Dallas Robbins has already posted an announcement about three new titles from Zarahemla Books over at This Mormon Life. I have read one of the new books — Coke Newell’s semi-autobiographical novel On the Road to Heaven — and highly recommend it. The plot itself doesn’t break much ground. It’s the typical conversion/missionary novel thing with a large dose of romance. But the writing itself is fantastic. I especially like the nature writing in the beginning as the mountain hippie protagonist explores the meaning of life through a mix of nature love and Eastern philosophy. It introduces some aspects in to Mormonism that are often missing, exploring where some of the stuff that was swirling around during the ’60s meshes with LDS doctrine (and where it doesn’t so much).
I haven’t ready Doug Thayer’s memoir Hooligans: A Mormon Boyhood, but I’m a big fan of his fiction. I continue to be puzzled by the fact that Thayer’s work isn’t published (or even stocked) by Deseret Book. But whatever. Go support Chris Bigelow and Zarahemla and by this book. I’m betting that this is going to become a Mormon classic (in some circles).
I don’t know anything about Jessica Draper or her cyberpunk novel. But I do like that with this and Brother Brigham, Zarahemla has shown that it’s willing to publish genre fiction.
I know Chris Bigelow — we’ve been e-mail correspondents for the past 5 years or so and from time to time I give him feedback on projects he’s involved in*. I don’t know the specifics of Zarahemla’s finances, but I’m pretty sure that his ability to publish future titles depends on selling the current ones. Since October of 2006, Zarahemla Books has published:
- Brother Brigham, a unique “supernatural” thriller (that’s not really supernatural because it’s plausible within the realm of Mormon folk doctrine)
- Kindred Spirits, one of the first novels to focus on a demographic trend that I would guess has increased in the past 15 years or so — a young, single educate Mormon woman living in an urban non-Western city (Boston in this case)
- Long After Dark, one of the best short story collections in the canon of Mormon literature
- On the Road to Heaven, an autobiographical novel by one of the most influential converts in late 20th century Mormon American — Coke Newell
- Hooligan, a memoir by the godfather of Mormon literature
- Hunting Gideon, an ambitious attempt at Mormon postmodern, cyberpunk
In that time, it looks like Signature Books has published only one creative title — a poetry collection in March of this year. The newest fiction title I can find on their site is from March 2006. And as far as I can tell** the only other titles that have been published in the past year are all genre works — the romance or historical fiction or mystery/thriller novels. There may be some other memoirs out there, but none that have the literary interest as Thayer’s.
I’d like to see Zarahemla sustain its publishing momentum and be able to come out with 2-3 new titles every six months. I hope you all join me in adding to that momentum. And this is not to focus only on Zarahemla Books. It’s just that, as far as I can tell, it is the only publisher trying to publish the ‘literary yet not apostate’ or ‘genre but with a twist’ type of fiction that I find to be the most interesting and satisfying reads in the world of Mormon literature.
* For example, I think I once e-mailed him (or maybe it was Todd Robert Petersen) some rather snooty comments about The Sugar Beet and yet made no offer at all to help with the endeavor.
** I could be horribly wrong about this. In fact, I’d be happy to be horribly wrong about it because that means there are some titles out there that I should be tracking down. I also haven’t included young adult fiction in this. Not because I don’t value it, but because I don’t know the Mormon publishing side of it well enough because I tend to stick to national titles.