You may have wondered why, of all the possible blog names in the world, I would choose “Mormon Girl” to be known by.
Friends and family have known me by many handles and nicknames, among them “Bubba” (I’m still not sure where that one came from), “Pajama Girl” (less of a mystery as I literally wore pajamas or sweats to school my entire senior year), “Mermaid Girl” (I haunted the lake my first girls’ camp), “Chocolate Cake Pop Girl” (earned at Starbucks and self-explanatory as well as embarrassing), and “Quill Girl” in college (I was pretty noticeable among a sea of sensible laptops as the only English major using a pink quill pen and blingy notebooks. What can I say? Sometimes a girl has still got to get her Lisa Frank on).
I was born LDS and I’ve always been an active member. But despite being dependably non-rebellious (I asked my husband after we were married if we could sneak out of the house late at night, as I’d never had that experience. He was game but vetoed the sheet rope for safety reasons), “Mormon” probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind to describe me. I’ve more often been called “happy” or “quirky” (which is what people sometimes call you when you wear pajamas in public and write with quills). So, again, why identify myself first and foremost as a “Mormon” Girl?
After almost a decade trying to break into the traditional publishing industry, during which time I received more rejection letters that I care to admit, I learned how to handle said rejection with a surefire formula of crying in private and consuming cinnamon bears. Even though I eventually got some serious interest in certain manuscripts and even worked with an agent for a while, nine years later I found myself still unpublished (and fighting a cinnamon bear addiction).
It was my husband who first suggested I try to write a book specifically for Covenant Publishing—a house owned by my LDS church. At first I back-burnered the idea. Despite having written comedic plays and my general happiness as a person, I’ve been known to write surprisingly dark content for novels. I didn’t know how to even begin switching genres as might be necessary.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized something. I was familiar with LDS dramas, as I’d read several. There are many LDS writers out there who’ve really mastered uniting LDS characters with dramatic genres. Lesser known to me (thought I’m sure they do exist) were comedic LDS characters.
I’m a big fan of writers like Sophie Kinsella. Most famous for her “Confessions of a Shopaholic” series, I consider Kinsella’s greatest strength to be the relatability of her characters. She writes women who are unabashedly themselves; quirks, flaws, silliness, and all. I’ve long admired that and recognized how such characters marry so perfectly with comedy in her novels. As an American (am I the only one who often wishes I was British instead?) her characters also helped me understand and relate to women of a different nationality about whom I’d previously known very little.
Then came the epiphany: Mormons (their own nationality, even their own species to people unfamiliar with us) needed their Kinsella character. We needed an average LDS girl who was unabashedly herself; quirks, flaws, silliness, and all. We needed a girl anchored by her religion who was, nonetheless, struggling with the everyday difficulties Mormons deal with. We needed a girl other Mormons could commiserate and laugh with and non-Mormons could relate to—to humanize us and make us more understandable. We needed a comedic heroin who was a Mormon girl.
If you’ve read my first book in this new genre, “A Date With Danger” (don’t be fooled by the title guys, it is a comedy) then you know to call Jacklyn Wyatt a “hero” might be considered a bit of a stretch. She definitely has her weaknesses (cake and jealousy high on the list) and she’s not the most mature girl in the room (why is she found crawling across the floor in Forever 21? You better read it and find out!). But isn’t that what a hero sometimes is? Someone real who’s doing their best to find courage and hold to who they are? I like to think so.
Still, I was more than a little bit nervous to release Jack into the world. Sure, I was entertained by her. But her quirks, strangely, mirror my own (and one of my weaknesses is that I’m often wildly amused by myself). Besides, I allowed Jack to speak very candidly about the blessings and difficulties of being Mormon. By putting her out there on paper, I was declaring that, at least to some extent, her beliefs were my own. Was I ready for the whole world to know all that?
Seeing people’s reaction to Jack was surprisingly positive. I’m sure there are people out there who were not a fan and luckily those people have never reached out just to tell me how I’m the worst. But seeing how many people liked Jack, related to her, and told me, “She’s just like me!” was incredibly validating.
And it brought on the second epiphany (which is really my quota for the year): if the literary world needed a heroine like Jack to be unabashedly herself and unapologetically Mormon, maybe the world needed another one of those too.
Unlike Jack, I am nothing of a heroine (even though Jack is a lot like me, there were still moments in the book I, myself, wrote where I was like, “You’re crazy, girl! Turn around, go home, and hide!”). I can’t ever promise I’ll just into crazy adventures like Jack does.
But as far as being myself and sharing the joys and oddities of being Mormon? That I can do.