Writing Religion

My first novel comes out in about a week.  I’m nervous, for a variety of reasons, but a big one is that the story and the world include more than a little religion, and I’m not sure how readers will respond to it.  I’m self-aware enough to realize that this is probably my own insecurities at work more than anything else, but that doesn’t make the nervousness go away.

I was raised Catholic; I went to 12 years of Catholic school.  By the time I graduated from high school I had developed, for lack of a better term, a kind of allergy to organized religion.  The reasons behind this are legion, but suffice it to say that I grew up in a very parochial and narrow-minded environment where to be something other than a white, (mostly) Irish Catholic was to be just that–Other.  I was a proud atheist for many years.  As I grew older (I’m 32 as of this writing), my atheism slowly evolved into a kind of scientific agnosticism, and from there, rather abruptly became an unexpected flowering of faith.

In the way of these things, I found faith in the last place I looked, and the last place in the multiverse I expected to find it: Mormonism.  By this point in my life, the idea of finding religion wasn’t so surprising.  I had become a more spiritual person, and was certainly seeking something–I just didn’t know what.

When I first declared myself an atheist, I did so rabidly; I was exactly the kind of atheist that gives atheists a bad name.  I was critical, intolerant, insecure, and volatile.  I looked down on all organized religion, particularly Christianity, and particularly the Roman Catholic Church in which I was raised.  I had a particularly poor opinion of Mormons, because, in addition to being anti-religion, I was also very sheltered in some ways.  I could on one two fingers the number of Mormons I had met in my life, and I knew even less about their actual beliefs.  I had the kind of opinions you’re used to hearing about Mormons: they’re crazy cultists that wear special underwear, have multiple wives, and don’t drink.  I was particularly opposed to the missionary nature of the religion; that was what turned me off the most.  Who did these people think they were, walking around ringing door bells with their stupid name tags?

The proof turned out to be in the pudding.  I ended up attending a Mormon service with my wife and loving it–the people were some of the happiest, kindest, most well-adjusted folks I’d ever met.  My decision to join was based more on these experiences than in any particular confidence in the doctrine.  I started living life as a Mormon and quickly realized that it made me much happier.  I became confident that it was good for me and my family to have this structure and support system in our lives; it helped me become a better husband and father.  The irony, of course, is not lost on me.

When I started writing fiction seriously, none of the projects I was working on featured religion in any particular or positive way.  In fact, aside from The Book of Ever, the books I have written and plan to write aren’t particularly faith-promoting.  But Exile came into being almost fully formed, and suddenly, to my surprise, became the first of my novels ready for publication.  It’s both appropriate and intimidating, in its own way, that in publishing this novel I’m also in some ways coming out of the closet as a Mormon.

The Book of Ever, a trilogy of which Exile is the first part, is in no way intended to be polemical.  It has no ulterior message relating to Mormonism.  First and foremost, it’s an adventure novel, a science fiction book set in a post-apocalyptic United States, centuries after a nuclear apocalypse.  The word “Mormon” is never mentioned; the faith the protagonists subscribe to is referred to in different terms, as this is a different world and a different era.  But to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Mormons, the genesis of the community at Bountiful should be clear.

I hope that the story will prove exciting, the characters believable and gripping.  The struggles they face throughout the trilogy will test their faith and their stamina, and I hope prove rewarding to readers.  I hope also that the faith-related aspects of the novel are balanced well enough that they don’t get in the way of the story while also providing a bit of a spiritual experience for those who seek it.  But more than anything, I suppose that at this point I’m simply grateful to have written it, grateful for the chance to write it, and grateful that the writing of it helped me to learn more about myself and the choices I’ve made.

Exile: The Book of Ever is out in ebook and paperback in August 2014.  You can read the prologue and the first five chapters here.

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