News: Doubleday publishes the Book of Mormon

UPDATE 7.12.04: The Christian Science Monitor also makes the Krakauer connection (thanks to LDS Today for the link).

UPDATE: Read Deseret Book’s account of the Doubleday deal. Here’s a quote from DB head Sheri Dew: “Sheri is quick to add her feelings, ‘The Lord does not need Doubleday, nor does the Church. But I believe there are people who will pick the Book of Mormon off the shelf because it says ‘Doubleday’ on the spine. There are some who will take it seriously because it is now appearing as serious religious literature, published by a national trade book company.'”

ALSO: Kim Siever likes the cover design as well. And so does Justin Butterfield over at Mormon Wasp (added 7.12.04).

I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one amused by Doubleday’s plans to publish a trade edition of the Book of Mormon. Doubleday also published Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. Although the book focuses on the Lafferty brothers, excommunicated Mormon polygamists, some LDS readers felt that book attempted to cast a shadow over the institutional church as well, suggesting that Mormons as a whole might be more prone to violence than the average America. Doubleday is also the home of The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, whose next book will take on Masonry in the United States, including, most likely, references to Joseph Smith and Mormonism [sorry I can’t remember and find my source for this which I ran across pre-blog so didn’t think to document].

To be fair, Doubleday does have a religious books imprint so it seems like a natural fit. And now all those academics who are curious about the Book of Mormon or (gasp!) even want to use it in their scholarship or teaching now can buy a title unsullied by all those footnotes/references that signal its ties to and status as scripture. In fact, I predict that the Doubleday edition will even catch on with the Mormon intellectual crowd — what better way to display that you’ve broken away from the institutional church but still maintain your status as a cultural Mormon than to carry the Doubleday edition around? That said — I kind of dig the cover (click on the hi-res version).

The one thing unsaid in all of this is: who gets a cut of the sales? Not that I have any problem with the Church taking a percentage. Or even Deseret Book for that matter.

Sources: Dave at LDS Review and Julie in Austin at Times & Seasons. Note that the discussion at Times & Seasons on the Doubleday announcement is mixed in with a discussion about the Church’s recent statement on a constitutional amendment on marriage so if you want to avoid getting dragged into the SSM debate, do a “find on page” for “Doubleday” and just read those posts.

News: Deseret News reports on Mormon fiction

As a fellow pr professional, I give Covenant’s marketing team major props for this article on the increasing quality and quantity of Mormon fiction that appears in today’s Deseret News. I don’t know if Covenant’s people pitched the story idea or not, but I’d say that Covenant beats out Deseret Book in the article in terms of creating mindshare and a favorable impression.

The relevant section:

“In recent years, LDS fiction has increased in both quantity and quality, said Robby Nichols, vice president of marketing for Covenant Communications. ‘Ten or 15 years ago, you saw very few LDS novels. It is now a strong segment of the market.’

“Consider, for example, that in 2003, just over half of all the new books Covenant published were works of fiction. Even more telling, perhaps, are the numbers of new authors being added to the shelves. ‘Interestingly, we introduced two new fiction writers in 2002, 10 new fiction writers in 2003, and we already have eight new fiction writers in the first four months of 2004,’ said Nichols. ‘The opportunity for a new fiction author to get published is greater now than ever before.’

“And not only are there more writers, he said, but ‘writers are getting better. The bar is much, much higher as to quality.’

“At Deseret Book, another major player in the fiction market, the story is much the same. ‘I was here in 1979 when Deseret Book published its first-ever fiction title,’ said editor Emily Watts, ‘It was considered a major breakthrough.’ That book was by Dean Hughes.

“A few months later, she said, Jack Weyland’s ‘Charly’ came along, ‘and that was so popular. It kicked a few doors open.’

“She’s not sure that the percentages of fiction books published by Deseret Book have changed all that much in recent years, ‘but we’re publishing so many more books, so we are publishing a lot more fiction.'” (Carma Wadley. “Novel ideas: LDS fiction gaining popularity among readers and publishers.” Deseret Morning News: June 25, 2004).

