Author Archives: William Morris

Mormon fiction writers and the spectre of excommunication

7.15.15 | | 21 comments

I recently had a Twitter conversation with Mette Ivie Harrison about an experience where at an author appearance in Logan she met an LDS author who was afraid to be honest about their Mormonism in the current climate because of the possibility of excommunication. I’m not going to repeat the particulars of the conversation because I don’t think it’s fair to transport the context of a Twitter conversation with its character limit constraints to the longer form of blogging. So instead I’m going to start with an observation and then a claim based off of that observation.

The Observation

Most Mormon fiction writers who leave the LDS Church do so because they become alienated from it. That’s not a good thing or (I hope) an inevitable thing. It also often leads to active members of the Church dismissing their work, which is often (but not always) unfortunate, especially since I think Mormons should seek to develop a better of understanding of the Mormon experience when it doesn’t match up with their own.

But for this post I want to stick with the formal relationship of an author with the LDS Church. The reason for that is that over my 17+ years of interacting with the Mormon literature community, I’ve periodically seen a conventional wisdom expressed in various ways that the great Mormon novelist will inevitably be excommunicated. Or more generally: LDS writers can’t write candidly about the Mormon experience because then they’d be excommunicated.

The Claim

I’m going to make a claim about this fear and then complicate it. The claim is this: Mormon fiction writers don’t need to worry about excommunication because of the content of their fiction*.

Complication 1: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about excommunication if their fiction exists alongside with affiliation with other activities/groups that could lead to excommunication. That is, it’s possible that fiction could be used a data point in showing that the writer is actively working against the LDS Church, but if the concerns are limited to what is represented in the fiction then all current evidence suggests that

Complication 2: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about excommunication if their fiction isn’t well-wrought fiction. That is, if you’re writing polemics against the LDS Church or crossing hard boundaries (certain depictions of the temple or LDS Church leaders) then, yeah, that could be a problem. But that’s not good fiction. And that’s not honest fiction either.

Complication 3: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about fellow members reporting their fiction to LDS Church authorities. My understanding is that this happens (or happened — I have no idea if it’s ongoing) to Orson Scott Card quite a bit. If one is a believing, active LDS in good standing, then this won’t be an issue. If one is not, then it could be because it could precipitate declarations of honesty on the part of the author that could lead to disfellowship and potentially excommunication.

Complication 4: Mormon fiction writers who specifically write for the LDS market** need to worry about their relationship with the LDS Church. I believe that hypocrisy is deadly for writers of all stripes and active LDS who become disaffiliated*** from the Church should stop writing for the LDS market. I recognize that that’s a harsh stance with difficult social and economic consequences and deserves a longer treatment (which I may attempt at some point).

Complication 5: All of the above is in relation to Mormon fiction writers who specifically write about Mormonism and/or target the active LDS audience. I’m trying to think of a scenario where writers who don’t write Mormon content could find themselves in a situation where their fiction impacts their Church membership. I suppose Mormon writers of erotica could be at risk for excommunication. I don’t know how much of a risk, although I imagine it would largely depend on what kind and how out they were as an erotica writer.

So except for Complications 4 and 5, I don’t see how the Mormon writer of fiction with doubts, fears, stances that differ from the LDS Church, etc. is in a different position from any other member with doubts, fears, differing stances, etc. And 4 and 5 relate to specific marketing categories an author has a choice to engage in or not. In other words, excommunication shouldn’t be a worry for LDS writers vis a vis their fiction.

But all the above is specifically only about the content of the author’s fiction in relationship with the Church. When it comes to the act of writing fiction itself, a different dynamic may be in play. Because while excommunication is something that either happens or doesn’t, there is a complex matrix of personal, familial, and social relationships and beliefs that impact the Mormon writer when they go to write fiction. That’s what I’ll be exploring in my follow-up post: Self Censorship and the Mormon Author.

For now, I’m interested in discussing:

1. Any complications I have missed
2. Any complications I have I downplayed too much
3. Why the fear of excommunication persists among Mormon authors even though none have been excommunicated for their fiction****

*For non-LDS readers, excommunication is a formal process by which members of the LDS Church may be restricted from some aspects of Church membership or lose their membership in the LDS Church. It is generally reserved for acts like adultery, murder, felony crimes, etc., but there have been a few instances when members of the Church have been disciplined for what they have said. Largely, that is because they have specifically arrayed themselves against the Church, but they’re also complicated cases with, naturally, differing views on the ultimate reasons for the excommunication as well as a variety of dynamics and individualized situations and information that often is not public. For more, see Church Disciplinary Councils at LDS.org.

