In which I offer a counterpoint to the pattern I’ve discussed in the last few podcasts, using Korihor as my test case.
Before we get started, we have a bit of business this morning.
The back of my review copy reads “DO NOT QUOTE FROM THIS GALLEY” (allcaps in original) which I will be disregarding. How do you expect me to do a decent review if I can’t quote? That said, I will correct obvious errors (which I will mark [molaq]) and mark seeming errors I don’t know how to correct with [sic] (but without its usual snide connotation). I will note the location of these quotations with chapter numbers since my page numbers are unlikely to match anything you pick up.
These rules will apply to all posts in this series going forward.
Now, on with the show. more
Back in June, I did an interest gauge in an anthology of Mormon alternate history stories. I am happy with the response and have decided do it. Here’s where I’m at with the project:
- I will not be putting out a call for submissions this year. I will likely do so next year and am fairly confident that that will happen, although the timing is still up in the air. It probably won’t happen the first 4 months of 2015 and might not happen until fall.
- Unless something changes, the anthology will be published by Peculiar Pages. (I don’t expect something to change).
- The anthology will offer token payments to contributors and will be confined to original short fiction (sorry poets and cartoonists and novelists and dramatists and short story writers with reprint hopes).
- I will be the acquiring editor for the anthology. Theric will be involved in the production process, and I may run some editorial decisions by him if I need a second opinion.
- Part of the reason for the delay is that I want to make sure that I have a dedicated fund from which to pay the contributors. I know it’s only token payments, but it’s important to me (and, in my opinion, to the field) that there be some form of renumeration even if it’s small.
- We did consider crowdfunding and that could happen if we decide to do a print version (which would likely also be an expanded version), but the idea here is to do something that has a 100% chance of success and is manageable.
- You may not want to start writing until you see the call for submissions. That said: I’m quite confident that I won’t be accepting stories over 9,000 words; that my preference will be for stories 4,000 – 6,000 words in length; and that I’ll be looking for killer concepts and plots, for sure, but also great prose. The short short pieces I mention in the interest gauge are also still on the table but are more nebulous in my head at the moment.
Any questions/thoughts? I may not have answers for you yet, but I’ll answer what I can.
I’m reading the Mahonri Stewart-edited collection Saints on Stage, the first play in which is Robert Elliot’s Fires of the Mind (1974). One of the great things about Saints on Stage is Mahonri’s historical descriptions of the impact the plays had during their original productions. In the case of Fires of the Mind, seems like it was something of a doozy when it showed up on BYU campus. A contemporary account from the Daily Universe recounts this story:
Between acts on Saturday, a cast member found two girls crying and asked, “Is the play upsetting you? One of the girls responded, “Isn’t it supposed to?” more
Loyal readers of Douglas Thayer’s fiction will not be surprised—at least initially—by his latest novel, Will Wonders Never Cease: A Hopeful Novel for Mormon Mothers and Their Teenage Sons (Zarahemla Books, 2014). For the last half-century, Thayer has been writing stories about young Mormon men, still naïve in the faith, whose battles with wilderness and human nature leave them emotionally and physically scarred, yet also hopeful and spiritually more mature. His protagonists are not the guilt-drenched youths of Levi Peterson’s fiction, whose forbidden experiments with sin and sex leave them feeling acutely the classic division between body and spirit. Instead, they are sensitive, righteous young men who take beating after beating from a world where God observes more than he intervenes. Thayer’s protagonists are acquainted with death, cruelty, and injustice. If anything redeems them, makes them willing to hope, it is their awakening to grace and the strong influence of their mothers.
Of course, it is easy to overlook the influence of mothers in Thayer’s fiction. Thayer, like Cormac McCarthy or Ernest Hemingway, is not known for writing strong female characters—not because his work doesn’t have them, but because the testosterone level in his stories has a tendency to overwhelm the narrative to the point of muffling (though never silencing) female voices. This is certainly true in the three novels that precede Will Wonders Never Cease—Summer Fire (1983), The Conversion of Jeff Williams (2003), and The Tree House (2009)—each of which has a significant female character who occupies the role usually given to a sage old man in most storytelling traditions. These female characters are uniformly motherly and wise to the ways and wiles of the world. They are frank and intelligent, always ready with advice and counsel, and deeply caring. Moreover, so much of what they do is to compensate for the adult men in the novels, whose physical ailments, spiritually immaturity, and emotional stuntedness make them little more than cautionary tales for the young protagonists. Still, despite the overwhelming influence these female characters have, as well as the crucial role they play in each narrative, they never seem to take center stage in the reader’s mind.
One of the great challenges with writing a Mormon book for a national audience is deciding how much to explain. And it’s something I, for some reason, have particularly strong feelings regarding how it should be done. So let’s talk about Mette Ivie Harrison’s worldbuilding* in The Bishop’s Wife.
In the first forty or sixty or so pages, the titular narrator, Linda Wallheim, just spends too much darn time explaining the Mormon world of Draper, Utah. And it’s not just the quantity but the nature of the explanation that grates on me. For instance:
The church taught that everyone who was in the celestial kingdom had to be in a marriage—marriage was the highest law of the gospel—but that didn’t mean she had to be married to Tobias. In the old days, people would say worthy single women were lucky because they’d be married to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young in the afterlife. But people didn’t say that much anymore since polygamy had been carefully scripted out of the mainstream Mormon church.
This is pretty great because it throws a lot of my complaints into a single paragraph. more
This week, I meditate on a pattern that appears in various places throughout the scriptures: a person is called upon by God to do something the person doesn’t think he can do; God says, “Whatever,” and proceeds to prepare the person for the task.
I explore three different examples of the pattern at play, although there are surely more. Feel free to give them a shout out in the comments.
(The audio-only version. Here’s a direct link to the audio file.)