SEPTEMBER 8, 2014 BY GUEST
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
Terry Hsays: September 8, 2014 at 10:38 am This looks like something that would interest me. Is there an anticipated release date? (No matter how far off or flexible)
woroodsays: September 8, 2014 at 11:10 am I like it.
Helen Hsays: September 8, 2014 at 11:18 am I can’t wait for this to come out. I love Asia too! (Spent 5 1/2 years living there.) We don’t hear much about early missionaries heading East. Their experiences and adventures should be, need to be told. Asian is a force in the world today. We need more about the beginnings, the early touch points. BTW, each person should be free to write about their passion!! No prescriptions.
juliathepoetsays: September 8, 2014 at 3:45 pm I love this. With the growing community of Indian Americans, the Southeast Asian kind, there is quite a bit of knowledge about those first attempts of missionary work, but it always seems to travel by word of mouth, over chai made with herbal tea, after the discussion of whether former Hindus make better Mormons because they are already vegetarians, and other Mormons are just learning about the real meaning of the Word of Wisdom. I am looking forward to your book!
Amirasays: September 8, 2014 at 3:54 pm Yes, I am looking forward to it too, Audrey.
Kevin Barneysays: September 8, 2014 at 5:01 pm Looks fascinating!
Audrey Bastiansays: September 8, 2014 at 5:25 pm Terry H. Thanks for your interest. I’m working towards Spring of 2016 but as you already pointed out, I am very flexible with that date. Worood, I love you. (She’s a great friend of mine.)
Helen H. I’m glad to hear you love Asia as well. It should be fun.
Thank you. I have discovered through my research of primary documents that there are a lot of myths out there. I think not even just the book, but the process of the book and the feedback along the way will be an instructive process.
Amira, Thank you!
Kevin, I’m glad it looks fascinating. I feel a responsibility to honor the story and the sacrifices of these men. I believe it was a fascinating experience and hope to be able to convey their story with the respect it is due.
llcallsays: September 8, 2014 at 9:14 pm I’m so glad you have pressed on despite the onslaught; I’m equally as interested in you writing about the process of writing the book as I am about the book!
Audrey Bastiansays: September 9, 2014 at 5:44 am llcall. Thanks. As I’ve been working with writers out here in DC they’ve been teaching me the ropes but always qualify it by saying the publication world is changing and no one is completely sure how it will work in the future. People agree that harnessing social media is important but how to do it is still in question. I feel lucky because I’m a social media native so it doesn’t scare me. Am I doing it right? The jury is still out. My hope is that there are a lot of ways to “do it right”. in any case, it has been so much fun to bring readers in with me as I write the book. In a way readers/followers are shaping the book as I go. Has that happened in the past with writers and how I wonder? And did it ever happen on this grand of scale where readers could be located all over the world??
Karen H.says: September 9, 2014 at 11:58 am I found it fascinating how you writing a biography about someone who lived 150 years ago could stir up a political storm in social media. That probably says something about our appetite as humans for scandal. I’m really looking forward to reading your book!
Susan W Hsays: September 9, 2014 at 1:08 pm Audrey–we met and chatted briefly at that MHA conference. I was following your progress on your blog and look forward to the book. I’m surprised your project became controversial–and I’m sorry you have had to deal with this. From time to time I have to bring myself back from the nineteenth century as well. I’m writing a biography/history with a male subject, although I bring in the women as much as I can. He was a public figure, the wives and children, with one exception, were mostly private and I see them mostly through his eyes. This has been a great adventure–last night I attended a meeting of my local writers club. Mark Coker of Smashwords gave an informative speech on E-publishing, including a look at the current publishing situation in both print/ebooks. Fascinating stuff.
Audrey Bastiansays: September 9, 2014 at 4:13 pm Karen H. I’d have to agree with you that there is a great appetite for scandal on the internet. This Hindu group is more sophisticated than the average scandal seeker. Their goal was to put their candidate in office in the next Indian election. In the run up to the election, they targeted Western or Western sympathetic people and groups in or related to India. In the past these types of religious fundamental groups have successfully banned books by Western scholars, etc in India. Many Asians rely on people outside their countries to have enough sensitivity and respect to understand issues well to talk about things they themselves cannot without significant cost. As a writer, I am grateful the missionaries I am writing about (spoiler alert) failed in their missionary goals. I actually believe that because I’m writing the story of unsuccessful missionaries, this group let me off. I intend to write a secular history about a man’s journey through Asia which had its own successes if not missionary-wise. I want to respect this Hindu group’s frustrations as well. The West did some terrible things to India. The fact that they want to bring dignity to their people and culture is something I completely agree with and support. Their methods are what I disagree with and smile about in this piece. Intimidating westerners in free countries? –we are trained to speak our mind.
Audrey Bastiansays: September 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm Susan W H. Thank you for following. Your project sounds really interesting as well. I’d love to hear more about it. Sounds like we would have a lot to talk about. I also would like to bring women into the narrative when they are present. And addressing the women’s initiative. When I attended that first MHA conference I did not know but have since become aware of the initiative for women to write about women. I support the initiative 110%. Women were also heroes in their own right and deserve their stories to be told. Sometimes it’s not in the topic but the way the topic is treated that makes the story. Did they have to succeed or become the president of an organization to be interesting and compelling, of course not. I find that failure and the quirk among the common are some of the most interesting story starts. I picked this book topic because I love Asia, not thinking at all about gender. Elam Luddington’s eyeballs saw things in Asia that I am really excited about and want to understand. The fact that he is a compelling interesting man is the cherry on top.
jhseelysays: September 9, 2014 at 10:29 pm Go Audrey!!! Can’t wait to read your book.
Heidi Josays: September 15, 2014 at 4:23 am Write where your passion lies. I love that its a dead person. They happen to be my favorite because you get to learn about them like a detective. Gonna be a good one!
Brigham B says: September 16, 2014 at 8:11 pm Caveman brothers arn’t so bad! I have watched as Audrey has thoroughly researched this book. I think it is going to be amazing! Go Audrey