The other day, the publishing company I am working with posed an interesting question on facebook. They asked what issues keep people, especially LDS readers, from enjoying LDS fiction. My initial reaction was to respond immediately, but I quickly realized my answer was longer, and possibly a bit more controversial, than a facebook status reply would warrant. So I’ve thought about it for a few days and have decided I would like to take the opportunity provided by this question to address a certain issue.
I’m not going to answer the question directly. I believe anybody who has an issue with LDS fiction has their own reasoning and I would be presumptuous to speak for them. What I can do is share my experience with trying to get THE SQUARE PEGS (now and heretofore forever known as THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER) published.
In a previous post, I detailed why my initial title for the book was THE SQUARE PEGS. I won’t do that again here, but in that post I mentioned that it was my intention to talk about a number of issues that the LDS faithful face within our culture. Despite many changes to the book, that goal remained.
When I finally finished my manuscript to the point that I was ready to submit it, I was worried. I was worried because I feared I had written a book no one would want to publish. It was written from an LDS perspective and talked about things unique to the LDS culture and so I knew it would be difficult to find an audience outside the LDS church. But on the flip side, I was concerned some of my topics might be considered taboo to LDS publishers. Regardless, I knew I had to try and so I sent the manuscript to both Deseret Book and Covenant Communications, the two most well known LDS publishers.
Despite having sent my query to Deseret weeks before I sent it to Covenant, I actually received both responses on the same day. Deseret Book rejected my manuscript with their standard rejection letter sent through the US mail. To be honest, I hadn’t expected much more. But later that day, I received an e-mail from Covenant. This response was much more surprising. It read:
Thank you for submitting The Square Pegs. Unfortunately, this is not something that fits our publishing needs (Covenant does not publish anything that has to do with homosexuality, and although you handled the topic beautifully, we cannot make an exception). We think you are a talented writer and we encourage you to submit your other works to Covenant in the future.
To me, this rejection was far more devastating than the one I received from Deseret. In order for Covenant to know I had even touched on the subject of homosexuality, they would have to have read a good portion of the book. To know if I handled it “beautifully” or not, they would have to have read the entire thing. My initial thought (which was later backed up by a friend who is also a published author) was that with all the queries a publisher receives on a day to day basis, they are not going to read through an entire manuscript of a book they already know they are not going to publish. To me, this rejection said my book was good enough for publication were it not for my inclusion of a single topic addressed in one of several sub-plots within the story. I had worried about this before I ever sent it off, but to see my fears confirmed in writing was really hard.
More than anything, I wanted to explain to someone why I had written what I’d written. But how was I supposed to explain my reasoning to Editorial? So with no other choice, I waited with a sense of doom for my response from Cedar Fort Publishing-pretty much my last chance among major LDS publishers.
Obviously, with a little less than a month until THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER is released, it is clear that Cedar Fort accepted my manuscript. To be honest, I was shocked. What made it even more surprising was that there were no requests from them for any major changes to the story. It would go to print pretty much originally as I had written it. To Cedar Fort, I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.
But for six months I have held onto my desire to explain. It is not my wish to condemn, chastise or denigrate Covenant Communication in any way. They have their publishing parameters and I respect that. But I can’t help but wonder if a review and possible change of their policies would not lead to a greater good for their readers. Readers from families like mine who could benefit from the experience of others.
In late 1995, I had just gotten engaged to my wife, Shannon. We were attending Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, AZ and looking forward to a new life together. However, one evening in the midst of wedding planning, I got a call from my mother who was in tears. She asked if I could come home to Duncan-fifty miles away-and said I should bring Shannon as well. When we arrived, she showed me a letter she had just received from my brother, Jerry. In this letter, he announced to our family that he was gay.
To my parents it was devastating. My mother couldn’t talk about it for weeks without crying.
In the months that followed, many things were said and many resolves were made regarding what would and would not be acceptable for my brother when he came to visit. Needless to say, not all of them sat well with him, but we tried to find a peaceful way to move forward.
But as the years went on, my parent’s desperation to “save” my brother increased. Arguments got more and more severe and battle lines became more and more entrenched. Contact between my brother and the rest of our family dwindled. To my recollection, there was a stretch of about eight years where we barely saw each other, and when we did, the air was thick with tension. In hindsight, I can see that we were so concerned about eternity, we were willingly sacrificing the here and now.
It’s funny how everything can change on a dime. For us, that change happened in the spring of 2008, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. When she had been diagnosed before, five years earlier, there was a general sense that everything would be fine. And as far as we knew, it was. However, from the moment she received the second diagnosis, I think we all sensed this time would be different.
Suddenly, being right didn’t matter much anymore. Being together did.
That summer, my entire family spent four days together over the Labor Day weekend and had a blast. We spent Thanksgiving all together for the first time in a decade. Despite living only forty-five minutes away, my little family travelled and spent the night in Duncan on Christmas Eve so that we could all be together on Christmas morning. That Christmas was my mother’s last.
As her condition worsened, it was my brother who was able to take time away from his job and come and spend weeks with her, day after day, trying to meet her needs. When she lost the ability to speak, it was my brother who patiently came and spent hours with her-content to just be in the same room together. In that one year, my family was closer than it had ever been since my entry into adulthood.
So why did it take so long?
One of the greatest regrets of my life is the lost years. We could have been having those experiences together long before. But because of some misplaced idea that welcoming Jerry, and his eventual husband, Kirt, into our homes unequivocally would somehow be construed as “condoning the sin”, we let those years drift away…and now they’re gone.
But this experience has changed my thinking completely. I am not going to pretend that I understand the relationship between God and homosexuality. I don’t. I have come to a personal understanding in my life that is mine and mine alone, but is it doctrinal? I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. What I do know is that I have a relationship with my brother that is better than it has ever been. I love him and his family so very much. When I travel to Utah to attend book signings at the end of August and the beginning of September, I will spend five days with Jerry, Kirt, and their newest addition, my adorable nephew, Oscar. They are my family. And as to the question of whether I should continue to try and “save” my brother? I don’t really figure that’s any of my concern. I’ve got myself to worry about, so I figure I’ll let God worry about Jerry. He knows him better than I do, anyway.
And that is why I chose to include this issue in my book.
If there is a chance that somebody will read my book who is dealing with this issue in their family, I want them to know they aren’t alone. And I want them to know you don’t have to write off a family member or a friend you love dearly in order to stay in good standing in the LDS church. I think that is a powerful message that LDS fiction could play a big part in sending if it chose to do so.
But at the same time, I feel it is important to let people know this topic is addressed in my book. I firmly believe what I have written is in keeping, not only with the guidelines of the Church, but with the guidelines of my Savior. However, I recognize not everyone may agree. So be warned. If you feel that any discussion of homosexuality is just not appropriate in a work of LDS fiction, THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER may not be the book for you.
But since I want to finish this post on a positive note, I have some final thoughts. I want to once again express my appreciation to Cedar Fort Publishing. They didn’t have to go out on a limb for this book. I hope they don’t feel that they did. But either way, I appreciate their support. I also want to express my appreciation for all the help my brother has provided me with this project. He has done more to help me than I could ever have imagined. I love him and I am extremely grateful to him.