His Right Hand (the conflicted review)

12.29.15 | | 5 comments

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Not so many pages into my reading of Mette Ivie Harrison’s new sequel to The Bishop’s WifeHis Right Hand, I decided I was going to write two reviews of this novel: His Right Hand — The Positive Review and His Right Hand — The Negative Review. I wasn’t sure which I would publish first vs which I would let sit on top, but it seemed like a good method to praise what I like and discuss directly what I don’t.

But I can’t write those reviews. By the time I reached the end of the novel, I’d realized that the good and the bad of the Linda Wallheim mysteries are too interwoven to cleanly separate. My concern, however, is that by interweaving them I will be giving the negative more weight. We’ll see how it goes. Ready? more

Is There a Distinctive Mormon Literary Esthetic? Part Two

12.17.15 | | 6 comments

In my last installment, I mentioned my skepticism about a Mormon literary esthetic. I’ll start this round by explaining in more detail my reasons for that skepticism.

Differing values are relatively easy to come by. Differing stylistic preferences likewise. What group doesn’t vary within itself — often widely — in the personal styles of its members? Within my own immediate family, there are those who are melodramatic and those who are reserved; those who crave excitement and those who prefer contemplation; those with a taste for the subtle and those who like the blatant. (But no one who likes rap.)

A distinctive group esthetic is a rather taller order to fill. A distinctive esthetic, it seems to me, extends beyond differing preferences to become almost a different symbolic language, where words and phrases and characters and stories mean something different to those inside the group than they can ever possibly mean to those outside the group. Outsiders, by and large, don’t “get it.”

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Is There a Distinctive Mormon Literary Esthetic? Part One

12.14.15 | | 2 comments

I feel pretty confident in asserting, without further evidence, that I find myself in a relatively small number of people who wake up on a Saturday morning thinking about questions of Mormon literary criticism. Possibly almost as small a number as those who might read the fruits of such questioning. (But only possibly.) Still, it is the nature of the essayist to find oneself compelled to write. And so…

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Throughout most of Mormonism’s literary history (such as it is), there has I think been little evidence of Mormons taking pleasure in or valuing a different kind of literary experience than what is valued in larger (mostly American) culture. Home literature, missionary fiction, lost generation fiction, faithful Mormon realism — all find close corollaries and even direct models in the larger writing universe.

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Extended Deadline: Mormon LitCrit Anthology

12.2.15 | | one comment

The deadline for submission to my new anthology of essays on Mormon literature was yesterday, but I am extending the deadline to the end of the year. I received several promising submissions, but I sense that some people either missed the original CFP and need more time to submit their work.

For the benefit of those who are just now hearing about this project, here is the original announcement:

Next year marks the twentieth anniversary of Eugene England and Lavina Fielding Anderson’s Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature. As the first anthology of Mormon literary criticism, it was an important step forward in the development of Mormon literary studies and served a generation of scholars well.

Unfortunately, while the essays in Tending the Garden remain useful, the volume itself has become outdated. Over the last two decades, Mormon literature and literary studies have evolved in surprising ways, thanks in part to the ongoing efforts of the Association for Mormon Letters and the rise of the internet. Indeed, as foretold by Lavina Fielding Anderson in her preface to Tending the Garden, the internet has allowed discussions of Mormon literature to extend beyond the borders of the Wasatch Front, introducing fresh insights and enabling a more global understanding of Mormon literature. Moreover, it has allowed scholars, authors, and enthusiasts of Mormon literature from around the world to feel a sense of community and engage actively in the ongoing development of Mormon literature and Mormon literary studies.

In light of recent anthologies of short Mormon fiction, Mormon poetry, and Mormon drama, I am putting together a new anthology of Mormon literary theory and criticism to be published by Peculiar Pages. The first part of the anthology will collect essays from the last twenty years about theoretical and practical approaches to writing and analyzing Mormon literature, while the second part will collect essays from the same time period about specific Mormon texts or literary trends.

To find these essays, I will be going through back issues of the AML Annual, Irreantum, DialogueSunstone, and other periodicals that have published on Mormon literature. I will likewise be drawing from blogs like A Motley Vision and Dawning of a Brighter Day for significant posts that have advanced our understanding of the field. However, I am also extending a call for papers to gather any previously published or unpublished material that may be out there.

Essay submissions should address Mormon literature and be no longer than 10,000 words. The collection seeks to examine Mormon literature broadly, so essays about literary works by or about Mormons will be considered, even if the literary works themselves have no overt Mormon content. For a submission to receive full consideration, however, it should approach these works as Mormon literature or expressions of Mormon thought.

Send inquiries and submissions to scotthales80(at)gmail(dot)com.

Again, the revised deadline in January 1, 2016.

