Q&A: LDS Fiction Author E.M. Tippetts

Time and Eternity the first LDS market novel by E.M. Tippetts was published last month by Covenant. Tippetts, who writes speculative fiction under the name Emily Mah, lives in New Mexico with her husband Trevor. A convert to the LDS church, Tippetts is currently writing full-time.

She and I traveled in some of the same online circles several years ago, and when I found out that she had a Mormon novel coming out, I asked her to do a Q&A. She kindly accepted.

For more on Time and Eternity, visit the E.M. Tippetts author site. If you are more interested in her speculative fiction career, check out the Emily Mah site.

The main focus of your writing career up to now has been speculative fiction. How and why did you decide to write a romance novel for the Mormon market?

There are a lot of answers to this question. The mundane ones include the fact that the national market can move very slowly with submissions processes that can take years and the LDS market isn’t so bogged down. That market is more accessible, writer’s don’t need agents and the publishing companies all take unsolicited manuscripts. It’s also a very large, vibrant market and a fascinating community of writers and artists all working to express their gospel influences creatively. I could just give those answers, but I suppose the real answer is that I had been working on my writing for five years and it occurred to me that something I could do to better in my spiritual life and not take significantly more time in the day was to try my hand at writing something for the LDS market. Writing was another part of myself that I found I could dedicate to the Lord. I didn’t specifically choose romance, but decided to try to write a plot driven novel. My favorite plot-smith of all time is Jane Austen, and I spent the months that I wrote Time and Eternity pulling apart her stories, trying to pick up on some of her techniques. My novel isn’t much like one of hers at all, except that I hope the ending is both well set up and happy, not a foregone conclusion, but not a convenient coincidence either. I wanted readers to put it down with a sense of satisfaction.

Give us the pitch for Time and Eternity — why should Mormon romance readers read it? Why should those who don’t normally read Mormon romance novels read it?

I chose to write about a character who was very real to me. Alice is a new convert, and by that I mean someone who still shivers with culture shock every time she walks into a church. I’m a convert myself, and a lot of LDS fiction that depicts converts has left me a little cold. I feel it doesn’t always capture the sense of aloneness and isolation when you’re new to the gospel, or the very real difficulties of practicing such a life altering religion. Alice can’t even talk to her roommate about what’s most important to her anymore, because her roommate will look askance at her if she talks about God or the importance of chastity. I hope what also comes across from this story, though, is my sincere love for the Church and its members, and how I think there’s always more to them that meets the casual glance. By the end of the book, Alice has does something that she never imagined herself doing, the kind of thing that she’d expect a stereotypical eighteen year old raised in the gospel Molly Mormon to do. Alice is twenty six and her life to date has been defined by her job as a professional accountant. She learns that what she has in common with members of the Church is more significant and goes a lot deeper than her superficial differences from them. While it is a romance, the most important relationship I wanted to write about is our relationship with God and how a loving God can still be a very mysterious God during the depths of our trials.

I often ask writers about how they find time to write. I’m going to break form and instead ask you this: what’s the single thing that helps you most with your writing process? That generates ideas, gets you in the mood, facilitates organization of your work — whatever. I’m afraid that I’ve gotten into the bad habit of listening to (mainly post-punk) music while I write. That can be deadly for fiction writing, I think, because it gives your mind a refuge in the lyrics, which I often use instead of working out a difficult sentence/paragraph, etc.

I try to begin every writing session with a prayer. I say “try” because I’m terrible at remembering. I think some part of my subconscious still thinks that my writing is too insignificant to pester the Lord with, but I’m sure any primary student could give me a detailed lecture on why that’s wrong. Other than that, what I need in order to get going on the story I’m working on depends on the story. For my science fiction, there’s nothing better than a conversation with my husband. Together we’ll draw diagrams and map out technical problems. For any piece I write, I need to fall in love with my characters and care about their situations, and the best way I know to do that is by daydreaming. This is how I play out situation after situation in my mind and take inventory of my emotions. I then write the scenes that have the most impact. For my romance, I feel I need to hit the reader on a very emotional level, and this is hard for me, so I use a process that would probably be best defined as going insane. I ratchet up my daydreaming to come up with the most fraught situations I can think of. The story isn’t right until I’ve got a scene that makes me cry – which means that, yes, I sit in the bathroom crying about imaginary people. I need to get that emotional, though, because my writing is only a pale rendering of what I can see in my head. So if I want my readers to pause and care at a certain point in the story, I need to be bawling. If I disappear from the world a few years from now, I may be locked in the bathroom having a conversation with my imaginary friends. I’ll try not to let it get that far.

Related to the previous question: what are you really digging right now in terms of books, music, food, film/TV, etc.? Anything from the world of Mormon arts and culture that you’d like to recommend to our readers?

