Tag Archives: Mormon Fiction

Questions for Margaret Blair Young

3.21.13 | | 8 comments

Salvador-202x300Recently, I sent Association for Mormon Letters President Margaret Blair Young a list of questions about her current projects with Darius Gray–a revision of their Standing on the Promises novel series and the feature film The Heart of Africaas well as her own work as a creative writer and AML president. Kindly, Margaret took time away from her busy schedule to answer them for me. 

I’ve split the Q&A into two parts. Answers to the questions relating to Standing on the Promises and The Heart of Africa will be featured on Modern Mormon Men sometime soon. Below are her answers to my questions about her earlier work, AML, and future projects.

NOTE: I plan to post the Q&A in its entirety on The Low-Tech World as soon as Modern Mormon Men runs the remainder of it.

Throughout your career as a writer, you’ve seemed to gravitate towards stories about marginalization within Mormon communities. For example, in your novel Salvador, your protagonist is a divorced Mormon woman who visits relatives who operate a fringe Mormon commune in Central America. Heresies of Nature centers around a character who has been severely debilitated by multiple sclerosis. What draws you to these stories? Why do Mormons need them?

What drew me to write Salvador?  My life.  You’d be surprised at how much of that is autobiographical.  Heresies of Nature?  My sister-in-law died of M.S.  I turned that novel into a play, and my sister passed away on opening night.  It was a remarkable experience for all of us.  My husband had already written a tribute to his sister on the playbill, so every audience member received that.  Cast members attended Nancy’s funeral, and Nancy’s nurses attended the play.  But obviously, I believe in dealing with hard issues.  If we don’t learn to deal with them, we will almost certainly lack empathy when others are hitting them.  We need to train our minds and magnify our faith as our children grow in this internet age.  They will come to us with questions to bridge what they learn in Sunday school and what they read online.  Our answers will need to reflect our knowledge and the example of who we are in this age and place of Mormonism; what we cling to as our essential and inviolate morality.  This is a dynamic religion.  We may still stand in holy places, even while acknowledging that many in the past became detached from their “better angels.”

Can you trace the DNA of your work as a fiction writer? Who has informed your work the most intellectually, stylistically?

My first influences were the classics, Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov being my first teachers.  And they were teachers.  I took Melville’s book with me to Guatemala and read it three times without anyone guiding me.The Brothers Karamazov was the first book I fell in love with.  It transformed me into a reader.  Before reading that, I cheated.  I read Cliff Notes.  Stylistically?  I read a lot of James Joyce, Alice Munro, Faulkner.  When I turned to Black history fifteen years ago, I read history books.  Seems like hundreds.  I find I’m actually more at home with historians now than I am with fiction writers.  A really good short story feels like dessert to me.

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Notes on Susa Young Gates’ John Stevens’ Courtship

1.12.13 | | 9 comments
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Susa Young Gates

This week I finished Susa Young Gates’ John Stevens’ Courtship: A Story of the Echo Canyon War (1909), one of the first Mormon novels. Below are some notes I drew up to gather my thoughts on the book, which I think is fairly typical of the kinds of fiction Mormons were producing at the time. A few things set it apart, though, and I try to highlight those aspects in my observations.

  • As best as I can tell, John Stevens’ Courtship is the first novel published in book form by Susa Young Gates, one of Brigham Young’s many daughters. It might also be the first novel published in book form by a Mormon woman, but I could be wrong. Earlier novels by Mormon women had been published before 1909, in serial form, including Emmeline B. Wells’ Hephizibah (1889) in The Woman’s Exponent and Gates’ The Little Missionary (1899) in the Juvenile Instructor.
  • It is probably the best example we have of early Mormon historical fiction. It certainly uses Mormon history in a way that compliments the narrative better than either Nephi Anderson’s Marcus King, Mormon (which is superficially historical) or John St. John (which is textbook historical). I imagine Gates’ models are the works of Walter Scott, E.D.E.N. Southworth, and their imitators. Here, the action of her characters play out against the pageantry and crises of the Utah War in a way that does not sacrifice character and plot development to the facts of history. In other words, I feel Gates allows the events, atmosphere, and attitudes of the Utah War to unfold through her characters’ stories rather than through pedantic narration. more

LDS fiction; Mormon fiction (part two)

10.21.08 | | 10 comments

In part one, I discussed the terms LDS and Mormon and why various sectors of the field of LDS/Mormon culture choose to self-identify with one term or the other or use both — either interchangeably or to mean different things. I also drew some very blurred, porous lines between LDS fiction and Mormon fiction.

