Diversity or dilution? The Whitneys and BYU Studies Review

Earlier this summer there were two major developments in the world of Mormon letters. The announcement of the Whitney Awards and the rolling out of BYU Studies’ review site.

I’ve been thinking about them both, especially in relation to the Association for Mormon Letters, and I keep painting my pedestrian mind into a corner. On the one hand, I very much understand and agree with the impetus behind both projects. I have a comparatists general bias towards diversity, towards a variety of attempts at solving (or fostering) certain cultural needs. A multiplicity of ideologies. Competing discourses. All that good stuff. On the other hand, as a PR practitioner, I can’t help but see a lack of strong brands in the world of Mormon arts. I see a cacophony of weak voices. A lack of authoritative discourse. Not that people aren’t trying. But every movement lacks at least one substantial attribute.

As always, my understanding/perception of the field is limited and may be wrong. But here’s what I see:

1. Whether they spin it this way or not, the Whitney Awards are a direct challenge to the Association for Mormon Letters awards. It’s an understandable challenge. The AML Awards have not always done well by genre titles (with the exception of young adult/children’s literature and historical fiction — although oftentimes those awards go to nationally published titles rather than titles published solely for the Mormon market). And in spite of its grand name (Orson F. Whitney’s major form was the epic poem — one wonders what he would think of the current state of Mormon letters/publishing), the Whitneys are focused on genre works. And although in the official rules state that works need not be published by Mormon publishers nor authors associated with LDStorymakers, it is mainly genre authors published by Covenant that are driving the awards. And this is not to say that the AML Awards are without conflicts of interest. I don’t really know, but at the very least, the AML Awards are sometimes quite idiosyncratic.

But I don’t want to get too bogged down here. The main point is this: both the AML Awards and the Whitneys have very good reasons for the way they exist. They also are hampered — the AML Awards by the fact that they ignore a large part of the market, are sometimes idiosyncratic and don’t have the best marketing; the Whitneys by the fact that they appear to be a bit too self-congratulatory and are taking on a brand (that Orson F. Whitney “Shakespeares and Miltons of our own” quote again) that promises more than I think the awards really deliver. Is this the case where the diversity is better than the dilution? As the Whitneys are quite new, we’ll have to wait and see. But I can say that having the two awards around to compare and contrast really exposes their separate weaknesses.

2. BYU Studies Review appears to simply be the online posting of reviews of creative work that appear in the print version. Actually, the way the put it is: “to take all [the print] reviews, make them available to the LDS community, and update the reviews more frequently than our journals.” In this sense, it competes with the print (and sometimes online) reviews in Dialogue, Irreantum and Sunstone as well as AML-List Reviews. And I guess you could toss AMV in there too, although we don’t do many reviews. Just like with the Whitney Awards, BYU Studies Review is completely understandable. In most (if not all) cases, it’s content they already have, and reviews are the least costly thing to post online in terms of not riling up print subscribers. Like the journal itself, it’s a nice outlet for academics who want to engage in criticism/reviews, but aren’t comfortable with the association with Dialogue or Sunstone and are above joining the amateurs/independents on the AML-List.

The problem is that it becomes yet another place to go for reviews. And so far at least, there isn’t much posted there. Indeed the Art, Music, New Media and Theater categories are all empty. The latest book review is from May 15; the newest film review is from June 10 — and both are of works that didn’t come out in 2007 (The Conversion of Jeff Williams and “New York Doll”). That’s just not going to drive consistent traffic (and since there aren’t RSS feeds, you can’t passively track updates). Diversity? To a certain extent. They do tend to have nicely written reviews (as one might expect). But on the hand, it’s also just dilution. There’s nothing there that isn’t treated elsewhere — both online and in print.

3. I could come up with more examples, but one more should suffice. One of the things A Motley Vision supports (and I’m working to do more of it) is the boutique publishers that publish fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction, especially works that hit that sweet spot of faithful but not didactic; well-crafted (even literary) but still approachable. It’s why we post stuff about Zarahemla Books and Mormon Arts and Letters here. And why you may also soon hear more about Parables Publishing as well as another effort that’s (hopefully) in the works. And there may be more out there (if you think you fit the ethos, contact me).

