Evangelizing Mormon Lit: How to Lure the Audience Out of Its Shell

Part One: The Prospective Audience

Let me begin with the man Josh Allen bought a used car from, who “missed the literary discussions and the focus on critical thinking he received as part of his education [and] expressed longing for a venue which could fill that void.” Let me add the tax accountant in my ward who curls up with a good book while his wife watches sports, as well as your book-hungry LDS grandma, if you have the good fortune to have such a woman in your life. And while I’m at it, let me throw in the young woman who you saw slipping a library book out of her scripture case one sacrament meeting and the nerdy institute students who insist on using complete sentences and punctuation when they text.

Add to these the late adolescent Latter-day Saint in India trying to negotiate an identity as a member of a “cult” church within an already controversial Christian minority, the Molly Mormon girl in urban California who’d taken tons of flack for her “conservative” identity even before Prop 8, or the European member who, due to a mistranslation in the Harrison Ford movie Witness, constantly finds himself explaining he is not Amish.

You and I and Josh Allen have surely all caught ourselves thinking that there’s more of a place for quality Mormon literature in all these people’s lives than is currently being filled. Surely the Mormon who loves to talk about the gospel and loves to talk about literature would also love to talk about Mormon literature. And perhaps the right literature could help many Latter-day Saints feel more comfortable and confident in their embattled identities.

It seems mathematically self-evident that out of fourteen million Latter-day Saints, there must be at least fourteen thousand who might make up a sort of Mormon book club audience—people who want to read things they can discuss, debate, relate to and reject as they please, who would search for new depths of works that deal with religiously committed life as they know it, that speak in (and offer new possibilities for) their Mormon language.

So where are these fourteen thousand or more? And how do we convert their vague longings into concrete investment of their time and attention into Mormon letters?

Part Two: Why the Audience is Hiding in Its Shell

My guess is this: these people are hiding. Why are they hiding? Because they don’t feel safe to come out and talk. What makes them feel unsafe? The rock and the hard place.

The rock is the constant threat of attack to the core of one’s Mormon identity. Readers are scared that if they stick their necks out of their shells to read, writers will attack them for being orthodox Mormons. Or else they’ll attack the things that make orthodox Mormon life beautiful. A sense of the sacred. Honor for and loyalty to certain authority figures. Belief in the spiritual. Values of family, sexual morality, and certain rhythms of life.

From an academic standpoint, of course, writers who want to ridicule Mormon life (or simply critique it based on the values of the liberal secular culture they feel most comfortable in) are one color in the rainbow of possible Mormon voices. But to the everyday Mormon reader, early encounters with these voices may well register anywhere from mildly emotionally disturbing to deeply discouraging to existentially threatening.

For reasons of emotional self-preservation, I think many everyday Mormon readers would prefer to avoid encounters with voices that attack them—voices that rhetorically position themselves as anti-church. If the choice is between getting their values attacked and avoiding Mormon Lit, I think most potential audience members will stick to what’s safe and avoid Mormon Lit.

I am not the first, of course, to talk about the rock. It’s essentially the left in Eugene England’s “Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left!” Since it also sounds a lot like a broader culture that is often perceived as hostile, audiences have all the more reason to hide from it.

The hard place in Mormon Lit is basically Eugene England’s right. Let me be clear: I think that Deseret Book puts out a lot of important work that is beneficial to the Mormon community. Even if we limit our discussion to the cheesiest possible works of fiction, as a Bollywood film fan I will quickly point out that what seems cheesy and emotionally manipulative to one person may be deeply moving to another. But I still think overtly religious work coming from semi-official and official sources often ends up being a hard place for prospective Mormon Lit book club people like the guy who sold Josh Allen his car, because it’s potentially awkward to pan or take issue with work that’s semi-official and obviously looking for a devotional reaction without sounding cruel and unrighteous.

I mean, can you imagine having a book club meeting about the church movie The Testaments with new members of your ward? If you’re aware of all the clear cues a creative work has given you about how to feel, what’s left to say? And would you really want to question whether the be-righteous-and-you’ll-get-your-monkey-back message is reliable in the real world when, for all you know, that particular symbolic, sentimental image may have been a spiritual experience for someone else in the room? There may be some viewers who wonder whether their own lack of connection with the film’s Jesus is evidence of some sort of spiritual problem, who worry that making fun of the church movie is in some way belittling their own faith.