I thing the best place to begin part two is with a brief, hastily sketched and probably wrong in places history of how Mormon fiction has been defined. Not the whole thing. But the field as it has developed to where it is at today. For a full history of Mormon literature up until the mid-90s, see Eugene England’s “Mormon Literature: Progress and Prospects.”

The field of Mormon fiction as we know it today really begins to take form in the 1970s. In the early ’70s, Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert created the anthology A Believing People and taught the first course in Mormon literature at BYU. In 1976, the Association for Mormon Letters was formed. Since that time the AML and the Mormon literature courses taught at BYU have been the main producers of work that is about the field of Mormon literature (along with contributions from Dialogue and Sunstone — often written by authors who are also involved in the AML). The AML defined Mormon literature (and thus by extension Mormon fiction) as literature by, for and/or about Mormons.

The AML has always taken a big tent approach to things, considering everything from works published by Deseret Book to Signature to national publishers and works by authors who are active LDS to non-LDS to Jack Mormons to cultural Mormons to those whose religious tradition comes from any one of the off-shoots of Joseph Smith’s prophetic ministry (Community of Christ, for example). However, it has also placed a priority on literary works (although the young adult and speculative fiction genres have always had a strong presence among the people involved and the awards handed out and papers presented by the AML).

There has been some dissent from this big-tent approach over the years. Most notably, Richard Crafcroft, who has pushed for a more LDS-oriented approach to Mormon literature. And, in fact, his main statement on the subject is an AML paper called “Attuning the Authentic Mormon Voice: Stemming the Sophic Tide in LDS Literature.” Note the use of “LDS” in the title. But note also that Cracroft expressed his opinions within the AML community. more

LDS fiction; Mormon fiction (part 1)

10.8.08 | | 23 comments

In one of the very early AMV posts, I wrote:

“Mormon artists” above refers to artists who seek to live a life of LDS orthodoxy. In keeping with the big tent definition of Mormon literature, A Motley Vision will, at other times, use the term “Mormon artists” in a broader sense to include those, for instance, who identify themselves as cultural Mormons but are not active LDS.

Since then I and my co-bloggers (and commenters) have used the term LDS on this blog 918 times; we have used Mormon 1,240 times (according to a Google site search). I haven’t analyzed my co-bloggers posts, but I tend to use the two terms almost-but-not-always interchangeably.

Others, however, don’t. One of the most interesting things to come out of the brouhaha over Angel Falling Softly over at LDS Publisher was the idea that LDS fiction is a genre unto itself. I’ll be honest: this label had never really occurred to me. Certainly, I was aware that Deseret Book and Covenant have certain standards (and sometimes double standards) when it comes to what they publish and sell, but it never occurred me to that the term “LDS fiction” applied only to works that would find their way on to the shelves of DB and Seagull. more

On the History of LDS Literature

8.21.08 | | 6 comments

In November 2005, I discovered, in a review of the Wikipedia article on Mormon Fiction, that the authors of the article thought Mormon Fiction essentially didn’t exist before 1979. Since I knew this wasn’t true, I corrected the article, and many others have added their own corrections and improvements. (I drew my information principally from Eugene England‘s Mormon Literature: Progress and Prospects, lest someone thinks I’m some kind of expert on the field.)

But last week I finished reading William’s graduate school paper (available in his July 31st post, Slowly Flowering: My grad school paper on Mormon literature), and I realized that I’m uncomfortable with the way that England has presented this history. I’m not sure it tells the whole story. And I’m not even completely sure that most literary histories tell the whole story.

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