A brief look at Heaven Knows Why!

7.2.15 | | 3 comments

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When Taylor’s novel was first serialized in 1948 as The Mysterious Way in Collier’s (see the layout of parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), it passed before the eyes of millions of Americans. This was the first nonpioneer Mormon-charactered (contemporary) novel published for a national audience. The action takes place a long-day’s drive from Salt Lake City and when it first came out, its geography became a matter of some debate among the Saints as to who was whom and where was where. Taylor, of course, rolled his eyes and happily defined the word fiction for any who asked.

Anyway. Millions of readers did not translate into bestseller status when it was rereleased under the “improved” title in book form (though it did fine and got good reviews). It would be republished a couple times over the decades. My copy (pictured) is a 1994 Aspen Books rerelease which Taylor says he was talked into by Richard Cracroft (though I suspect his intro was originally penned for a c. 1980 publication). Cracroft called it “the best Mormon comic novel to date” and he says that it’s still the only humorous Mormon novel. (This claim is why I think the intro is older than the publication date. By this time Curtis Taylor‘s The Invisible Saint was out not to mention Joni Hilton’s Relief Society novels and Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack River was publishing stuff like Paradise Vue. So 1994 would be a crazy time to make that claim. But whatever.)

The important question though is this one: Does the novel hold up, almost seventy years later?

The story has a brilliant bit of innovation by starting with a deus ex machina, then having the characters work through the mess that engenders. Old Moroni Skinner is up in heaven (heaven, incidentally, is a satire of midcentury American capitalism and has not aged as well as the rest of the novel) concerned with his grandson who’s grown up to be the valley trash. He files the paperwork to make a visitation and so he does, making it up as he goes, dropping in on the town apostate and telling his grandson to marry the bishop’s daughter (who is engaged to be married the very next day, unbeknownst to Moroni). And this descends chaos in the form of crazy and coincidence, capturing the very best elements of the comedies of Dickens and Shakespeare. It is exquisitely engineered. The characters are sharp and tear off the page in into the imagination. The hurdles to our protagonist’s success just got greater and greater. And somehow—comedy!—it all works out in the end. (Unless you include the final chapter which returns us to heaven and adds on a painfully heavy dose of predestination to the mix.)

In short, this is a terrific look at midcentury Mormon-corridor Mormonism with its uncertain relationship with the Word of Wisdom and heldover pioneer-era Church hierarchies and living breathing human beings.

Sp does it hold up? Yes. Most certainly yet. I may not have laughed on every page like Cracroft, but it was a fun, fun ride.

Guest Post on Creation by Sam Barrett

6.29.15 | | one comment

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INTRODUCTORY NOTE: This is the written version of a talk given by Sam Barrett in sacrament meeting February 2014 as part of the Berkeley Ward’s arts Sunday. The assigned topic was “What CREATING teaches me about the CREATOR.” Sam works in advertising and is also a composer under the name Samson Y Hiss. His stuff is fun and creepy and weird—circus-hell music, you might say. (Worth mentioning: He agreed to let me post this here after seeing the word “grotesque” on the AMV about page.)

Samson Y Hiss is currently raising money on Indiegogo to record his music with real musicians on real instruments. I highly recommend checking the project out and supporting it. I have a cd of his work in the car and it certainly makes late-night drives more nightmarey. (The photos here are taken from the Indiegogo page.)

By means of introduction, if I remember correctly, the talk is structured around his day-to-day thinking about the topic as he prepared. You know. In case you find an all-caps MONDAY confusing.

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MONDAY

In the mid 40’s at midnight in Manhattan, a young man named Thelonious Monk was working as a pianist at a nightclub. Much of his style was developed during this time as he participated in “cutting competitions” which featured many leading jazz soloists. While engaged in one of these sessions he fell upon an old song he’d written years ago at the age of 19 back in North Carolina. Returning to the song nearly 13 years later as a superior musician he embellished upon the tune greatly almost to the point of rewriting it completely. This new tune would become known as Round Midnight. A song a number of jazz artists including Cootie Williams would reinterpret for years to come. Round Midnight became the most recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician. It appears in over 1000 albums.

