Category Archives: Interviews

Paying for [another’s] plagiarism

1.14.15 | | 7 comments

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I assume you all remember Rachel Nunes’s 2014 epic collision with a plagiarist. I recently was in touch with her for an update:

Most of the major details of who committed this crime and her resultant barmy attempts to coverup-slash-intimidate the truth have been public for a few months now. What’s not as widely known is what it takes to go beyond public shaming. In other words: the legal system. How did you find a lawyer and what is your lawyer’s usual specialty?

I found my attorney through another attorney who contacted me on Goodreads. She was helping me get the books off Goodreads and was watching for negative reviews put out by Rushton under her aliases. She was also instrumental in tracking down my copyright. Clinton Duke works at her law firm, and she recommended him. His specialty is copyright, patents, and litigation.

But unfortunately, he estimates 30,00 to 120,000 more to resolve the entire case, and I don’t have that kind of money. So at this point, I’m considering using him more as a consultant, which would still cost thousands, but would help me control the costs a little better because right now they are threatening to bury me. I’ve put out queries about other options, but no attorney has stepped up to the plate to do this at reduce cost (and really, why should they?) because they don’t expect to ever receive money from Rushton. (They are completely okay with me going into debt for it, though, lol.) Honestly, I’m not sure where to go at this point, but I am absolutely proceeding. We are entering discovery and I am working now with a few people to come up with a plan. I have an appointment with another attorney in a week to get his take on the case.

I wish I knew how to find more support from people or from law enforcement, but unless she starts shooting at me or I commit suicide or something, people have other more pressing things to support and think about. Again, I don’t blame anyone. I’m very grateful for the handful of authors I know who have been supportive, and others I don’t know who have come forward. I am way short of what I will need to finish this case, and I think it says something very telling about the current legal system where good folks have to mortgage their entire future to stop something that is supposedly against the law to begin with.

For me it’s never over. For instance, I spent countless hours this past week gather stuff for the case, and on Wednesday when I received another three thousand dollar bill from the attorney, it kind of ruined the whole season, you know? The impact on my family continues.

But my motto is upward and onward, so I’m focusing on that, but I will be very grateful when it’s all behind me.

Rachel

To help Rachel with her ongoing expenses, click here.

EDIT: READ INTO COMMENTS FOR MORE INFORMATION AND UPDATES

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.

Tom Nysetvold on the Mormon Texts Project 2.0

4.10.14 | | 2 comments

Tom Nysetvold has taken on the yeoman work of starting back up the Mormon Texts Project. He was kind enough to answer some questions about it.

Why did you decide to resurrect the Mormon Texts Project?

I somehow ran in to and read some books on Project Gutenberg (notably Joseph Smith as Scientist by Widtsoe) that had been done by the Mormon Texts Project (MTP). They led me to Ben Crowder’s MTP website, and I was very impressed with what he was doing. I got in touch with him and found out he’d recently suspended the project for lack of time to run it.
I thought it was a shame that many important Church books still weren’t (and aren’t) available, and I’ve long been interested in the ideals of open source projects, Creative Commons, etc., so I decided to do a couple of books to figure out the Project Gutenberg process and see if it was something I was interested in doing on a larger scale. I had a lot of fun doing The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt’s An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, so I decided to try and get other people involved in the same type of work, and I contacted Ben and got his permission to use the Mormon Texts Project name. A few friends and I started working, and we’re now up to ten books released on Project Gutenberg (PG) this year (seven that were previously unavailable and three that were available only on the old MTP website). At this point, 31 church books are available on PG (23 of which were produced by MTP) out of roughly 45,000 books total. I think those numbers show that as a global religion with a rich heritage, we have a long way to go before that heritage is appropriately accessible. more

Author interview with Lisa Torcasso Downing

12.19.13 | | 2 comments

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

“I’m Addicted to Story”: An Interview with Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson

5.28.13 | | 5 comments

As one of my last posts for A Motley Vision (I’ll go more into that in a different post) I wanted to conduct an interview with one of my favorite Mormon playwrights (one of my favorite playwrights, period), Melissa Leilani Larson. Mel has created a body of work that is impressive and moving, and she is one of Mormonism’s best and brightest dramatists. So without further ado:

1. So, first, tell us a briefly about yourself. Your personal, educational, creative background as a person and as a playwright, your interests, what makes you distinct?

Melissa Leilani Larson, photo taken by Alisia Packard

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I think that love of reading led me to writing stories of my own. I wrote all through school, first grade on up, until I earned my BA in English/Creative Writing from BYU and later my MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.

