Category Archives: Genre

Things Rich and Strange: Mormonism through the Lens of Steve Peck, a Sympathetic Alien

8.14.15 | | 3 comments

Title: Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Short Story Collection
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 219
Binding: Trade Paperback
ISBN13: 9780988323346
Price: $14.95
Also available as an ebook

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Steve Peck is an alien. A kind of geeky-looking one (wholly appropriate for a professor of evolutionary biology), friendly, congenial, but an alien nonetheless. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how, in this set of 16 stories, he so consistently manages to provide such startlingly different, yet at the same time deeply insightful, perspectives on the culture and religion he has adopted for his own.

Which is about the only thing these stories — which range from short to long, humor to pathos, realism to postmodernly zany, contemporary to historical to science fiction — have in common. Eight of them have been previously published, in venues ranging from Irreantum to Covenant to the Everyday Mormon Writer contest. Yet the effect is not incoherent. Rather, it provides a sense of the range of Peck’s work, which includes something that will, I guarantee, appeal to pretty much everyone with the slightest interest in reading fiction about the Mormon experience: highbrow or lowbrow, literary or popular, funny or serious, light or thought-provoking. It’s pretty much all here. And while not every story is equally polished, each provides something interesting and (here’s that word again) different.

more

A brief look at Heaven Knows Why!

7.2.15 | | 3 comments

.

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.

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.

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

Millstone City of Brick and Shadow

1.20.15 | | 2 comments

.

The remarkable thing comparing my reviews of Millstone City (by S.P. Bailey, 2012) and City of Brick and Shadow (by Tim Wirkus, 2014) is how differently directed my attention was and yet how many similarities the reviews (and their books) still share.

citiesinbrazilLet’s start with the obvious. Both novels have “city” in the title. Both novels take place in Brazil’s slums. Both novels feature horrific criminal activity. Both novels incorporate missionaries breaking rules, though managing to keep their deviance remarkably nontransgressive. Both sets of missionaries maintain an interest in fulfilling their call to preach even in the least agreeable of situations. Both adventures begin thanks to a link to the criminal world via a local convert. Both novels address the reality of evil and fail to provide a purely pat ending.

Thematically however, the novels are quite different. more

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus

1.12.15 | | 8 comments

sorry for the amazon link but this is the largest image available online and I feel obliged to link to its origin.

I’m a bit worn down by my Bishop’s Wife marathon so I won’t be giving this novel that level of attention though, frankly, I liked this one more. Both in terms of technique and story, this novel is what I’m usually looking for when I pick up a mystery. Don’t get me wrong—I did like The Bishop’s Wife—I liked how it was a cozy with sex and violence, I liked the characters and the setting, I liked the twists and the rolls, I liked the handful of plot-points left open.

But my all-time favorite mystery stories commit the crime against convention that City of Brick and Shadow commits. I’m going to present several observations now which move, approximately, from least spoilery to most spoilery. Feel free to slide down to the comments if you start getting uncomfortable, or to the next section if you get bored with my bloviating on any one point.

Otherwise, welcome to an unnamed Latin American country more commonly known as Brazil!

On point-of-view and naming

As Andrew said, “it is amazing how much the author just throws the reader into the world of the missionaries, without much explaining.” But it’s not just things like mentioning companionship study or curfews. Take the simple matter of naming. more