Mormon narrative art: interesting — not serious

10.2.14 | | 43 comments

I’ve been following with equal parts hope and concern, the conversations on Dawning of a Brighter Day (see here and here) that are attempting to revive the Association for Mormon Letters. I have written a guest blog that should be appearing in that space soon that lays out my thoughts on the foundational stuff for the AML — mission and board structure/purpose.

I have many other thoughts as well, but the primary one that I want to address is the tension between literary fiction writers/readers/critics and genre writers/readers/critics. There are other important tensions that impact the AML, but this is a foundational one. And one that has the potential to foul things up considerably. It has already cropped in the comments to Theric’s post and was a contributor (although not the driving factor) to the creation of LDStorymakers and also to the Whitney Awards.

I use the terms literary and genre in the previous paragraph. I don’t like those terms. And neither do some of the people who get labeled with them. They have their uses, but they can be quite limiting. And some of the best works of Mormon narrative art completely break down when trying to categorize using that division.

One way to get around the use of “literary” is to deploy the related term “serious literature”. Serious just isn’t a very useful descriptor. And it’s insulting. As in: if someone using that term doesn’t include certain works in it then that by extension means that those works aren’t “serious.”

All creative work is serious (even, often especially, if it is humorous).

So what I propose is that as we think about what narrative art should get attention from the new AML, we use the word interesting. Not actually use it as a term, a label. But rather that that’s a* key metric for what works get attention.

The nice thing about interesting is that it doesn’t exclude genres and audiences. There are many ways that a work can be interesting in a way that fits with the AML. For example: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is not very interesting in terms of sentence level prose or overt Mormon content or use of poetic imagery or plot structure or narrative voice (all qualities that many people would file under the umbrella “literary” or “serious”). And yet it has received attention from LDS literary critics because it is interesting in terms of thematics, plot, reception among readers, including LDS readers, and reception among national reviewers/critics.

Stories can be interesting in many different ways and interesting in different ways to different audiences. But, at least in my experience, not every story is interesting enough to write about, talk about, receive consideration for awards, etc. So using interesting as a metric doesn’t mean that every single work get the same amount of attention. It simply means that the works that the AML engage with need to have aspects that stand out, that are worthy of taking notice and considering further. And that’s regardless of how “literary” or “serious” they may or may not be.

*There’s another key metric. But that is covered in my guest post for the AML.

Rectifying by Review: my take on Moriah Jovan’s Magdalene

9.9.14 | | 27 comments

When Magdalene was nominated to be considered by the Whitney committee for the 2011 awards, Jennie Hansen, a well-known LDS reviewer and writer, posted a review on Goodreads that caused quite a stir in our little LDS writing community. Her review was short and to the point. She wrote:

“Disjointed, sloppy writing. Lacks real knowledge of Mormons and leadership in the Church. Too much vulgarity for vulgarities sake makes this story crude and amateurish.”  If you are interested, you may read and/or comment on this review here. more

A Fifteen-Week Reading Course in the Mormon Novel

9.9.14 | | 12 comments

As I’ve been thinking about Tyler’s proposed online Mormon literature course(s), I’ve assembled my ideal schedule for a fifteen week reading course on the Mormon novel that could be shortened to ten weeks as needed. I’ve also included alternate texts that cover the same ground historically but focus on different themes and aesthetic approaches.

The schedule is a work in progress, but it seeks to cover as much ground as possible with works that–in my opinion–represent more or less what was happening (or not happening) in Mormon fiction at the time of their publication.

You’ll notice that I have generally left “genre” titles off the list. I did this not to be controversial, but rather to focus on a narrower understanding of the Mormon novel and show an evolution of approaches for portraying lived Mormon experiences. In some cases, I’ve also privileged more influential or historically significant books over better books from the same era as a way to give students a kind of fluency with texts that have had an impact on developments within the Mormon novel form. As a teacher, though, I’d encourage my students to read the alternate texts as well, either along with the primary texts or as an additional reading course.

Week One: Corianton by B. H. Roberts (serialized version)

Alternate: Hephzibah by Emmeline B. Wells

Week Two: Added Upon by Nephi Anderson

Alternate: John Stevens’ Courtship by Susa Young Gates

Week Three: Dorian by Nephi Anderson

Alternate: The Castle Builder or Piney Ridge Cottage by Nephi Anderson

Week Four: The Evening and the Morning by Virginia Sorensen

Alternate: The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple

Week Five: The Ordeal of Dudley Dean by Richard Scowcroft

Alternate: For Time and All Eternity by Paul Bailey

Week Six: Charley by Jack Weyland

Alternate: Charlie’s Monument by Blaine Yorgason

Week Seven: Summer Fire by Douglas Thayer

Alternate: Saints by Orson Scott Card

Week Eight: The Backslider by Levi S. Peterson

Alternate: ???

Week Nine: Sideways to the Sun by Linda Sillitoe

Alternate: Secrets Keep by Linda Sillitoe

Week Ten: And the Desert Shall Blossom by Phyllis Barber

Alternate: Pillar of Light by Gerald N. Lund

Week Eleven: Salvador by Margaret Blair Young

Alternate: Beyond the River by Michael Fillerup or Aspen Marooney by Levi S. Peterson

Week Twelve: The Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell

Alternate: Falling toward Heaven by John Bennion

Week Thirteen: Rift by Robert Todd Petersen

Alternate: The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Douglas Thayer

Week Fourteen: Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom

Alternate: The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth or A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

Week Fifteen: The Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck

Alternate: Byuck by Theric Jepson

 

Needing an Editor: a Review of Alfred Osmond’s Married Sweethearts

8.29.14 | | 2 comments

Alfred OsmondI think someone should read this old stuff and find out if it is any good.

