Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mormon Mafias and Chilren's Literature

Yesterday I got my usual kick in the pants from David Farland (It's the name of his newsletter, don't look at me like that!) and I did a double take. There's been a rush lately of new children's authors coming from Utah, and people have been talking, you'd think jokingly, about how there must be a “Mormon Mafia” working behind the scenes to get Utah authors published in middle grade and young adult.

Sounds like a nice joke, right? I thought so too, until David said people have come up to him asking if he could use his 'godfather' contacts to get their books published.

Now, there is no special way to get your books published, (As David says, if he had those kinds of contacts he'd be using them for himself,) but David does point out something interesting. For some reason, new children's authors are popping up like daisies in Utah.

David gives several reasons for this: The strong writer community in Utah, the Mormon tendency to work together and mentor the young, the way Mormons generally are more clean cut and less likely to embarrass a publishing house by in front of children and their parents. The thing that interests me, however, isn't how we got into this position, but what's going to happen because of it. It isn't a new thing for an industry to be dominated by a cultural group.

The example that leaps to mind for me is Jews and New York Theater. It's not so strong now, but once upon a time it seemed like every successful writer, actor, or composer on Broadway was at least part Jewish. Combine that with the Jewish influence on stand-up comedy and you begin to understand what Seinfeld meant when he said (paraphrasing): that Jewish comedy became New York comedy, then New York comedy became the world's comedy.

Heck, even Monty Python gets in the act with the song from Spamalot: “You won't succeed on Broadway if you don't have any Jews.” (Incidentally, the show's original director, Mike Nichols, is Jewish.)

So, will Mormons become the Jews of children's publishing? It certainly looks that way to people talking in internet forums right now. Whatever the reason, children and publishers are liking the books Utah authors put out, and that means Utah will keep putting out more children's books. Is Utah putting out more books because people like the Utah style, or do people like the Utah style because Utah's putting out more books? Pointless, really. For me, the important thing isn't why this trend is happening, but what it means for upcoming authors. There's something about these books that people like, and like David Farland says in his presentations: you have to study what's good if you want to be good. Who knows, maybe one day people will study the Utah trend in literature, and English classes will be breaking down what it is about them that makes them sell. Now that's an English class I'd love to take.

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