Monday, September 8, 2014
My boyfriend is 47 and lives in the 1850s. Nerdy writers understand those late nights, at least I’m hoping. Explaining my book to people living in the twenty first century, though, takes a bit of finesse. Researching a Mormon man, deceased as he is, shouldn’t stir any controversy. Not until he’s published, at least.
The project germinated in the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland where my workshop leader critiqued my short as a book. My classmates originally encouraged me to join their writing feedback groups until they got wind of my topic, a Mormon missionary. Suddenly they had too many people in their groups already and it wasn’t actually fiction; the reasons got creative.
Until one night. After a Washington Biographer’s meeting a woman followed me to my car. It went something like this:
Would you like to be writing buddies?
You want to work together…with me?
Yes. I heard about your topic and I think we’d enjoy each other’s work. You’re writing about Polygamy, right?
Well no, actually…
Good, because I’m writing about Polyandry. Can’t you see the P&P headline? (P&P is short for Washington DC’s literary magnet bookstore, Politics and Prose.) It could be the Polyandry and Polygamy Book Talk. We’d go on the road together with my Four Husbands and a Wife.
What I was getting into, I didn’t know but someone was willing to read my stuff every week so I did it and it’s been a ride for nearly two years.
But cold shoulders in writing circles are nothing to the Hindu holy war waged against my Twitter account dedicated to the book. Apparently a Hindu fundamentalist organization latched onto two key words in my tweets, “India” and “missionary”. For six hours one day the fundamentalist machine declared an all out attack on my Twitter account exponentiating by the minute. At my day job amongst polite society I managed to scramble out of the room every few minutes to dodge the onslaught, which from my side went something like this:
No, I’m not a missionary.
I can understand that missionaries are frustrating.
Actually I’m a writer.
I hope India succeeds, too.
If I did have connections to the White House…
Until finally some guy tweets, False alarm, she’s not a missionary. Read her Twitter profile.
Yeah freaks, read my Twitter profile. I’m writing about a dead guy. So it stopped.
I attended my first Mormon History Association conference two years ago and signed up for the women’s breakfast. We sent in a synopsis of our projects so the facilitator could briefly read women’s projects from a podium on stage. When she got to mine after the first sentence she paused, It’s about a man!? Well yeah, I’m thinking, if I grew up with three caveman brothers, might I earn your blessing? Who knew that even book topics are gender segregated in Mormondom. I’m a woman and I’m writing a book. Maybe I like Asia.
Another historian who happens to be Mormon sided to me once, These days everyone thinks they should represent Mormons to the world. Was I supposed to be offended I wonder? I for one, have no intention of representing anyone currently breathing. A rugged adventurous guy I’m interested in happens to be Mormon. He also happens to be a seaman which is super sexy. Oh, and did I mention I like Asia?
Some ask, Are you in or out? And they mean, am I Mormon Mormon or am I angry about it? My first thought is, why does it matter? A skilled writer renders the life as faithfully and courageously as they are capable. But they’re right, we cannot deny our angle in the process and if they’d like me to forward them my Sunday schedule, I’d might be obliging.
So I continue my affair with a man who also loves Asia, whose small flat gravestone I’ve visited, took off my shoes and where I might have had a conversation with his memory. Though he made it home, he didn’t make it into the faithful Mormon stories we tell and someone can relate to that. Writing about a Mormon is more about life than about religion, at least for me. Indeed, like it or not, there is controversy just in writing about a Mormon man.
For more information about the project, please see my website, follow me on Twitter and “like” my book on Facebook.
Twitter: “To Siam” @AudreyBastian
Audrey Bastian is a freelance writer and interpreter speaking Mandarin, Arabic and American Sign Language. She has lived in various countries in Asia for eight years and received her masters degree in International Law and World Order from the University of Reading in England. Her bachelors degree is in History with a minor in Arabic. She won an honorable mention in 2006 in the Writer’s Digest 75th Annual Writing Competition for a memoir entitled, “Japanese Carp”. She owns her own business and resides in Washington, DC. She is now working on a narrative non-fiction book about the first Mormon missionary to Siam in 1852, Elam Luddington.