As far as what makes me distinct… Fabulous actresses far outnumber the parts they can play. My ultimate goal is to write fascinating, engaging, and challenging roles for women. A lot of them—several strong female roles per play. That’s the distinction to which I aspire.

2. You were chiefly an English major/literary personality before you switched your focus to writing for a theatrical medium. What changed that direction? more

Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God: An Interview with Fiona Givens, co-author of _The God Who Weeps_

4.7.13 | | 7 comments
Fiona A Givens

Fiona Givens

         I have been super impressed with both Fiona and Terryl Givens, authors of the masterful (it’s not hyperbole, it’s that good!) theological work The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. In both their writing, and in the interviews I have heard/read them give, I have been inspired. Terryl Givens has rightfully received a lot of attention in the past for his previous books, but with this round of interviews for The God Who Weeps that I have read and listened to, I have also been super impressed with Fiona’s articulate voice, engaging ideas, and her powerful spirituality and identity. So I approached her about doing an independent interview, to which she graciously conceded. I was thrilled that she put the thought and care to engage in a long and fruitful interview. Lots of amazing stuff! Perhaps my favorite interview I have ever conducted, due to the time, thought, informed intelligence, and spirituality Fiona infused her answers with. So here it is:  

         MS:  First, in a nut shell, tell our readers a little about yourself. About your conversion to Mormonism, your professional and literary background/ interests, your relationship with Terryl, your family, and anything else you would really like our readers to know about the intriguing Fiona Givens.

FG: I converted to the Church in Germany where I was working as an au pair during my gap year between graduating from New Hall School, where I had been head girl, and university.  The preceding summer I had spent in earnest prayer, trying to divine God’s will for me and my future, as to that point, I had taken very little interest in it myself.  The answers were totally unexpected and unanticipated.  Shortly after arriving in Germany, I met a lovely lady with whom I became fast friends.  I was happy that she liked to talk about God, as He was uppermost in my mind.  Eventually she took me to her “church”–a gathering of people in a room on the second floor of a building.  What I felt when I entered that sparsely attended meeting was something I had never felt before–a spiritual warmth that was inviting.  And I was happy for the opportunity to learn more.  That being said,  I had no intention of leaving Catholicism, secure in its position as the longest standing Christian faith tradition.  

However, the spiritual experiences that ensued in my conversations with the missionaries were nothing short of Pentecostal and I was eager to share my transformation with my family, who responded very much like Gregor Samsa’s family in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The two years following my baptism were very painful.  I had left in the detritus of my baptism not only a rich and vibrant faith tradition but my family, whom I had shaken to the core, wrenching their ability not only to comprehend me but to communicate with me.  I had brought a rogue elephant into our family room.  It is still there. The wounds are still palpable.  However, due in large measure to the kindness and love of Priesthood leaders, my wobbly legs were strengthened and, amazingly, I did not use them to flee a still alien religion, an alien culture and alien language.

Through a set of miraculous circumstances I was granted a multiple entry visa to pursue a degree at Brigham Young.  I met Terryl the first day of our Comparative Literature 301 class with Larry Peer.  Terryl was seated on the back row.  I was seated on the front.  He was self-effacing.  I was not.  We were married a year later.  He pursued a PhD in comparative literature and I pursued the raising of our children while taking a class a semester, when possible, to keep the little grey cells functioning amidst the barrage of babyspeak.   more

Theric interviews Courtney
part three: the secret of immortality, etc.

4.4.13 | | 2 comments

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In parts one and two, Courtney Miller Santo—author of The Roots of the Olive Tree—and I have discussed Stephen King and prison and Canadians. This time we get to the important stuff: jellyfish.

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Theric: As I came to the final section of Roots—narrated by Bets—I was concerned. She’d seemed the least dynamic character to that point. Yet the first thing she does when she takes control is change her name to Elizabeth. And she only gets more interesting from there. I know the cover of your book makes secrets the Meaning of your book, but until Elizabeth I didn’t see it. Then, with Elizabeth, the layers of secrets truly begin to reveal themselves. Even when it ends up they’re not secrets. How are secrets important to your conception of the novel?

Courtney: Thank you for saying that about Bets. I argued with so many people about why in each section some of the women would use their full names instead of their nicknames and what you state is exactly what I hoped would happen.