The trouble with work that’s too sentimental and/or too official is that it doesn’t leave enough space for people who read a lot to think or talk comfortably. Again, I think emotional preservation instincts come into play. I, for one, don’t like how I feel when I’m confronted with too many super-European depictions of Jesus–it makes me feel all sorts of conflicted things I’d rather not deal with–so I don’t seek them out in my spare time. Maybe someone else doesn’t want to feel condescending about an earnestly told pioneer story, so they altogether avoid The Work and the Glory.

And so it is that our prospective literary Mormon readers again retreat into their shells.
And why should they come out? Inside the shell, Inception is playing—and there’s no shortage of room to talk and talk with people about that.

Part Three: The Coax

If I am right, a prospective audience for engaging, book-club type Mormon literature exists—and is hiding from both painful attacks (or even perceived attacks) on Mormon values and voluntary off-the-church-clock encounters with uncomfortably sentimental religious works. If I am right, the prospective audience has lived with both threats long enough to be fairly cynical and defensive.

How do you sell Mormon Lit to people who are already at least twice-burned, four times shy?

1. Make them feel safe.
You don’t have to actually attack the church to make them retreat into hiding, it will be enough to sound like you’re getting close. You don’t have to actually be all-out sentimental to produce an allergic reaction—it will be enough if your execution is so-so. To coax the audience out, you’ll have to go out of your way to reassure them that you honor their Mormon values. At the same time, you’ll also need to reassure them that they can discuss and debate your work without spitting on your testimony. And of course, they’ll need to believe that the Mormon Lit you offer will give them something interesting to think and talk about.

2. Give them a good ROI (Return on Investment).
Let’s say you’re producing a full-length LDS play. If people free up the evening, arrange for a babysitter, and put down $20 for tickets, and then hate the show, they’ll be extremely difficult to lure back for the next production. That’s why I would not recommend full-length plays as the most effective gateway to broader engagement with Mormon letters.

If you’re going to coax someone into Mormon letters, find a way to start at a low investment and risk level that quickly produces a relatively high payoff. I mean, you wouldn’t start someone on literary fiction in general with The Brothers Karamazov. You’d start them with something more like Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.” If they get into it, you give them more and work your way up to higher-investment forms. If they don’t dig it, one story probably hasn’t turned them off to literature for life and you can try a Billy Collins poem or something instead.

3. Make it easy to share.
Sadly, I don’t personally know fourteen thousand people who are already feeling a vague longing for what they don’t yet realize is actually engaging Mormon literature. Neither, I’m assuming, does everyone who will read this blog post combined. So if we want to build that size of an audience, we’re going to need Mormon Lit to be mobile enough to get passed quickly from person to person and ward to ward.

Again, full-length theatre is tough. So is recommending Irreantum stories to relatives in Asia.

Part Four: My “Go and Do” Plan

I would love few things better than to help grow an audience for engaging Mormon literature. So what do I, to borrow from Scott Hales and Nephi, go and do?

I do not think my best strategy is to preach AML and Irreantum. I think AML is an important organization and Irreantum is an important publication. But they are primarily academic, a mission that is not compatible with the coaxing process I describe above.
Consider the most recent issue of Irreantum. The written content is, I think, fairly emotionally safe from the rock and hard place for the prospective audience, but the Galen Smith artwork was clearly not created or selected with a rhetorical positioning of “safe” in mind. I don’t want to talk down Galen Smith as an artist—I admire her craft. I just can’t imagine myself giving a magazine with those representations of Eve (for example, holding a sword and a severed head—of Adam? of the angel?—and wading in a pool of blood) to my grandma or passing it around elders’ quorum.

Can Irreantum stay academic and focus on the reasonable sensibilities of average bookish Latter-day Saints? I don’t think so. Can a journal that can’t commit to offering readers greater safety build a large circulation among average bookish Latter-day Saints? I don’t think it can—especially when the cost of getting a subscription in money and wait time is fairly high for a gateway and the ease of successfully recommending content, especially outside Utah where the journal is in a library or two, is fairly low.

