On Sheldon Lawrence’s Hearts of the Fathers and Categories of Relgious Fiction (with a most inappropriate comparison)

I had the pleasure of reading Sheldon Lawrence’s book Hearts of the Fathers a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Lawrence is a professor at BYU-Idaho, and when I requested to review an advance copy, he had it delivered to my husband, who also works at BYU-Idaho. When my husband picked it up and read a page on his way to delivering it to me, he stated that it read like “a book written by a BYU professor.” This worried me. He didn’t mean it in a bad way, but I’ve had some bad experiences with fiction written by BYU professors.

Then I began to read it, and to my pleasure, I was immediately drawn in. Continue reading “On Sheldon Lawrence’s Hearts of the Fathers and Categories of Relgious Fiction (with a most inappropriate comparison)”

Reading The Devil Is Due in Dreary as a Mormon text


David Parkin gave me a copy of The Devil Is Due in Dreary after my Comic-Con presentation. He’s a friend of a friend and we all ate dinner together, discussing the nature of being a Mormon and an artist and/or a Mormon artist. Also, I’m sad to share, I heard some unpleasant stories about bias against Mormons in Tinseltown. So there’s that.

Anyway, The Devil Is Due in Dreary shares some surface traits with Pariah Missouri—terrifyingly authoritarian religious orders in a Western setting tinged with the supernatural. But Dreary is either modern or near-modern and thus Dreary the town isn’t merely frontier (as is Pariah), but isolated—a pocket of the past trapped in the modern world. Continue reading “Reading The Devil Is Due in Dreary as a Mormon text”

Mormon Easter Eggs and
Mormon Veins of Gold
in Pariah Missouri


As this post appears, you have less than one day to get into the Pariah Missouri Kickstarter, so open that in a new tab now, so’s you don’t forget.

You may recall that I’ve mentioned this comic before, but that was before I’d read it. Now I have and I’m ready to talk about its Mormon elements.

pariahmissouri01The first thing to know is that all I can discuss at present of the story’s first two volumes as the third and presumably final volume is the Kickstarter’s raison d’être. Therefore I will not be attempting any sort of Meaning of the Work as a Whole or analyzing its Mormon elements with that sort of goal in mind. Rather, my interest today is comparing the Mormon aspects of the two books available now. After all—that’s what the author challenged me to do!

(The author, Andres Salazar, sent me review copies gratis.) Continue reading “Mormon Easter Eggs and
Mormon Veins of Gold
in Pariah Missouri

Art & Belief


Part I: Whoops.

Somehow I failed to post this earlier this week. I hope you weren’t coming anyway.

Nathan Florence has directed a new documentary, Art & Belief, about a handful of artists including Trevor Southey and Dennis Smith, who believed not only that Mormonism and fine art were compatible, but that together they could change the world.

The Bay Area Mormon Studies Council is hosting Florence as he shares and discusses a twenty-minute excerpt this Sunday.

Here’s an interview with Florence for more information on the movement and his project, and here’s Terryl Givens on the movement. Visit the website if you would like to receive updates such as additional upcoming events or the film’s rollout.

Part II: A couple takeaways.

For some reason I hadn’t bothered to google him prior, but Nathan Florence is a painter, and a pretty good one at that (based on the jpgs).

I hope to do more on this film as time goes on, but for now, here are two nice quotations from the extant 20 minutes:

“Illustration answers questions. Art asks questions.”
– – – Dennis Smith (I think it was Dennis Smith)

“Vulnerability equals intimacy.”
– – – Trevor Southey (this one I know is correctly attributed)

Part III: What to do with $100,000.

They have a distributor and big names like Sterling Van Wagenen and Lesley Chilcott are on-board, but they need money to finish it. AMV readers are famed for their deep pockets and generous natures so, you know, get yourself an executive-producer credit.

Notes Toward a Mormon Theology of the Word: A Working Response to Jack Harrell’s Writing Ourselves

My review essay on Jack Harrell’s recently released book, Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism, went live on the AML website yesterday. Since Harrell seems to position the book as a conversation starter (but really, isn’t that what all books are for?), I used my response to converse with the way he explicitly and implicitly addresses what in the review I call “a Mormon theology of the Word” and to consider possible ways of elaborating that theology into something more robust that can inform discussions of what Mormonism has to offer theories of language use. My notes on the book participate in my perpetual explorations of that topic. I’m posting the first section of my review here and linking to the full text in hopes of opening a channel for continuing the conversation that Harrell carries on in Writing Ourselves and that I pick up in my essay.