He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit, and sold vegetables to make money. He also studied qualitative analysis, and conducted chemical experiments on the train until an accident prevented further work of that kind. Moving to Newark, New Jersey Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor with the automatic repeater and other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention that first gained him notice was the phonograph in 1877. The accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. It recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder. And despite its limited sound quality and that the recordings could be played only a few times, the phonograph made Thomas Edison a celebrity. And he became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park” New Jersey.

Creators come in many forms. They are musicians, painters, sculptors, inventors, scientists, philosophers. They are actors, writers, directors, designers, builders, preachers. They are moms, dads, grandpas, grandmas; even crazy uncles. As sons and daughters of God creativity is an all of us no matter our profession or position. more

On the Possible in Mormon Styles

6.19.15 | | 10 comments
Raymond Queneau

Raymond Queneau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve gotten into the, perhaps bad, habit of looking for a Mormon parallel to interesting works I come across. I know I’m not alone in doing this—after the first online dating site how long did it take before we had a Mormon one?

My most recent foray into potential Mormon parallels came when I purchased a copy of Raymond Queneau’s fascinating book Exercises in Style, which consists of 99 versions of the same mundane story told in a stunning variety of ways. For me this book has highlighted the similarity of much of today’s literature, especially so-called genre fiction. Contemporary fiction seems focused on a narrow range of styles—either first person or third person omniscient, narrative told in chronological order. [There are, of course, plenty of exceptions. But elements like this seem to dominate.]

Cover of "Exercises in Style"

Cover of Exercises in Style

In his book, Queneau doesn’t really invent new styles. Instead, the styles reflect what already exists; the way people talk or write or portray stories. Styles in the book include things like Metaphorically, Retrograde, Dream, Word Game, Narrative, Anagrams, Onomatopoeia, Logical Analysis, Official Letter, Past, Present, Reported Speech etc.

For example, the “Notation” style (first in the book) is told this way:

On the S bus, in the rush hour. A chap of about twenty-six, soft hat with a cord instead of a ribbon, neck too long, as if someone’s been tugging at it. People getting off. The chap in question gets annoyed with one of the men standing next to him. He accuses him of jostling him every time anyone goes past. A snivelling tone which is meant to be aggressive. When he sees a vacant seat he throws himself onto it.

Two hours later, I come across him in the Cour de Rome, in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He’s with a friend who’s saying: “You ought to get an extra button put on your overcoat.” He shows him where (at the lapels) and why.

To me this concept is brilliant. For authors and readers alike it breaks down the customary approach to literature and promotes creativity. It also simply helps us to understand what style is and the breadth of its possibilities.

So, would it be possible to produce a Mormon Exercises in Style? I know many of our fellow Church members who would say no — that Mormons have no style, or that all of Mormon writing and discourse uses the same style. But this seems demonstrably false to me. If nothing else we see stylistic differences in different situations: testimonies have stylistic differences when compared to lessons or talks or interviews. And different authors have their own styles—who doubts that President Monson’s familiar use of a kind of passive past tense near the emotional and spiritual climax of his stories (“Hugs were shared; tears were shed…”) constitutes an important element of the Monsonian style?

I don’t know if there are enough identifiable Mormon styles for a book like Queneau’s. But I think the effort of telling the same story in a series of Mormon styles would at least help those who wrote the stories, and likely would enlighten readers about the customary ways Mormons communicate with each other.

Since I’m not at all confident about my own ability to mimic a variety of Mormon styles (I’m not even sure I have the ability to do just one!), I’d like to suggest open this idea up to the online Mormon world (the bloggernacle or whatever you would like to call it) and ask for submissions, which would then be published here on AMV and perhaps improved by the suggestions of our readers and visitors.

In order to do this, we will need a couple of things:

First, we need a mundane story. Make that a mundane Mormon story. I hope to write a post in the next week asking for suggestions about what should be included in this story. Somehow, without being dramatic, I think it will need to include elements of a typical Mormon life — perhaps what happens in Church, at least in part. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

Second, we will need a list of possible styles in which the story can be rendered. I’ve mentioned some possibilities above, and I’m including those and a few more below.