What I do think we need instead is a new Mormon literary venue, and I fully intend to launch one within the next year. To give a brief overview, the new venue would:

1) Be online, in a form loosely based on the website Daily Science Fiction. Six days a week we would publish a short Mormon work (probably 1,000-6,000 words)—poetry, fiction, essay, the occasional short review, etc. We’d also sometimes serialize longer works in once-a-week shorter installments. (Note: before launch, I’d like to have 300 quality pieces ready to go so that we have plenty of breathing space between new submissions and the publishing schedule.) Update 18 Nov: the 1,000-6,000 word length in this post is probably too high. Under 1,000 words is probably a better primary focus, with an occasional piece over 1,000 but well under 6,000. The idea is quick exposure: people should read longer works, but it’s probably better for Mormon lit if they’re subscribing to lit mags or buying eBook anthologies in the process, thereby supporting good editors, which is part of what we need.

2) Not be limited to first-time publications. We would include, with acknowledgment of the prior venue, work from past issues of other literary journals by living writers with the occasional voice from the long-dead. Why not?

3) Focus heavily on rhetorical positioning that assumes a religiously-committed LDS readership that may have certain learned defensiveness regarding rocks and hard places. In other words, we would assume readers have reasons not to trust us and work to win their trust.

4) Attempt to facilitate the development of reader-reader social relationships, hopefully including locally-based physical ones where critical masses of readers emerge. (In the long term, I’d love to have at least part-week service in languages other than English, featuring work from native speakers of that language and a limited number or works in translation.)

5) Try to direct people into other Mormon Lit resources just as soon as they’ve had enough return on their small investments to be ready to take a deeper look.

I really think this idea could work. I believe it’s possible to bring together the brother who sculpts zombie wedding cake toppers for a living and the one who has a special love for pioneer-era sourdough starter into a literary conversation, to give the used car salesman and the tax account the conversations they miss from their English majors in a distinctly Mormon context.

I think the success of a venue that published 300-something short works per year to a wide LDS audience would be great for writers, too. We talk a lot now about what we might give to members of the church, but we don’t get nearly enough chances to practice.
I apologize for the length of this blog post, but I wanted to get this all out in one place.

Now: what do you think?

Is my analysis of the prospective audience sound?

Do you think this sort of venue would work?

I would love to hear your comments before I do the detailed planning and serious staff recruiting. Please leave them here—and feel free to contact me directly at moc.liamg@grebdlog.semaj (well—that’s spelled backwards to ward off spam. You’d need to reverse it first.)

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45 Responses to Evangelizing Mormon Lit: How to Lure the Audience Out of Its Shell

  1. Oh, yes, this new venue sounds great! I want to be part of it — definitely as a reader, maybe even as a writer. (If I can meet the standards, that is. But I want to try.)

    I’ve never read Irreantum, by the way. I wish it were online for the same price as for the print subscription, (or maybe even less,) because I live overseas and I find myself gritting my teeth at the thought of paying that much money for postage. But I’d definitely support a daily Mormon Lit venue, especially if it were free.

  2. Scott Hales says:

    I think there’s a lot of useful stuff here–even though it downplays the importance of the criticism I find so necessary (and lacking) in the advancement of Mormon letters. (That said, I do get the fact that criticism isn’t the kind of thing that is going to attract a whole lot of readers.) I think your “go and do” strategy needs to find ways to incorporate critical sites (like this one, like A Motley Vision, like–ahem–my blog) into your proposed Mormon literature website. Maybe a critical blogroll on the side-bar and/or a companion blog that runs critical commentary of the work produced for the blog). I guess what I’m saying is that we need a site that will encourage readers to discuss the works in a way that gets beyond the congratulatory and banal. It certainly doesn’t need to be a central focus, but it does need to be there for those who want it.

    At any rate, I think your proposed website is a great idea if it takes off. At the same time I wonder if an existing venue can be converted into what you have in mind. But maybe not. Maybe the new website can act (and I mean this seriously) as a Mormon literature portal of immense power and influence…

    I also think we need to be careful in the way we talk about making Mormon literature safe for the average Mormon. I mean, I get your Galen Smith argument, but I worry that you’re over-thinking the problem. My suspicion is that Mormon writers already fret too much over the content of the literature, and don’t need to be burdened with any more demands on their own self-censorship mechanisms. Why not make the focus the readers and not the writers? Like Josh Allen, I don’t think Mormon literature’s low readership is a matter of content, but of awareness and recognition. Mormonism’s readers don’t know it’s out there and, as I’ve argued elsewhere, Mormon lit lacks an Oprah–a sophisticated reader with mass popular appeal.

