Author Archives: William Morris

Marilynne Robinson on writing about faith

10.13.14 | | 7 comments

This Religion News Service interview with the writer Marilynne Robinson is very much worth reading, saving, thinking and talking about. The following, for obvious reasons, are two excerpts that directly spoke to me, but I expect that the whole thing is going to churn around in my head for quite some time.

From her reply to a question about the language of faith as a source for writing:

We have anxiety about differences. We are different, anyway, so we might as well calm down about it. But one of the things that we have to do is understand that within the system that is anyone’s difference is incredibly enabling.

 

Her reply to a question about why there are so few good authors who write about faith:

Religion has been associated with narrow denominationalism, where people think if you explore religion in the language that your own tradition makes available to you, that you are making some assertion about the superiority of your tradition over the one next door. But there’s no reason to think that. We simply have different vocabularies that come out of different traditions. Anyone can explore the brilliance of their received vocabulary.

Amen.

Mormon narrative art: writers and critics

10.10.14 | | 11 comments

Some of the comments (across twitter, the blogs and Facebook–ah, the joys of online discussion in a social media world) about the Association for Mormon Letters deal with a core tension that has existed in the AML, and, of course, in the project of literature itself: the writer and the critic.

This is not a tension that the AML is going to solve. But I do think it has a decent chance of pulling in some of each crowd for the following reasons:

  1. Many of the most active personalities in the field are both writers and critics.
  2. There are not many other viable forums for writing — creative or critical — that focus on Mormon thought and the Mormon experience.
  3. Mormonism does not have a theology per se, but Mormons themselves are used to talking about various aspects of doctrine and interpreting them in different ways and telling stories that relate to them and our understanding of them. The project of literature, both writing fiction and writing criticism, is not all that different. And I would hope that both writers and critics experience that commonality as the go about their work and that they are both interested when their thoughts about Mormonism intersect with the work they write and read.
  4. Related to that, I don’t see how you can be engaged with the project of narrative art without being both a creative writer and a critic. No writing is truly autonomic. It all comes from engagement with particular concerns and forms and images and stories and those are shaped by other things that the author has read as much if not more than their direct lived experience.
  5. Writers and critics have overlapping needs/interests but not the exact same ones. They also have needs/interests that can be better met by other organizations. And, I hope, ones that can be best met by the AML. One of the things that we need to do moving forward is look at how the activities of the AML fit with that spectrum of needs. It seems to me that those projects where there is overlap between the two (messy) categories should be a priority. But that there should also be activities that speak more strongly to one or the other to help strengthen overall engagement with the AML.
  6. One concrete idea: while it’s nice to have a journal that includes both criticism and fiction, one or the other category (not to mention the various forms of fiction [film, drama, etc.]) tends to be lose out depending on the primary interest of the editor. It might make sense to split out the two projects so that there’s one publication for criticism and one for narrative art. Or perhaps one publication but rotating editors/themes.
  7. Note that by criticism, I include all reader reactions to narrative art, including formal and informal reviews as well as scholarship and reporting that deal with all the extra-textual stuff related to the production, distribution and reception of narrative art.

What am I missing? Or even more bluntly: am I completely wrong? Is there no way to attract both narrative artists and critics? What do you all find most interesting in the intersection between the two? What bores you?

Mormon narrative art: interesting — not serious

10.2.14 | | 43 comments

I’ve been following with equal parts hope and concern, the conversations on Dawning of a Brighter Day (see here and here) that are attempting to revive the Association for Mormon Letters. I have written a guest blog that should be appearing in that space soon that lays out my thoughts on the foundational stuff for the AML — mission and board structure/purpose.

I have many other thoughts as well, but the primary one that I want to address is the tension between literary fiction writers/readers/critics and genre writers/readers/critics. There are other important tensions that impact the AML, but this is a foundational one. And one that has the potential to foul things up considerably. It has already cropped in the comments to Theric’s post and was a contributor (although not the driving factor) to the creation of LDStorymakers and also to the Whitney Awards.