[Note that some of these could be subdivided — travelog testimonies may be stylistically different, for example — while others may not actually be clear styles, and still others may not work to tell a story at all. To get started, lets list possibilities regardless of these issues.]:

  • testimony
  • church lesson (as delivered)
  • sacrament meeting talk
  • priesthood leader interview
  • Monsonian
  • lesson manual
  • handbook
  • bloggernacle post
  • mormon.org profile

I don’t know if this will work or not. To me it seems like it might be fun and perhaps useful. What do you think?

Mormon Arts Sunday is June 14

6.1.15 | | 4 comments

Mormon Arts Sunday is June 14. I’ll include links to previous posts below, but here’s the gist:

Mormon Arts Sunday was created by Scott Hales as a way for members and wards to recognize the important contribution that arts make to the LDS community. It’s entirely a grass roots effort, which means you should feel free to participate at whatever level you feel comfortable with/have stewardship over. This could include:

  1. Consuming a work of Mormon art on June 14 as an individual or with family or friends.
  2. Letting your favorite Mormon artist(s) know that you appreciate their work.
  3. Wearing maroon/dark red to church and/or another article of clothing or accessory that relates to art and artists.
  4. Incorporating an excerpt from or work of Mormon art in your lesson or talk for the day.
  5. Selecting hymns that are by Mormon poets (Eliza Snow, Emma Lou Thayne, Orson F. Whitney, etc.)
  6. Making creativity/art the topic for sacrament meeting (not something that most of us have influence over, but there are at least two wards that have done so in the past thanks to Theric Jepson and Kent Larsen).

Other ideas are welcome in the comments (and can also be found in the posts below, especially in the comments). Here’s a timeline of Mormon Arts Sunday posts on AMV:

January 2013: Scott Hales kicks the whole idea off by announcing  Wear a Black Beret to Church Day

February 2013: Reminder from Scott of Black Beret Sunday

February 2013: William explains why he wore a maroon tie to Church

February 2014: Theric celebrates Mormon Arts Sunday in the Berkeley Ward

May 2014: Kent discusses what the talks should be about for Mormon Arts Sunday

June 2014: William invites everyone to celebrate Mormon Arts Sunday

June 2014: Tyler shares a Mormon arts-themed sacrament meeting talk he gave

June 2015: Theric shares what the Berkeley Ward did this year for an early celebration of Mormon Arts Sunday

Emily Harris Adams on her book For Those with Empty Arms

5.27.15 | | 2 comments

Cover of Emily Harris Adams book For Those With Empty ArmsEmily Harris Adams is a Mormon poet and essayist. Her book For Those with Empty Arms:  A Compassionate Voice For Those Experiencing Infertility was published earlier this year by Familius. In the book, Adams combines poetry and personal essay with Christian thought and a bit of self-help to tell her story in a candid, thoughtful way that those struggling with infertility (and their friends and family) will find relatable, touching and useful. Adams is also a perennial Mormon Lit Blitz finalist. Her poem “Second Coming” took fifth place in the Mormon Lit Blitz in February 2012; in May 2013, she won first place in the Mormon Lit Blitz with her piece “Birthright”; and she’s also a finalist this year with her poem “Faded Garden“.

Could you tell us about the process you went through to decide to prepare what is very personal writing into the book that Familius published? Why do it and what decisions along the way were easy and what were hard?

I first decided to write about infertility after a disappointing trip to a local bookshop. It was early in my infertility journey and I was looking for a book to help me cope with the overwhelming disappointment I was facing. Instead of finding any books about infertility, I found an entire shelf of books on parenting and childbirth. When I saw that wall of books, I felt more isolated even than when the doctor had given us our diagnosis. I decided I didn’t want anyone else to have that experience. So, as a writer, I felt my best option for preventing a similar experience was to write a book.