    (For what it’s worth–and pardon my self-promotion–my thoughts on the issue of evangelizing Mormon lit can be found here: http://low-techworld.blogspot.com/2011/08/flooding-bloggernacle-with-mormon.html It proposes a slightly different approach than the one proposed here by James and recently by Josh.)

    I’m on board with your website, though, and I’m willing to help in any way possible. And I’d be more than happy to discuss my ideas with you–because I have a lot of them.

    • James Goldberg says:

      Full disclosure: Scott’s blog post, linked to above, is actually one of the early inspirations for this project in my mind. In that post, he recommends going to the world of Mormon culture blogs and evangelizing Mormon Lit there.

      I think that idea is brilliant. I also think it would be more effective if there were more readily available, low investment and high return works of Mormon lit out there.

      If I want to interest someone in Eric James Stone, I’ve got a wide range of short, online stories to choose from as recommendations. But Mormon Lit as a whole is tougher. I think my portal idea goes hand-in-hand with your bloggernacle promotion plan.

      • Scott Hales says:

        I’m glad to hear this, James.

        I’ve always thought that Flash Fiction Online (http://www.flashfictiononline.com/) would provide a good model for a Mormon Flash Fiction site. Quality original stories in 1000 words or less, plus one piece of 19th Century fiction. Add poetry and short creative non-fiction into the mix and you’ve got something.

        Incidentally, isn’t this sort of thing happening, with an eco twist, on Motley Vision’s Wilderness Interface Zone? Maybe WIZ could serve as a model as well.

  3. Wm Morris says:

    I think your diagnosis is correct, James, as well as the remedy — the coax.

    In regards to a new venue, there have been quite a few great projects that either never got off the ground or never gained traction. I think another crack at this is a great idea, but the difficulty is always the execution, the resources and the expectations.

    One of the major issues is that Mormon literature is not a thing in the same way that genre is. The AML has struggled over the years in how it approaches the two main genres for well-crafted Mormon literature: speculative fiction and faithful realism. I think there are workarounds, but I think there needs to be clarity about who we’re trying to coax and what’s feasible. I think point #3 is solid.

    #2 is something I tried to do with things like Short Story Friday. Perhaps AMV was the wrong venue, but to be honest the participation (both in terms of comments and hits to the post) was minimal — less than other many other posts. Of course, AMV is a hodgepodge so perhaps one of the issues that people don’t generally go there to consume fiction.

    #4 is key. We should talk off line on how to accomplish that.

    #5 is a good idea, but we should come with the understanding that the market for criticism of fiction is much less than the market for fiction itself and when that market for fiction is Mormon fiction, well, that’s a very small market indeed.

    Speaking generally, what people to respond to most (other than controversy) is a) an opportunity to see themselves and/or their friends in print and b) the opportunity to be mentored by good editors. Or in other words, when someone is invested in an endeavor and gets value out of it beyond just the slight buzz of somebody replying to a comment or the minor pleasure of reading a good piece of fiction, they tend to be more actively involved.

    • James Goldberg says:

      At New Play Project, we did find that shows with more people involved tended to do best commercially–but only if the people involved felt confident by about two weeks out that the whole show really would come together. As time went on, though, some people who initially came only for friends started coming consistently for the experience.

      This is, I think, evidence for your suggestion that this proposed site might build readership primarily by putting people into print–which, with 300-ish slots per year, we could afford to do a lot of. I think you’re onto something with the rewards of positive editorial experience, too–a writer who feels more confident about his/her work after the editorial experience is more likely to send the link to all his/her friends.

      Part of the trick to the site will be finding enough quality volunteer editors so that we can provide quality service to writers without overburdening any editors while still maintaining an editorial consistency requisite to building audience-brand trust.

      • Wm Morris says:

        This is exactly the difficulty we ran into with Popcorn Popping. And remember that it’s not just the editing, but also the proofreading and production. Even if it’s on a blog platform, it still takes time to post a story.

      • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

        If this happens, I’d enjoy being part of the experiment as one of the many, many, many, many, many volunteer editors. I hope you’ll get a lot of support in this area and not just in the writing.

