Mormon Fiction

Windows on the Sea and Other StoriesYesterday, I spent the day sick in bed, but not so sick that I couldn’t read – not a bad combination for those of us who need forced R&R from time to time. As I scanned my bookshelves for some old friend, I picked out “Windows on the Sea and Other Stories” by Linda Sillitoe. (It’s out of print now, but used copies sell for as little as 67 cents on amazon.com.) Many of these stories were first published in Sunstone or Dialogue, and each protagonist is an LDS women whose faith directly or subtly moves the plot forward. For example:

  • A woman joins a “dream group” and contemplates this support network while her high councilman husband is away for the evening at a church trial.
  • A homemaker suffers terrible burns, and while in a rehab center, she develops a beautifully awkward friendship with a young woman who has shut out the rest of the world.
  • Gina finds herself hurt and angry when her husband’s good-natured antics seem to keep him from climbing the church leadership ladder.
  • Two college friends reunite for a lunch and almost have the confidence to reveal the unexpected twists and turns of their once seemingly perfect lives and marriages.

It’s a beautiful little collection that gets me thinking about my experiences as an LDS woman. As Eugene England wrote in his review, “Her stories make me angry about what is happening to me as a Mormon human being – and also sheepish, exalted, perplexed, excited, joyful, and amazed.” It also gets me thinking about the genre in general. Frankly, some of the offerings on the shelves of Deseret Book frighten me (see here and here and here – and there’s been a surge of books playing on “last day” fears – oh, and who knew there was such a market for LDS romances! — and I may have to read this one just because of the title! ) However, Orson Scott Card has had some success framing essentially Mormon-themed fiction for national audiences, and I know many people who love The Work and the Glory series.

So here are my questions: Do you read Mormon Fiction? If so, what books would you recommend? Help me find the hidden gems . . .

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    Most of the titles frighten me, too. The only ones that I have liked are OSC and Young and Gray’s historical fiction trilogy about black pioneers.

  2. Tracy M says:

    I’ll agreee that most of the titles are, um, less than compelling. I did read the W & t G series- and it was interesting, as I wasn’t a member yet, but as far as good writing? *Cringing*

    I would love some good suggestions, too.

  3. Amanda says:

    “What Do Ducks Do in Winter” and “The House of James” by Lewis Horne. They’re short stories, some of which have appeared in Dialogue and Sunstone. Bruce Jorgensen recommended his work once in a class at BYU. They’re published by one of the Mormon houses — think maybe it’s Signature??

  4. Hellmut says:

    I am always looking forward to Richard Cracroft’s column about the latest Mormon fiction.

    With respect to good writing I think that we readers need to take some responsibility. It is, after all, the audience that determines the quality of the argument.

    Oops, that applies to rhetoric, not fiction. Nonetheless, authors pay attention to active readers.

  5. Caroline says:

    Deborah, I also have that Stillitoe book. I really enjoyed some of those stories.

    As for other books, The Giant Joshua is a huge classic in Mormon literature. I think it was written in the 30’s by Whipple and it’s about a polygamous wife in the 1800’s. Totally heartbreaking, but a great contribution to Mormon lit.

    Also, The Broken Covenant. I can’t remember the author. But it’s about a woman who committs adultery and the consequences that she faces. It was published in the 80’s – by Deseret(!). I was very impressed.

  6. Julie M. Smith says:

    I had one other thought–I don’t think these icky fiction titles are produced and sell well because the Saints love cheesy writing, but because the Saints don’t want to plunk down 21.99 for a book, get involved in the story, and then encounter a steamy sex scene. I don’t like explicit sex or violence in the books that I read, and I find it very difficult to find fiction. I wish there were some sort of website that rated or reviewed books, but I’ve never foudn one.

  7. Deborah says:

    Julie: Maybe — I also assume that Armageddon titles are probably an attempt to tap into the record-breaking success of the evangelical “Left Behind” series (www.leftbehind.com).

  8. Gilgamesh says:

    Captain Matrimony sounds like a winner to me.

    I tend to shy away from LDS fiction, though I also like OSC. I read the work and the Glory, and got bored by the end, but a really enjoyed Dean Hughes’ “Children of the Promise” series.

    One problem I have with both of the above is the nine volume series. I get very tired of the characters by book two or three, and trudge through it for the historical notes.

    That said, the “Kids on a Mission” series that you had on your “scary” list actually may be fun for 3-5th graders. Much like the Magic Treehouse.

