Tag Archives: angela hallstrom

Miltons & Shakespeares: a new direction

3.31.14 | | 5 comments

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“We will yet have
Miltons and Shakespeares
of our own.”
Orson F. Whitney
Salt Lake City, Utah
June 3, 1888

“The Mormon Shakespeare
is Shakespeare.”
Terryl L. Givens
Oakland, California
March 29, 2014

Givens was speaking of the Mormon tradition of welcoming truth from all quarters, and specifically referencing something his wife had said earlier in the evening about the Lord recommending to the Saints the works of other wise men in the world. I imagine you can get the details and specific quotations I failed to jot down in their forthcoming book Crucible of Doubt.

Onto Shakespeare who, as Nick Hornby reminds me, wrote for money. Milton, meanwhile, held down a sequence of non-iambic jobs that kept him pretty busy.

Allow me now therefore to suggest a new way of looking at Whitney’s thought. He did, after all, preface his famous line by saying “They [the great writers of the past] cannot be reproduced.” So perhaps looking for a Mormon to “be” Milton or to “be” Shakespeare may be simply wrong wrong wrong.

Also, I’m a little tired of the Orson Scott Card model being promoted over the Darin Cozzens model, or the Angela Hallstrom model being promoted over the Heather B. Moore model. Why should writing that is designed to be commercial be valued greater or lesser than writing that exists without such concerns? Shakespeare and Milton were both great writers, both changed literature, both still matter today.

So maybe instead of stressing about the Whitney prophecy and instead of arguing over whose writing goals are more worthy, we can smile kindly and say, well, Shakespeare (or Milton), good luck out there. I’m glad someone’s writing Hamlet (or Paradise Lost) while I’m working on Lycidas (or Lear). Together we’re making a literature for our people. And it’s going to be awesome.

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.

Irreantum 2010 Charlotte and Eugene England Personal Essay Contest Winners

9.6.10 | | no comments

Another AML news item:

The Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to announce the winners of the
2010 Charlotte and Eugene England Personal Essay contest. A committee of
judges considered 47 entries and awarded three cash prizes as well as an
honorable mention.

more

Mormons and Monsters: Musing upon one point of editing

4.21.10 | | 23 comments

M&M.

In editing The Fob Bible, I ignored any agony at including my own work. The constraints of the anthology demanded it. With Monsters and Mormons, I was planning on stepping aside and not filling any pages with my own writing. After all, I have generally found it rather obnoxious when editors include their own work. The first time I remember thinking this was reading a humor collection edited by Louis Untermeyer  (Amazon). The book, he claimed, contained only the best work from the English-speaking world’s funniest writers. And then he included himself. So I judged him by his own standard (only twice as hard) and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since. And I’ve read enough anthologies now to know that 75% of the time, the editor’s stories show—not surprisingly—the least editing. more

Why my not liking “Blood Work” means you should buy Dispensation

4.19.10 | | 7 comments

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If you know anything about Angela Hallstrom, you should know that she is a person of taste and a keen parser of literariness.

And if you followed my Twitter reviews of her new short story collection (archived here–scroll up for the key), then you know that I did not feel equally positive about every story she collected. In fact, some I didn’t really care for at all. But not liking a story in a collection–or even several stories–is a far cry from disliking a collection.

Let me explain. more

Angela Hallstrom and the Art of Short-Story Arrangement

4.14.10 | | 9 comments

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This is the third and final entry in this series. The first part of our interview was about Ms Hallstom’s novel-in-stories Bound on Earth. The second was about her editorship of the literary journal Irreantum. This third portion is about the short-story collection, Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction, that she edited for Zarahemla Books (review).

Dispensation:Latter-day Fiction

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Let’s start with what criteria a story had to meet to even be considered for inclusion. What were the ground rules going in to this anthology? more

Angela Hallstrom and the Art of Short-Story Arrangement

12.10.09 | | 2 comments

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This is the second in a series. The first part of our interview was about Ms Hallstom’s novel-in-stories Bound on Earth. This is about her editorship of the literary journal Irreantum. The third part, on the short-story collection she mentions below, will appear in A Motley Vision next year.

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Describe what you see in submissions. Do you have plenty of work to choose from? Not enough? (You might mention the contest as well, how that plays in.)

We receive more submissions in some genres than others, and I think this has a lot to do with our contests. Over the last three or four years, we’ve received a pretty healthy number of submissions to our fiction contest. Each year we receive between 60-100 submissions, so that leaves us a lot to choose from and allows us to select the best-of-the-best.  It’s interesting, though, how the quality of submissions waxes and wanes: some years, we have so many good stories that we wish we could give a cash award to more than first, second, and third place; other years, the committee struggles to come to a consensus on which stories deserve a cash award.  Generally speaking, though, there are usually between 12-15 stories each year that are worthy of serious consideration, which is a good number.

The England Essay contest is newer and not as well-known as the fiction contest, but last year we received over 40 submissions, and I was extremely pleased with the quality of essays we received.  We could still use a lot more in the way of poetry and would love to see more unsolicited critical essays and reviews.

 

How much autonomy do you have as editor? more