I use the terms literary and genre in the previous paragraph. I don’t like those terms. And neither do some of the people who get labeled with them. They have their uses, but they can be quite limiting. And some of the best works of Mormon narrative art completely break down when trying to categorize using that division.

One way to get around the use of “literary” is to deploy the related term “serious literature”. Serious just isn’t a very useful descriptor. And it’s insulting. As in: if someone using that term doesn’t include certain works in it then that by extension means that those works aren’t “serious.”

All creative work is serious (even, often especially, if it is humorous).

So what I propose is that as we think about what narrative art should get attention from the new AML, we use the word interesting. Not actually use it as a term, a label. But rather that that’s a* key metric for what works get attention.

The nice thing about interesting is that it doesn’t exclude genres and audiences. There are many ways that a work can be interesting in a way that fits with the AML. For example: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is not very interesting in terms of sentence level prose or overt Mormon content or use of poetic imagery or plot structure or narrative voice (all qualities that many people would file under the umbrella “literary” or “serious”). And yet it has received attention from LDS literary critics because it is interesting in terms of thematics, plot, reception among readers, including LDS readers, and reception among national reviewers/critics.

Stories can be interesting in many different ways and interesting in different ways to different audiences. But, at least in my experience, not every story is interesting enough to write about, talk about, receive consideration for awards, etc. So using interesting as a metric doesn’t mean that every single work get the same amount of attention. It simply means that the works that the AML engage with need to have aspects that stand out, that are worthy of taking notice and considering further. And that’s regardless of how “literary” or “serious” they may or may not be.

*There’s another key metric. But that is covered in my guest post for the AML.

Vote in the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz

7.4.14 | | no comments

Voting in the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz contest ends at midnight Saturday, July 5. Please take a few minutes to vote. Here are the links you need:

Voting instructions for the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz

My voting method for the Mormon Lit Blitz (it makes the process easier and faster). Please note that this year you’re asked to provide 4 finalists rather than 5. And there are 12 finalists rather 13. And you email everydaymormonwriter At gmail Dot com. But the core methodology for selection still works.

And congratulations to the AMVers who are finalists this year:

“The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner

and

“Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales

Outtakes from my Artistic Preaching interview

6.20.14 | | 4 comments

AMV turned 10 this month so Scott Hales interviewed me for his blog Artistic Preaching. I appreciate the publicity, but am sad about the questions and answers that hit the cutting room floor. So I have decided to publish the outtakes from our interview*:

SH: What advice do you have for young Mormon writers?

WM: You know the advice to show don’t tell? Ignore it. Or rather, show physical details and action and all that rather than just tell it, but make sure that you tell the reader how they are supposed to feel about each of the characters and their actions. You really need to drive home the correct interpretation of the dramatic situation to the reader; otherwise, you risk being misinterpreted. And no Mormon writer should ever be misinterpreted.

And remember: the bad guys have facial hair. Always and without exception.

SH: Can Mormon artists write tragedy?

WM: No.

SH: What do you think about the use of Twitter by Mormons aka the Twitternacle?

WM: Twitter degrades discourse because it limits thoughts to 140 characters. We are a people whose main form of literature is the 20 minute talk. Our leaders used to preach for over an hour. We are going to lose our stamina for longer form work if we continue to indulge in the quick quips and shallow thoughts of tweets. If you are serious about creating Mormon art, you should definitely not engage with the Mormon arts people of the Twitternacle. Even if some people who are part of it are incredibly amusing and interesting.

SH: What issues do we not talk about enough as a community?

WM: Rated-R Movies. The Great Mormon Novel. The lack of an audience for Mormon literature. Why Mormon artists can’t write tragedy.

SH: Entertainment has the EGOT. Horse racing has the Triple Crown. Tennis has the Grand Slam. What’s the Mo-lit Grand Slam?

WM: There are so few awards that I think it’s hard to hinge it around them. I’m going to say that the Mo-lit Grand Slam is getting a lit-fic story published in Dialogue or Sunstone, an historical fiction novel acquired by Covenant, a YA novel acquired by a national publisher, and a short story collection acquired by Zarahemla Books all in the same year.