So, if something strikes you, even if you haven’t yet read the book, please comment below.

Here’s my opening section:

Notes Toward a Mormon Theology of the Word: A Working Response to Jack Harrell’s Writing Ourselves

“The universe,” writer Jack Harrell claims, “is fundamentally absurd.” By nature, he argues, it’s out of tune and tends toward chaos. Enter God, an eternal personage who, by virtue of habits of being developed during an aeons-long process of development, seeks to call chaos to order, to resolve the discordant system. By Harrell’s estimation this makes God the ultimate Sense-Maker, the Source of meaning in a place that doesn’t of itself make sense. Addressing Mormonism’s “Creator-God” in an essay titled “Making Meaning as a Mormon Writer,” which is included in Harrell’s recent essay collection, Writing Ourselves, Harrell asserts that “God enters that corner” of the universe where “perilous chaos” reigns “and creates something from the raw materials there. This is what God does; this is who he is.” Then Harrell distills his claims about God-as-Creative-Being to a five word statement: “God is literally logos, meaning.” Drawn from the figure of God presented in the Johannine Gospel—”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” where Word translates the Greek term Logos—Harrell’s portrayal casts deity as the Supreme Rational Being whose creative power emerges from the significance inscribed on his being. Which is to say that meaning is in his eternal DNA. By this line of reasoning, which undergirds the main ideas Harrell pursues in Writing Ourselves, without meaning and the processes by which meaning is made and propagated, God is naught and existence is absurd.

If God is meaning-embodied, to emulate God—as Mormons believe we’re made to do—is to privilege (above all things) meaning and the processes by which meaning is made and propagated. Harrell suggests that Mormon writers should take this work seriously, as a matter of devotion to craft and to Christ, who as the Logos is, in Harrell’s words, “language and reason itself, making communication and meaning possible.” His parallel clauses suggest that, for Harrell, language is the province of communication and reason the province of meaning. It follows from my latter statement that to make meaning as a Mormon writer I must reason as God reasons. I must look “at unorganized matter,” at the absurdity and chaos of existence, and envision ways of bringing such foolishness to order, of shaping something logical from things illogical. We do this work every time we tell stories. Whether we compose them in writing or aloud, whether we’re working writers or relating events to a friend, we have a tendency to seek meaning in and to impose meaning on the happenings, the flow, and the structure of our lives. We may take this tendency as a given aspect of our being, as a characteristic developed during premortal aeons spent in God’s presence then carried into mortality. But must this be the case? What if we aren’t born predisposed to seek or to make meaning but we grow into the tendency? What if in terms of being as such—especially on the scale of eternal existence—meaning-making and reason are corollaries to more vital work? What if making meaning isn’t God’s—and by extension our—only or even highest purpose?

Read the full review on the flipside of this link.

Taking Our Stories to a General Audience: A review of The Librarian Shoots a Gun, by Amber Gilchrist

Amber Gilchrist is an independent writer of fiction that is unapologetically LDS and aimed at a general audience. When I set into reading her newest novel, The Librarian Shoots a Gun, it was with the intent of studying how she grounds her general readers in LDS culture–what she feels a need to explain, and how she does it without interrupting the flow of her story. Continue reading “Taking Our Stories to a General Audience: A review of The Librarian Shoots a Gun, by Amber Gilchrist”

SDCC and Pariah Missouri


Trevor Alvord and I gave presentations at the recently completed San Diego Comic-Con International. I may get around to connecting the subpar audio to the slideshow, but if you’re interested you can look at the pictures sans commentary now. If you have questions, please ask.

One of the first and most worth discussions questions we took during our Q&A came from Andres Salazar, a writer/artist I’d never heard of before and creator of Pariah Missouri, an indirectly Mormon-themed Western.

The gist of the question was this:

How do we decide, as Mormon creators, how much Mormon to stick into our works?

We should have hosted a panel with creators just to address that question. It’s a good one, and later that evening at dinner with some Mormon filmmakers, we rehashed it.

My answer at the time, basically, was that more specific works are more universal, and we can trust audiences to keep up with fully Mormon works. I made the Maus comparison and should have mentioned American Born Chinese—two widely beloved comics that make the point.

Anyway. That’s it for this minireport. I have some books that were given to me that I’ll write up here on AMV in the near future.

Until then, join me in checking out Pariah Missouri. But don’t dawdle! It has an active Kickstarter and now’s the time to get in. Third volume’s the last volume, so if you want a supernatural western with a Mormony aftertaste, act now.