What I’ve learned about secrets from my family is they are usually only secrets to the person who is keeping them. That is that we spend so much time trying to hide our mistakes or our personal natures from each other and don’t realize that in the hiding we reveal ourselves. I also found, especially with my older relatives that just because they didn’t speak of something didn’t mean it was a secret. My own grandmother had an illegitimate sister show up when she was a teenager and instead of being embarrassed or in denial, everyone in her family was like, well of course that’s Alice’s daughter.

I feel that way about secrets in my own life. There are actions and knowledge that I’m keeping from my kids, but when they are adults, I expect the reveal of such information will be much less dramatic than I expect.

Theric: That seems like a decent segue into the closest thing you have to an explicitly “Mormon” part of the novel. One character in the novel was born Mormon. But he was born in 1916 to a polygamous family so I’m not sure how, ah, Salt Lake-approved that family might have been. He also ends up being the novel’s only gay character. Given the difficulties inherent in representing a character who has slipped well into senility, he’s an extraordinarily well drawn character. But enough about art. Let’s ask the unfair leading question you would be thrown on cable news: “Courtney—your only gay character is your only Mormon character is your only character to fall into utter madness. How does your Church cause its gay members to lose their identity in order to belong?”

Courtney: I can’t speak directly to the experience of being gay or being a gay Mormon except to say that with Frank, I’d hoped to draw a character who helped readers understand the complex choices gay men and women have faced historically and continue to face when they are required to deny a portion of their identity. I cannot fathom being asked to abstain from the blessings of family and marriage because of my sexual identity, of which I have no choice in making.

Theric: Something I’ve not investigated but which the novel has left me wondering about is the science of aging. I’ve read a bit about the immortal jellyfish, but I have no idea how much advance has been made on the genetics of aging well. Given the importance on this science to your characters (one is spending his career on the question) and the novel’s structure (you’ve taken the risk of stepping away from the plot to discuss the science and public reaction thereunto)—I don’t feel totally out of line describing Roots as slightly science fiction.

How much did you research this science and how important was it to get the details right? (Also, as a side question, do you worry about it, ironically, aging the novel more rapidly?)

Courtney: At the end of the novel, I absolutely take a step outside our current reality and propel the characters forward into an as yet unwritten future. As I mentioned earlier, this current generation of writers grew up reading science fiction and fantasy and I feel like we are particularly open to mixing genres in a way that writers coming out of the academic tradition haven’t been in the past. Lauren Groff does the same thing in her amazing novel, Arcadia. I hope that it doesn’t age the novel, but immortality is a rare bird in the written word. My decision to add this element was driven by the characters themselves and wanting people to have a sense that this year in their lives changed the women, but it wasn’t the end of their existence.

As for research. . . . I did a ton, but it was mostly from tertiary and secondary sources. I read a ton of Time Magazine and New York Times articles on aging and genetics. Most of what Amrit discusses in his sections is true, if not exactly scientifically accurate. I was struck by the idea when working on this book that so many of our myths and religions are directly connected to immortality and yet science knows so little about aging—which is the process working against immortality. If there is any part of this book that is explicitly addressing being Mormon, it is in those sections about aging (and of course the olive tree).

Theric: After finishing Roots, I read the promotional short story “Under the Olive Tree.” (Which I have since thought about as much as the novel.) One thing it emphasizes is the stories Anna tells in both fictions. And through the short story I went from enjoying and admiring the stories to really loving them. Honestly, I kind of wish you would write a full volume of them for the kids. And, you know, me. Even considered that?

Courtney: Anna continues to tell me her stories, and I tell them to my own children. If there’s ever a book of them, they’ll probably be written by my daughter.

Theric: I can’t imagine a better or more suitable answer to that question.

Well, Courtney. It’s been a pleasure. In the end, I enjoyed your book a great deal. Sure, I had some issues with pacing and this and that, but overall, I won’t be shy about recommending it. Before I let you go, what question should I have asked? Answer that one too.

Courtney: How about if I just give you an answer and you and everyone else can supply any question they want. It’s my 42 if you will.

Olives.

Theric interviews Courtney
part two: know when to say when, etc.

4.3.13 | | one comment

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In part one, we discussed the women of Courtney Miller Santo’s new novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree. Today we talk a bit more about writing. One thing we will not talk about is the symbolic weight of the olive tree in her fiction. I’m not sure we should let authorial intention muddy the waters on that one. Instead, just go get the novel and write your own essay on the subject. For now thought, let’s get back to the interview.