        • James Goldberg says:

          Lisa,

          Consider yourself signed up! I will keep you posted as plans progress. It takes a village to raise a good Mormon lit website–as Hilary Clinton used to say, back when she talked about Mormon literature all the time.

  4. D. Michael Martindale says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if this could succeed? I wish I could be more optimistic that it can. But my own experience in producing LDS literature makes me pessimistic.

    Scott’s point is why. I think there’s a reason the Deseret Book monolith produces “safe” literature–producing anything else open a huge can of worms. The problem isn’t that LDS readers don’t want to deal with attacks on their religion–that’s to be expected. The problem is, too many LDS readers define just about anything except the “safe” products as an attack, and once that label is applied, good luck shaking it off.

    Signature Books is a case in point. It’s printed a wide variety of books, and while some of them have been challenging to the church, just as much has not been, yet it has a wide reputation of being “anti-Mormon.” How many potential fans of the book will avoid reading Levi Peterson’s “The Backslider” because of that reputation, even though Levi himself has recevied feedback from members who have said reading his book has strengthened their relationship with the church?

    But my personal experience I think is even more informative. My one novel-length entry into LDS literature is “Brother Brigham.” Now regardless of what my current feelings and relationship with the church are, when I wrote that book, I was a full, active believer in the church. I wrote that book without a single negative motive. It was written with a faithful perspective, does nothing to attack or even criticize the church, and was written in good faith as merely an interesting yarn for good Latter-day Saints who are developing diabetes from Jack Weyland-type writing.

    Yet I visit AMV and find all sorts of aspersions on my character and spiritual health based on a reading of that book. I find people almost gleefully salivating over the fact that I am no longer an orthodox believer and proclaiming enthusiastically: “See? The seeds are there to see in that book!”

    I’m pessimistic about James’ plan working because it seems to me the space between the rock and hard place is a tiny crack that is nearly impossible to squeeze through. There’s very little wiggle room to slip outside of the category of “safe” without landing square in the middle of “dangerous” in the mind of many members. As Scott says, the last thing we need is to pile on more restrictions for the LDS author, and yet that seems as if exactly what we need to do to make an idea like this work.

    Even if there are 14,000 readers out there who would understand that the gap between the two extremes is wide, or even 140,000, I think they’d still be influenced by the feedback from people who see the world through the dichotomy of “safe” vs. “dangerous” with no possibility in between. How many people who would have loved “Brother Brigham” (because the vast majority of those who have read it do) were turned away from trying it because of the negative reactions recorded on AMV–not negative because the literary quality of the book was brought into question, which is somthing I could deal with–but negative because the content was deemed “unsafe”?

    And if the likes of “Brother Brigham” has a hard time squeezing into that crack between the rock and hard place, what is there left to write that can?

    • James Goldberg says:

      I think you implicitly bring up another important issue and advantage of the proposed website. Writers can feel burned, too.

      I think this is fundamentally an ROI issue for writers: if you spend a year on a novel, it’s natural to expect a certain return (in response–we’re not naive enough to anticipate meaningful amounts of money). When writers sacrifice and then find their rhetorical positioning hasn’t worked for the audience, it’s easy to write off the audience.

      What would happen if more writers of Mormon Lit cut their teeth on very short works that got at least some meaningful editorial and audience attention? I think it’d be a lot easier emotionally to find your own way to successfully rhetorically position yourself through a series of trial-and-error short works than first getting to face an audience only after you’ve poured significant blood, sweat, and soul into a long work before getting to face an audience directly.

    • Moriah Jovan says:

      The problem is, too many LDS readers define just about anything except the “safe” products as an attack, and once that label is applied, good luck shaking it off.

      I wholeheartedly agree with this, but c’mon, dude. You’re as fair game as Jack Weyland and Stephenie Meyer and any other author who puts his stuff out there. At least Mahonri and Laura actually read the book before stating their opinion (and Mahonri liked it, didn’t he?) (and so did Wm?) (and a few people in the comments?). I haven’t been so lucky.

      But slagging on the whole of AMV because one reviewer found it uncomfortable is a little overboard.