SH: What’s with all the Mormon Science Fiction & Fantasy writers?

WM: There’s the “Mormons have weird doctrine and like to discuss it and so are used to the speculative form” theory. There’s the “there’s actual money in SF&F” theory. There’s the “critical mass of core writers which then snowballs across the community” theory. My theory is that sleep deprivation because of early morning seminary and/or other church activities and/or having children at a young age and/or going on a mission permanently changes members brains so that we are always in the slightly hallucinatory state that leads to wildly speculative daydreaming which then gets channeled into writing SF&F.

SH: What’s with all the Mormon YA writers?

WM: Well, duh. It’s because Mormons live in an arrested state of development and refuse to face the gritty, difficult, complex issues of adult life and so, naturally, they tend towards YA and middle grade novels both as writers and readers. Also: it’s where the money is.

SH: What’s with all the Mormon lit-fic writers who go apostate?

WM: They aren’t apostate. They’re sleeper agents among the artistic Demi-monde. You would think that they would have been triggered by the Romney campaign, but I have it on good authority that they are being reserved for a different project. It may or may not involve Neon Trees, Jabari Parker and Elder Uchtdorf.

SH: What’s the greatest threat to Mormon letters?

WM: The possibility of the Brethren clarifying once and for all the policy on caffeine, thus banning Diet Coke. Production of Mormon fiction would grind to a halt within just three or four hours.

SH: What’s your next project?

WM: A tragic, YA historical novel featuring Mormon sleeper agents and bad guys with facial hair that’s written as a series of tweets.

*Scott didn’t actually ask me these questions.

My personal favorite AMV posts at year 10

6.17.14 | | 6 comments

Back in 2009, I listed my personal favorite AMV posts — one for each of the co-bloggers. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the blog, I have updated that list. In some cases, items are the same as my post from 2009. In others, I have listed a new favorite. And the list has grown as new co-bloggers have come on board. William’s favorite post by each AMV blogger at this particular moment in time:

  1. Admin: Bradly Baird on the artifacts of LDS memory
  2. S.P. Bailey: The Things We Bring Home
  3. Tyler Chadwick: Thoughts Toward a More Thorough Treatment of Mormons, Mormonism, Literature, and Theory
  4. Kjerste Christensen: A Bibliography of Mormon Missionary Literature
  5. Harlow Clark: Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon, Introduction to Textual Variants Part IV
  6. Laura Craner: Mother versus Novelist (the MMA of mother-guilt, consecration, writing, children, and permission)
  7. Sarah Dunster: Addressing Issues on the Edge, and Ryan Rapier’s “The Reluctant Blogger.”
  8. Scott Hales: Twilight and the CleanFlicks Aesthetic
  9. Theric Jepson: The Hero’s Journey of the Mormon Arts
  10. Patricia Karamesines: The Rhetoric of Stealing God
  11. Jonathan Langford: Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books
  12. Kent Larsen: Why we need Mormon Culture
  13. Anneke Majors: Minerva Red
  14. Katherine Morris: “Bread of Affliction” and Cultural Self-Consciousness
  15. William Morris: The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical
  16. Luisa Perkins: Book Review: Global Mom
  17. Eric Russell:  In Defense of the Critics
  18. Mahonri Stewart: Of Prophets and Artists: A Household of Faith Or A House Divided?
  19. Eric Thompson: Half Faked

Thanks for 10 great years of AMV!

Interest gauge: anthology of Mormon alternate history

6.5.14 | | 25 comments

Here’s the bad news: I don’t have the time and energy to do a second Monsters & Mormons anthology. I believe that there are a few people who will be disappointed by this. I know there’s at least one: me. I’m sorry. It’s just not going to happen.