The hardest decisions to make were really just matters of transparency. Trent and I had to decide together how much we were willing to reveal about our diagnosis, treatment plans, and such. Personally, it was hard for me to reveal the times I didn’t behave well. In particular, there is an essay called “Envy” where I talk about how I started to become bitter about my situation. I almost removed the essay from sheer embarrassment. In the end, I decided to leave it in because I realize that many suffering infertility do have feelings of envy. They need to know they aren’t alone, and that they can overcome those feelings.  more

Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories is available for pre-order

5.7.15 | | 6 comments

Cover of William Morris collection Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories

6/1/15 Note: it’s now available on all four platforms:

PURCHASE: Amazon | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

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I’m delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of my short story collection Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories. It’s available for pre-order right now at: Amazon (Kindle) | Kobo (epub files). It’ll also soon be available at Barnes & Noble (Nook) and iBooks (iPad/iPhone). It’ll officially go live on Saturday, May 16 (which is when pre-orders will be delivered).

I’ve published it myself under the aegis of A Motley Vision. The main reason for that is that I want as much of the proceeds from sales as possible to go to support AMV and related projects. I go into more detail below about that decision and a lot of other things.

Oh, and here’s the pitch for the collection:

In Dark Watch and other Mormon-American Stories, William Morris explores how Latter-day Saints navigate the challenges of living in the modern U.S. and participating in the modern Church. Spanning from the early 1980s to the present and into the next century, these 16 stories portray moments that are uniquely, thoroughly and sometimes bittersweetly Mormon-American.

Now on to the gory details…

ON THE STORIES
The book collects 16 stories that take place from the early 1980s through the 22nd century — 6 take place in the future (they’re science fiction! [of sorts]).

9 of the stories are less than 2,000 words in length; Dark Watch is just over 8,000 words. The rest are between those two numbers. The total collection comes in at 40,000 words, which is about 120 print pages.

A big chunk of the stories were published in either Dialogue, Irreantum or the Mormon Lit Blitz. The rest are unique to the collection.

The stories were all written 2006-2013 and coincide with the bulk of my non-fiction writing about Mormon literature and culture. All of the stories are very Mormon and are about the current Mormon-American experience and range from the almost devotional to the almost heretical. That almost is important for me to accomplish (see: my series on the radical middle).

A couple of the stories that were previously published have been slightly edited from their previous state. I don’t think I did anything major, but there are differences.

ON PRICING & PROCEEDS
At $4.99, the collection is deliberately priced on the high end of the (very few) comparable ebook volumes of Mormon short stories out there. I figured $1 for each 10,000 words plus another buck for more than a decade of free literary criticism here at AMV and elsewhere. Plus, it feels to me like an EP and EP’s are/used to be $5.

Proceeds from sales of the collection will go to fund Mormon literature projects. Specifically, I hope to bank enough to cover the bulk of the costs for the Mormon alternate history mini-anthology I plan to edit. And by costs I mean token payments (at least $15, hopefully more like $25) to contributors. I hope to also subsidize some of the web hosting costs for AMV and its sister blogs.

Anyone who can’t justify the spend right now but really would like to read the collection should email me at william at motleyvision dot org. Be sure to indicate if you’d like a .pdf, .epub (for Nook, Kobo, Sony Ereader, etc.), or .mobi (Kindle) file. I know what’s it like to not have the funds to buy books even though you’d really like to support the author. It’s more important to me that you experience my writing. I’m not going to just make it free on Amazon or whatever, but email me, and I’ll shoot you back the format of your choice no questions, no judgement.

ON THE COVER
I created it myself in Adobe InDesign. I thought about using a striking black and white photo like one does with short story collections, but I also wanted to tie it into the A Motley Vision branding. Plus I like minimalist book covers. In fact, my preference would be to have no words on the cover at all, but in the end I bowed to convention.

The maroon color is the exact same color as the one I’ve used for AMV since moving it to WordPress many years ago. That would be #3d0807 or R=61, B=8, G=7. The typeface is Avenir. I’ll let you figure out what the squares represent.

ON SELF-PUBLISHING
The calculus is simple: the only publishing house that would potentially be willing to take this on is Zarahemla Books. I’d be happy to be part of that list. It’s great company. But a) there’s no guarantee that Chris Bigelow would want it; b) since proceeds would be split with ZB, that’d dilute the net income from sales; and, c) it just seemed like this project was an AMV one. Future projects might not be.

My sister Katherine and father-in-law Tim provided editorial work. I did everything else.