  5. Wm Morris says:

    I think you are mischaracterizing the AMV discussion, Michael, and I think you also understate that a key aspect of your post-church lifestyle very much informed a key scene in the novel — you came out later as a nudist; there’s a scene in the novel that is clearly about the joys of public nudity. I don’t really care one way or the other about your reasons for your lifestyle or how that relates to your relationship to the Church, but I also don’t think anyone was surprised by the turn that relationship took. Of course, I also don’t think that people should hold someone’s relationship to the Church against them and that the focus should be on the creative work itself (with the caveat that, of course, readers and critics are going to include biography in the equation — I just don’t think that it should be the primary approach in play).

    I also thinks it’s completely fair game for people to express how they feel about the content or tone of a novel. I also would note that there have been two reviews of Brother Brigham at AMV and they reflect have divergent opinions (one by Mahonri and one by Laura — we are motley, after all — and the one you are complaining about came three years after the book was published, well after the life cycle of most published novels. And as I wrote back in the discussion of the second review: “But again, the problem is with boiling down to a thumbs up/thumbs down approach. Fundamentally positive? No, what he [Mahonri] says is that if you match the criteria he lays out should read it. Just like Laura’s review suggests that if you match certain criteria and have certain tastes then you shouldn’t.”

    And I also think you have a misperception of how much influence AMV has. Most posts get less than 200 unique views.

    This is not to underplay the fact that yes, in the second review Laura clearly stated that she was uncomfortable with the book and wouldn’t recommend it. But I find it disturbing that you seem to have turned this into you vs. AMV. Which, frankly, is completely a one-sided perception on your part. The primary recent counter-example being your inclusion in Monsters & Mormons. Th. and I liked the story; we included it.

    • James Goldberg says:

      I’m going to emphasize again here that I think very short works would be a better way for writers to get used to mixed audience reactions. If you’ve devoted a year or more to a novel, or staked half and million dollars and your right eye on a film, all for nothing but the hope that an audience will appreciate your work, are we surprised when bad reviews are felt as intensely personal?

      Writers would benefit from having a lower-investment, lower-risk encounter with audiences before they start wagering big blocks of their lives on Mormon Lit.

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        I don’t read fiction (of any type) on blogs. I won’t. I have too much to do and very often the work is in typefaces that bother my eyes. Yes, I’m an ebook junkie, but that’s another animal.

        So I’m one of the people who won’t read WIZ (and wouldn’t read Popcorn Popping) for a reason. Yes, there are ways around this for me but I’m techie like that. Make it available for download and immediate installation on a device, and it becomes a whole new ballgame.

        • James Goldberg says:

          I don’t know enough about how much work goes into making things available in multiple formats–but would it work to have a daily online experience and then a once a month download of all the stories at once?

        • Moriah Jovan says:

          That would work for me, yes.

          There is a little do-hickey script http://dotepub.com/ you can post at the end of any post that, when the reader clicks it, will give him a live EPUB file of that post. That won’t work for Kindle, but *I think* there’s a similar script you can add to make the post available to a reader’s Kindle device like an RSS feed.

        • Wm Morris says:

          You could do that (although it would take work to get the ebook file prepared and ready for download). You could also create an app. And by you, I mean none of us.

          I do need to get better at programming but my focus will need to be HTML5 and CSS rather than Xcode (iOS) or Java or Ruby, etc.

  6. Moriah Jovan says:

    Forget coaxing.

    You need to seduce.

    There’s a call for papers for the AML Conference right on this blog. Forget a call for papers. Call the people you want to listen to and ASK THEM to present something. ANYTHING.

    Look, I’d have never in a gazillion years gone to Sunstone to be a panelist if somebody I didn’t know (Paul Swenson) contacted me to ask me to go. Considering my politics, which are all out on my literary table, I thought I would be as unwelcome as Sunstone as at Deseret Book. But no. They wanted me and so they asked me. They didn’t sit around wondering why I wasn’t contacting them.

    Sunstone might get a lot of flak for this or that or some other thing, but they’re still around and people *have* heard of them.

  7. James Goldberg says:

    Allow me to interrupt this thread for a reading recommendation: Melanie Goldmund’s strange and strangely sweet short story “Seven Swans”: http://melaniegoldmund.weebly.com/seven-swans.html

  8. James, I will certainly want to let those who have registered on the Nauvoo Workshop for LDS Writers forum (sponsored by Orson Scott Card and moderated by me) know about your website as soon as you are ready to accept submissions.