It’s subtle and may simply be the product of the writer’s quote selection, but the message I get from the story is that Covenant is a more happening, vibrant place when it comes to LDS fiction.

Now, I don’t know if that’s true or not. Since both Covenant and Deseret Book focus mainly on genre fiction, I haven’t really dug into any of their titles yet. I’m still working on the LDS literary fiction titles that I have decided are essential. Then I’ll get into some of the genre stuff.

News: Move over Matthew Barney — Brocka is in town

Hip, liberal NYC Mormons looking for the next post-Matthew Barney thrill may be interested in a rare opportunity to see a screening of Lino Brocka’s “Manila: in the Claws of Neon.” The GLBT publication The Empty Closet reports that the film will be shown June 30 at the Dryden Theater.

As LDS film has reported, Brocka was one of the first members baptized in the Philippines. He converted in his early twenties and served a mission but then left the faith. According to LDS film, “Brocka was not an active churchgoer later in life, but never held animosity toward the Church. It appears that Filipino church members eventually rejected Brocka’s films because of ‘R-rated’ content and GLBT themes.”

I can’t recommend this film because I haven’t seen it and know nothing about its content [which I know is important for many LDS filmgoers, including myself]. But what I thought was interesting is that the LDS context comes up in The Empty Closet article in a way that is frankly one of the more positive treatments of the faith I’ve run across in press coverage of LDS and GLBT issues — especially when it comes to the world of art.

The relevant paragraph:

“Interestingly enough, Brocka converted to Mormonism in his early twenties, making him one of the first two Philippine citizens baptized into the LDS faith. Subsequently he served as an LDS missionary in a Hawaiian leper colony, a formative experience that presented him with images of humanity at its most abject, something which would be reflected in much of Brocka’s later artistic production.” (“Manila: in the Claws of Neon by Lino Brocka premiers at Eastman Pride Month series.” The Empty Closet: June 3, 2004).

Okay so perhaps positive isn’t quite the right adjective, but I like the acknowledgement that his missionary service affected his art. And more importantly that it was his experiences with “abject humanity” that his mission provided that found its way into his art rather than, say, a story of personal liberation from the confines of Mormonism — the narrative that seems to often be deployed by American GLBT artists. Perhaps The Empty Closet was influenced by LDS film’s information on Brocka [Reporters do use Google, after all], or more likely, and this hopeful person that I am believe, this narrative of Brocka and his art in relation to his Mormonism is the one that’s generally accepted and isn’t just how “LDS insiders” view him.

More: See also this bio written by a Filipina for a Filipinos in history Web site.

News: Jay’s Journal and Deseret Book

The latest issue of Salt Lake City Weekly features a cover story on Jay’s Journal, a sensationalist cautionary tale that Motley Vision readers, or at least those that spent their teenage years somewhere along the Wasatch Front, may be familiar with. The article itself is your standard alt-weekly piece. So don’t take this as a whole-cloth endorsement of it, but the basic premise of the story — that Beatrice Sparks, the “editor” of Jay’s Journal fabricated, or at least exaggerated most of the sensational (much of it having to do with Satan worship and the occult) material that is included in the work — appears to be credible.

The book is based on the journals of Alden Barrett, a (disaffected) LDS kid from Pleasant Grove who committed suicide at the age of 16. Alden’s mother Marcella — who has remained active in the LDS Church — gave the journals to Sparks because she wanted other teenagers to learn from her son’s death, to help them stay on the straight and narrow. She was horrified, naturally, to find all the added material. Sparks claims that she pulled the occult material and other details from interviews with Alden’s friends and other sources — although she’s a bit hazy and unforthcoming on the documentation and the details. I have no way of verifying any of this, but my guess is that at the very least she exaggerated a lot of the material to suit her primary goal — trying to scare Utah teens straight.