 

Elizabeth C. Garcia’s Stunt Double: A Review

11.10.15 | | no comments

Elizabeth C. Garcia’s new chapbook Stunt Double (Finishing Line Press, 2015) is a strong contribution to the field of Mormon poetry. While not overtly Mormon in content, it addresses many of the themes and preoccupations—social and theological—that Mormons grapple with regularly. Specifically, Garcia’s poems display an obsession with the internal landscape of family dynamics, foregrounding intricate ties that bind parents to each other and their children. Often, Mormons speak of interest in these ties as the “Spirit of Elijah,” or the turning of generational hearts to each other. While this “spirit” is usually associated with genealogical work, Garcia’s poems show how the it can manifest itself as we seek to understand the nature of family, generations, and the lived, enduring consequences of human relationships.

We see this happen, always subtly, in most poems in the collection. In “Leaving California,” a poem Garcia dedicates to her mother, we see how something as simple as a cross-country move accentuates the cost of family life on the individual:

She bundled up her baby, all her mother things, her books,

till the blue wagon was full. Her husband drove the whole way,

 

so she watched the desert, how it stood still for minutes

at a time, only moved when she wasn’t looking, like her life,

 

plucked,             because he had a dream:

they would live in Georgia, where she knew no one,

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Parsing the “Mormon” in Mormon Literature

11.9.15 | | 7 comments

Ever since Scott Hales announced his plans to edit a new anthology of Mormon literary criticism, I’ve been thinking off and on about my own past grapplings with Mormon literature and where I’d want to take them — had I world enough, time, money, and the requisite academic chops. What follows isn’t that essay, but comes about as close as I can manage at present. Consider this my submission!

Why do or should we — as readers, writers, and/or literary critics — care about whether a text is Mormon? Potential reasons are legion, as varied as readers themselves. Among the most typical and (it seems to me) important are the following:

  • To understand Mormonism better — as a culture, religion, historical movement, or what have you
  • To investigate specific elements of Mormon experience, thought, and culture through literary works
  • To explore the purpose(s) and role(s) of literature in Mormon experience and worldview
  • To articulate ways that literature has influenced Mormonism
  • As a test case to investigate the interrelationships of literature and religion, literature and identity, literature and culture, and a host of other potential intersections
  • To understand better particular literary works that incorporate manifestly Mormon elements
  • To assert our own membership (or non-membership) in the Mormon community
  • To explore what it means to be Mormon and a reader, Mormon and a writer, or Mormon and a critic
  • To seek out and encourage literature we think is worthwhile, in whatever particular relationship to Mormonism we endorse: celebratory, investigatory, critical, or other1

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On subtlety, briefly

11.4.15 | | 10 comments

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Earlier this week Slate published an article which declared that subtlety sucks and it’s time for more heavy-handed art. I’m not going to address the nuances of this argument (besides, others are already kicking back), but I have been thinking about this, largely for work-in-progress reasons (which will be #2 in the following list). more

Call for Submissions: Mormon Alternate History Anthology

10.29.15 | | 12 comments

Submissions are now open for the Mormon alternate history anthology I am editing and publishing with the help of Theric Jepson of Peculiar Pages . Details are below but the gist is: submit flash fiction (<2500 words) and short stories (3000-6000 words) that fit the theme by March 19, 2016. Payment will be a token amount ($15 for the short pieces; $25 for the longer ones), but it will be actual payment for Mormon short fiction, which is, sadly, all too rare a thing.

Before we get to all the mechanics, though, let me explain why I want to put together this particular anthology at this time:

1. It’s been 4 years since we published Monsters & Mormons. It’s time for me to put the editor of Mormon fiction hat on again.

2. About 40 of you very nice people purchased a copy of my Mormon short story collection, which means I have a little over $150 to re-invest in the Mormon lit community (and by the time I’m ready to pay contributors sales may even cover the entire $225-250 budget I have for the anthology).

3. While there is lovely Mormon fiction and poetry being published, history remains the dominant narrative form in Mormon Studies. I want to put Mormon fiction writers in dialogue with that (and mess with it a bit too, of course). And I also like that alternate history is a place where I think both genre and literary fiction writers can do good, interesting work.

4. For all that Mormonism has changed vastly since the end of WWII — becoming more international, more diverse, higher profile, and larger in scale — its basic form and status hasn’t actually changed all that much. We are still very much in the correlated/internationalized/North America-centered/middle-class-centered mode. Certainly technology and society has changed quite a bit, but the Boomer, GenX and Millennial* Mormon experience is not as dramatically different as the earlier periods of our history are from each other. This concerns me because I suspect that we are moving into an era where Mormonism will be more different from the current now than the current now is from the past four decades. I believe that Mormon alternate history is a genre that can (and should) be of interest right now among the Mormon audience because it helps us realize that our beliefs and policies, our ways of worship and community, our formal and informal social and economic structures are not set in stone for all time. If transitions are coming then it might be useful to understand that how current Mormonism exists in the world isn’t how it always has been or needed to be. It also helps us experience other ways of being Mormons and of being Mormons in relation to the rest of society.

5. Most importantly, alternate history is simply an interesting way of exploring the Mormon experience. There’s a vast storehouse of events, characters, documents, decisions, doctrines, and experiences that make up the past 195 years of Mormonism. Let’s use that storehouse to increase the small but important storehouse of Mormon fiction.