    I support what you are hoping to do and wish you well. If, when the time comes, I can be of assistance, with editing, with connections (I have no “clout” in academia, which is why I refused to be called president of AML when I was trying to keep it together a few years ago, but I do have a few “unacademic” connections), and so on, please let me know.

    Please “Make it so!” (Points to those who recognize the speaker of those words.)

    You will not be doing it alone.

    • C. M. Malm says:

      Can I pick a totally off-topic nit? As a member of the REAL Nauvoo Stake, I find myself experiencing more than a little bit of frustration when I see things that are called “the Nauvoo ______” but that have NOTHING/ZERO/ZIP to do with the PRESENT-DAY city of Nauvoo (which, remarkably enough, still exists), where honest-to-goodness members of the church actually and currently LIVE. I guess in case it’s really Orson Scott Card I have to blame for this one, with his “virtual city of Nauvoo.” And Nauvoo does have an important historical significance for church members. But it’s a bit like calling something “the Provo Book Club”; people in Provo would naturally expect it to be something local they could attend.

      /end probably pointless rant

      • C. M. Malm says:

        Gah, in THIS case. Oh, for an edit button!

        • James Goldberg says:

          Oh, it’s not just “Nauvoo Workshop for Writers.” There was a “Nauvoo Theatrical Society” in Orem or Provo ten years ago or so. Also a “Nauvoo Brass Band” as I recall. You have a pretty happening city name!

          My mother could sympathize. She used to have to run interference at school whenever we’d volunteer to share Indian stuff at Thanksgiving. Apparently turbans weren’t actually part of that holiday…

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        Nauvoo’s lovely. We got married there very soon after the temple opened. We even thought about moving there, but Dude’s job can’t transfer.

  9. Marianne Hales Harding says:

    First I have to clarify that not all people who use proper grammar and punctuation while texting are nerds. (Even if we were once considered nerdish in high school) :)

    Then I have to voice my amen to these sentiments and this idea (original post). I do think that it is difficult to get the average Mormon reader/theater go-er to take a chance on non-sanctioned LDS offerings. Getting a babysitter for a night of theater is a HUGE commitment–heck even just getting an evening is difficult enough (even for those of us who are highly committed audience members). You are absolutely right about short pieces being easier all around–easier to digest, easier to fit into a busy day, easier to pass along, easier to discuss, easier to write. A forum like this could be a great way to not only increase diversity in our readership but also increase diversity in our writers.

    I’ve recently started being a regular at a local open mic night for creative writing and I *love* being able to take a piece from idea to multiple drafts to performance in just one week and then get a large amount of positive feedback. (Really, think about it: they say something nice about you or your work to introduce you, then everyone claps, then you read something and they clap again, then they get up and say something nice about what you just read and everybody claps yet again. Is it any wonder I enjoy going back every week? Immediate positive feedback.)

    I think this is a great idea and would love to help. I can’t promise huge chunks of time (Ok, as a single mom I have very very very little time to give away) but if there is some way I could help this come into being I’d love to see that happen.

  10. I think you’re right in your assessment: If you look at the “books” section on the Deseret Books web site, you have books by G.A.s; secular, but uplifting or motivational books; and not much in between. I also agree that there’s a latent group that would be interesting in a discussing a book if they knew that it wouldn’t include debating doctrine. I would love to feel—and I imagine there’s others like me—that I am contributing to the development of L.D.S. voices by giving my feedback. I think about how successful our talkbacks were at New Play Project—how safe people felt, generally, and how open they were. I’d want the same thing to translate to my ideal web site for L.D.S. written works.

    What would interest me would be an online store/book club for L.D.S. works—really a book discovery service. The selections would be limited to those where the author is available to receive feedback. Get the author on stage, so to speak, and present a moderator-selected, user-submitted q/a session. Of course, there’d also be a subsequent open forum, but hopefully the q/a session will have set the right tone. To buy the works, there could be a subscription ($25/yr gets you an e-reader version of all the selections for that year), or download-on-demand–signing up with a valid email could get you 1 free e-reader download.

    You could be upfront about your selection criteria, saying that you’ll avoid selecting works where controversial doctrine is likely to be a major talking point. This, and the reputation you’ll gain over time by having such criteria, should make it feel like a safe place.

    Make sure people know that by supporting the web site, they are contributing to the growth and development of L.D.S. written works. You could make it a non-profit if you really wanted to, but I think for-profit would make more sense in this case.