But the problem here (and this is a problem that is endemic to many efforts in the field) is that these small publishers are dependent on the work (and financing) of just one or two individuals. They are often short-lived affairs. And a related phenomenon is self-published (or partially self-published) novels from publishers like Cedar Fort. I am grateful for all these efforts. Most of the Mormon works I value come from these sources. But again, is this type of diversity really fruitful or does it just dilute the audiences and publicity and resources?

So that’s the issue as I see it. I don’t really have any answers for how things should change. And I admit that I’m part of the problem — not AMV so much as the Popcorn Popping experiment. But I’m going to think about this and see if any brilliant ideas pop into my head. Or at least any ideas that don’t require a 40 million endowment*. Meanwhile, what do you all think?

*Not to discourage any potential funders out there. If you have the money and the interest, e-mail me.** I could put together a proposal for you in less than a week, including mission statement, staffing, grants programs, strategic partnerships, marketing/communications strategy, and more.

** No, I’m not really being serious here. But if someone did have the money, I could get real serious, real quick.

24 thoughts on “Diversity or dilution? The Whitneys and BYU Studies Review”

  1. I don’t see how Popcorn Popping could be part of the problem. It makes sense for authors to make some of their works available on the web in order to whet the taste for more by that author (or for new authors, to start building a name and generating an audience). It makes sense for a Mormon lit blog to point to a central location for this. Sure it’s nice to be published in a literary magazine, but being published on the web has the advantage of perpetual access/availability of the work.

    I guess my point is that I don’t see web publishing as necessarily a competitor to physical wood-pulp publishing…

  2. I totally see your points about dilution and fragmentation. It does seem like some of us smaller folks might do well to consider combining forces on things like advertising, convention booths, direct mail, etc. But one of the reasons I started my own gig is because I didn’t quite relate to what anyone else was doing, so I like maintaining my independence too.

    We should probably find good models in the national book industry and replicate them in our own culture, things like what small and independent publishers are doing to band together, share resources, cooperate, etc. There are many programs and associations that we could learn from.

  3. Chris:

    I completely understand the notion of independence. It’s why I do what I do. But it seems like almost the entire field relies too much on individuals.

    Regarding models, I’m considering a follow-up post in which I explore some options.

    C.L.: Your point about Web vs. print is very good.

    The major issue is that it’s too easy for Web initiatives to be quite diffuse (since almost anyone can start one) so getting an audience to follow you here and there (from print to Web) isn’t always easy. I think Six LDS Writers and a Frog do a good job of using the Web to foster a community that (I would hope) that leads to print sales.

  4. I wonder if there’s any real diluting going on with the rewards. I don’t get the feeling that the AML crowd and the Covenant crowd overlap a whole lot.

    As for reviews, the more the merrier. But one large, updated, searchable, indexed site would be nice.

  5. The AML Awards don’t ignore a large part of the market; they’re limited by monetary considerations. The Fiction award ought to be several separate categories so that seven or eight major genres can be properly recognized, but there just isn’t enough money for the honoraria. It probably contributes to the “idiosyncrasy” William mentions, since we’ll have genre fiction win one year and literary fiction the next–or all types of fiction rubbing elbows when you include the honorable mention titles. (Also, over the years the awards have been handled by different people, and it’s only been very recently that the AML has codified the awards rules and criteria.)

    I agree with Eric that there will likely be little dilution of the awards–I doubt that many of the nominated works will come from outside Covenant, in fact. But I’m probably overly cynical about it.

  6. Thanks for the clarification, Melissa.

    I actually like that the AML Awards are a bit idiosyncratic. It seems natural that the AML would seek to honor the best stuff in any given category in any given year rather than be tied down to giving an award in every category every year.

  7. Very interesting article, William.

    You said “Whether they spin it this way or not, the Whitney Awards are a direct challenge to the Association for Mormon Letters awards.” Frankly, you’re right. It’s certainly not intended as an angry challenge, or even a competitive one, but there’s no getting around the fact that we’re trying to achieve something that the AML awards has not, in our minds, achieved.

    The Whitneys were inspired by a conversation I had with Brandon Sanderson after the annual LDStorymakers conference this spring. We were talking about the LDS market, and about the common negative stereotypes about it; we were trying to think of ways to increase to awareness that quality mainstream LDS fiction exists. (Many people, of course, still believe that all mainstream LDS fiction–stuff that’s on the front shelves at DB or Seagull, for example–is preachy/poorly written/badly edited/etcetera.) Meaning no offense to the AML awards, they don’t appear to have that same goal. The biggest problem in that regard is that the AML awards are somewhat insular, and apparently content to be so. If you’re really interested in a literary or academic approach to the LDS arts, then you’re likely familiar with AML. If you’re not–if you’re the average reader–then you’ve likely never even heard of AML, and almost assuredly never heard of their awards.