**This is where the LDS vs. Mormon terminology is useful (even though I dislike dogmatic usages of the two terms in opposition to each other) in that by LDS market I mean the publishers and retail outlets that specifically market to faithful, active members of the LDS Church. The Mormon market, in my view, includes the LDS Market but also brings in any and all publishers, retailers and audiences who are interested in work about the Mormon experience.

***I am not going to attempt to delineate what level/type of disaffiliation should trigger a voluntary removal from the LDS market. That’s a matter of individual conscience.

****As Andrew Hall reminded me on Twitter, Brian Evenson did lose his position at BYU because of concerns over his fiction and Neil LaBute was disfellowshipped for his portrayal of Mormons and violence in his fiction. Both eventually became disaffiliated from the LDS Church.

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

———-

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.

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.

Advice for Mormon writers of historical fiction

4.16.15 | | 5 comments

As I revealed earlier in the year, I was a finalists judge for historical fiction for this year’s Whitney Awards. I’ll reveal my ballot after the awards are presented, but since that doesn’t happen until May, here’s some advice for Mormons who write or are considering writing historical fiction.

Keep in mind that I don’t write historical fiction myself and haven’t read deeply in the genre so my advice may not be worth much. But my exposure to it includes: reading all of the historical fiction nominees this year, reading the historical fiction finalists back in [[insert year]], other reading of Mormon historical fiction, other reading of historical fiction published in the past three decades, other reading of fantasy fiction that draws on historical fiction, reading of quite a few novels from the main eras that authors write historical fiction in (the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries), reading of nonfiction from/about those eras, and reading of several of Sir Walter Scott’s novels. Scott, along with Jane Porter, launched the genre of historical fiction. This is all to say that while it’s not one of my primary genres, I do have some familiarity with its tropes and forms and what it can do well. more

Artists of the Restoration part IV: Restorationist Manifesto

4.8.15 | | 7 comments

This series spun out of a post that I wrote that expressed a desire to build Zion through creative effort. Previously, I wrote about Mormon history and then situated that and Mormon cultural activity within the core Western aesthetic streams of Romanticism and Modernism/Postmodernism. I put you through all of that because I wanted to lay the proper groundwork for a manifesto (of sorts) that outlines a set of practices or set of elements or layers that I think will help Mormon artists situate themselves as Restorationist. I don’t suggest any specific aesthetic techniques or socio-political stances. I can’t help you escape Romanticism, Modernism or Postmodernism (although I may write about that more later). There is no Zion apart for us to flock to in order to escape assimilation. For Mormon artists, what we have is our personal activities and relationships and the community and rituals and ordinances of the modern LDS Church.   

Please note that the following is specifically for those who consider themselves active LDS. And it’s simply my opinion. But I hope that it’s a way of thinking that other Mormon artists will find useful. more

Artists of the Restoration Part III: MODERNISM & POSTMODERNISM

3.23.15 | | 10 comments

Previously, I wrote about why I’m more interested in active LDS artists who are seeking to build Zion. With this series, I’m approaching the same topic from a different angle.

READ PART I: THE LDS CHURCH — RESTORATION/SEPARATION &ACCOMMODATION/ASSIMILATION

READ PART II: WESTERN CULTURE — STUCK IN ROMANTICISM

PART III: WESTERN CULTURE — MODERNISM/POSTMODERNISM

At the turn of the 20th century, artists from a variety of disciplines sought to break free from the grip of Romanticism. They saw that realism was as much of an artificiality as what it was reacting against, and they saw that the original things that Romanticism had reacted against—cold rationalism, industrialization—had only gotten worse. What’s more Darwin and Nietzsche had showed (in very different ways that God really was dead; Freud that everybody was all messed up inside from repressing things (and because of our parents); and popular culture that Romanticism could take on virulent, sentimental, wildly successful, lucrative forms (the penny dreadful/dime novel, light opera, advertising, Beaux-Arts architecture, etc.). more