Here’s the good news: I’ve been focused the past few years on writing fiction and criticism. See my author blog for a glimpse of what I’ve been working on. Most of that has not been Mormon-related. It’s great fun, and I’m continuing those activities, but I also am feeling the desire to edit again. I’m also concerned about the fact that with the shuttering of Irreantum there aren’t enough venues for Mormon short fiction. I’ve been saying for awhile now that what we need are more one-off projects that don’t require sustained effort — that that’s the best way to grow the body of Mormon short fiction because they don’t require the kind of long-term commitments and resources that most of us just can’t supply. Well, I suppose I should lead by example. So…

My vague thoughts: I’m thinking about editing an e-only short anthology of alternate Mormon history stories. I know for a fact that at least two of the entries in this year’s Mormon Lit Blitz are in the alternate history genre (one of them is mine). I’m guessing there might be more. It’s funny. I’ve been thinking about this for several months and even went so far as to toss some ideas around with Theric. And then Scott Hales recently posted Emily Adams review of  D. J. Butler’s  City of the Saints series, which is Mormon alt history steampunk. And, well, it just seems like it’s in the air. Indeed, it seems to me that in this post-Mormon moment moment alternate visions of Mormon history could be one of the more compelling ways of expressing our culture and help us think through both our past and future trajectories in interesting and fruitful ways.

Details and timing: I don’t know for sure yet. My best guess is that I’d put a call for entries out this fall with a deadline of  early spring 2015 and a goal of having the anthology out in fall 2015. I would pony up the funds for token payments to the contributors. The anthology would likely be limited to 7-8 short short pieces, 3-4 short stories, and 1-2 novelettes with a goal of hitting 45-65k words (Monsters & Mormons is close to 180k). As with M&M, I’d be looking to range across the pulp and literary spectrums, but I’d also be shading a bit more towards the literary (where with M&M we shaded more towards pulp). And with the short short pieces, I’d be looking for a variety of forms of discourse including sermon, journal entry, reportage, personal letter, etc.

Feedback: If I decided to do this, who would be interested in submitting? Or reading? Reviewing? Am I wrong that Mormon alt history is swirling about the current Zeitgeist? What are the promises and pitfalls of Mormon alternate history?

Speak up in the comments below, or if you’d prefer not to be public with your thoughts, email me at william AT motleyvision DAWT org.

Mormon Arts Sunday is this Sunday, June 8

6.3.14 | | 5 comments

Brothers and sisters I invite you to celebrate Mormon Arts Sunday this Sunday, June 8, 2014, and, from now on (unless we change it again) every second Sunday in June.

BACKGROUND

Mormon Arts Sunday started back in February 2013 when Scott Hales suggested a wear a black beret to Church day. That post was both inspired by and somewhat spoofing the feminist activism of the time of wearing pants to church, but the more some of us thought about it, the more interesting an idea it became. Scott expanded on the idea and then I explained why I wore a maroon tie to church that day. And when February rolled around this year, I kind of forgot about it, but Theric made sure the Berkeley Ward observed it in February.

But since we missed February, and since I don’t want to compete with Scout Sunday, and since AMV was founded in June (by the way: this is our 10th anniversary), we landed on the second Sunday in June.

Kent Larsen is already on board. He serves in a bishopric so he is able to influence the theme of sacrament meeting. But not all of us serve in a bishopric, so…

OBSERVANCE

  1. Wear a beret or a dark red/maroon item to church this Sunday. Dark red is AMV’s color, but it’s also a good color to represent Mormon Arts Sunday — it’s rich and vibrant and not generally a color that people wear to church all the time. Purple would also work. Wear purple if you’d prefer.
  2. Wear a cockroach accessory (not my personal reference, but see the Scott Hales posts above for an explanation).
  3. If you are talking or teaching this Sunday, include a piece of Mormon literature or visual art in your talk or lesson. The right poem can work quite well for that. One good source for that is the winners of the Eliza R. Snow Poetry Contest, which the Ensign used to run.
  4. Bring a work of Mormon art to church or to a home/visiting teaching appointment and share it with someone who you think would appreciate it.
  5. Do this on Saturday, but: buy a work of Mormon art. Something from Zarahemla Books, maybe. Or a Whitney Awards winner. Or from whatever your favorite purveyor of Mormon art may be (tell us in the comments).
  6. Have a special Sunday edition Family Home Evening where you consume and/or discuss a work of Mormon art.

That’s all I have. What suggestions do you have? How else could we observe Mormon Arts Sunday?