  9. jana says:

    Oh, Deborah, I could write a long list for this topic (one of my favorite hobbies is MoLit!):

    Caroline’s right that the #1 Mo novel is the _Giant Joshua_. Close behind is Levi Peterson’s _Backslider_ (Note: both have sex scenes). Virginia Sorenson’s stories will also delight readers who are used to reading ‘literary’ fiction. Many ppl like Doug Thayer, too, although his stories are a bit too dark for me. Marilyn Brown’s books are generally good–her Earthkeeper series and _Statehood_ are my favs. Margaret Young’s book _Dear Stone_ is Mo fiction at its finest. I also really like Dean Hughes and his novels are very safe & clean. A few lesser known novels worth reading: Terry Montague’s _Fireweed_ & Elizabeth Petty Bentley’s _Fly on the Rose_.

    In Mormon humor, Kathy Kidd’s novels are still the best, but I think _The Marketing of Sis B_ and _Mummy’s the Word_ come close.

    I read a lot of the recent pop fiction–esp the romances. I don’t care much for Stansfield or Nunes–altho they are the big sellers in this market. My most recent fav is _Tempest Tossed_ by Josi Kilpack. The protag is overcoming a presecription drug addiction and the author does a great job confronting this issue in her novel.

    Oh, and there are several excellent writers of YA fiction, such as Ann Cannon, Louise Plummer, and Shannon Hales. Hales just won the NEWBERRY award for her latest novel “The Princess Academy.”

    Hmmm…I’ll prob write more later. But in the meantime, it’s always a good idea to check out the AML Awards page for names of recent good LDS writers: http://www.aml-online.org/awards/index.html

  10. Deborah says:

    Yeah, Jana! Thank you. (I didn’t know Shannon Hales was LDS . . .)

    gilgamesh: It’s not the series “Missionary Kids” that frightened me; it was this particular book jacket summary:

    When Matt and Emily Williams stumble into a forgotten shed on the grounds of the MTC they can’t believe what they find. Inside a mysterious envelope on the floor is a mission call…with their names on it! They have been called to serve with the Lord’s missionaries in Germany… back in 1940!

    As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seize power leading up to war, President Heber J. Grant orders all missionaries out of Germany. But Matt and Emily learn there are elders still trapped in safe-houses under Nazi surveillance. Can Emily and Matt avoid the wicked Gestapo agent who is hot on their trail, help rescue the stranded missionaries, and make it back to the twenty-first century before time runs out?

    Umm . . . a Holocaust novel with LDS missionaries as the victims? . . . makes me a wee bit uneasy . . .

  11. Mark B. says:

    You should have held your snide dismissal of Stalk Lake City until after reading the “Readers’ [sic] comments.”

    This, from Amber in Georgia:

    As a busy graduate student, I would sit down to read and decompress at night. Reading at night was my reward for working hard all day. Promising myself I would read only a short while, I frequently found myself getting sucked into the story and reading until two o’clock in the morning. Although I was sleepy, I always went to bed smiling. This is a great book! I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in LDS fiction.

    So, take that!

    I don’t read much fiction, and Wallace Stegner is about as close as I have come to Mormon fiction.

  12. amelia says:

    i enjoyed john bennion’s Falling towards Heaven, which was published by signature sometime around 2000. i also enjoyed the “Children of the Promise” series (all ten books; they did drag a bit here and there and i had some problems with some of the ways Hughes developed his characters, but overall he is sensitive to a variety of issues in Mormonism and writes fairly well).

    and i actually enjoy the romances once in a while. mostly cause i find good fodder for humor in them.

    and jana’s the woman to talk to; she was AML’s review editor for Irreantum for a long time.

  13. stacer says:

    Shannon Hale (no s) is a Mormon, but she doesn’t publish in the LDS market, if that’s what you were wondering about. I highly recommend her first book, Goose Girl.

    I’d also recommend a friend of mine for fun comedy, Robison Wells. He’s published through Covenant.

    Another friend of mine, Brandon Sanderson, had his first epic fantasy published by Tor last May, Elantris, which has been reviewed well and was listed #1 on Barnes and Noble’s best fantasy of the year list. His second book, Mistborn, comes out in July.

  14. Deborah says:

    Here’s a summary of suggestions so far (so you can add it to your wish-list on amazon.com)

    Young and Gray’s trilogy on black pioneers.

