Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bordeaux Mission begins Tuesday!!!

It's getting to be time for the last novella of the novel Exmormon: Bordeaux Mission!!!

"Bordeaux Mission" is the story of a young Mormon guy who is basically a good person -- and wants to be righteous -- but struggles on his mission. In Spencer's case, it isn't a problem of faith vs. doubt. The problem is that being on a mission is hard. Mormonism is a one-size-fits-all religion, but (as you might guess) it fits some better than it fits others.

To my LDS readers: You can read this story without fear -- it doesn't violate any standards. In fact, if it weren't contained in a collection called "Exmormon", I daresay you might not even guess that it was written by a non-believer.

Before we begin, I'd like to talk a little about how the criticisms in Holly's Mormon Lit theory post Story, Wikipedia, Story apply to this novella, and to Exmormon in general:

In a nutshell, Mormon writers just can't stop pausing the story to give wikipediesque asides explaining Mormon culture and jargon. (eg: I was talking to the bishop of my ward [Dear reader: a "ward" is like a congregation and the "bishop" is like its pastor].) The trick is to write a story that uses Mormon culture in a natural way -- without these annoying asides, and without leaving non-Mormon readers confused about what's going on. It's not easy.

The first segment I wrote, Youth Conference, was inspired by Walter Kirn's "Mormon Eden" (as I explained in Challenges and Pleasures of Mormon Lit). Like much of Mormon lit, Kirn's story gives off a strong vibe of "I'm gonna tell you what Mormonism is like!" and "Youth Conference" responds with "Now I'm going to tell you what being a Mormon teen is really like." So, yes, "Youth Conference" probably has a bit of a "Story, Wikipedia, Story" feel to it.

However, my style evolved over time, so the segments I wrote earlier (especially Lynn's story Youth Conference, BYU, and Temple Wedding) are more self-consciously explanatory than the segments I wrote later (such as Saturday's Warrior, Bordeaux Mission, and Young Women's). Actually, after writing "Temple Wedding," I basically decided that I'd finished explaining Mormonism. So Mormonism became the setting of the story, not the point of the story, and I feel like with Saturday's Warrior I first succeeded in doling out the Mormonism in a need-to-know basis that is both natural and clear. You can go read it and see if you agree. ;^)

With "Bordeaux Mission," there's the additional wikipediesque aspect that is found in almost all memoirs of foreign LDS missions: the cultural notes. On this point, I disagree with Holly. The cultural explanations in LDS mission memoirs can definitely be overdone, but I don't think it's quite the same thing as cultural explanations about Mormonism. When you're a Mormon kid -- swimming in Mormonism -- you're hardly conscious of it, or of how others' cultural experiences are different. On a foreign mission, you're absolutely aware of having learned a new culture and you're conscious of the fact that you're using what you've learned. It's a big part of the story. Then there's also the tension between the "missionary culture" and the ambient culture. (The LDS missionary culture was described in the comments here as being the most cult-like aspect of Mormonism.) That's a huge part of the missionary's experience, and it's absolutely central to the story of Bordeaux Mission.

So, I'm responding here to the lit critics who have complained about the fact that I've included an entire dialog in French, with translation. I haven't broken the rules out of ignorance. I broke the rule deliberately, for a reason, and that reason wasn't "to show off how amazingly fluent I am in French." ;^)

That said, I'll admit that the story contains specific details about France and Bordeaux in particular that I learned from personal experience and from talking to real-life mishies who were serving their missions in Bordeaux. (See my blog topic mishies for all of my real-life adventures with the LDS missionaries in France!)

The accuracy of the illustrations is limited only by my limited drawing skills. Re-reading the story (to prepare to post it) really made me miss that place! I hope you'll feel the same. :D


beckiwithani said...

Woo hoo! As a (quiet - sorry) fan of the first several installments, I'm looking forward to reading the end!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks BeckiWithAni!!!

Of course, even though this is the last complete novella in the book, it's not quite the end. That will come too, though. :D