Friday, March 13, 2009
Tower of Strength: Annette Lyon
While I love to read, I admit that I have stayed away from LDS novels in general. The first LDS fictional novel I ever read was by a very popular author, and I read it in High School. It was so cheesy that I had no desire to read another one, but here and there friends would tell me I had to read such and such a book by the same author, so I did. Still cheesy. Still awful.
I will say that I did find some LDS fiction that I actually enjoyed. In college I found The Work and The Glory series, which I really liked. I love Church History, so those books were a good read. Although I haven't read them for a decade, I seem to remember that they were written well. And they weren't overly cheesy or sappy.
I've tried out a few others over the years, and have never been too impressed, regardless of the author's popularity. Maybe I'm pickier than most people, and really want to read books that are actually good. And not full of typos and grammar mistakes. And I have never done well with the cheese. Why did most LDS books have to be so cheesy?
So, when I "met" Annette Lyon a few months ago in blogland, I really liked her. We had lots in common and I loved her blog. In fact, one day, I was really sick and I spent the entire day reading her archives. I absolutely adored her writing style and her posts were very interesting to me. However, I was just a little worried that she was a novelist writing for the LDS Market, due to my prior experiences with the not so great LDS novels. But, I hadn't read any of her books, and since I liked her blog so much, I thought I should try and find them.
Unfortunately, my library only had one of her books....the first one: Lost Without You. I read it, and I truly enjoyed it. None of this less than desirable writing, nauseous sappiness, and obvious Sunday School lessons. Just a great story, well-written and with interesting characters and themes.
I was then very excited for Annette to send me a PDF copy of her latest release in her historical temple series: Tower of Strength. I read it at my computer in one evening and I loved it! The plot is well-formed, the characters have depth and I loved getting to know them, and the writing is definitely to Annette's high standard. Now I can't wait to get my hands on the rest of her books.
I decided to play Barbara Walters, and I asked Annette a couple important questions about writing in the LDS Market. Let's see what she has to say.
Aside from the smaller audience, what is the most challenging part of writing in the LDS fiction Market?
The stigma of LDS fiction being substandard. It comes largely from some of the early writers in the market who weren't that great (but who blazed a path, so I'm grateful to them). But there are still some poorly written (and poorly edited) books on shelves, and those really don't help convince people that the overall quality--and sheer quantity--of good LDS fiction is going up all the time. The competition is getting much tougher, so publishers can be pickier. And that's a great thing. I never know how to respond after someone tells me they read one of my books then add with a surprised tone, "And it was good," as if it shouldn't have been. (Um, thanks, I think.)
Ah. So I wasn't alone in my thinking. But now that I know that Annette is so good, I also know that I can walk into Deseret Book and be more likely to find an LDS novel I will enjoy than I was 15 years ago. And now that you've read this, you totally want to go buy Annette's new book. And all the books she wrote before that.
What is your favorite part of writing in this market?
Being able to be me. My next book didn't start out as an LDS novel at all, but I suddenly found a character in a Relief Society Enrichment meeting and another needed a priesthood blessing. I realized that in a lot of ways, this kind of book is just what comes out. It's who I am.
And that folks, is why we need good LDS writers. How refreshing to be able to read about the important stuff like Priesthood blessings, and yet not have to worry about cheese!
One of my favorite things about Annette's blog is her mini-series about her journey to become a writer. It was always on my list of things I'd like to do someday, but my life took a little different path. I'm young yet, so I suppose I could still become a writer and publish a book at some point, so I am very intrigued by the story Annette tells in this series. I have learned a lot!
But I had a couple questions that I knew she probably wouldn't address on her blog, so I figured I'd ask her.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I had no idea what to say on this one--not that I'm not quirky, but it's hard to know what constitutes a "quirk" when it's you. (I'm probably a ball of quirks.) So I asked my husband. His immediate response: my heavy use of em dashes. I do use a lot of them (my editor takes out a bunch, but you'd never know it). My poor husband (also my webmaster) has to deal with them on the coding end, and they provide a lot of extra work for him. (Sorry, hon!) I really do love me an em dash.
Thanks for answering that one. I like to know about people's quirks, because it makes me feel somewhat less quirky myself. FYI: My husband loves em dashes, too. They made him take them all out of his dissertation. I'm sure he feels your pain.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in your journey to become a writer?
I had no idea how many truly great friendships I would develop as a result. Writing is such a isolated endeavor that I never pictured such a great community of support. I've been blessed to be part of writers groups that have yielded some of my dearest friends. Even better, they "get" me in ways no one else can, because they're writers too.
Which of your characters would you most want to hang out with for a day? (Can be from any of your books.) Why?
This is a really hard question. Part of me wanted to say Maddie, and then I switched one at a time to all my historical heroines, landing on Tabitha. I thought through of several of my male characters (Abe, Joshua, Ben, Samuel). I just couldn't pick.
Then I realized why none of them felt right for this answer--in my head, they all lived over a hundred years ago. They had great lives, but they now have graves somewhere. (I'm mildly deranged, I know--but they're real to me.)
So the one I'd both LIKE to hang out with AND can picture myself doing that with is Brooke. She's a riot, loves good food, enjoys theater, and has a great sense of humor. And (in my head, at least) she's still alive!
I don't think you're deranged at all! The characters seem very real to me, too. And I would love to hang out with Tabitha or Brooke for a day, too.
But guess what? I can! I can go pick up the book and read. And so can you! I know you'll love Tabitha. And Samuel. And everyone else in the book (well....maybe not so much Tabitha's Mother-in-Law, but she grows on you once you understand her).
In summary, Tower of Strength is a really good read. The historical aspect makes it even better. Annette's thorough research and knowledge of the Manti area and of the history of the temple brings some fascinating detail to the story. A story which is less about the building of the temple than it is about finding the strength to deal with the trials our lives hand us. And then finding someone you can share them with.