Artists of the Restoration Part I: A Brief, Culture-Centric History of the LDS Church

3.2.15 | | 10 comments

Previously, I wrote about why I’m more interested in active LDS artists who are seeking to build Zion. I’d like to approach this topic from a different angle.

I sometimes rant against the main aesthetic and sociopolitical -isms of our age. I do so knowing full well that I am as caught in them as we all are and that the only way out is to build a substrate of faith and good works, protected by a continual renewing of covenants so that there’s something there when all else gets stripped away by the tragedies of mortality or the tumults of doubt or the relentless winds of daily life. But that knowledge does not stop me from squirming around in the grasp of the dominant discourses. What follows is a tentative bit of thinking resulting from such squirming in relation to some thoughts on what it might mean to be a restorationist artist. To begin: two (necessarily) reductive histories of cultural currents — one of the Church and the other of Western aesthetics.

PART I: THE LDS CHURCH

RESTORATION/SEPARATION

The restorationist era of the Church obviously begins with Joseph Smith. I think we can acknowledge that much of the thinking that goes into Joseph’s restorationist project was to be found elsewhere in the world while still believing that divine revelation was involved. We don’t believe in creation ex nihilo — why should we believe in it when it comes to metaphysics? In addition, if the Restoration as an idea was going to get any purchase at all, it would need to be different enough to be compelling but not so alien as to be incomprehensible. And, of course, it would need to happen in stages, in continuing revelation. Restoration brings with it the sense of something new that was old. A refreshing. A renewal. All the best from the past and the present and whatever our prophet can see of the future.  more

On the Mormon Vision of Language: Ministering Grace with Words

3.1.15 | | no comments

In this week’s ruminations, I springboard off an article about communication that appeared in the August 2013 Ensign and explore what it means to corrupt and to edify with words.

Thoughts? Sound off in the comments.

(Direct link to the audio file.)

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On the Mormon Vision of Language: Laying on Hands via Language

2.22.15 | | no comments

In which I springboard off a moment from Man of Steel and explore what it means to touch people with the products and processes of the mouth. Again, I mention some things that are specific to the course I’m teaching, but you should still get the gist of what I’m talking about.

Sound off in the comments.

(Direct link to the audio file.)

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I find active LDS artists more interesting

2.17.15 | | 13 comments

I generally believe in big tent Mormon culture (how that relates to the LDS Church is complicated and outside the scope of this post, but you can find hints of it in many of my other writing over the years). To me being part of the radical middle includes being willing to engage with work by artists who are no longer Mormon, or never were Mormon but are writing about Mormons. I’m also interested in Mormon artists who don’t actively engage with their Mormonism in their work. I’m a homer like that.

But I’m most interested in active LDS artists who are focused on settings, characters and/or thematics that are overtly or strongly thematically Mormon.

Let me be clear: I do not think there should be a litmus test on membership. And I respect the decision of artists who wish to remain quiet about their status in relation to the LDS Church (and acknowledge that there could be many reasons for that quiet). But my interest level goes up when an artist signals (publicly or privately) that they are actively engaged with their local congregation, actively working under assumptions of belief, and are struggling with the demands of consecration.

Why is this?

In part, it’s selfishness on my part. I know what I struggle with and delight in, and I want to feel like there are others like me out there in the world. I’m curious about how artists navigate the strange pathways of being an active LDS artist who engages with Mormon elements. I’m not a big believer in Mormon exceptionalism or, for that matter, artists’ exceptionalism. At the same time, I feel like it’s a unique experience that shares similarities with all the ongoing issues related to artists, faith communities, etc., but has some particularities that aren’t found in quite the same alloy elsewhere. That interests me.

But there’s another part: I feel like I know the narratives, preoccupations, arcs of the artists who leave their community to embrace the dominant modes of modern artistic discourse, who “go cosmopolitan”. I also know the paths of the parochial Saint who either stays in the mode that is pleasing to the Mormon market or goes national/international by downplaying their Mormonism. Again: I have and will continue to engage with all of those types of artists. But I’m also losing patience with them. They engage but don’t satisfy. And while they don’t always quite get it right (for me — responses to art are subjective), there’s nothing more satisfying than an artist who has craft, belief, humility and brings that all to bear on work that’s directly engaged with Mormonism. There’s new ground to be explored here. New things to discover.

And finally there’s this — and the more I’m engaged in this, the more it becomes the big reason: I’m interested in building Zion. I’m interested in building Zion in cooperation with the LDS Church and all those who are willing to live in covenant. I recognize the potential (and historical and present) pitfalls and tensions and failings. I recognize where I fall short in so many ways as well as where giving up on that would make some things a lot easier and my art maybe even “better” (or more acceptable). I also recognize where my/our potential audience falls short.