    That’s the real difference between the two awards programs, I think. AML wants to recognize and award quality. The Whitneys want to recognize and award quality, for the purpose of elevating the market. We’ve reached out to every LDS publisher we can find to get them onboard–Zarahemla, for example, is participating and gets exactly the same number of votes that Deseret Book gets. At the LDSBA convention, we signed up hundreds of members to the voting academy–retailers, distributors, critics, librarians, and more. The participating bookstores will hang Whitney posters in their stores. The winning novels will have the license to print a Whitney Seal on their covers–like the Newberys or Caldecott awards. The goal of all of this is not to be self-congratulatory, but to make the public aware that high-quality LDS novels exist. We want to bring readers to the market. If we felt that AML was doing this, then we wouldn’t have seen any need for the awards in the first place.

    Granted, we’re having some growing pains. Why is there no category for General Fiction/Literary Fiction? I don’t know, but it’ll be there next year. And yes, this large voting academy will probably result in a more populist result than the AML Novel of the Year will. It’s a trade-off. Still, I’m optimistic about the whole thing.

  8. Thanks for taking the time to post this comment, Robison.

    I hope it was clear that all my commentary above is not meant to be malicious. I actually support pretty much all the efforts I mention in the post — even as I think that they all have weaknesses.

    But the marketing man inside me wonders if the way things are currently is going to help grow the field.

  9. Robison, what makes you think the AML awards are insular? And what does “elevating the market” mean exactly? I’m asking because I’m not really sure what you’re getting at here. The AML promotes its awards about as much as it possibly can right now, given the lack of funding and staff. (Don’t even get me started on why we don’t have promotional seals for award winners; that’s been a problem since forever.) To me it sounds like you’re saying that if the AML isn’t doing a certain thing, it’s because they don’t want to or don’t care–which is far from the truth.

  10. Everybody:

    I am about to leave town and may or may not have internet access over the next few days. I have had some e-mail interaction with both Melissa and Robison in the past and trust both of them to engage in this discussion (should they choose to continue to have it here at AMV) in a manner that is in keeping with what AMV is about. And, honestly, it is a discussion that would eventually take place in some form or another because as different as the AML Awards and the Whitneys are, they do overlap and thus compete.

    However, I feel the need to be pre-emptive here and remind all would-be commenters to remain civil. The fact of the matter is, as I have said, all of us have major weaknesses in how we are going about this whole Mormon literature thing. This is to be expected. The field is still young. It is still very much driven by a few motivated individuals who sacrifice their time and resources and often don’t get much in return. And because it takes dedication and sacrifice, part of the reason for the various start up projects in the field is exactly that it attracts people who have a particular vision and who prefer to go at it independently. And I lump myself into this — it’s a big part of the reason I started A Motley Vision.

    The good thing is that there is stuff happening and (perhaps with the exception of the self-help/devotional titles that Deseret Book publishes) there just isn’t enough money and fame to be made that it attracts the layers of bureaucracy, the managers, the agents who work to flatten out a field. We don’t have the market all figured out. There are some promising developments (and certainly LDS Storymakers and the Covenant contingent is one; the imrpovements to Irreantum and the robustness of the Irreantum Fiction Contest is another). But I, for one, am not completely satisfied with where we are at.

    Where was I going with this? It’s probably not wise to start pontificating when I’m this tired.

    Anyway. I’m glad I’ve been able to spark some conversation. I hope it continues. And I hope it’s fruitful rather than frustrating. See you all Monday evening.

  11. Sorry, Melissa. Insular probably isn’t the word I meant. I didn’t mean it in the “narrow-minded” sense, but more in an “isolated” kind of way. Like I said previously, the average LDS fiction reader isn’t aware of the AML awards. And whether it’s by design or by restrictive circumstances, the AML awards are not very well publicized. (You make a very good point in your post that just because AML is not doing something doesn’t mean AML doesn’t want to do something. I can’t speak to intentions, only to what I’ve seen. Since we were seeking an awards program for the primary purpose of raising awareness, the awards MUST be heavily publicized.)

