Of course Mormons write.
*In retrospect, that story captured so many other Mormon values