I found this post by Editorial Anonymous about a “Mormon Mafia” in publishing rather hilarious, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. First, click here to read the post.
Now that you’ve stopped puzzling over why I found it so funny, I’ll share this secret tidbit of information about myself: I am a BYU graduate from Utah who writes young adult fiction. Sweet! I only need to find me a husband and pop out a handful of kids before my seven-figure contract arrives in the mail.
All joking aside, the letter writer has stumbled upon an interesting phenomenon at the moment, and I was curious when the talk would really start. Well, here it is, and now I think it’s time to explain:
Mormons have been given an ultrasupersecret mission to take over the world by writing young adult fiction with a scifi/fantasy bent. You should probably lock up your children.
Ah, darn. I shouldn’t have said that. But honestly, anyone who thinks it’s some big conspiracy or divine mandate is reading too many paranormal romances and should lay off them for a few months.
The common thread with all of the popular and successful Mormon writers has to do more with cultural influence than anything else. Let me explain.
Members of the Mormon or LDS church (full name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), have always been proponents of the arts, including music and dance from the church’s inception in 1830. The first, and probably most prominent, artistic endeavor was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, formed in 1847.
Literary endeavors came later, near the turn of the twentieth century, with the admonition to write faith-promoting stories. For many years, those were the kind of books LDS authors wrote. I still remember all of the LDS books that were written when I was younger. I’d honestly say it was about this time (the late 70s to early 80s), that LDS fiction really began to develop and grow, as well as LDS authors turning to mainstream fiction, with Orson Scott Card at the forefront.
Along with that, the church encourages women to get quality education before they start having kids and raising a family. That leads to tons of well-educated stay-at-home moms, many of whom take up writing while the kids are napping. (Not kidding about that. I know quite a few bestselling, award-winning authors who started that way.)
The church-owned Brigham Young University is at the forefront of Mormons in the arts. Students from around the world participate in excellent programs for literature, theater and film, music, and dance, among others. The BYU ballroom dance team wins international dance competitions every year, and several grads from the program have become popular dance pros on Dancing with the Stars. The computer animation department at BYU is a pipeline to Pixar and other top animation companies (as reported by The New York Times).
An interesting article from The Boston Globe (click here to read) posits that the influx of Mormon writers in young adult fiction is due to the more wholesome nature of children’s and young adult stories. Members of the church are, on the whole, very conservative when it comes to sex, drugs, and violence, and opt out of reading or watching entertainment that includes mature materials, or even more minor themes of premature sex and violence.
As for the fantasy aspect, author Shannon Hale says it best in the Boston Globe article: Mormonism and its tenets can seem pretty fantastic by others, so we’ve never really had issues with thinking imaginatively or outside commonly accepted ideas. Plus the fact that fantasy generally has clear concepts of good versus evil and right and wrong directly corresponds with church teachings on the same.
In addition to NYTimes bestsellers like Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner, and Ally Condie, other popular LDS young adult authors include Shannon Hale, Aprilynne Pike, Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, Jessica Day George, and Becca Fitzpatrick. (Update 11/2013: Since so many more LDS authors have published YA books, here’s a more current list of Mormon YA/MG authors.)
Finally, the influx of Mormon writers is a growing trend for Mormon artists in all areas. Below are some of the more famous LDS actors/singers/musicians/directors taking to the world stage (and I’m not even talking about the Osmonds).
David Archuleta (currently on an LDS mission)
Brandon Flowers (The Killers)
Brendon Urie (Panic! At the Disco)
Gladys Knight (converted later in life)
John Heder (Napoleon Dynamite)
Jared Hess (wrote/directed Napoleon Dynamite)
Amy Adams (raised LDS)
Katherine Heigl (raised LDS)
Aaron Eckhart (BYU grad)
Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse, raised LDS)
Paul Walker (raised LDS)
Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars)
Derek Hough (Dancing with the Stars)
In conclusion, there isn’t anything in the water or in church doctrines that says Mormons must write young adult literature. It’s a combination of cultural and other influences, as well as the existence of a strong and supportive community of LDS writers, especially in Utah. I’ve met so many famous and popular authors at various literary and cultural events, and they are, for the most part, a down-to-earth group that encourages other would-be writers and accepts them into the fold whether they be famous or not. I’ve learned a lot from them, especially what it means to give back and support others.