Over on the Monster Hunter fan page someone asked about why there were so many Mormons in science fiction and fantasy writing. Jokes aside, that’s a good question, and it’s a topic I’ve thought about a lot (because I am one) so I started responding and it got long so I decided to turn it into a blog post. Note, I rarely talk about my religious beliefs on the internet, because A. the internet is a cesspool filled with idiots and I don’t want to hear their dumb hot takes about my religion in the comments, and B. I don’t claim to be a good example of my people either. So this isn’t a religion post, this is a writer demographics post.
First off, Mormons are disproportionately successful in the writing business. Somebody asked if that was confirmation bias. Nope. That’s pure numbers. For it’s tiny population Utah produces more writers and especially successful bestsellers than states with vastly larger populations. Even the ones that are supposedly “artistic”. However there are two separate things at play here though. There’s more Mormons, but there is also more Utah. (Utah is only about half Mormon). These Venn diagrams overlap a lot, but they aren’t one circle. Utah also produces a lot of non-Mormon writers, and there are lots of Mormon writers from outside of Utah. But basically, they’re connected in that lots of Mormons love writing so they created a writer scene in the place with the most Mormons per capita and it’s kind of grown from there.
One note, the real name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but I’m not going to keep typing that so the colloquial term of Mormon or LDS will do. The BYU grads who get butt hurt by this can go fly a kite.
Okay, big philosophical reasons first:
Compared to most groups, Mormons like to read a lot. That’s the biggest one. Across the board groups with more readers create more writers. As a culture, we read and promote reading. Where I came from reading was for pussies and a great way to get your ass kicked. I grew up rural poor, immigrant Catholic farmer community in the California sticks, and it is totally different than how my kids have grown up Mormon in Utah. Reading isn’t shunned here as uncool. Even a lot of the jocks are nerds.
Sure, there’s some shunning still. The most annoying stage kids go through is that one where they think it’s cute to be stupid. Luckily the kids in Utah seem to grow out of that faster than the other places I’ve been. Being an idiot isn’t considered an achievement here.
When you read a lot, inevitably your horizons expand across non-fiction and fiction, and then across multiple genres. Exposure to more types of books helps readers find things they click with. Click with it enough, and inevitably people are going to try writing that thing themselves.
Next, there are a bunch of surveys that show that Utah is the “geekiest” state. I believe it. All that reading leads to genre fiction and an appreciation for nerdy stuff. Whether it is super heroes, or Lord of the Rings, or anime, or video games, or Magic the Gathering, there’s a big bunch of people who love that thing in Utah.
Utah’s got a great gaming scene. Not that it correlates as much with writing as reading, but it certainly helps. When I was first starting out as a writer, I was at an event and about a dozen writers were sitting around talking. The subject turned to RPGs (role playing games, not the other kind of RPG that I used to work with!) and I was surprised how everybody seemed to be on the same page. So I asked who there had not been a gamer. One writer raised their hand. The only writer there who hadn’t played something like D&D was L.E. Modesitt.
When Utah started its own ComicCon it quickly blew up to where it was threatening the supremacy of San Diego, so San Diego sued them. Now it’s called FanX, and it’s still one of the biggest ComicCons in the world regardless what they legally have to call it now.
Besides being nerdy and well read, Mormons tend to be better educated and more financially successful than average (contrary to the stereotypes of our enlightened coastal elites) and I’ve talked about before how one of the things that lead to groups producing writers is them having enough leisure time and resources to be able to spend time learning to write without being in danger of getting evicted/starving.
One thing that got pointed out in the comments that I didn’t mention was work ethic. (ironically, this wasn’t pointed out by my co-religionists, but by outside observers… probably because all the Mormons think we’re still too lazy and should be working harder 😀 ) But yes, culturally most Mormons still believe in hard work and putting in effort. I know that’s an old fashioned idea now in our glorious age of just expecting the government to do everything for us (a practice which will obviously have no downsides or long term negative repercussions for society!)