    The term “elevating the market” was intended to mean two things: first, to increase readership via letting people know that LDS books actually are good. Second, when books are recognized as high quality, the reputation of the market as a whole improves; when the reputation improves, it draws better authors and raises the bar for current authors. So “elevating the market” means boosting both readership and quality. (Sure, it’s a lofty goal, and certainly one that can only be achieved in the long term. But we have a lot of support; a lot of people, including the biggest publishers and retailers, have gotten on board. We’re optimistic.)

    Please don’t get me wrong with any of this. I have great respect for the Association for Mormon Letters. I very much agree with the recent Novel of the Year choices. I’m a long-time lurker on the AML listserv, and enjoy the intelligent discussion. The Whitneys were not devised because we thought the AML awards were screwed up; they were devised because we wanted an awards program that acheived certain goals, and the AML awards didn’t fit the bill. No disrespect was intended, and I hope they haven’t been taken as such.

  12. Robison, thanks for clarifying your points. I completely agree with you about the AML awards not being very well publicized, and maybe the existence of, well, competition will help to change that. 🙂 On the other hand, the statement on the awards home page “the definitive awards program for LDS authors” does not exactly sound like you’re trying to achieve a parallel but separate goal from the AML — it sounds more like a challenge. I wish you would consider how that sounds, though I imagine it is more by way of being a promotional statement than anything else.

    I know very well, from having fielded so many questions and misapprehensions over the last five years, that very little is known to the public about the AML awards. A great deal of the seeming isolation that’s been mentioned here is an artifact of the time when the program was little more than a way for like-minded and personally acquainted individuals to praise excellent works of art. It’s taken a lot of work from very dedicated individuals to bring it this far — yes, me too — so I think you can appreciate that at this point it’s a more personal issue for me how the awards are perceived by others. Not because I am offended, but because such comments remind me how much further we still have to go.

    This brings me to a far more sensitive point that I hope Robison (and anyone else involved with the Whitney awards) will take in the right way: What is it about the Association for Mormon Letters that, faced with concerns about what the awards weren’t handling, prevented you from bringing it up to us/me?

    I’ve been involved with the AML for eleven years now and for most of the time I’ve been part of its inner workings. I know very well that the chronic complaint we all had was that people didn’t seem interested in volunteering to help or participate. And I also came in at the time when the divide between the literary/critical folk and “pop culture” readers and critics was reaching its worst. So I can’t help thinking that some of what’s behind this is the feeling that the AML is not interested in popular LDS literature, and that it’s not worth trying to change the institution. I know I would have welcomed the input of LDS authors with regard to the awards, but no one has ever said anything to me (or to anyone else on the AML board).

    I’m afraid this all sounds like I’m saying every new LDS artistic endeavor needs to apply to the AML for permission to exist. That’s obviously not true, and I doubt anyone in charge over there thinks that way. The thing is that my experience with the AML (and the story of how I entered the email list is an amusing one for another time) has led me to think of it as extremely open to new assistance, new volunteers, new ideas, because that’s what happened to me. So what this discussion tells me is that no matter what the AML is really *like*, nobody sees it that way. And that’s a real problem, not only for the awards but for the organization as a whole. If the words “insular” or “isolated” or even “exclusive” (that was my addition) can be applied to the AML in seriousness, then maybe we should be less insulted by them and more worried about why that is.

    I’m not from the literary tradition; my critical experience is mostly in speculative fiction. We’ve got Hugos and Nebulas and the World Fantasy Award and a bunch of others that are all drawing from the same pool of literature. And they tend to survive. Last year I had an AML semifinalist slate of 16 novels and there were 8 finalists who all deserved recognition — literally EIGHT novels that could have been the best of the year. (Yes, I personally read most of the 60 to 100 LDS novels published each year.) It kills me every time that I have no way of spreading that love around. An award program capable of giving as many awards within fiction as AML is within literature as a whole sounds good to me. I’m interested to see what the Whitney judges come up with; I agree with William that the assertion about Miltons and Shakespeares may promise more than they can deliver, but who knows?

  13. Sorry for the slow reply. I just got back into town late last night.

    Melissa asked: “What is it about the Association for Mormon Letters that, faced with concerns about what the awards weren’t handling, prevented you from bringing it up to us/me?”