I haven’t read the book. But I spent grades 7-9 in Provo public schools and I remember seeing kids reading it and hearing them discuss it. And I’m sure that this comes as a major shocker, but as far as I recall not one of them was interested in it as cautionary tale — they just liked the prurient parts. This is not to say that any of them went on to indulge in the occult — fears of such activities among the young have continually been shown to be overblown.

I could be wrong. Judging by the Amazon.com comments there are readers out there who respond to it in the way Sparks intended.

But this post isn’t really about the Sparks-Barrett dispute. What I found most interesting about the article is that it proffers another example of how Deseret Book’s stocking policy is playing out.

Alden’s brother Scott has published a rebuttal to “Jay’s Journal.” He reports:

“Today, Deseret Book sells Jay’s Journal online, but refused to sell Scott’s book because it contains some profanity, he said. No other publisher or distributor has expressed interest in Alden’s journal.” (Ben Diterle. “Teen Death Diary.” Salt Lake City Weekly: June 3, 2004). ASIDE: I cleaned up three typos in this quote. What does SLC Weekly not have copy editors?

So let me get this straight. Profanity — not good. Vivid, bloody depictions of occult acts — okay. Now let me be clear. I’m not criticizing the policy. I believe Sheri Dew when she said that the policy is in response to extensive market research — that it’s what their customers want. And if that’s the business model they feel the need to go with, I’m not going to fault them for that. Most companies have to be just as responsive to their customers. But what I do think this illustrates is that the policy is bound to lead to more moments of dissonance.

I think what puzzles me most is that it doesn’t seem to add up with other instances of application of the policy. In the first, a book by Anita Stansfield that had a frame that showed that acts were ‘bad’ weren’t carried by DB because the acts were referred to or depicted. In the second, a book by Richard Paul Evans had such a subtle depiction of a man spending a night with a woman he wasn’t married with — a depiction of emotional infidelity perhaps, but at least according to him, not one of adultry. How is the objections to these two books any different from “Jay’s Journal” which has a cautionary tale frame, but depicts “bad” (one might say even “evil”) acts? Again, I’ve read none of the books in question, but the press coverage so far has me confused.

It’s not clear if Deseret Book was actually contacted for the SLC Weekly story. If DB would care to clarify or further elucidate this situation, contact me.

NOTE: I’d prefer to link to AP, Salt Lake Tribune or Deseret News articles on Evans and Stansfield, but I ran into paid archives.

News: Romance mingles with Self-Help

A recent reported on “Whisperings,” a romance novel published by Covenant that tells the story of a grown woman trying to overcome the effects of childhood abuse. The author Cherrann Bailey drew on her experiences growing up in an abusive home to write the novel which features a female therapist who is having difficulty overcoming what the article describes as “emotional wounds.”

What’s interesting about the way this book is being marketed is that both Bailey and the Covenant spokesperson are positioning it as a way to reach LDS women who wouldn’t be inclined to pick up a self-help book on the subject.

Bailey says:

“I think a problem with the LDS environment is that a lot of people, especially women, think that seeking professional help is difficult or unnecessary”¦I don’t feel a woman would walk into an LDS bookstore and reach for a book about abuse. But I do feel she would pick up a novel. I wanted to give people a way to feel for a character and follow that character through a process of healing with hopes that they may relate to her; that they themselves can deal with their own situations and find some peace.” (Doug Fox. “Orem abuse victim confronts childhood trauma in new novel.” The Daily Herald, May 16, 2004.)

I’ll have more to say about all this when I review the romance issue of Irreantum. For now, let me just say that mixing the self-help and romance genres is an interesting development in the Mormon marketplace [and not a new one — as we’ll see in the Irreantum review] because it defuses to a certain extent the trope that romance novels are simply escapist fantasies for their readers.

SIDENOTE: Covenant says that they have sold 4,200 copies of the novel [as of May 16] and 1,200 of the book on tape. I know very little about how well fiction titles sell in the LDS market, but from what little I do know, those are decent sales figures. Anyone who knows more than I do care to comment?