A charming old popular song says "It's only a paper moon hanging over a cardboard sky." That metaphor goes through my mind as I reflect on my experience at the LDStorymakers conference this past weekend. That's LDS story makers. I don't know why the cutesy way of writing it. Maybe that's what attracted some of the air kissing wannabes I saw there. Networking is one thing but I saw so much sucking up you'd have thought it was a lemon festival. Among about 450 people from Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona and Colorado, I knew three. I wanted to be a part of this group because I'm a writer, I'm LDS, I've been married 40 years, and so I write about being LDS and being married. That's what my writing teachers always taught me – write what you know. And I thought that's probably what motivated everybody else to be there.
However, I'm not a mainstream LDS writer, and perhaps that's why I felt alien. At meals and in conference lectures, people very often introduced themselves as writers of science fiction, mystery/suspense, fantasy, historical fiction, Young Adult (YA) fiction, or romance. I didn't hear another person introduce themselves as a writer of contemporary drama. In fact, I didn't even know that's what I wrote until I interviewed with an editor from an LDS publishing company who said that's what he'd call it. The best part about that is I have less competition and potential for a bigger place in my own genre.
All or most of these writers are aiming at commercial success on the national scene, not that there's anything wrong with that, but I have a different view of my purpose. I write LDS fiction for a general adult LDS audience because I have something to say to them. I particularly appreciated Anita Stansfield's discussion of her life as a writer, the sacrifices she's made, and coming from someone whose 47th book will soon be out, that was important. It was particularly pleasing to hear her refer to her talent as a gift. Obviously she has respect for it, and that respect has driven her career. I don't read everything she writes, but I was impressed with that attitude.
On the other hand, I heard nationally successful writers discuss only the need, or not, for an agent, and the circuitous twists on the road to success. No references to gifts or reverence for their talents. The contrast with Anita's attitude was stark. There was something a bit smug about them, something of the "nyah, nyah, I made it and you didn't" from a few of them. Presenters who give their spiel with a "Gol, how can you be so stupid as to not know this" tone were more than a little abrasive.
This whole idea of writing for a particular niche audience is new to me. When I was in college, one of my writing teachers said, "If what you write is good enough, your work will find an audience." Consequently, I had no answer for an editor I interviewed with several years ago who asked me who my audience was. I didn't understand the question. I write for people who read LDS fiction, particularly adults. In fact, a male friend of mine who has read my contemporary fiction particularly enjoyed it because it wasn't like most of the books out there that are loosely referred to as "women's fiction." I hate that designation. Men who read what women read are more likely to understand the women around them.
That same editor asked me why I write, and my answer – "I can't NOT write" – apparently wasn't good enough. My books were rejected by his company. But I have never stopped thinking about the question because some day I hope to come up with a satisfactory answer. I write because, like Anita Stansfield, I have a gift and not to use it would be a sin, regardless of market trends. I write because I have a story to share with my LDS people. I write because I can't edit what I say once I've said it. (That's why I can write brilliant dialog.) I write because I love the language. I write because it's thrilling to make both sides of my brain work together.
And so I go back to my own basic motivation: When LDS lives and marriages are falling apart all around us in an environment where values are slowly corroding, why are we writing about vampires and the housewife from Orem who's secretly a CIA agent and saves the world while still getting her visiting teaching done? I'm just sayin'.
Ultimately, the irony of art is that it IS only a paper moon hanging over a cardboard sky, but the story that takes place there tells vitals truths about life, exposes significant insights, and gives readers Aha! moments they might not get anywhere else. Artists create an artificial place populated with artificial people in order to reveal truth to real people in the real world. I love irony. That's good enough for me.
By the way, after reading the first five pages of my manuscript and and discussing it with me for ten minutes, the editor at Covenant asked me to submit the entire manuscript. That made up for everything else about the conference that didn't sit well with me. But now I'm chewing my fingernails for the next few weeks until I find out what the verdict is going to be. I hope they agree with me that this is a book whose time has come.