And yet given all that: I don’t care. I’m past feeling self-conscious about all that. I’m looking for Zion moments, Zion movements, Zion people, Zion artists. Where are the artists who are trying to hone their devotion and their craft and their service and their vision and their Mormonism into something that they can place on the altar, into something that will build Zion? I think they’re fascinating. And I want to be among them.

Notes from a 2015 Whitney Awards finalists judge

2.11.15 | | 12 comments

The book covers for the 2015 finalists in the historical fiction category of the Whitney AwardsThe finalists for the 2015 Whitney Awards were announced on Monday. I had a particular interest in the announcement this year because I was a finalists judge. My last participation with the Whitney Awards was back in 2009 when I was a member of the voting academy. For that, you try and read the finalists for each category and you can vote for each category that you complete (there were a lot less categories back then). Being a finalists judge is different. You read every book that was nominated (and remember that it only takes 5 nominations to be part of the nomination pool). It was an interesting process. I’m not sure that I want to repeat it. Then again, I’m not sure if I’ll be asked back. And then again, a few days ago, I would have said never again, and I’ve already warmed back up to “not sure”.

I was asked to be a judge in the historical fiction category. The organizers ask what categories you’d be willing to judge. I told them any of them (yes, even romance). And I meant it. I’m fairly widely read in all of the genres, especially a lot of the foundational texts of the various genre categories. Because I’m not sure if I’m going to do it again, and because even if I do, there’s no telling what category I might get (and because I’m not going to spill all the beans), I feel comfortable sharing a few things about the process.

On the Historical Fiction Finalists

I read every page of all of the nominees, finished the final title 48 (or so) hours before the deadline to submit the ballot and completed my voting more than 24 hours before deadline. Of the five finalists, three overlap with my top five. I’d say that’s pretty good. After the winners are announced, I will post my top 5 and which one I’d pick as the winner. more

On the Mormon Vision of Language: The Word, Him Who is the Advocate

2.8.15 | | 2 comments

After my hiatus, I’m back with more ramblings on re: language and Mormonism (and the language of Mormonism). This week I spend some time exploring a moment in LDS Church history when the Word stepped in to save the day (as, frankly, He will). I mention some things that are specific to the course I’m teaching, but you should still get the gist of what I’m talking about.

Sound off in the comments.

(Direct link to the audio file.)

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A quick thought on Boyd Petersen being named editor of Dialogue

1.29.15 | | 6 comments

While every fiction writer needs to have a strong internal drive to produce fiction, very few writers will finish and revise stories in a vacuum with no hope of reaching an audience. Literary markets create incentives to invest in the time and effort it takes to produce fiction.

Which is why I’m delighted that Boyd Jay Petersen has been named editor of Dialogue. There is no guarantee, of course, that he and his team will accept my work for publication. And I don’t know that I would have stopped if a different person had been named editor, but having a former president of the Association for Mormon Letters leading Dialogue, and, it specifically being Boyd, definitely amps up my interest in submitting and subscribing* to the journal.

I say amp up. I should say instead: maintain. Or: not diminish. Because Kristine L. Haglund’s editorship** is a key reason that I have continued to write Mormon fiction instead of focusing solely on mainstream SF&F/lit fic. Frankly, I still can’t believe that she published a 10,000 word, Mormon, near future, post-apocalyptic, second person POV story that I wrote. And I doubt that I would have written the straight up Mormon literary fiction story I wrote last fall without there being the slight possibility that Dialogue might be interested in it.

There’s no money in Mormon-themed short fiction. There is not much of an audience. But there is Dialogue‘s audience. Sure, much of the audience is more interested in the non-fiction. And yes, there’s also Sunstone. But when I’ve written Mormon fiction*** over the past few years, it’s been with Kristine and the Dialogue audience in mind. In fact, I don’t think that I would have even submitted to Dialogue if Kristine being appointed editor hadn’t caused me to take a closer look at the journal as a potential venue for my own work rather than just that place that publishes stuff by people I admire. Her editorship influenced my literary production.

So while I probably shouldn’t be creating competition for myself, I do hope that Boyd’s looming tenure will give a bit of a shot in the arm to all of you who write or desire to write Mormon short fiction and poetry. I’ve already decided that I need to write something this year so I have it ready to submit in 2016. I hadn’t planned on doing so. I’m delighted that I have now changed my mind.

*coincidentally, I actually subscribed for the first time a few days ago. I also gave them a $15 donation a couple of years ago because I discovered a PayPal account that had money it I had forgotten about and decided that that was the right place to redirect that discovery. I encourage you to not take after my bad example and become a more regular, active supporter than I have been.

**And that of fiction editor Heather Marx, which Kristine was gracious enough to remind of in the comments below.

***Or at least anything over 1,500 words. The Mormon Lit Blitz is awesome, but some stories require more words.