But working hard is a huge part of making it as a writer. Lots of people want to write a book, but they don’t want to do that pesky sit in a chair typing for six months to create the book part. Anybody who thinks this job is easy is a sucker. It’s physically easy (says the guy who grew up milking cows) but it is mentally taxing and requires good time management skills.
I guess this question could have been “why are Mormons so disproportionately represented at NASA?” and you’d get similar answers.
Also contrary to dumbass stereotypes, Mormons are pretty open minded. Yeah, spare me the bullshit comments from people who hate all religion or just mine in particular. You can’t send all your young adults to live for two years all over the Earth, embedded in nearly every culture, and have them all come home and be a bunch of hicks like the media portrays us.
On that note, don’t get me started. There’s as many of us as there are Jews in the world, yet the media portrays us as a bunch of friggin’ morons chewing on our straw hats while our women wear their floral butter churning dresses, as if we magically froze in the mid 1800s and haven’t changed since. But that’s because Hollywood is a bunch of lazy elitist assholes.
Utah is the most bilingual by non-immigrants state with the widest variety of spoken languages in America. I can walk into a random ward in rural Utah and ask if somebody there speaks Tagalog and have a really good chance of success. When your immediate family has lived in Brazil, France, India, South Africa, and (best of all) Alabama, it’s amusing to be told by people who’ve never left a 15 block radius of Manhattan about how we’re so amusingly provincial, with our weird accent on quaint concepts like “family” or “work effort”.
Again, this isn’t just Mormons. There’s atheists, agnostics, other religions, and even disgruntled ex-Mormons working in these same Utah writer circles. People with wildly different personal beliefs can still build on the underlying framework of a bunch of geeks who like to read books.
Now, past the philosophical, let’s get to the practical nuts and bolts logistical reasons.
Somebody brought up BYU. Yes, and no. BYU itself sucks when it comes to treating genre fiction with any respect just like most other universities. Their English department has a bunch of snoots to rival any other snooty university. However, long ago they hired a guy named Dave Wolverton (pen named Dave Farland, who wrote stuff like Runelords and Star Wars for example) who ran one of the most successful creative writing classes in American history.
Dave had several hundred students become published authors over the decades he taught this class. He’s also had a ton of those become bestsellers. It is because Dave was a working writer who kept the class about realistic business practices instead of the usual artsy navel gazing most English departments love. (but what do the blue curtains mean?!?)
Then there is LTUE, which began at BYU (no matter how much that annoyed BYU) created by sci-fi fantasy lover, David Brian Doering. LTUE was a pure writing conference, by writers, for writers, and it was CHEAP. So that regular people who work for a living could attend it. Bang for the buck, LTUE smokes every other writing event out there.
LTUE started at BYU, went to UVU (briefly), and then has been on its own ever since. Why did it leave BYU? Because BYU sucks. (well, at least that’s my take, but it was more complicated than that). But leaving the university environment was the best thing ever in my opinion. College is a bubble. You want to be successful in the real world, you need to get out into the real world.
That event has been a fundamental way for locals to network and pick the brains of those of us who do this for a living. (I’ve been doing panels there for I think 11 years now) A giant percentage of those authors who’ve come out of Utah, Mormon and not, attended LTUE first.
It’s also why when the Woke tried to muscle in on LTUE a couple of years ago, locals got righteously pissed. The last thing the Utah writing community needs is to have those vampires destroy it. The Woke are a bunch of communist puritan locusts who won’t be satisfied until they suck all the fun out of life.
When you take this conflux of lots of aspiring authors in an environment that promotes that sort of thing, with lots of working professionals who are happy to help them learn and get better, success breeds success.
On the dark side Utah also has some really shitty little publishing houses who like to prey upon this talent pool. Some of Utah’s little publishers are so bad that they are internationally famous for their predatory contracts. I was eating dinner after the London Book Fair (at a restaurant so nice that Mick Jagger was sitting a couple of tables over!) with some British publishers and at one point they said “You are from Utah? Are the publishing house contracts there as stupid and evil as everyone says? Surely that is exaggerated!”