ON A PRINT VERSION
Probably won’t happen—at least not anytime soon. Yes, I have friends who I could convince to do the layout for free or at a reduced price. Or I could take the time to up my InDesign skills enough to do it myself, but at the moment I’m not inclined to spend that time or good will. Sorry. If a print version does happen, it won’t be until after the alternate history anthology, which means late 2016 at the earliest.

So those are all the details. I’m happy to answer questions in the comments. Stay tuned for more here (and elsewhere) on the stories, my future projects, etc. And thanks, as always, for your support of me and everybody else involved with A Motley Vision and the MormonLit community.

“Woman of Another World, I Am with You”:
Reading the Divine Feminine in Mormonism

5.5.15 | | 2 comments

(Cross-posted here.)

It’s May, which means it’s time to celebrate (among other things) loyalty, Star Wars, nurses, Sally Ride, the end of the Middle Ages, and, of course, Mom.

“A Mother’s Love” by Lynde Mott
First Place, A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest

To that latter end, I’ve put myself to the task of reading and commenting on the poems featured in 2014’s A Mother Here Contest. You can read more about the contest via that link, but here’s how I see my project working: as an attempt (alongside and in conversation with the contest artworks) to “express the nearness of our Heavenly Mother” and to witness her presence in the cosmos (as coeval with Father) and in the intimate details of our lives.

As I mention, the project (which I’m hosting on FireinthePasture.org) will be two-fold:

1. I’ll post a recording of me reading one of the featured contest poems.

2. Alongside that reading, I’ll post a short audio comment (likely no more than four minutes long) in which I respond to the poem and explore what it says about the Mormon Divine Feminine.

My hope in taking this on is to expand the rich discourse that’s emerging re: Mother in Heaven and, in the process, to explore my own relationship with her. I’ve posted elsewhere about my experience talking about the Eternal Mother in a short sacrament meeting sermon. What I didn’t mention was how nervous I was when I stood to speak. I knew there was no silence officially mandated on the topic, but the cultural silence hung heavy in my ears and on my mind. As a result, just before I began speaking about her, my heart rapped hard on my sternum. When I introduced the idea that Mother stands beside Father as they carry out the work of eternity, though, I felt her presence and peace in a way I’ve never felt them before.

I’ve sensed that again as I’ve spent time the past week or so with the contest poems.

So: here goes—my first reading/commentary combo. A caveat, though: since May has 31 days and the contest only features 30 poems, what to do with the extra day? Rather than cut the month short, I found another poem to highlight: Emma Lou Thayne’s “Woman of Another World, I Am with You.” I think it provides a fruitful beginning to this month-long engagement with the “A Mother Here” poems.


Emma Lou Thayne’s “Woman of Another World, I Am with You”

Post 1/31 in my A Mother Here reading series. (I’m four days into the project now. Check out all posts in the series via the link embedded in the previous sentence.)

(Click/tap here to read the poem.)

Poem:


(Direct link to audio file.)

Commentary:


(Direct link to audio file.)


My 2014 Whitney Awards Ballot

5.4.15 | | one comment

The voting window for the 2014 Whitney Awards* closed last week. The gala takes place Saturday, May 16, 2015, and you still have two more days to purchase tickets. I’ve already explained my criteria for judging the nominations for the historical fiction category and shared some advice for Mormon writers of historical fiction. Now, it’s time to reveal how I ranked the five finalists (and if you paid attention to my previous posts, this list won’t come as a huge surprise):

  1. Softly Falling by Carla Kelly
  2. An Ocean atween Us by Angela Morrison
  3. Eve: In The Beginning by H.B. Moore
  4. Deadly Alliance, by A. L. Sowards
  5. Gone for a Soldier by Marsha Ward

As a nominations judge, I was invited to vote in any of the other finalists categories that I wanted to (and read all the books in), but I decided that I didn’t want to do another huge reading push so I just voted in the Historical Fiction category. I kind of wish that the big push for this wasn’t in March and April because they tend to be busy months for me in other areas of my life. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want the awards to be any later than they are.

*I’ve been inconsistent in how I refer to the awards. Technically these are the awards for books published in 2014 so The Whitney Awards organizations call them the 2014 awards even though they are awarded in 2015.