I will be walking down a sidewalk thinking of other things when I remember when Elna Baker said:
I try not to [read what Mormons are saying about me]. . . . Never before in history has there been a time where things increase, where we get more and more aware, where what you create is open to criticism that you have access to. . . . . for the most part I’ve noticed that the reactions are positive, but then as you scroll down and stumble upon reactions that are really strongly negative and . . . you can’t stop it.
And now I want you to compare this to what Mettie Ivie Anderson recently said:
. . . I have rough drafts of several other books in the series, and have planned in my head an arc for Linda’s development as a character up to a certain point. I wanted to get that set in place before the first book came out because I don’t want media attention, and in particular the comments of other Mormons around me, to influence the story I have in mind for her.
I find the similarities and differences here quite striking. Your thoughts?
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9 thoughts on “Mette vs Elna”
I relate to both of them. Being LDS and producing plays locally, there is always the question of “Will the Mormons come?” and, more importantly, “Will the Mormons like it?” Mormons can be particularly damning of art they dislike or of which they disapprove–even if they haven’t truly experienced it. I don’t let those thoughts affect me as I’m writing, but they tend to take over once the work is out for public consumption.
This is one reason I don’t consider myself as writing FOR Mormons and tell people I write romance (which apparently isn’t really true, according to shelving protocols). The cues are there (romance = porn for women stay away stay away) and nobody expects art from a romance novelist. That there are Mormons to whom my work speaks is a pleasant surprise.
I feel ambivalent. Part of me says you need to create art and put it out there. Worrying about reception too much will stifle creative impulses. That’s true for any group of artists engaging with any audience. I don’t think it’s unique to Mormons. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to meaningfully engage with a particular audience, or a particular culture from whence your stories are drawn, it’s useful to have your fingers on the pulse of that audience. I don’t think Mormons are actually Elna Baker’s audience. They are probably only partly Mette’s audience for The Bishop’s Wife. In which case, yeah, they probably don’t need to be worrying overmuch about Mormons’ reactions. If, however, a Mormon artist is producing works that tap into the pulse of their religious culture, then Mormons’ reactions could be very useful to pay attention to.
I completely understand the need for artists to tune out comments from various audiences. But it also seems like such a well-worn path. Provincial gains coastal attention because of exotic provincial qualities. Keeps that attention because is willing to package that exoticism in a way that is acceptable to coastal mores. That American story has been done over and over again.
I’m talking much more about Elna than Mette here, of course.
I’ve heard authors from India worry about similar things. If you write a book for a more European or American audience, what will the people back home think of how you portrayed them?
Any group that feel embattled, underrepresented, or disrespected is going to have some outspoken audience members.
I think the internet also magnifies this. If you sift from the more detailed, thorough reactions to the world of online comments, your going to find a lot of unfiltered emotion that may not actually be directed at you but sure seems like it.
An important commonality is the need to accept what works and doesn’t work for yourself as a writer. There are phases in the writing process when I don’t seek out or listen to what other people have to say because I’m afraid it will interfere with figuring out what I’m trying to say. As Melissa points out, it’s all the harder when the group is one you care about — which is often the case for any group you care enough about to actually write about.
Although it’s interesting to discover just who it is that you *do* care about. As some of you may recall, I chose to write very publicly here about my process of writing No Going Back, for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here. I remember that after the initial draft was finished but before I had sent it out for review and revision, I had to fight a very deep fear that the community of people I know from AML/AMV would read the book and think it was worthless. Fears I had about the reactions of the mainstream Mormon community were less deep-seated and much easier to ignore — maybe because I didn’t feel that my identity in that community was as closely related to my creative production.
I have found it helpful (but somewhat difficult) to stop thinking of Mormons as this monolithic creature that is always involved in group-think. Obviously, when looked at as a general trend, or a larger picture, that’s unavoidable. But the closer you get to the picture, the easier it is to see the individual strokes.
This is a great point and not something we should have to remind ourselves.
Mette has written what could be construed as a meditation on this question: http://metteivieharrison.tumblr.com/post/107903747135/protecting-your-creative-self