DiversifYA: Veronica Bartles, part two

Veronica_1544_croppedVeronica Bartles is back! Yay! After frankly discussing her brain tumor last time she was here, she now talks about being Mormon and how faith and religion define her.

Veronica’s YA debut TWELVE STEPS, a story about sisters, sibling rivalry, and finding your own place in the world, was released last month from Swoon Romance. Find Veronica on Twitter, or read her blog here!

1. How do you identify yourself?

This question seems so straightforward and simple, but pinpointing the way I identify myself is so much more difficult than you’d think. I’m so many different things, and I hate labels with a red-hot fiery passion. I’m not just one thing. I’m made up of many, many different things. First and foremost, I’m a daughter of God. I’m also a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, a niece, an aunt, a child, a writer, and an individual. I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a Mormon), and my faith defines me probably more than any other label, because it’s an integral part of all the other labels. I can be a mother, a wife, a writer, an amazing individual because the truths I’ve learned tell me that all things are possible.

2. What did it feel like growing up as a Mormon?

This is another question without an easy answer. At times, surrounded by family and friends who all loved and supported me, being a Mormon was the easiest thing in the world. At those timesI always knew both who I was and what I was meant to be. But there were other times when it wasn’t so easy. And times when it was downright difficult.

When I was in high school, I spent countless hours in tears, feeling like I would never fit in, and praying that I could just find a way to stop believing. I thought everything would be easier if I could just walk away from my faith. But it was too strong to let me turn my back on the things I knew to be true. And the easy path is seldom the right one anyway.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

When I was in school, I think the biggest challenge was feeling like I was always on the outside, looking in. I was once officially not invited to the big weekend party that all of my friends were planning. (“It’s not your kind of party.”) And I didn’t go to Prom, even after asking every boy I knew. One guy actually told me, “I really wanted to ask you to go to prom with me, but I’m planning to go to the after party, and I knew you wouldn’t be comfortable with that.” I endured a lot of teasing (some good-natured, and some not-so-much) for my Snow White innocence. People used to dedicate the song “Sandra Dee” from Grease to me.

Ironically, this reputation for being naïve, innocent, and no fun turned out to be one of the perks, in a way. Halfway through my sophomore year, I spent one Saturday night flirting with the boy I had a crush on, ending the night with a kiss on the cheek. By Monday morning, he was telling everyone at school that we had gone WAY beyond a simple kiss. Luckily, one of the most popular boys in school (the best friend of my crush) called him on the lie and made him apologize to me in front of half the school at lunchtime. “Veronica wouldn’t do something like that. She’s way too innocent.” I never thought I’d be grateful for my outsider status, but it totally saved me in this case.

4. What do you wish people knew about being a Mormon?

Mormons, like any other group of people, aren’t all the same. We’re a fairly diverse bunch, not cookie-cutter copies. In fact, we’re encouraged to celebrate the unique talents and gifts that each person has. One of the first lessons we’re taught, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is “I Am a Child of God.” And the corollary is that everyone else on the earth is also a child of God. That each and every one of us has unlimited, Divine potential, because we are His children. Because of this, we are constantly reminded that we are to love one another unconditionally, as Jesus Christ loved us, even (and especially) if we don’t agree with the choices someone else makes.

Of course, we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Sometimes, the charge to “love one another” gets buried under a heap of well-meaning attempts to “help” others. I wish people would realize that one Mormon who isn’t necessarily following the basic tenets of the gospel doesn’t speak for the church as a whole. And that we’re all just trying to do the best we can, just like everyone else.

5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?

The biggest cliché that I’ve seen is that Mormons are stifled and oppressed under a mountain of strict rules that tell us we can’t do things. And yes, we do have guidelines and rules we’re encouraged to follow. But we’re also taught from a very young age that we are on this earth to learn to choose for ourselves. With every doctrine, we are encouraged to pray about it and learn the truth for ourselves, never to take things on blind faith alone. In all honesty, I can do whatever I choose to do. But I choose to follow the counsel and guidelines put forth by the leaders of my church. And so far, I’ve been ultimately happy with the results of each and every one of those choices.

I’ve also heard a lot of people say that women are second-class citizens in the Mormon church, or that they have no voice. I find this totally laughable, to be honest. Every six months, when the leaders of the church address us in a worldwide broadcast, several of the messages center around the power of women, reminding men that they do not, in fact, have the authority to “rule over” the women in their lives, but that such relationships should be equal partnerships, and that men should listen to the wise counsel of their wives. In fact, men are warned over and over again that when they try “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:37). I’ll admit that I’ve seen some unequal partnerships, but that’s only because we’re human and people make mistakes. It has nothing to do with (and is actually contrary to the teachings of) being a Mormon.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

The biggest thing is to remember that everyone is a product of many, many competing and complementary factors. Not all little girls want to be princesses. Not all little boys want to be superheroes. And not all Mormons [fill in the blank with your favorite cliché]. I think the key to writing diverse characters, as with writing any characters, really, is to take a long, close look at that individual and figure out all of the ins and outs that make him or her real. Her favorite color is green? Why? His favorite book is Dante’s Inferno? Why? She goes to church every Sunday and recites scripture passages at the drop of a hat? Why? “Because she’s Mormon” or “because his mother is a professor of literature” isn’t reason enough. Dig deeper and get to know your characters on a personal level. Because real people never fit into a neat and tidy stereotype, and realistic fictional characters don’t either.

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One Response to DiversifYA: Veronica Bartles, part two

  1. Thanks so much for having me! <3