    To be honest, we never really considered it. I think the most obvious reason is because we had a very clear idea of what we wanted, and to fit our desires with your award would require huge major changes to AML award–which seems an awfully pretentious request. (Things like awards for individual genres, heavy publicity, popular voting, etc.)

    But there’s another reason. (And I realize we’re treading on very sensitive ground here, so let me first offer the disclaimer that I’m saying this only because you asked, I’m speaking only for myself–not the awards committee, and I’m definitely, certainly, absolutely not trying to start any kind of flame war or to cause offense.) The other reason is because it often appears that AML members–not AML itself–actively perpetuate the stereotype that LDS genre fiction is substandard. I fully realize that this is not the policy of AML, or the attitude of the awards program, but it appears to be a very common attitude among the members. Maybe not the MAJORITY of members, but certainly the most vocal.

    Consider this: AML’s three most visible faces are the annual meeting, the writers conference, and the email list. I have seen first hand frequent and repeated slams to LDS genre fiction on the list, and have heard many similar stories from those who’ve attended the conference and meeting. Granted, this is all anecdotal and mostly related to members, not policy (though some of the stories are about panels and speakers at the meeting).

    I certainly realize that members don’t always speak for the organization to which they belong. And I realize that AML has an academic slant to it that doesn’t seem to lend itself to popular fiction as much as to literary. Whatever the reason, however, I never felt that AML would be willing or even interested in pursuing the same goals we’re seeking.

    I’m ready for you to tell me I’m wrong. That’s a definite possibility. Like I said, I’ve never been to either the conference or the meeting, and there just might be a panel discussing the Shandra Covington Series, the collected works of Robert Farrell Smith, or the development of suspense novels in the LDS market. But all I can speak to is my general impression, based on my years involved in the market. (I will also say that this impression is held by many more people than me.)

    Again, I say this not to start an argument, or to create a fued between the Whitneys and AML. I have great respect for AML; I’ve just never viewed it as particularly embracing of popular LDS genre fiction.

    (Incidentally, I admit that the Miltons and Shakespeares quote may be promising more than we can deliver. It’s a good tagline; a good marketing package. But I also am willing to consider that we just might be producing some great literature here. To dismiss the quote as a pipe dream would seem to very accurately illustrate the attitudes I’ve mentioned above. I believe that LDS fiction is good–some of it great. And I’m willing to believe that we just might run across a few masterpieces if we’re looking.)

  14. Now I’m the one who’s slow to respond…hooray for the start of school and all that.

    I asked the question about perceptions of AML specifically because I want to know what those perceptions are. Like I said, if they’re based in real experiences, then negative perceptions are at least in part the responsibility of the AML or its members (and as you point out, Robison, they don’t have to be the same thing). I was not inviting a response I could then tear down and say is wrong; I am interested in information. I’m glad you’re willing to be honest about something that could start a fight. Not with me, though.

    It’s true that we’re talking about two different approaches to choosing awards that are certainly incompatible. The AML awards are juried rather than based on popular vote because the latter, I think, results in an award that is well-liked but not necessarily great literature. It’s long been my contention that liking something does not mean it is high quality — and that something of high quality is not necessarily likable. The danger for *us* is that the award will represent some bizarre literary work that critics drool over and the ordinary person thinks is stupid. It’s something we try to avoid in judging (at least since my time) but the limitations of only three prose fiction categories would be a problem no matter how we approached it. It’s a disadvantage of having one award for ALL categories of fiction.

    I know exactly what you mean about comments on LDS genre fiction within the AML membership. While a bias away from such works within the *organization* may be simply accidental (because of its academic background) that’s not the case for individuals. I said before that I read every eligible work each year. Some of those only get a few chapters of my time because they are simply not very good. But this has nothing to do with whether they’re LDS or genre or popular — it’s based on the work itself. So it disturbs me to hear others dismiss the entire body of publications simply because…it’s LDS or genre or popular. (Those who are dismissive because they’ve actually read the books get a free pass from me, as they’re entitled to their opinions.) But it disturbs me more to think that those ill-judged comments taint the organization as a whole.

    I think there may be one other difference between our respective programs’ outlooks, but correct me if I’m wrong here: are you looking to compare LDS fiction with its counterparts, or against published fiction as a whole? Or is that not an issue because it’s ultimately up to your voters, who may apply any standard they like?