Nope. There’s some bad ones. Read those contracts, kids. You are signing away the rights for them to publish your book, not giving them the rights to own you and everything else that may originate from your brain forever.
Utah also has a lot of parasitic hanger-ons in the writer community, people who are in love with the IDEA of being a writer, but not with all that icky work part that it takes to actually be one. But that’s normal everywhere with a writer scene. You can always spot those types because they’re the loudest and bossiest telling all the other artists how to create art, yet when you check their resume they’ve created jack and shit. Those you can safely ignore.
However, I think that is one more thing in Utah’s favor. There are so many successful working authors around here that the usual loser mope nobodies who normally install themselves on pedestals in other writer communities just get bulldozed here (and us sharks don’t even really notice the minnows).
To clarify what I mean by that, I’ve seen lots of writer events where the established king boss expert head honcho, is generously speaking a relatively meaningless entity when it comes to actual book sales. But people like that love feeling powerful while pontificating to a bunch of unwitting newbs (I think I just accidentally described most of the college creative writing classes in the country), but in the Utah/Mormon writer scene those types can pontificate all they want because right around the corner are ten other people who actually make a living at this stuff, and you can just ask their professional advice instead.
Not everybody who falls into this group comes from this background. Like me for example. I’m not from here and didn’t grow up Mormon. I had self published my first novel and had my first publishing contract before I even knew the Utah writer scene existed. However, I gained a lot of knowledge about how to grow my career from that point.
I went to my very first sci-fi con only because I had a contract and a book coming out from Baen, and I figured it would be a good chance to network and meet some other authors. I met this guy named Brandon Sanderson, who back then wasn’t nearly as famous (they had just announced he would finish Wheel of Time). However, when he heard I had a book deal from a real publisher, he took me out to dinner to tell me all the stuff he wished he had known when he was starting out.
Earlier I mentioned Dave Wolverton, but after he retired, Brandon (who was one of his former students) took over teaching that class. And Brandon sells so many books that he sleeps in a house made of solid gold bars, on a mattress made of DogeCoin, so I can only assume that his class was pragmatic too.
That’s how the Utah writing community works. I’ve seen other places where it is more dog eat dog, and someone else being successful is seen as making you less successful. Like if you make a dollar, then that’s one less dollar they’ll have. It’s the old finite pie fallacy. Around here, the vast majority of writers understand that you can just make more pie. So they help other authors rather than step on them.
Or alternately, I’ve seen other parts of the country where the writing scene is more artsy-fartsy and the accent is on literati snooty academic sort of writing. That’s great for the Oprah Book Club contingent, but as far as actually making a living, genre fiction is where it is at.
Personally I like helping aspiring authors learn to write better, or help new authors navigate career stuff. I’m not alone either. I think most of us around here are wired that way. So Utah’s got a lot of writers who received help, who are happy to pay it back. And since we’ve got such a glut of writers, you aren’t getting advice from just once source (because how they did it might not be the best way for you to do it).
Put all this stuff together, baseline cultural and then nitty gritty practical day to day reality, and it explains why this one particular place/group has so many working writers.
EDIT: and an addendum for the bigots, I’ll save you some typing, because if you post anything talking shit about anybody’s religion in the comments I’m just going to delete it...
EDIT 2: Okay, making fun of Mitt Romney is fair. That dude is such an invertebrate he’s basically just hair gel in a ziplock bag. 😀
EDIT 3: to clarify, there’s a difference between Mormon Authors and Authors Who Happen To Be Mormon. This post is about authors who write regular books for everybody and the regular market. Not specialty press stuff by Mormons for Mormons. I’m the last person to ever comment on how to work in that market because I swear way too much to ever show up in a Deseret Books. 😀