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

2015 AML Conference: Everything you wanted to know about Mormon Literature (but were afraid to ask)

3.21.15 | | 4 comments

NOTE: James Goldberg has provided the following information about the AML Conference on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

AML Conference: Everything you wanted to know about Mormon Literature (but were afraid to ask)

First: get out your calendars: mark Saturday, March 28, 1-5 pm, as a time to go down to the Utah Valley University Library (rooms LI 515 and LI 516).

Now: Let me tell you why.

Since the late 1970s, the Association for Mormon Letters has been holding annual conferences. If you’ve ever been to an academic conference, you know the drill: organizers send out a call for papers, scholars try to say something specific enough to be new, and then sessions are scheduled. When the conference comes around, some speakers will hold their audiences rapt as they broaden their horizons or change the way they think about the field. Others do their best not to bore themselves to sleep.

The conference model works reasonably well for testing out new ideas in a field and spreading them to the relevant experts. But it’s less effective at introducing the big ideas: if you’re new, a conference takes you straight up to the newest leaves of knowledge without always bothering to show you which trees they’re on, let alone letting you see the forest.

This year, we want to remedy that. There are many people who get curious about Mormon Literature at some point in their lives, but “know not where to find it.” My friends: wait no longer. At this conference, we’re going to put off the long, carefully-footnoted papers for a moment and get straight to your questions. And we’re going to do it—through panels, live debates, a writing workshop, a poetry slam, and an awards ceremony—over the course of a single afternoon.

Here’s a sampling of questions the conference will respond to:

Do interesting Mormon books exist? Where can I find them?

This is the question I’ve heard most about Mormon Lit. People who’ve never tried to read a Mormon novel or play or poetry collection often ask it with a skeptical intonation. As if to say: “I’ve heard Michael McLean. Isn’t that enough?”

People who have just read a Mormon book they liked for the first time tend to ask me the same question, but with a different intonation. Like: “is there more of this stuff hiding from me somewhere?”

Whether you’re still looking for your first love connection with a Mormon book or hoping to add to a long list of must-reads, you might want to go to “My Favorite Mormon Book—And Why It Matters.” We’ll open with a panel featuring the likes of Freetown screenwriter Melissa Leilani Larson, YA critic Glenn Gordon, historian Ardis Parshall, and poet Lance Larsen giving you the personal stories behind their reading recommendations, and then take recommendations from the audience.

You might also want to stick around for the 2014 AML Awards Ceremony, where we’ll unveil which works made it off this year’s short lists and onto the pages of Mormon Lit memory as outstanding titles in their genres.

What sort of people get into Mormon Lit? And what are they trying to accomplish?

For a practical guide to the landscape, we’re offering a panel, led by Katherine Morris of Mormon Artist, called “The Mormon Lit Scene Today” with a discussion of the publishers, events, awards, interest groups, and online spaces that make up the Mormon Lit scene in 2015.

For a deeper look into what Mormon writers want, you might want to check out the debate between Stephen Carter of Sunstone and James Goldberg of the Mormon Lit Blitz over the question “What Is the Role of the Mormon Writer in the Mormon Community?”

What’s the future of Mormon Lit? Where do things go from here to the Mormon Shakespeare? And what about flying cars? When will we get flying cars?

So…you want to see the future? Consider attending the debate between the incomparable Eric Samuelsen and the unforgettable Orson F. Whitney* over what Mormon Lit needs now to reach the next level of awesome in the near future.

You might also want to attend the conference’s poetry slam, organized by Fire in the Pasture editor Tyler Chadwick, to see the future up on its feet. Or else learn to be the future you want to see in Mormon Lit through a writing workshop from a few of the geniuses who run Segullah.

The Schedule:

12:30: Free registration opens, mingling begins

1 pm: Carter vs. Goldberg Debate / “The Mormon Lit Scene Today”

2 pm: Writing Workshop / Samuelsen vs. Whitney* Debate

3 pm: “My Favorite Mormon Book” / Poetry Slam

4 pm: Announcement of Annual AML Award Winners

*Update: It has come to the attention of the conference organizers that Orson F. Whitney died in 1931 and will thus be unable to attend the conference in corporeal form. Eric Samuelsen remains committed to a public debate, but his replacement opponent and the topic are once again TBD.

