Status: Drafting the fourth book in the PERILOUS series!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Toeing the Religious Line

There is a fine line between religion and audience, I'm discovering.

Mostly I've been enlightened by my editor, and it's been a bit difficult to accept. I believe her. Everything she said made sense. It's just sad to me that that's the way it is.

When I started writing Perilous, I was writing it for an LDS audience. (A Mormon audience, for the layman.) Specifically, LDS teens. I always had hopes that the novel would be so excellent that non-LDS readers would also pick it up and find an interest in it, even though the characters were from an obscure, usually unpopular religious denomination.

Turns out I struck out on both counts. Before even offering me a contract, WiDo expressed to me concerns that the topic was too controversial to offer to an LDS audience. My willingness to turn it into a mainstream thriller was a condition of the contract. Of course I agreed. The more I get to know my editor, the more I trust her foresight.

But while Perilous was too controversial to be LDS, it was also too religious to be mainstream.

Are you starting to see how I struck out?

So we've been making some big changes while still preserving the integrity and soul of the novel. We've gone from four LDS characters to two. The hardest part for me has been removing Jaci's inner thoughts that center around God and prayer. And removing the religious discussions. As my editor pointed out, people will be suspicious and think I am pushing my religion on them. She's right, and so those things must go. But I feel like I'm letting my LDS readers down (because I know that I will have some). They are going to read Jaci's actions and think, "What's wrong with this girl? Is she religious or not? Why doesn't she pray more? Why does she always rely on her own strength to get things done?" Because that's what I would think. Don't worry, we're leaving enough prayers in for the readers to know she prays.

Kristine (my editor) hopes there will come a day when the LDS denomination is accepted as readily as the Catholics or Lutherans or Baptists, or anyone else. For now, though, just knowing an author is LDS makes many people shy away from reading their books (I won't tell anyone that James Dashner and Brandon Mull and Stephenie Meyer are LDS, to name a few). I certainly don't want having LDS characters to be the kiss of death.

On another note entirely, Kurt Chambers interviewed me here. If you want to find out more about me or just want a good laugh, check it out.


David J. West said...

Oh great, you just told everybody about J Dashner, B Mull and S Meyer.

Yeah there is a fine line because you sure dont want your book to come off as preachy.

Best wishes in finding that balance. Still not sure if I have found that or not either.

Mary said...

Thanks for the insight into the LDS Vs. mainstream world of publishing.
I'm proud to let people know that Stephanie Meyer, James Dashner and Brandon Mull are LDS though. They're paving the way for the rest of us and everyone can see that we're not so different.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I love my religion, I just don't love it in my fiction. There's a huge difference between faith-promoting and faith- PROMOTING, if you know what I mean :) What makes Kristine so good in working with us LDS authors is that she can discern the difference. Because you're right--it is a VERY fine line. Cross it and you will alienate readers of any faith.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Just to clear up any confusion, my writing was in no way 'corny' or 'cheesy' or 'preachy.'

It was just written for an LDS audience. And now we are changing the audience. Which means we are changing the way it was written. In my case, at least, it was a question of audience rather than presentation.

Simon C. Larter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon C. Larter said...

It is a fine line to walk, isn't it? To broaden the appeal without dumbing down the faith is quite a task. I'm glad you've a good editor to see you through it, good lady.

I'm sure you'll find a way to preserve both the integrity of your characters and your respect for your faith. Best of luck with the edits!

T. Anne said...

Thanx for sharing this. I write faith based fiction and my husband keeps asking why its so religious? I'm hoping to get picked up by the CBA and get a literary agent who shares my faith. But what if those doors don't open? I feel your angst.

Sara ♥ said...

Tamara - I have to tell you it's posts like these that make me keep coming back. I love that you write from the heart and that you don't hold back!

I completely agree with Simon: "I'm sure you'll find a way to preserve both the integrity of your characters and your respect for your faith."

PS - in light of my thoughts about your blog - I left you an award on mine :-)

laurel said...

I also feel your angst. In my revisions I'm having to tone down the religious material quite a lot. My plot and situation might be too edgy to go with an inspirational market as well, so I'm looking at how to portray a kid struggling with her faith in a crisis situation without turning off mainstream readers. Sara Zarr's _Once Was Lost_ portrays a faith crisis really well and was published mainstream, but only AFTER she had two other not-overtly-religious books published. I sometimes wonder if that's the only way to break in.

Annie McMahon said...

Okay, now I really want to read your book, although I'm not an LDS, and I'm not a teen. :) You made me curious!

I like novels that have spiritual values without being overly religious. This one seems to be my kind of novel. I seriously can't wait to read it.

JennyMac said...

Good luck with such an awesome goal Tamara....I have read books that incorporate religion beautifully and I know you will too!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Thanks for your belief and support! Many of you have an idea of the kind of tone I'm trying to achieve.

Sara, thanks! I'll have to check out your blog!

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