Novel ideas

LDS fiction gaining popularity among readers and publishers

Published: Friday, June 25 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

If you visit any store that sells LDS books, there, along with all the books on doctrine and church history and family development, you will find more and more novels.

In recent years, LDS fiction has increased in both quantity and quality, said Robby Nichols, vice president of marketing for Covenant Communications. "Ten or 15 years ago, you saw very few LDS novels. It is now a strong segment of the market."

Consider, for example, that in 2003, just over half of all the new books Covenant published were works of fiction. Even more telling, perhaps, are the numbers of new authors being added to the shelves. "Interestingly, we introduced two new fiction writers in 2002, 10 new fiction writers in 2003, and we already have eight new fiction writers in the first four months of 2004," said Nichols. "The opportunity for a new fiction author to get published is greater now than ever before."

And not only are there more writers, he said, but "writers are getting better. The bar is much, much higher as to quality."

At Deseret Book, another major player in the fiction market, the story is much the same. "I was here in 1979 when Deseret Book published its first-ever fiction title," said editor Emily Watts, "It was considered a major breakthrough." That book was by Dean Hughes.

A few months later, she said, Jack Weyland's "Charly" came along, "and that was so popular. It kicked a few doors open."

She's not sure that the percentages of fiction books published by Deseret Book have changed all that much in recent years, "but we're publishing so many more books, so we are publishing a lot more fiction."

Other, smaller publishers, such as Signature Books and Cedar Fort, are also contributing to the influx of fiction.

Why the change? Many authors and publishers point to the publication of Gerald Lund's "Work and the Glory" series as a pivotal point. The first volume of the series, which parallels the history of the church, was published in 1990, and followed by eight subsequent volumes. "That was a life-changing fictional event," said Watts.

Even so, it took a while. "About the third volume, it really kicked in and took off."

Then along came a Dean Hughes' series set during World War II, and suddenly historical fiction was really hot.

In addition to those series, Chris Heimerdinger has garnered a huge following for his books, telling

of modern visitors transported back to Book of Mormon times.

David Woolley has received acclaim for his books set in the Old Testament/Book of Mormon period.

Orson Scott Card, who has had notable success in the national market as a science-fiction writer, has been lauded for his "Women of Genesis" series, which focuses on biblical women. "Those books are just as popular with the Jewish community," noted Watts.

More recently, there has been a move away from historical series. "People are getting past the point where they want to buy a big, thick hardback," said Watts. "We are doing more in paperback."

And collections, rather than series, seem to be the up-and-coming thing. "I love Agatha Christie books," said Watts. "You can pick up any one without having to read them in order. We've started a couple of those kinds of collections."

The "Spider Latham" series by Liz Adair, following the adventures of a deputy sheriff in Nevada, is one.

The "Fairhaven Chronicles," now in its second book, is another. Written by Sharon Downing Jarvis, the books have been compared to the popular "Mitford" stories of a small-town rector by Jan Karon. "We wanted a Mormon 'Mitford' series," said Watts, "so we went to one of our favorite authors. The books are set in the fictional town of Fairhaven, Ala. And her writing melts in your mouth."

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