A response to Rosalynde Welch’s critique of thematic Mormon literary criticism, part 1

Much of the response to Rosalynde’s Patheos column “Oxymormon: LDS Literary Fiction and the Problem of Genre” focused on a defense of genre. For example, several of the comments in the discussion of the piece at By Common Consent specifically reacted to the term “trashy genre fiction”, which Rosalynde used in the subhed to her piece. Many interesting and valid points were made, including Russell Arben Fox’s observation that we should look to Mormon culture for great genre writers rather than for Shakespeares*, but very little of what has been said thus far actually addresses the heart of her main contention, which is that there are major disadvantages to focusing on thematic Mormon literary criticism. In particular, she writes: “By emphasizing the religious themes of the literature at the expense of its textual form—its engagement with the rules of science fiction, or the conventions of the romance novel, or whatever — one can end up in the curious position of having developed a ‘Mormon aesthetic’ that has everything to do with Mormonism and nothing at all to do with art.”

This is a fair charge. Indeed the genre-ecumenicalism of the “literary” wing of Mormon literature as typified by the AML Awards and the fiction and poetry published in Dialogue and Irreantum expresses itself most often in a thematic way. That is, although any achievement of craftmanship by a Mormon writer has a shot of being published or awarded or reviewed or written about critically, it is much more likely to be so if it contains themes that have strong tie-ins to the Mormon worldview. There is a limit, of course, to the genre-ecumenicalism of this wing of the field — romance and thriller, for example, rarely get attention. Most of the genre works that do are mystery and, especially, speculative fiction. And part of the reason why is because of the ease in which the work’s themes can be tied in to Mormonism in a rich way. Continue reading “A response to Rosalynde Welch’s critique of thematic Mormon literary criticism, part 1”

Correlation, Top Tens and Ally Condie’s Matched

Warning: this is less a review than a piece of literary criticism. There be small spoilers ahead.

It is probably not surprising that so many of the nationally-published, succesful YA novels by Mormon authors are about agency — Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killler, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Not only is it a key component of Mormon theology, but it’s also really what YA is all about. One comes of age when one can learn to (or be freed to or free oneself to) make choices (and accept the consequences). But as intensely as the three titles I mention deal with agency, none of them are about it thematically as much as Ally Condie’s Matched. From the title, which refers to the fact that reproductive unions in Condie’s dystopia are arranged/assigned, and the front cover (which features a young woman in a bubble); to the back cover, which includes blurbs with words like free will, choice, rebellion and controlled; to, well, all all those pages in between this is a book about agency.

Condie intensifies the issue of agency by doing what all dystopias do: create a claustrophic, circumscribed, controlled society. A key component to that is the restriction of approved materials for consumption by the populace — or in other words: correlation. I use that term, of course, in the LDS sense to mean a system of education via approved materials that are consistent across the organziation (or in this case — the Society).

Continue reading “Correlation, Top Tens and Ally Condie’s Matched”

We are all MFAs now

Go to Slate and read MFA vs. NYC, which is an essay by Chad Harbach from the journal n+1. It draws heavily from the excellent, even tour-de-force work of literary criticism and history The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing ( Amazon ) by Mark McGurl, which we discussed a bit here at AMV as part of Th.’s Stephen Tuttle interview about the BYU MFA.

Some excellent points are made so are some overgeneralizations and deliberate provocateurisms. But taking the model seriously for a moment I’d like to ask a) are there any Mormon NYC writers of literary fiction? (It seems to me that — to borrow a phrase from Harbach —  “we are all MFAs now”) and b) would the better dichotomy for modern Mormon fiction be MFA vs. Speculative Fictionists?

My Whitney Awards ballot (and predictions)

First I wasn’t and then I was a Whitney Awards voter. I’m very glad that I hopped on the bandwagon — even if it did mean that my March was a blur of reading and even if I didn’t enjoy reading every single finalist. Before I get to my ballot, etc. a few pieces of housekeeping. Continue reading “My Whitney Awards ballot (and predictions)”

Electronic Publishing: an interview with Moriah Jovan, part I

AMV has already touched on electronic publishing in Theric’s post Those LDS Ladies of Indie Publishing and other comments here and there. Today, I bring back Moriah Jovan, one of “them LDS Ladies,” for a more in depth look at e-publishing. In Part I, MoJo provides an overview of the field plus an in-depth look at some of the e-publishing publishers and storefronts that are committing to the format. In Part II, we’ll take a closer look at the LDS market and some other issues.