UVU Lecture, AML Conference next week

3.19.15 | | no comments

Two events  will take place next week (the week of March 23) that are of interest to Mormon literature fans who live in or can travel to the Provo-Orem area:

2015 Eugene England Memorial Lecture

WHEN: Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m.
WHERE: the Utah Valley University Library Lecture hall (LI 120)
WHO: Robert A. Rees who will speak on “Reimagining Restoration: Why Liberalism is the Ultimate Flowering of Mormonism.”

Robert Rees currently teaches at the Graduate Theological Union and University of California at Berkeley and is co-founder of the Liahona Children’s Foundation. Dr. Rees is an scholar, author, and poet, and a voice of reason and compassion in Mormon Studies for almost fifty years. He he served as the second editor, following Eugene England, for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought from 1971-1976 and coedited with England the Reader’s Book of Mormon. He also edited Proving Contraries: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England.

Association for Mormon Letters Annual Conference

WHEN: Saturday, March 28, 1-5 p.m.
WHERE: Utah Valley University Library (see signage for exact rooms)
WHO: A whole bunch of people. There will be a writing workshop featuring writers/editors from Segullah; a poetry slam organized by Tyler Chadwick; possibly a debate on the topic “What Is the Role of the Mormon Writer in the Mormon Community?”; a panel on the Mormon Lit scene today, etc. And the AML award winners will be announced. The schedule is still coming together, but from what little I’ve seen of the discussion of what it will be and who will be involved, it’s going to be well worth devoting a Saturday afternoon to.

Flowers of Grace: a conversation with Teresa Hirst

3.16.15 | | no comments

Flowers of Grace, Mormon writer Teresa Hirst’s first work of fiction, was published last month. Here’s the basic pitch for it: “Set in an upscale St. Louis boutique amid a fragile economic climate when retail customers are trading brick and mortar stores for online shopping, Flowers of Grace is a story of love and loss, friendship and forgiveness.”

There is no specifically Mormon content to it, but it interested me thematically so I figured the best way to approach things was to have an email conversation with Teresa about it.

Teresa lives in Minnesota with her husband and children. She has worked for a newspaper, in public relations, and as a freelance writer and editor. Her nonfiction book Twelve Stones to Remember Him: Building Memorials of Faith from Financial Crisis was published by Walnut Springs Press in January 2014. And for a short while, she and I had LDS Public Affairs callings here in Minnesota at the same time.

My part of the conversation is in bold. You can learn more about the novel and Teresa at her author website.

As you began to outline/write the first draft of Flowers of Grace, what were the themes, images, characters that were most insistently inserting themselves into the process? Do you have any idea why they were on your mind?

Your question took me to a gray three-inch binder which houses the early workings of Flowers of Grace. In this crush of papers (they are not all neatly tucked into the three rings) I discovered several clues to answer your question including one of the first pages from my writing process. On this paper, I have the names of three women characters at three stages of life with a collection of words surrounding them that describe their personality, goals, weaknesses. The pencil marks, different colors of ink and stains on the page show that I collected these over time. The second clue was a handful of cards with names of secondary characters with similar character development. These reveal to me, as they most likely propelled me forward then, that this work would be a character-driven novel with the plot developing out of their relationships. All but one were women. As I began to put them together, I could sense the tangle of divisiveness that often occurs in a setting of women as well as the strength that can also develop. These opposing love/hate relationships among women pressed upon my own story. I also found clues to another theme that was inserting itself into the process. My main character’s name, Grace, was different in these original scribbles. Although my intent was not to introduce a spiritual theme, somewhere along the way, in this collection of dynamic personalities, I had added a copy of words to a song written by Patricia Holland called “A Woman of Grace”. There is a phrase in the song, “A woman of grace knowing God compensates.” Before I knew how this mesh of both internal struggles and external conflict would end for the main character, I knew I would change her name to Grace. more