EVERYTHING IN THIS POST IS A SPOILER more
EVERYTHING IN THIS POST IS A SPOILER more
I read at least one scary book per October. I think the best one I tried this time around was Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon. It fell apart a bit at the end, but I was on codeine at the time so my opinion is suspect.
I’ll let someone else defend horror today, but if you’re just now getting the jones for a scare, some successful Mormons in the field to check out include Michaelbrent Collings, Dan Wells, and Ben Hopkin.
Most importantly, as always, Monsters & Mormons. You can’t do better than that on Halloween.
AMV readers may mainly know Lisa Torcasso Downing from Mo-lit circles, including the comments section here and at the AML blog, and her work as fiction editor for Sunstone. But Lisa also writes fiction and has recently had two works of middle grade/YA fiction published by Leicester Bay Books (as L.T. Downing): Island of the Stone Boy and Get that Gold! (the latter is part of her Adventures of the Restoration series). Lisa agreed to talk about those two books with me as well as some other Mo-lit topics.
You have two books that recently came out. Let’s tackle the one first that doesn’t have an overt Mormon connection: Island of the Stone Boy. You call it Mormon-friendly. And yet it is a “kid horror” novel. How do you make those [two terms work together?]
There’s no conflict between the terms, though I suppose the word “supernatural” might appeal to LDS parents a little more than “horror.” Maybe not. The reality is Island of the Stone Boy is a suspense novel. Yes, it’s a ghost story, which makes it paranormal, a subset of horror, but the suspense is what keeps my readers flipping pages. I recently got a note from an LDS mom who handed her 10 year old Island of the Stone Boy on a day off from school. He read it cover to cover in one day even though his brothers bugged him to join in a movie marathon. That didn’t happen because the book has ghosts, but because I remember what used to compel me to keep reading as a child, to click that flashlight on under the covers once my mother had closed my bedroom door. So that’s what I offered up in Island of the Stone Boy: good, old-fashioned suspense. more
First, although I know this book is aimed at a young audience (say, 12 to 14?), the cover image by Galen Dara makes this hard to believe. It’s a more explicitly terrifying cover than anything I can remember seeing on any other book aimed at the audience—or for many adult audiences, either. Dara’s work manages to show horror while implying an even deeper terror. Which is not easy. Usually, revealing horror dissipates terror, especially in visual art. And outside of Richard Upton Pickman, Dara may be the best I know.
Her work also appears inside the novel—most of which images are substantially more subtle than this one. And while they illustrate moments, rather than the novel as a whole, from a purely marketing standpoint, I have to wonder if they mightn’t be more appropriate for the cover. I have a hard time imagining an elementary-school librarian ordering this for their shelves.
Though I certainly hope they do. more
So this is not some snazzy, official list with criteria, rubrics, or voting committees. This is just my personal, gut-feeling-favorite Mormon Arts contributions that I have experienced this year. This also doesn’t mean that it was even published or produced in 2012… these are works/artists that I have personally encountered this year (or so). So keep that in mind as I submit “Mahonri Stewart’s Personal Mormon Arts Favorites of 2012!” (Which may or may not become an annual tradition, depending on how lazy I am next year).
FAVORITE MORMON PLAY: MELISSA LEILANI LARSON’S MARTYRS’ CROSSING
So, beyond what I’ve seen my Zion Theatre Company produce this year, I haven’t had a chance to see much Mormon Drama in 2012 since I live in Arizona (kind of pathetic since I’m supposed to be the Mormon Drama expert around here). I can’t visit Utah on a whim to see the rare Mormon themed play that comes around (or, this year, New York with #MormonInChief!), but what I have done this year is read a bunch of older Mormon plays to finish my editing for Saints on Stage. Since one of those plays was produced again this year, I am choosing Melissa Leilani Larson’s Martyrs’ Crossing, which has been getting great reviews at the Echo Theatre in Provo. I saw BYU’s production of the show years ago and read it again this year, and it’s as beautiful and vibrant as I remember it. Melissa is one of Mormonism’s best playwrights and, although I would call Little Happy Secrets her best work so far, Martyrs’ Crossing is a personal favorite, much due to Mel’s beautiful writing and to my love for Jean d’Arc… who I may tackle a play about some day as well, although it would be pretty different than Mel’s take. Mel keeps beating me to the punch on stories that I love, including Jane Austen’s Persuasion and her upcoming adaptation of my all time favorite novel, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Despite that personal frustration, I can’t but help look at these works and say, “Well, at least Mel wrote it, because it’s beautiful.”
