The senior editor of Zondervan came to my agent last year and asked me if I would update my 30-year-old book The Mormon Mirage. I did more than update – over 50 percent of it is all-new material. The heavily-documented new edition addresses many contemporary LDS issues such as the role of the Internet, race and gender issues, and the responses of the LDS church, both formally and informally, to those who oppose it. However, at the same time I was researching for this look at the Mormonism of the 21st century, I was also writing a novel, Latter-day Cipher.
Why would someone whose lifetime body of work (13 books and hundreds of magazine articles) was predominantly non-fiction turn to writing a novel with a similar subject to three previous nonfiction books? For many years I looked down on fiction writers – at least those who dealt with religious subjects – as having a much less rigorous task. No fact checking. No footnotes. Creativity and imagination reign. (Much to the contrary – fiction writers most often get in trouble when their work most closely approximates the truth about an individual or specific situation.)
But increasingly over the past years, I have felt a desire to explore ways new for me, of conveying truth through fiction.
One reason for this goes back all the way to a high school English class assignment and the impact it had on me. Though I have almost nothing in common with Upton Sinclair, the activist and writer of the early 20th century, I have never forgotten some of the images of his novel, The Jungle. Sinclair tried for years to write journalistic articles to raise public consciousness about the meatpacking industry, but not until he wrote his novel did people really pay attention (and the Pure Food and Drug Act resulted from the outcry.)
We are living in a new world where people access information in twitters, on blogs, and through fiction and visual effects as much as through straight expository reading. Young people communicate with quotes from movies that make their conversations incomprehensible to those who haven’t seen the films. It’s all about the story.
This is reflected in Mormon culture through the explosion of the number LDS-backed (and/or themed) movies and Mormon fiction in print as well. The characters struggle with those things that make Mormonism unique. In a similar way, my novel, Latter-day Cipher, has sympathetically-portrayed LDS characters who wrestle with an element unique to Mormonism: the fact that for a faithful Mormon (such as I once was), something can be true and doctrinal for one generation, and then be repudiated in the next.
Other great writers (and I do not class myself with them, you understand) such as Dostoyevsky have used fiction to convey truth. Do you believe that fiction –either as a short story, a novel, even a movie — is an appropriate vehicle for important faith concepts?
Latayne C Scott