    (I don’t mean, of course, that comparisons to the national market always make LDS writing look bad. I just think it makes a difference in one’s way of thinking, since LDS fiction has elements, specifically the inclusion of the gospel, that are lacking in most other books.)

    Unlike you, I’m not allowed to express personal opinions about the quality of fiction in the Mormon market. I’m a judge as well as an administrator, and I try very hard to be impartial. But I can say that the instructions we give the judges are to rank eligible works based on absolute quality, which means comparing them to the very best the national market has to offer rather than by comparison only to other LDS fiction. Both ways are valuable: internal comparisons, I think, encourage LDS writers to improve themselves within a community of understanding, Mormon readers; while external comparisons have us look to our place in the national community (and, I hope, show outsiders that Mormons are not weird).

    The AML board — I guarantee this is true — appreciates the fact that we have an amazingly thriving market for LDS fiction; the organization’s been around since before this was the case. But this is not the same as a direct mandate to grow that market. Which probably looks very much the same as a lack of interest in the market. Our interest is in Mormon writing, film, theater, criticism, and so forth, wherever it’s produced and whatever form it takes. I think that even if the harshly dismissive attitude of some people toward LDS genre fiction were gone, the AML would still seem rather detached from the local market. I think our independence is a good thing, even though I’d like to see more attention paid to…actually, to everything we’re involved in.

    And if anyone is still reading this thread and wants to see the AML deal more with LDS genre fiction, you’re welcome to propose a session for either of our conferences, either to me or to the people running them. I know the writers’ conference is always looking for interesting sessions on the details of writing and publishing. The website is http://www.aml-online.org.

  15. I walked in on this discussion quite late, but found it fascinating reading. I think Melissa and Rob both make great points, and thanks for the nod to Six LDS Writers and a Frog. I was intrigued by your question about whether most of the awards will go to Covenant titles.

    I assume that you meant Covenant/DB novels. If the point was that there is a slant specifically toward one LDS publisher (Covenant), I would disagree. In fact the Storymakers group is actually headed by Josi Kilpack, BJ Rowley, and Rachel Nunes, none of whom are Covenant authors. (Although Rachel was once.) In addition, the committee seems to have gone out of it’s way to get members on the committee who are not Covenant authors. James Dashner, for example, is with Cedar Fort and Shadow Mountain.

    But if your point was that the bestselling books would generally get the most votes, and this win the awards, I think that probably is accurate. I mean basically it’s a popularity contest right? So what are the odds that a Zerahemla book would get the most votes when its sales may be much smaller? And how do you fix that? It’s like trying to have a Prom King and Queen that aren’t from the popular crowd.

    But that’s where I think the two awards do provide unique opportunities. In a contest by jury, the focus is often on the most well written prose–which may not be the most enjoyable for the average reader. In a popularity contest, the author who best targets the average reader will usually win. What I look forward to is the day when a book is both well written enough and accessible enough to win both awards. It’s like when a movie is both a blockbuster and wins the Oscar for best picture.

    The truth is though, that this seldom happens. How often does Stephen King, John Grisham, or Janet Evanovitch win a top literary prize? Not very often, but they win their genre prizes all the time. I guess you could add more genres to the AML awards. And you can add literary fiction to the Whitneys. But does that really fix the inherent differences between the two?

    Why should there not be room for both groups? And this is totally pulling strings out of the air, but if the Whitneys end up getting more financial clout, volunteers, etc. Why not share some of the wealth with the AML awards? The truth, I suspect, is that for the most part the average reader is not going to know what a Whitney or an AML award is, but if there is a cool gold stamp on the book they will give it a closer look. I mean look how popular the Newberry award is. And yet ask a non-author or non-librarian what it really means.

  16. “What I look forward to is the day when a book is both well written enough and accessible enough to win both awards.”

    I completely agree, Jeff.

    And to be fair to the AML — they may not be quite as supportive of genre works as the Whitneys will presumably be. But they have certainly done more for genre works than other literary-type organizations/awards.

    Two examples that come to mind:

    1. The Romance edition of Irreantum a few years back.
    2. The AML Awards given out to Young Adult novels over the years.

    Regarding the idea of room for both groups — I think that all of us who have some sort of interest and role in the field need to look closely at what types of partnerships might make sense. As you note, certainly LDStorymakers has been a nice success and has happened because individual authors were willing to band together instead of go it alone.

