By Nick Nelson
“”Ritcherd,” she muttered, clutching his shoulders while his lips devoured her throat, ”we mustn”t.””
Thus begins the controversial passage that keeps LDS author Anita Stansfield”s most recent book off the shelves at Deseret Book and Seagull Book & Tape.
The manuscript for “The Captain of Her Heart” was rejected by Stansfield”s longtime publisher, Covenant Communications, because of content Covenant said was inappropriate, but that Stansfield defends as true to life.
“My feeling about writing has always been taking a realistic approach to the problems and challenges that people face in life,” Stansfield said. “I believe that the gifts that my Father in Heaven have given me to write are meant to be used in dealing with these subjects that people need to read about, because it”s what they”re struggling with in real life.”
Covenant published 25 of Stansfield”s books, which have often dealt with mature subjects, but elected not to publish her most recent book because its characters “committed a sin,” Stansfield said.
Covenant has a close relationship with Seagull Book & Tape, which has also refused to sell the book.
The protagonist of “Captain” finds herself an unwed expectant mother after a brief flare of unrestrained passion. The majority of the book deals with her struggle to overcome feelings of guilt and abandonment.
Stansfield was required by contract to submit the manuscript to Covenant for publication first, but the book did not meet with Covenant”s requirements for publication.
Covenant sent Stansfield a letter that described changes she would have to make to the novel to meet with Covenant”s standards for content, and called for “basically changing the entire plotline and premise of the book,” Stansfield said.
“I did not agree to those changes,” Stansfield said. “Therefore it was considered rejected.”
Robby Nichols, vice president of marketing for Covenant, said Stansfield”s book was refused because it did not conform to Covenant”s strict standards for publication.
“We believe our readers expect a certain book from Covenant,” Nichols said. “[”Captain”] was rejected, and [Stansfield] is free to publish the book wherever she wants.”
Stansfield has since formed her own publishing company, Crosswalk Books, and has released “Captain” under the Crosswalk label.
Deseret Book, which sells several of Stansfield”s previously released novels, rejected “Captain” because of its reference to premarital sex.
Keith Hunter, vice president of sales for Deseret Book, said his reviewers read and approve every book on the stores” shelves and that Deseret Book tries to buy titles that are the “best fit” for its customers.
“It isn”t that we”re avoiding topics like adultery or immorality, but things that portray immorality, for instance, in a favorable light – our experience is that those kinds of things are problematic and create a disconnect with our customers,” Hunter said.
He said the company has declined to carry books from major authors in the past, for which Deseret Book has taken “a lot of heat from the media.”
“We”re not a library, we”re a business, and we”re entitled to determine how were going to spend our resources to serve our customers,” Hunter said.
Deseret Book pulled three of Stansfield”s books in from its stores in 2002 because of content it deemed inappropriate. Stansfield said she felt that Deseret Book, which sells trade books from mainstream writers like John Grisham, holds LDS authors to a higher standard than their non-LDS counterparts.
“It almost seems like there”s a different standard for a Mormon writer than for a non-Mormon writer,” Stansfield said. “It”s not so much what they will or won”t carry, but whether it was written by a Mormon determines the different standards.”
Hunter said books are judged purely by their content and that the background or reputation of the author is not considered.
“Each book is looked at individually,” Hunter said.
He denied the assertion that LDS authors are judged more narrowly than non-LDS authors. When asked about possible discrepancies between books Deseret sells and others it rejects, Hunter said the review process is not an exact science.
“It”s hard to have it be completely objective,” Hunter said. “There are things that occasionally still slip through I suppose, but we try to be very diligent in the application of our buying guidelines.”
Stansfield said sales of “Captain” had been light because her readers were accustomed to seeing her books in Deseret Book and Seagull Book & Tape. National chains like Media Play and Borders sell “Captain,” as well as stores closer to home such as Missionary Emporium and BYU Bookstore.