SUBMISSIONS INSTRUCTIONS

Email submissions as an attachment in .rtf, .doc or .docx format to submissions AT motleyvision DOT org. In the subject line put either [FLASH] TITLE OF STORY or [SHORT STORY] TITLE OF STORY. See below for word counts for flash and short story submissions.

In the body of the email include your name, mailing address** and any biographical info or writing credits that relate to the story and/or Mormon fiction and/or your career as a writer. If available, include a link to a blog, website, online resume/works published page, twitter account — anything that will provide some context to your work. A brief note on the key historical events, facts, books, journal articles or other sources that informed the story is welcome but not required.

Pseudonyms are discouraged, but will be allowed for special circumstances — please include that consideration in your e-mail if you would like it.

Deadline: March 19, 2016 (at midnight Pacific Time)

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR   

SHORT STORIES: Must be between 3,000 and 6,000 words. And I will be enforcing those parameters (although I will give a wee bit of latitude because different programs can produce slightly different word counts). I realize that it’s hard to conjure up an alternate fiction world in such a short amount of space. It’s also a delicious, fun challenge.

FLASH PIECES: Must be 2,500 words or less. While a well-crafted piece of flash fiction is always welcome, for these I highly recommend choosing a non-short story form. By that I mean creating a text that reveals the alternate condition of Mormonism in your timeline by masquerading as being from that timeline. This could mean a: newspaper or magazine article, letter(s), telegram(s), trial transcript, hymn/popular song, excerpt from a play or opera libretto, government report, deposition, journal entry, feuilleton, field notes, sermon, lecture, review, bibliography/table of contents, ship manifest, menu, gossip column, news reel or silent film transcript, etc.     

ALSO: No reprints. No chapters from novels. You may have something already written that would be a good fit, but I think it’s quite likely that you’ll better your chances of catching my eye by writing something specifically for the anthology.

Text only. No graphic novels this time (sorry — love them, but they’re not the right fit for this project).

I plan on selecting 5 or 6 short stories and 7 or 8 pieces of flash fiction for the anthology.  Submissions should be of interest to the Mormon audience. Just like with Monsters & Mormons, content should not exceed PG-13 in terms of violence, language and sexuality.

Work from writers who are non-LDS, women, international Mormons and Mormons from diverse backgrounds are highly encouraged. New writers are also welcome.

While Monsters & Mormon slanted more pulp, I expect this anthology to slant more literary, although, of course, the most important thing is that you write an excellent story with well-crafted prose that has an interesting Mormon alternate history concept and as rich world building and characterization as can be accomplished within the space limitations.

About that concept: for this anthology the alternate history must be post-1800 (no Book of Mormon stuff) and pre-2020 (so no alternate history science fiction) and Mormonism must be central to the story even if it is dealt with in a subtle or oblique manner. Restoration and Pioneer era stories are very welcome, but I’m also very interested in stories from alternate 20th centuries.

Any fantastical elements must be within the realm of Mormon worldview/doctrine/folk doctrine and of alt-history science, physics and engineering. The use of well-known figures from Mormon and world history is fine. It can also get a bit gimmicky if you’re not careful.

And while it may be tempting to get a little didactic with the concept or the characters, stories that are overtly Utopian/Dystopian or have political or theological axes to grind probably won’t land well with me. So if you’re trying to make a point, make sure the art and craft of the story complicates it. Or even better: let the extrapolation of your alternate timeline jumping off point be the primary driver of your thinking and writing.

OTHER INFORMATION

Title: TBD
Publisher: Peculiar Pages (just like Monsters & Mormons)
Editor: William Morris
Length: 30,000 to 60,000 words
Publication: Fall 2016 (likely September or October)
Format: ebook only (we are considering crowd funding an expanded print version but a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen)
Booksellers: Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Nook (Barnes & Noble); we’ll also consider other online vendors and direct sales

Rights & Payment: Worldwide English exclusive for 10 months from date of publication. We’ll be using a modified version of the SFWA contract. As mentioned above payment will be $15 for flash fiction and $25 for short stories. Should net profits from sales of the anthology exceed my and Theric’s monetary investment in it, there is the potential for royalty payments for the authors (but that’s a small potential — based on our knowledge of the Mormon market for short fiction this anthology will likely come in at a loss or [cross your fingers] as a break-even venture). All of this will be spelled out in the contract. The crowd funded, expanded print anthology will be a separate contract and payment should it come to pass.

That’s all I have. There will be more posts in the future with potential ideas and resources and further reading. Now: what questions do you have for me? If you prefer not to post them in the comments below, contact me at the submissions email listed above or on Twitter @motleyvision.

*Heh

**This is so if you are selected for the anthology, I don’t have to send out a batch of emails asking where to send the check and a signed copy of the contact. If you don’t feel comfortable with me having your mailing address then include an additional, reliable way of contacting you (as in: an alternate email address, a number you can be texted at, a twitter handle, etc.).