BTW: the links below are to provide specific examples of e-publishing endeavors (which are very important at this early stage in the field’s development and a major part of why I approached MoJo with this interview request).  They do not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the editorial choices of the various publishers and booksellers.

Could you provide a brief overview of some of the key issues with electronic publishing with some links for people who want to do further reading?

Key issues:

1. Formats. Too many, with too many variables for too many devices, and no *real* universal format. EPUB is getting there, but I think PDB (eReader) is going to become a serious contender.

2. Devices: One-purpose device versus multipurpose device. Most people want one device to do it all. There are plenty of technopundits who disagree with me, but what’s attractive about lugging around a bunch of devices if your iPhone can do it all? Continue reading “Electronic Publishing: an interview with Moriah Jovan, part I”

Interview with John Brown, author of Servant of a Dark God

John Brown is yet another Mormon speculative fiction author success story. Servant of a Dark God was just published last week by Tor — the first in a trilogy by Brown that the science fiction and fantasy giant picked up. He lives in the NE corner of Utah with his wife and four daughters. More about John, including a rather entertaining bio, is available at his website JohnDBrown.com. John was kind enough to do an AMV Q&A even though he’s in the middle of a book tour.

Take us through a brief review of your writing career so far — how and why did you first begin writing speculative fiction and what led up to you signing a three-book deal with Tor?

It all started with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. When I was a teen I loved the Rankin/Bass Christmas animation specials and I decided I wanted to be an animator and tell stories. I even saved up and bought a movie camera and the blueprints for an animation stand. But my camera got crunched in a conveyor belt at the Athens, Greece airport. And I just never moved forward with those plans. Heck, I was a teenager. Continue reading “Interview with John Brown, author of Servant of a Dark God”

Short-short story: Sister Watson challenges the Elusieve Decapede

I had trouble sleeping last night and wasn’t in the mood for any serious writing in my head so I came up with a few phrases that then turned into a short-short story on the bus this morning. Fittingly, the only paper I had on me was a rather large LDS Church magazine renewal envelope that had been inserted into our September edition of the Ensign and was in my bag to remind me to do the renewal online. So I tore open the envelope and wrote on the blank inside and, yes, this is a first draft with a couple of edits done just now in WordPress, but I don’t see myself taking it further. It’s not much of a story, but it’s a first attempt at exploring some issues that I find fascinating and a little scary (and that I’m actually not all that worried about, because we’re decades away from them). ~Wm

The way she pressed on through his miasma of reluctance amused him even as he was baffled by her insistence that he must incorporate himself without delay for some outmoded buried alive ritual involving water and that it couldn’t wait for the next time he condescended to take on flesh (which would probably be never — 11 being a nice number to stop at) and yet he let her go on even though she was so annoying that he wanted to flick her away streaming layers of avatar behind her — send her packing back to her plane full of meatspacers with low budget rendering and didn’t the Mormons have money for better gear or maybe they had been too slow converting their physical holdings to virtual ones but he was too lazy to look it up and perhaps it took more resources than he thought to make their massive temple virtually unhackable (and my but how he still enjoyed that worn out joke — the only nostalgia he allowed himself these days) and maybe it would be amusing to toss a leg or two at it for another attempt and now he was kind of bored with the earnest tone and yet there was a certain gleam in her voice as though she though she thought she was getting through to him or maybe even making fun of him for letting his guard down and allowing her cheap filter buster to bring her through to his magestic presence because he was in a weird mood to see what the code would drag in and he even batted away a particularly nasty amoeba that had trailed in behind her and was about to swallow her and maybe he should just swallow her and really did they think that he was going to hand over ten percent of his processing power and didn’t she know that he had started religions with more adherents than the entire LDS — meatspace included — and yet he would like a peek inside that temple although maybe they hadn’t changed the ceremonies much since the last leak and still she rambled on and he could tell she thought this latest tactic was her ace in the hole but really why would he want to die on the off chance that he could become a god in some other ‘verse when he pretty much already was one.