    “What Do Ducks Do in Winter” and “The House of James” by Lewis Horne.

    The Giant Joshua, by Maurine Whipple

    The Broken Covenant, by Carroll Hofeling Morris

    Dean Hughes’ “Children of the Promise” series (three recommendations)

    Levi Peterson’s _Backslider_

    Marilyn Brown’s Earthkeeper series and _Statehood_

    Margaret Young’s _Dear Stone_

    Terry Montague’s _Fireweed_

    Elizabeth Petty Bentley’s _Fly on the Rose_

    John Bennion’s _Falling towards Heaven_

    Mormon humor: Kathy Kidd, Linda Hoffman Kimball’s _The Marketing of Sis B_, Robinson Wells

  15. Mabel Maybe says:

    You’ve got to read Benediction and all the other stories in the collection by Neil Chandler.

    Around our house, we’re always quoting the line about “revealed free-market capitalism.”

  16. Will's Words says:

    OSC’s Lost Boys is excellent, especially if you are a parent of children 12 and younger.

  17. VeritasLiberat says:

    I enjoyed “Fine Old High Priests” by Donald Smurthwaite. It was touching without ever once being sappy.

  18. stacer says:

    It’s Robison Wells, no N. I believe it was a family name, so it’s spelled like the last name Robison. Or just call him Rob. Everybody does. 🙂

  19. Tigersue says:

    The one Anita Stansfield book I liked was “By Love and Grace”, maybe because the hero is much like my husband.
    If you want a really good on, my older sister really loved
    Kielidescope Season
    http://deseretbook.com/store/search?search=The+Kaleidoscope+Season&x=0&y=0

    If you are looking for a LDS writer that is in the mainstream, there Lynn Kurland, they are romance, and yes not the best writing in the world, but they are fun, and interesting. Each book gets cleaner and cleaner, so even better.
    I’m not a fan of OSC, I did like Saints, but I feel he tends to undervalue women, particularly Emma in this book.
    I really don’t like Nunes, she doesn’t do any research, as a former NBICU nurse it would drive me crazy that she would have hospitals using banked Breast Milk to feed baby’s, that hasn’t been done since before AIDs, no longer, and she uses that all the time. Then she says no snow in Paris, and that the french have never seen snow, what is up with that!
    Sorry little rant yes.

  20. TftCarrie says:

    regarding milkbanks: I have never read the books, so I don’t know exactly how she references them, but they do exist.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I luv OSC, especially his Alvin Maker series. Ok, the last two are pretty bad, but the first are well worth a read.

    I like Hale’s The Goose Girl as well. She manages to flesh out a pretty blah fairy tale into an interesting story.

  22. Deborah says:

    Thanks, everyone. I have three books ordered and a wish list of many more.

    Stacer: In a bit of serendipity, http://www.bloggernacle.org posted about Brandon Sanderson yesterday . . . thanks for the tips.

  23. Allison says:

    I considered contributing to a milk bank as recently as two years ago. They may have disappeared for a while, I don’t know, but if so, they’re back.

    I love to read, but don’t usually like LDS fiction. It’s not that it’s all bad; I liked Dean Hughe’s WWII series (although like most series, the first book was much better than what came after). I read OSC. Mostly I dislike cheesiness. I don’t think Mormon fiction is any worse than most fiction that gets published (I’ve yet to make it through a John Grisham novel, and don’t get me started on Dan Brown!), but if a book’s going to be embarrassingly bad, or even so-bad-it’s-kinda-fun, I’d rather not be embarrassed by (or find myself mocking) LDS authors. It’s like how other people’s dysfunctional families are funny, but my own crazy family members just make me squirm.

  24. Deborah says:

    Allison said, “I don’t think Mormon fiction is any worse than most fiction that gets published . . . but if a book’s going to be embarrassingly bad, or even so-bad-it’s-kinda-fun, I’d rather not be embarrassed by LDS authors. It’s like how other people’s dysfunctional families are funny, but my own crazy family members just make me squirm.”

    LOL! Well said. That’s why I avoid a lot of LDS pop music. . .

  25. Matt T says:

    I haven’t read a lot of Mormon Fiction. What I have read, I haven’t been too impressed with, including the first Work and the Glory book. The one exception I would make is for the work of Levi Peterson, especially “The Backslider”. If you read one Mormon novel, that should be it. I also enjoyed his novel “Aspen Marooney”, and his short story anthologies “The Canyons of Grace” and “Night Soil”.