  17. “I think that all of us who have some sort of interest and role in the field need to look closely at what types of partnerships might make sense.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. Maybe we could get some AML and some Storymakers together for a dinner sometime to discuss. If you guys are up for it, let me know. I’ll volunteer to corrdinate and even offer up the house, unless we want to go out. Then Rob is paying.

  18. Not to provoke a firefight or anything here, because I really think it would be a great thing to get the two groups together. But after reading this whole discussion, I decided to go back and check out the list again. I was on it for a couple of years, but finally left when I felt like I really didn’t fit.

    So what is the first thing I read?

    Chris (who I really admire for what he is trying to do) saying:

    “All I know is that I personally cannot enjoy Deseret-style fiction, art, or music–I find it so culturally insipid and lukewarm that I
    spew it out of my mouth on the rare occasions that I even allow it to enter.”

    First of all, Chris, how can you claim to be creating an alternative publisher when you’re not reading what the “mainstream” publishers are putting out?

    Second, what would your response be if I went onto my blog and said the exact same thing but about “Zarahemla-style” fiction?

    Have you read Josi Kilpack’s “Sheeps Clothing” or Julie Wright’s “My Not So Fairy-Tale Life?” Have you checked out “Fablehaven”? I don’t buy that there is even such a thing as Deseret-style fiction, unless you mean that it has no profanity or graphic sex, which isn’t about the quality of writing.

    In the last three years, Covenant has published SF, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Thriller, etc. In fact the horror novel that I got my national agent with, and that came within inches of being published by Bantam, is going to be published by Covenant. Horror. Tell me again what Deseret-style fiction is?

    Once we can get past teh stereotypes we may find that we have more in common than we think.

  19. Jeff:

    I’m not sure who the “you guys” is — maybe Melissa Proffitt or Chris Bigelow. But I’m neither a member of the AML board nor a resident of the Intermountain West.

    I’m also not too keen to spilling an AML-List discussion over on to AMV. By all means, let us discuss our experiences with and impressions of the range of literatures found in the Mormon market, but I have no desire to turn this into one of those AML-List semi-flamewars. So far the discussion here has been very civil and productive, I think.

    Also: Cool news about your horror novel. When it comes out, I’ll see if I can get a hold of a copy and do a comparison to Brother Brigham (not because I think the comparison is going to be positive or negative or whatever, but because there aren’t a lot of Mormon horror novels around and yet in some ways it seems like a natural genre for the market to expand in to).

  20. I agree. My point was not to flame anyone or even start an argument. I was only pointing out the very real divide between those who read LDS genre fiction and those who don’t. I think there will always be somewhat of a divide between the two. But it can be closed somewhat by both sides. It looks to me like Chris is trying to do that from one side and hopefully the genre side is doing that too by creating more alternatives.

    I’ll get you an ARC of Dark Memories when it becomes available. I actually very interested to see how much I have to change when moving it from a national to an LDS novel. I told Covenant I could scale back some scenes, but I wouldn’t do it if the book was still legitimately keep-you-up-night-with-the-lights-on scary.

    If anyone wants to read the national version and would be willing to give me feedback, e-mail me at jsavage@jeffreysavage.com.

  21. Hmm, Jeff, I suppose I AM being a bit closed-minded to the possibility that things are improving within the DB/Covenant fiction sphere, and I need to try some of those titles you mentioned. I used to do a lot of mainstream Mormon fiction reading when I did freelance editing for Bookcraft and Deseret, but that’s been several years ago…

    I wouldn’t mind at all if someone said something similar about Zarahemla–in fact, several people have. I guess I just don’t see how you can do fully ripe, satisfying fiction unless you include some graphic elements within reason, which I find Mormon fiction very head-in-the-sand about. But you’re right, that doesn’t mean the writing’s not good in other ways. My basic niche as an alternative pubber is to do the stuff that is both graphic (within reason) and faith-affirming. There’s quite a bit of good stuff out there that DB/Covenant just won’t touch because it’s too earthy or realistic or whatever, so maybe part of my vehemence is a reaction against that too…

  22. Chris,

    That works for me. I’ll tell you what, I’ll trade you some of the mainstream titles I think are the best for some of the Zarhemla titles you think are the best and we can compare notes over dinner some time.

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