My Take on the Cedar Fort Gay Author Fiasco - Part 2
It's happened before.
Something really quite similar happened to me with my first book, Haven. I should mention that Haven is the archetypal LDS book. It's light and sweet and fluffy, with lots of people embracing the gospel, learning valuable life lessons, and even a touching chaste romance. It was picked up by Covenant Communications, the second-biggest LDS publisher (now owned by the LDS church) and I happily signed a right-of-first-refusal contract. (More about those another day.)
As with King and Jensen's Woven, the manuscript was edited several times, polished, the cover designed and blurb written, artwork set out, and bookmarks, posters, advertisements and catalogues prepared. Then I sent in my author bio.
My editor objected to one word, and edited it out. When I read the copy I was disappointed to see this word gone, and felt I had been misrepresented. I emailed my editor back to say that I really wanted the word included because otherwise it gave a misleading impression of who I am.
My editor explained that the LDS Church officially didn't approve of what this word represented, and that they would much prefer it to be left out to avoid alienating readers.
What was the word? Rock.
My bio stated that I loved rock music. I still do. Muse, Queen, Def Leppard, Nickelback, AC/DC. But the LDS Church officially doesn't approve of riotous music, and fearing that readers would imagine me to be some tattooed tearaway (I am indeed tattooed) and refuse to buy my book, Covenant wanted my bio simply to say that I loved music. Problem is, I don't. I can't stand jazz, opera, folk, country, house, soul or rap. I like rock, metal and some classical (my iPod, when playing alphabetically, jumps straight from Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Motorhead) and I really didn't want people to misunderstand me from my bio.
I stuck to my guns, and I won. The word was left in, the book was published, and proved to be very successful, as was the sequel. (Both will be republished next year along with the third and final book in the Haven trilogy.)
Much as I love Covenant, Cedar Fort and, Walnut Springs for publishing my books, I am aware that there is an issue with LDS publishers in that they tend to err on the side of caution when treading that difficult line between artistic integrity and LDS values. They can't risk upsetting anyone, so they take the hard-line Mormon stance, often to the detriment of the the author, the book, or both. Most authors with an LDS publisher could cite an example. Here are just two:
A good friend wrote a detective novel. Her detective needed to speak to people who might have witnessed the crime which occurred (as crimes tend to) in the early hours of the morning. In her manuscript the person the detective interviewed was a prostitute. Covenant objected to that, so my friend turned it into a drug-dealer. Covenant objected to that too, at which point my friend threw up her hands in despair and was forced to do some major rewriting to circumvent the entire incident. Because it's seriously quite difficult to have a crime which occurs at 2 a.m. on the seedy side of town witnessed by decent, wholesome people on their way back from church, or a little girl taking her puppy for a walk.
More disturbing still is what happened to Anna Maria Junus, a fellow author I have never met but much admire, and who has possibly the most interesting feed among all my Facebook friends (read: interests in common).
She wrote a book, published by an LDS publisher, in which she "had a non-LDS character drinking wine and there were no consequences." Shock horror. Rule 1 of LDS literature - if someone does something really bad (like drinking wine or coffee, or skipping church) they have to suffer. After a single complaint from a reader, "my book was pulled from shelves" and "I was then yelled at about it" by the publishers, and dropped.
She belonged to a group which supported LDS writers, but when she discussed the situation with them they were critical, unsupportive, and saw to it that she was blackballed by all the other LDS publishers.
So there you have it. If you want to be published by an LDS publisher you have to be whiter-than-white. You have to live an exemplary life with your (heterosexual) spouse and nine children and have no interest in anything the deeply-traditional church leadership might disapprove of, from an extra ear piercing to watching television on a Sunday. No character you write about, whether they are LDS or not, must ever drink coffee, utter an expletive or tell a lie unless they are the baddie and get their come-uppance. Neither must they speak to or interact with anyone who might be involved in nefarious activities.
The book on the top of this blog post is Anna's. I've just bought it and I'm currently reading it myself. Please do likewise if you would like to show support for her.
I also pledge to buy, read and review Woven whenever and wherever it is eventually published.