In replying to Amanda's question, Jen said:
What an interesting topic for a book, given your current personal relationship with the church being that you don't believe in it. How do your personal beliefs affect your ability to write a book about someone who feels drawn to return to the church? In other words, is it a return to the church out of testimony, or a return out of need for community & support while grieving an approaching loss? Or something else entirely? If its more the community angle, why a return to LDS vs filling those community needs elsewhere?
Most, if not all, LDS fiction books I have read carry at least an underlying testimony, whether specifically stated or simply as a theme. How would you approach that cultural expectation as an author who doesn't believe in the LDS church, without it coming across as simply a financial appeal toward an added market niche to the one you are already writing for? Intriguing.
Amanda then replied:
The stories that I write are beyond me. Characters come to me and ask for their stories to be told. They are who they are, I don't create them. That's my take on writing. I have no illusions about ever making money with my writing, nor would I ever sell out in order to publish a book. I would never manipulate a market to sell a book - the idea makes me shudder! My character is LDS because that's who she was when I created her. And, as an author, I separate myself from the book entirely, so that my feelings on issues are nonexistant. My relationship with the church doesn't matter - only my character's does. I can step into her shoes and feel her conversion back (which IS based on testimony) and be okay with that. On the other hand, sometimes I worry that the process will be seen as dishonest, because I do not feel that conversion myself. It isn't, though. It's fiction. In order to say it's dishonest, a person has to assume that the author is part of the book, and I'm not. It's been a very hard book to write because of that worry, to tell the truth. I don't want people to think I'm lying or advocating one way or another. As the author, I have no opinion - I just want their story to be told.
They both make excellent, valid points. So excellent, in fact, that I decided to address them.
I've always been a believer in writing what we know. I believe that we can bring a depth of understanding to the story and to the character when we infuse our own emotions into the story and show our innermost selves.
That said, my first book was written from the first person viewpoint of a Japanese American young man. What do I know about being a Japanese American? Nothing. What do I know about being a man? Even less.
However, because I wanted to learn about the different cultures involved and because I wanted to tell my story in a certain way, I chose to take on a persona totally foreign to me. I don't believe I could have accomplished what I did with "Nothing to Regret" in any other way. I've been critically acclaimed for my work on that book, despite the fact that I'm a Caucasian woman. The experiences of my character were unfamiliar to me, but because I was willing to learn, I was able to pull it off.
The question of religion is broached -- should a person write a book about conversion to a religion they don't personally believe in? Fascinating question.
I'm not Jewish. Yet, I have a tremendous respect for their culture, their faith, their history and traditions. I believe I could write a book, convincingly, about the Jewish people and talk about their beliefs in a way that would be compelling and realistic to the reader. I don't have to be Jewish to accomplish that -- I have to be willing to learn, to use my imagination, and to have respect for the things I'm writing about.
I agree with Jen in that we do find certain authenticity when we write the things we know. Our words have power when we speak from personal testimony.
I agree with Amanda in that we can use the writing skills we've been given to create a story about anything, whether or not we have personally experienced it or believe it. If we only wrote about the things we know for a fact, the world of fiction would be very limited.
So, now it's time for you to weigh in, commenters . . . what do you think?