FAVORITE MORMON PLAYWRIGHT: MATTHEW GREENE
Although I haven’t seen or read it, just the fact that Matthew Greene was able to get a Mormon themed play up in major a New York fringe festival is nothing to sniff at. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for #MormonInChief, but I admire Matthew (who was in BYU’s WDA Workshop with me several years ago) for really jumping into the New York theater scene and progressing the cause of Mormon Drama. He’s also got an upcoming play coming soon to Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City called Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Matthew is getting some real traction in his career as a dramatic writer and I believe it’s well deserved. more
It’s taking me a while to get through Monsters & Mormons, not because it’s not super enjoyable (because it is!), but because it’s a pretty long book (which, to me, is no flaw. The upcoming Saints on Stage: An Anthology For Mormon Drama which I edited for Zarahemla Books is a behemoth as well). Also when I finish a short story, I feel a temporary sense of completeness, so the book doesn’t always draw me back like a novel does because I’m not left “hanging” so to speak. So I’ve decided to break up my review of Monsters and Mormons over a few different reviews so I can write while the stories are still somewhat fresh in my mind. It will also allow me to address the short stories more individually instead of as a blurred whole.
First, my overall impression of Monsters & Mormons: it’s a winner. A big winner. As some one who has lived in imaginative waters since he was a child and hasn’t been afraid to invite his religion to play in those waters with him, I totally dig projects like this. Now, I’ve never been much of a horror fan, especially when it leads to copious amounts of blood and gore. I mean, like, yuck. Not my thing. However, I do love ghost stories and supernatural monsters (I keep wanting to read some H.P. Lovecraft), and, if it doesn’t lead to too much gruesomeness, I can definitely enjoy stories like this. This is definitely not something I would suggest to some of my less adventurous or conservative thinking family and friends, but it’s something I would suggest to the imaginative Mormon who doesn’t mind mixing fantasy and religion (and I know a number of non-Mormons who would get a kick out of it!) . So let’s get to the individual stories in the first part of the collection:
NOTE: This is a paper I presented at a conference to a largely non-Mormon audience a few years ago (April 2010 to be precise). Since the final Twilight movie hit theaters this morning at midnight, I thought it might be worthwhile to dust off this paper and present it for your review. Overall, I like the basic idea of the paper, although I think certain ideas and distinctions need to be further developed and drawn.
Vampire stories, argues William Patrick Day, are supposed to “viscerally [excite] us with primal, forbidden, terrifying images and scenes of flesh and blood, fangs and stakes, violence and death” (5). Yet, if this is true, why is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga so devoid of such “terrifying images and scenes”? Already, much has been written about the “erotics of abstinence” in the Twilight novels, or their lack of explicit sex—premarital or otherwise (Grossman). Less has been said, however, about how these vampire stories flout the conventions of the vampire genre by avoiding bloody, violent spectacles.
Indeed, one of the earliest reviews of Twilight—a brief write-up in Publishers Weekly—points out that the “novel’s only weakness” is a “rushed denouement” that mostly “takes place offstage” (207). In the climactic scene, Bella is in danger. James, a bad vampire who has become fixated on her blood, lures her to a dance studio where he plans to slake his thirst. The suspense builds as James, true to his nemesis role, monologues about his skills as a tracker, his desire for Bella’s blood, and his disdain for the Cullens, Bella’s good, “vegetarian” vampire friends. Using his super vampire strength, James throws Bella against a wall of mirrors, breaks her legs, and cuts a gash along her forehead. The situation looks bad for Bella:
His eyes, merely intent before, now burned with an uncontrollable need. The blood—spreading crimson across my white shirt, pooling rapidly on the floor—was driving him mad with thirst. (450)
James strikes at her, bites her on the hand, and Bella—our first-person narrator—passes out.
And that’s all we get.
I can’t really talk about this without getting into major spoilers so I just want to ask this question of any active LDS who has read Dan Wells latest novel The Hollow City: were you getting any Mormon thematic vibes from the ending?
I don’t think that there’s anything in there that requires a Mormon reading, but I can kind of see how Mormon theology/worldview may have served as starting point for some of the ideas there even though they become heavily transmuted in the process. But it’s subtle enough that if you weren’t Mormon or even if you were Mormon and didn’t know Dan was Mormon, you wouldn’t even notice it. And you may not notice it anyway. But did anyone else pick up that vibe?