  11. James Goldberg says:

    The idea of a book discovery service is pretty cool. I think short work is a better first step because the lower investment for readers and writers (in time and emotion, not just money) is a good “first gear” for getting people involved and building their trust in Mormon Letters. Once a larger number of people are more invested, I think a book discovery service would be great.

    It occurs to me that in many ways, the AML Review archive and Andrew Hall’s “This Week in Mormon Literature” are already serving as good book-discovery services like you describe. Both spread wide nets rather than trying to pre-select titles for you, but do a good job helping someone who’s interested in reading Mormon books find them.

    Right now, though, I don’t know how many people are looking. I want to help people develop a conscious desire to look for Mormon work they like.

    • I guess I’m using the word “book” as a metaphor for any written work. I’m just imagining something that is at least as long as of a collection of poems or a short story. If you’re imagining works that are to be read as posts on the web site rather than with an e-reader, then maybe we’re imagining different things. I also may be imagining a smaller number of selections per year–maybe 1 per month per category.

      Then again, I know I’m certainly not as voracious a reader as you–unless you count software APIs.

      • James Goldberg says:

        My idea in this post is for a site like Daily Science Fiction that offers stories that can be read online or on an E-Reader…but are constantly coming out.

        I doubt very many people will actually read short Mormon work every day–but my suspicion is that having new work every day will a) help raise awareness of the possibilities of Mormon lit b) make it easier for people to find something they like once a week or once a month or whatever.

        Again, it’s like New Play Project: a set of short plays can work well because almost everybody leaves having liked something. I want to focus on a large enough volume and variety of easy-to-access works that most readers can regularly find something they like.

    • Thought of something else after looking at “This Week in Mormon Literature” and the AML Review archive:

      Neither of these formats allow for simple feedback from the 14,000 to 140,000, which is what’s going to drive this change. I think you’re going to find that “coaxing” readers and eliciting feedback amounts to the same thing. If I can see that someone like me felt safe enough to share their opinion about or encouragement for a work, then I might feel safe enough to read it (even if it doesn’t have a G.A.’s name on it). The person giving the feedback must not seem out of my league intellectually (which might make me feel like I’m entering “dangerous” territory), and I shouldn’t feel daunted about leaving my own feedback.

  12. Tammy says:

    Any thing that would show me where to start would be a good thing. I have a BA in English Lit and MA in American Lit and Culture. You would think I would have some inkling, but it seems not. I think living in Britain puts me at a slight disadvantage, just because of the prices involved when buying and shipping lit. that is only published in the US. I can’t go into a bookshop and browse before a purchase. (I do appreciate that this may also be true for those living in the US but away from Utah/Arizona/Colorado/Idaho/California!) I find it difficult to make a financial investment when I have no idea what I am purchasing. Is there a Mormon lit degree course anywhere yet? If there is, I want the reading list! I flirt with the idea of writing, but am actually better at reading. Please do this soon.

    • Scott Hales says:

      Tammy,

      I’m going to self-promote and invite you to visit my blog (see link below). On it you’ll find links to other Mormon lit sites (including this one) and a few places where you can read some contemporary Mormon lit that has been reprinted online by Signature Books.

      http://low-techworld.blogspot.com/

    • Katya says:

      Tammy,

      Some Mormon journals that publish short stories and poetry have made their back issues available online for free. For example, you can read all of the back issues of Dialogue from before 2009:

      http://www.dialoguejournal.com/archive/?pn=1

      The files are PDFs, so it might take a while to load for someone in Europe, but I don’t believe there are any international restrictions on them.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      I’ll add that most (if not all) Zarahemla Book titles (including my novel No Going Back) are available for next-to-nothing in electronic format — which allows opportunities for relatively low-cost exploration. That includes the short story collection Dispensation, which offers some of the best of what’s available in recent Mormon literary short fiction.

      Reviews from the AML and at A Motley Vision website can point you to good values. Books and stories that have received AML awards are good bets for quality, though representing a wide variety of different kinds of publication. Same for the Whitney Awards for the last few years. There’s lots of information out there, if you’re willing to dig around a bit.

  13. Pingback: Call for Submissions (for Mormon works under 1,000 words) | Dawning of a Brighter Day

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