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Theric: One thing I find surprising about the less-enamored reviews of your novel is that they seem to be mostly griping that your story is too much like real life in that sometimes the sequence of events is not clear, sometimes events that seem important to an outsider don’t seem important to the characters, sometimes—most times?—threads don’t get tied off by the final page. Did you anticipate these complaints? What sort of discussions did you have with your readers and editors about the reality problem leading up to publication?

Courtney:  The question I get asked most often at book clubs and other events is “What happened in Australia?” Which, for those of you who haven’t read the book, has to do with a trip the women in the book take. I don’t go into that trip. When I was writing, it didn’t feel like a central part of the story. Everytime I tried to write it, it seemed to me like I was writing an episode of The Brady Bunch where they all go to Hawaii.

Theric: When you introduced an upcoming trip to Australia I almost dropped the book. I looked confusedly at the sliver of pages left and asked aloud how the heck you hoped to fit that in there.

Courtney: The women in this book belonged in Kidron and although the book flashes forward in the epilogue, it was truly supposed to be about the one year in these women’s lives that changed their relationships in an unalterable way. For me, the closure came in that every woman in the book got what she most wanted, even if didn’t work out. Now, I wish I had thought more about the unanswered questions because I feel that in many ways those are interesting questions and valid ones. This book went through many readers before it made it to my editor and none of them had a problem with the perceived importance of the events or the unanswered questions, however, I wish that they had brought it up. My editor, who is amazing, did at one point ask whether there should be an Australia chapter, but I convinced her otherwise.

So, the long answer is that I didn’t anticipate those objections and I wished I had. I heard Michael Chabon speak a few years ago and he said that all of his book are about the same topic—that is, they are all about what they failed to become. I agree whole heartedly with this sentiment. Every book is a failure because the process of writing is one of translation and it is imperfect. My hope is to get better at it, and those questions have made me more conscious of plot and loose ends in the second book.

I will say, however, that Roots is supposed to be true to life and I’ll never end a book where everyone gets what they want and everyone is happy. I think most great stories leave at least one character pissed (can I say pissed?) and that’s satisfying to me.

Theric: I teach mostly argumentative writing, but the point remains: unlike, say, an equation which can be solved, writing we just make as better as we can until we’re done with it. Then it’s on to the next project. Moving on is as important as perfecting.

Courtney: I agree. It is an imperfect medium and the best we can do is put the truth as we see it clearly on the page. Of course in teaching writing to my students, many of them think it comes out perfect the first time. I spend much of our classroom time convincing them that revision can be as beautiful as putting that first word on a blank page.

Theric: That drives me bananas about students. I don’t know if I’m comforted or horrified to hear MFA candidates behave the same way.

When Mormon circles were talking about the release of your book, the novel you were most compared to was Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth. Not hard to see why: you’re on record liking her book, she’s on record liking your book, you both write about generations of women. But I want to talk about another similarity.

Angela’s book is a novel-in-stories; yours could easily be described as a novel-in-novellas. Each of the five generations of women gets a turn being p-o-v. This building of story from stories is on my mind as I’ve just finished drafting a novella-in-stories, so I want to get into how you made your decisions—who goes first, for instance. Anna you put first—which I think was necessary as her existence is what makes the family remarkable—but I found her so compelling that Erin (whom I eventually liked quite a bit) was hard to get into at first. How did you work at balancing each character, to give her a compelling voice and story and raison d’être and the ability to compete with the four other women for my affections. I mean—my gosh!—way to make things harder on yourself!

Courtney: I believe deeply that the structure is as important to a novel as the content. In a truly great book, the structure echoes the content and amplifies it for the reader.

This is not to say Roots is a great book, but I did give much consideration to the structure. The first draft of the book had each of the women in order, but my teacher and mentor, Tom Russell, pointed out that I was unnecessarily restricting myself by adhering to genealogical order and chronological order. Once I started to move the sections around, I began to feel the women talking to each other in a way they hadn’t before. Because my goal was to try to reflect my own personal experience of finally connecting with my own mother once I heard my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s stories about her childhood and adolescence, I always wanted to tell this particular story from each woman’s point of view.

At the time I was reading Jonathan Ferris’s Then We Came To The End, which is written in collective first person and what I tried to do was use the various points of view of each woman to give the sense that they were individuals, but also they were a group.

Can I give a shout out to Angela? I read Bound on Earth my first year in the MFA program at Memphis and I felt like I’d been struck by lightning when I finished it. The book is exactly what I’d always hoped Mormon fiction could produce. It remains one of my favorites.

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Everyone loves Angela. How can we help ourselves! Tomorrow we’ll delve into family secrets and the growing science of immortality.

The link for part three will be live tomorrow.