I just finished Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende, and thought it was beautifully done. I’m terribly slow at reading grown up novels, though; my background is mostly young adult. I’m in a writer’s group, nearly all of the members of which are under contract for novels, so at any given time I’m reading the latest from Walter Jon Williams, S.M. Stirling, Melinda Snodgrass, Daniel Abraham, and Ian Tregillis. I read these in chunks as they are submitted every month, so this means I’m also reading the novels simultaneously. Can lead to some odd dreams at night. They all write speculative fiction, and they all write way better than I do. It’s a privilege to workshop with them, hence I don’t mind how they dominate my reading life. As for music, I play way too much Vanessa Carlton, her album Heroes and Thieves. I’m sure my husband is sick of it. We don’t get TV, as we both work too much to justify the cost of cable. The last two movies I saw were Iron Man and The Hulk. Big budget science fiction blockbusters are my favorite.

I’m only just getting to learn about LDS fiction, though I do have a few favorites. Is it low of me to recommend Robert Farrell Smith? Yes, okay, I do know him. He used to own the local Deseret Book. His book, Baptists at Our Barbecue, always makes me laugh. It also has a lot of crossover appeal; I loaned it to my non-LDS mother and she couldn’t read herself to sleep with it because it made her laugh out loud.

What writing projects are you working on right now? Are you considering writing more novels for the Mormon market?

I’m beating my head against the wall as I write a young adult science fiction novel. (You can tell I’m in the second act, always the worst part for me.) I aim to have that done by August and out in queries to agents. Then I’ve got a completed LDS novel that Covenant passed on because the protagonist is too young for their taste. I need to find a home for that one. My next project will be another LDS novel. I feel it’s critical for me to get multiple titles out there and see if I can establish a readership for myself. Ideally I want one coming out once a year.

Thanks, Emily!

10 thoughts on “Q&A: LDS Fiction Author E.M. Tippetts”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this Q&A, and the details about being a new convert in the church that Emily has mentioned, her daydreaming of fraught situations, and the phrase that a loving God can also be a mysterious God have all made me want to run right out and buy everything that she’s written. I’d even like to get my hands on the manuscript that Covenant rejected. Thanks for this wonderful interview!

  2. .

    I would like to see more fiction from converts, myself. Would you like to be the Gladys Knight of books, Emily?

  3. lol. I wouldn’t mind seeing her kind of commercial success. I suspect there are a ton of convert LDS artists, simply because there are a ton of LDS converts. I’ve never set about asking people when they joined the Church.

  4. I also try to start my writing sessions with prayer, much as I wince at the corniness of saying that. (Why? Is it because I look down on the “earnest” “poets” who, while writing terrible poetry, tend to claim that it was all “inspired”? I think even my wincing here makes me look uncharitable.) But, anyway, I decided that God is the author of creativity, right? And it’s a sort of placing it on the alter. And maybe not a little passing the buck: “You gave me this talent, or at least this urge. Now you’ve got to show me how to use it, or I can’t justify taking the time away from other things.”

    Always, for an LDS artist, there is that sense of having to justify the time you take for it. Do you feel that too?

  5. “Always, for an LDS artist, there is that sense of having to justify the time you take for it.”

    I think being LDS has nothing to do with artists feeling like they need to justify the time it takes to make, write, compose or whatever their art. Much of American society views art as fun to do so it may not be “real work”. They see it as a good hobby.

  6. nothing to do with artists feeling like they need to justify the time it takes to make, write, compose or whatever their art.

    I would argue that artists aren’t the only ones who feel like this. I have my own business (at home) and thus, I am a work-at-home mom. Loosely translated for the rest of the world, I’m a STAY-at-home mom.

    That means that everyone else sees me as available to render service, do X chore, or otherwise spend my time doing something other than making money.

  7. .

    Art doesn’t have obvious benefits to society so it requires extra justification — especially as it requires so much time to do well.

    So we always have to balance art against other obligations. Family, Church, Work, Art. What do we choose to have suffer? Most people will say Art should go.

  8. As far as I’m concerned society as we know it doesn’t exist without art. Life would be like having mush for every meal with no milk or sugar. With out creativity we would be bunch of hairless ape like creatures eating grubs from under logs. That creative spark is us trying to be like our Father in Heaven. Art is work.

  9. Agreed. The only reason people don’t think that art has an obvious benefit to society is because they don’t look. Offhand, I can’t think of a single item in my home that doesn’t have an element of art/design. (The dog perhaps? The layer of dust coating everything?) Art and our ability to see a composition to our surroundings is part of what makes us human. Creativity is one of the traits that identifies us as the children of our Creator.

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