The other day I read a reader review of Heritage of Cyador which stated that “Modesitt’s Utah heritage and belief system comes through in his writing.” That’s about half right. My books do reflect to a greater or lesser degree my beliefs. I believe that to be true of almost all writers, although it is more obvious with some writers and less so with others.
“Utah heritage,” however is another question, since I am neither of the LDS faith, nor am I a native-born Utahan. In fact, if we’re talking “heritage,” I’m a fourth generation Coloradan, who didn’t even move to Utah until I was fifty years old, years seasoned by nearly two decades spent in Washington, D.C., and whose beliefs are probably best described as Anglican/agnostic, and the reason I say Anglican rather than Episcopalian is because whatever religious traditions I do have are rooted in the King James versions of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, which the Episcopalians abandoned years and years ago.
Why any of this matters is because it reflects on the human tendency to jump to conclusions based on inadequate or inaccurate facts… or even ignoring easily available facts. Since I write in a certain style and have lived in Utah for a number of years, this reader has immediately pigeon-holed me and assumed that my heritage is entirely based on my locale. This is obviously just one reader, but I could have given many examples of other equally erroneous “deductions” buy readers and others. At the same time, several more perceptive readers have deduced my “Anglican” aspects from the ritual passages describing the anomen services in the Imager Portfolio books, but such deduction requires more knowledge and thought, especially when there might be multiple explanations.
One reason often cited for jumping to conclusions is Occam’s Razor, which states that among competing hypotheses or ideas, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected, but all too often those who think they’re operating accurately under Occam’s principle fail to consider the linkage between a fact and the assumptions made based on those facts. Just because 62% of Utah’s population happens to be LDS, and 62% of the current population happens to have been born in Utah, doesn’t automatically or even statistically mean that because I live in Utah my heritage is Utahan – especially when my biography says I was born in Colorado. But it’s so much easier to assume I’m LDS and have a Utah heritage because I live in Cedar City and my writing meets a preconceived notion of what “LDS writing” is like. I explore moral themes. So do other writers. Some are LDS; some are not. To assume that a writer “is” something because of perceived similarities and where the writer lives, especially when there are published facts to the contrary, is not only intellectually sloppy, but also reflects a culture that wants quick and easy answers without much thought or research.
Then, too, it could also reflect the simplest interpretation of existing facts. My wife graduated from a Utah university, and has taught at two separate Utah universities for quite a number of years. I’m clean-shaven, don’t drink or smoke, and generally don’t use blasphemous curses in my writing [other kinds, definitely so]. We have far more than the average number of children… all of which suggests – erroneously – a certain religious affiliation.
And all of this also suggests why I tend to be most skeptical of people who cite Occam’s Razor, especially when they jump to conclusions. Life and the universe just aren’t that simple.