Last month I had the opportunity to review Aleesa Sutton's Diary of a Single Mormon Female for Modern Mormon Men. (Read the review here!) In conjunction with that review, I sent Aleesa a series of questions about her book. Here are the answers I got back...
SH: Tell a little bit about Diary of a Single Mormon Female?
AS: Having been primed for my "happily ever after" since I was a teenager, I never expected to still be single at age 32. Diary of a Single Mormon Female is a humorous and candid look at my mostly ill-fated efforts to find the man of my dreams, featuring pages, photos and handwritten notes from my journals. Those excerpts detail encounters with scripture juggling, a virtual albino Chinese teenager, chastity lines, the virgin lips club, Brazilians (not that kind), a pink flamingo date messenger, an open-minded parrot, a Swiss lumberjack, Icelandic Mormons, a marriage flowchart and dozens of awkward conversations. Diary is also a serious story about longing, the challenges of being single in a church focused on marriage and family and my desire to reconcile my religious beliefs with my reality.
SH: How did the book itself take shape? At what point did you realize that your diaries--or parts of your diaries--might be interesting or entertaining or helpful to someone else?
AS: The book was born out of a crisis. Looking for a fresh start, I'd moved to Italy the year I turned 30. I met a sweet and great-looking Mormon man and thought I'd finally found the one . . . but the relationship crashed and burned. Just like every other one, it seemed. I felt overwhelmed by hopelessness and despair. Yet another romantic failure, and I kept getting older. What could I possibly change? I decided to take another look at the relationships I'd had in hopes of making some sense of it all. I'd kept dozens of journals over the years, so the stories were already there. I found humour: my diaries were full of awkward conversations and embarrassing experiences. I found pain. And I knew I wanted to tell my story, because it might help someone else understand their story better, too.
SH: I imagine that publishing a journal or a diary can be a nerve-wracking thing because it throws the doors to your inner life way open. Was that the case? Did you ever worry--or do you worry--about what the book might reveal about you--especially at the end when you are very honest about the spiritual toll single Mormon life has taken on you?
AS: Oh, absolutely. I asked myself a lot of times whether I really, truly wanted to publish so much deeply personal material. I didn't take lightly the descriptions of the people in my life, either. There were some friends who thought it was a very bad idea and tried to talk me out of it. But I thought about the stories that have inspired me, and they're not, some bad things happened and then everything got better. They are, here's exactly what happened, here's what totally sucked, and here's how I got through it. That, to me, is what's inspiring, because it's authentic. There's a paradox: the more personal a story is, the more universally relatable it is.
SH: As you were getting the book ready, who did you see as your primary audience? How did that affect what parts of your diary made the final cut, and what parts didn't. I mean, I assume Diary of a Single Mormon Female is a trimmed down version of the original, right?
AS: I actually had three different audiences in mind. I wrote to Mormons as a whole, in hopes of increasing awareness and understanding of the unique challenges their single members face, as well as help develop more nuanced and positive discussions about celibacy. I wrote to a more general audience, in hopes that Diary will shed some light on a religion and culture that is often misunderstood. And, most importantly, I wrote to those who have ever longed for a dream that hasn't come true yet, because I wanted them to know: you are not alone.
SH: What advice would you give aspiring Mormon writers? How would you encourage them to tell their stories?
AS: Realize that your faith tradition has probably shaped you in unique ways. Trust your voice and your perspective. What are the stories that have moved and inspired you, and how did they do it? Incorporate those techniques into your writing. And don't wait until the mood strikes you to write! Sit down and do it every day. This is what will make you a good writer.
SH: Now that you have published Diary of a Single Mormon Female, do you have plans for another book project? What in the future for the Single Mormon Female?
AS: I do have some other projects in mind. I'm interested in exploring the experiences of other marginalized populations within Mormonism. And of course, I hope to one day write a sequel: Diary of a Married Mormon Female!