There is a kind of “lost” Mormon literature, hundreds of works published before the 1970s that today even most of us who study our literature have never heard of, let alone read. Married Sweethearts (1928) clearly falls in this category. I’d heard of Osmond’s epic poem The Exiles (1926) and knew that he was a professor of English at BYU when I came across a note by Sam Taylor that mentioned Osmond’s novel (which I excerpted here). In that excerpt, Taylor had a poor opinion of Osmond’s work:

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Just a reminder

8.18.14 | | no comments

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If you’re in California or Arizona, Ben Abbott’s Questions of the Heart is only halfway through it’s tour and you’re still in its future.

It’s been getting great reviews as it goes and, to the best of my knowledge, remains the only bit of theater performed to acclaim in both LDS churches and gay bars.

Don’t miss it!

8/23 – Berkeley, CA

The Osher Studio
2055 Center Street

9/2 – 9/3 – San Luis Obispo, CA

Steynberg Gallery
1531 Montery Street

9/9 – Ventura, CA

Location TBA

9/11 – Los Angeles, CA

Location TBA

9/15 – Mesa, AZ

Location TBA

 

Some Considerations (and an Interest Gauge) for an Online Mormon Lit Course

8.18.14 | | 19 comments

Earlier this year, Kent posted about the potentially increasing demand for MoLit classes. I mentioned in response to Kent’s post that I thought “an open access, online Mormon lit is very doable and would be welcomed by many people” and that I would post some ideas for building such a course. Soon thereafter, I created a Google Doc and started an outline of questions to consider.

While I was prepping my fall semester courses (three first-year writing and one intro to lit: all online), looking around for ways to best take my courses into the wild (as it were), to build them outside of institutional walls, beyond the limits of learning management systems, that document came to mind. So I called it out of my Google Drive, updated it with some additional questions (including several I asked in response to Kent’s September 2012 post, “An Online Mormon Literature Course?“), and decided to (finally) public share it with AMV’s community. I’m doing so for two reasons: 1) to get some feedback on how potential course-users would like to see the course structured and delivered and 2) as an interest gauge to see how many people would participate in the course. I’d like to have your feedback and the interest gauged in the next fortnight or so. The next step would be—dare I say it?—to begin building the course. more

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous

8.15.14 | | 9 comments

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

Something I haven’t talked about in the main posts on this novel (question, answer) is the nature of the aliens invading Earth and just what makes them so dangerous that Earth needs saving.

Here are their physical details:

They’re pink (if you can see them—and only the person with the Thinker token can see them).

They are repelled by gravity.

They “inhabit . . . and move through solid substances, just as humans can move only through gaseous or liquid environments” (314).

So why are they here? Based on the evidence, Maisie hypothesizes that they

“. . . [take] over all the human body’s functions. After people are possessed by the aliens, it looks like they mostly spend their time eating and seeking out adrenaline rushes.”

“Seriously?” said Luther.

“They’re here to enjoy physical bodies,” said Wilder.

What’s so interesting when doing a Mormon reading of Dangerous? These aliens sound like someone we know. And where Maisie wants to send them also sounds familiar:

“I think if the ship isn’t nearby to suck them back in, the ghostmen would keep floating right out of Earth’s atmosphere into space’s vacuum, where they’d be helpless. That’s where we want them.” (324)

But sending that third to Outer Darkness isn’t just a fun Easter egg. Some more serious and immediate questions come out of it. For instance, when Maisie speaks with one of the ghosts through its human avatar, it poses an interesting—and brutally stated—question:

“So . . . you’re hijacking humans in order to eat apples.”

He shrugged.

“You’re destroying people, taking away lives.”

“Now, now, all we take is your shell.”

“But what if the flesh of our bodies is the extent of our matter? What if you take our bodies and there’s nothing left?”

He seemed to have never considered the possibility. “Why would such a creature matter at all?” (309)

This basic theo/philosophical question haunts Maisie through the rest of the novel. When she risks her death, she simply does not know if there will be anything left of her should she fail:

I was too conscious of my mortality, I guess. . . . Who knew if there was a part of me that never ended, like the ghostmen themselves? I’d . . . found [outer] space. Maybe there wasn’t anything else to find. (372)

Later, plummeting back to Earth and certain that she will die:

My stomach hurt . . . my head pained to cracking, my muscles so tense I wondered if my skin would split open. . . . All I knew was fear and panic.

. . . Even battling terror like being strangled in slow motion, I wanted to experience it. This was life, these few minutes were all that I had left. I didn’t want to die halfway down. I wanted every single second I had left. (379)

Maisie does not know if she will “be sucked up into a God-touched place . . . . Or . . . simply cease to be” and that feels like “a catastrophic hole in [her] education” (380), but she has decided that regardless, this moment of mortality matters and that every single second she has left is worthy of her full attention and shall give her experience—which shall be for her good—whether she lasts another ten seconds or the fulness of eternity.

Of course, Mormon cosmology posits that ETERNITY is the accurate description, but we are a practical people who feel that the temporal world is important and thus we should experience each ten seconds with the same vigor with which we imagine eventual rewards.

Something like Maisie Brown.

 

====Shannon Hales :: Dangerous====

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (intro)
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Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (post)
///// August 14, 2014 \\\\\

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous
///// August 15, 2014 \\\\\