My Take on the Cedar Fort Gay Author Fiasco - Part 2

Last week I blogged about the fact that Cedar Fort, a leading LDS publisher, had cancelled a publishing contract because one of the book's authors wanted to be open in his bio about the fact that he is gay. This week I want to move on from that and talk why this should come as no surprise.

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.


  1. Anna, I'm sorry for your experience, (and for what happened with Woven) but as someone who has been published by LDS publishers I wonder if you are painting them all with a pretty broad brush. LDS fiction has evolved quite a bit over the years. I can think of several of my favorite authors who are published by Deseret Book, Shadow Mountain, and even Covenant, who have great stories that aren't "whiter-than-white" and even address social issues prevalent today. I know there are problems, as there are with any publisher, but I hesitate to use such generalities. (Also, I'm interested to know who this "group of LDS authors" were that had her blackballed. I can't think of any group of authors that would have that kind of influence.) So, again, I don't want you to think I'm negating your experience or emotion, I just know that the publishing business now is quite different from when a lot of our first books came out. I read a lot of fiction, including some by LDS authors, and I have to say I think there are some authors who provide a lot of great and clean entertainment and still make the characters feel real. Perhaps, it's just a matter of taste and opinion, but there's my two cents.

  2. Anna, Julie voiced it very well. You've made some generalities that don't fit reality. Few people read more LDS fiction than I do and I can tell you there are plenty of coffee drinking good guys in LDS fiction. When I first started writing for an LDS publisher I had to be careful about even kissing scenes. That isn't the case any more. And Cedar Fort isn't as narrow minded as those two authors have tried to paint them. I just reviewed a CF book that is very straight forward and positive about a gay character.

  3. Jennie and Julie, I concede that things have changed a lot over the last decade. Two of the three incidents cited were happened ten years ago, but the current controversy over the Jensen bio reminded me of my own experience. However, there is an important place for LDS publishers. I'm planning to do a post in future about why they are so important and, Jennie, I was thinking of using "Shudder" as an illustration, if that's OK with you. It's an example of a book which covers difficult subject material which LDS publishers might traditionally have shied away from, and yet does it in a way which remains "praiseworthy and of good report."

  4. I think there are good LDS publishers. I just had a bad experience. I still support LDS authors.

    I do think that there was other things going on and I was blamed for things that were not in my control.

    I also believe that there is a clique among LDS writers. Although I am sure there are exceptions, those LDS writers who live in the Mormon world (Utah) have more support and respect among their peers than those of us who live out of it. I was not part of the inner circle of either writers or readers who live in that area. No one knew me personally. And yes, people did turn on me, which was devastating.

    My experience happened less than 10 years ago, and it wasn't part of my imagination. There was even something circulating about what was expected by LDS authors and basically, if someone did something bad by LDS standards, then there needed to be consequences.

    I also found it interesting, that a very good LDS novel came out at the same time that broke a lot of the "rules" and yet was well received.

    It was frustrating and hurtful. I am happy to hear that things are changing and there is support for authors.


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