    Your reaction to “The Backslider” will be interesting. Many people find it transformative; others throw the book across the room in disgust, unable to look beyond the surface (read “sex”) to see the humanity underneath.

  26. Candace E. Salima says:

    Hey Folks,

    I happened upon your blog on “Mormon Fiction”. I agreed with many of your comments, but wish to give you a list of LDS authors you could try that I believe are worth reading:

    Tristi Pinkston, author of Nothing to Regret and Strength to Endure. Marvelous historical fiction centered around WWII. Learn more about her and her books at wwww.tristipinkston.com.

    Check out Jeffrey Savage, author of House of Secrets, Into the Fire and Cutting Edge. He’s great at suspense and allegory. Learn more about him at http://www.jeffreysavage.com.

    Try Julie Wright’s new book My Not So Fairy Tale Life – absolutely wonderful in bringing the plight of unwed mothers to the forefront. Learn more about Julie at http://www.juliewright.com.

    Josi Kilpack has a number of great novels out, which I’m sure you would enjoy, and has already been mentioned. Learn more about her novels at http://www.josiskilpack.com

    Children of the Promise by Dean Hughes has already been mentioned, but I really liked those books. His attention to detail is really fantastic.

    Willard Boyd Gardner is great for the man, woman or teenager who likes police action. Well written, good timing and highly entertaining. Bill has a Masters in Literature, so trust me, he’s no slouch. Learn more about Bill at http://www.willardboydgardner.com (his website is still being developed, so only some of the links work.)

    And why don’t you give me a shot, I’m no slouch either. http://www.candacesalima.com.

    There’s good and bad in every market, including our own. There are a lot of wonderful authors in our market, the above named are just a few. Give ’em a shot.

  27. Katie Parker says:

    Note that all three of the books labeled in the original post as “scary” are all aimed toward younger readers, not adults.

    I have not read two of the books, but I did review Tamra Norton’s Molly Married? for Irreantum a couple of years ago. I thought it was a very enjoyable book and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to young adult readers. The premise of Molly dating her newly-returned missionary and getting married seemed a bit simple and idealistic to me at first, but there are some fun and unexpected plot turns that I thought were executed quite nicely. In short, there is more to the book than the premise suggests, and the topics involved are certainly of interest to youth/future adults. Thumbs up from this reviewer!

  28. Tania says:

    To say that an author didn’t do research because what they wrote doesn’t match up with what you believe implies that you know everything about the subject. Well, it’s a big world out there, and it’s impossible to know every situation. I think it’s time we stop picking at nits and instead focus on the plot, characterizations and the meanings in LDS novels.

    For instance, I know Rachel Ann Nunes, and she lived in France. What she wrote was true to her experience at that time. I was also in her ward at the same time she wrote the NICU book, and there was a lady in our ward who had a baby in the NICU. The experiences for that book came from this woman, so no matter what someone here said, I know that research to be good at the time/place she wrote it. Like I said, it’s a big world out there and we could spend all day focusing on small issues that have nothing to do with the plot or message of the book. It’s easy for people to criticize, but please if you do, pick an issue that’s worth the effort instead of one sentence from an entire book! (Even if that small issue were false, which I don’t believe, the book was gripping.)

    If we don’t start encouraging our authors, as well as pointing out what could improve, we might as well kiss LDS literature goodbye. I applaud LDS authors who are working so hard to do what few of us dare to do (or succeed in doing). Go read a variety of LDS books—not just their titles or their summaries. I know you’ll find some you like. I did.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Wow, cool to get some fresh hits on this. I agree there is a lot of crap out there in the LDS market, face it some of it really sucks–but it is important to define what is literature and what is a really good story.

    I don’t care for Nunes, Stansfield or Lunt–but I love Jeff Savage and Chris Hiemerdinger (though passage to Zarahemla wasn’t his best) I also loved Julie Wrights new book as well as Strength to Endure by Tristi Pinkston. Carol Lynn Pearsons new book Runaway Mother was interesteding as all–she’s kind of in between literature and storytelling.

    I do think it’s getting better–but I know a lot of people that read something stupid years ago and won’t touch it again. That’s a bummer because there are some great new writers that are as good as some national stuff. Still, maybe if we all complain enough the authors will do even better–that would be nice.

  30. Anonymous says:

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