The Mormon Lit Blitz: Week One

Today marks one week since the start of the Mormon Lit Blitz. Already we’ve featured great works by Marilyn Nielson, Wm Morris, Jeanna Mason Stay, Emily Harris Adams, Sandra Tayler, Merrijane Rice, and Kathyrn Lynard Soper. Over the next week we will be featuring the six remaining finalists, beginning tomorrow with Emily Debenham’s short story, “The Shoe App.” If you are a fan of Mormon literature, and haven’t already jumped on the Mormon Lit Blitz bandwagon, please jump now. We have plenty of seats available, and no one is going to judge you for following the crowd.

The purpose of my post today is to reflect a little on this past week and get a discussion going about some of the contest’s more interesting developments. Before I do so, however, I want to thank all of those who have helped promote the contest through social media and word of mouth. This contest—and the daily discussions it has been generating—could not have happened without you. Keep up the good work!

Admittedly, when James and I started brainstorming this project in early November, I had no idea how it would turn out. Part of me—the part that tends to worry about house fires and pandemics—worried that we wouldn’t receive any quality submissions and that the contest would be a bust. Another part of me—the part that coddles delusions of grandeur—hoped that it would be a viral sensation, something that would finally bring Balance to the Force and lasting credibility to Mormon arts and culture.

As it turned out I had nothing to worry about.  No house burned down. We received plenty of quality submissions.

And while the Mormon Lit Blitz has not gone viral–not yet, at least–its first week has exceeded my most realistic expectations. On our Facebook page, and even on some of the personal blogs of our authors, readers have responded enthusiastically to the finalists’ work in lively discussions that have raised a number of important questions about Mormon literature and storytelling.

So far, one of my favorite discussions has been over the appropriateness of Marilyn Nielson’s “In Bulk,” a poem that dares to suggest that rural family culture (read: Mormon culture?) can be just as rich and meaningful as urban culture. I’ve also been interested in the varied responses to Jeanna Mason Stay’s “No Substitute for Chocolate,” which seems to have divided readers over whether or not the women in the story reacted fairly to their husbands’ (arguably?) thoughtless Mother’s Day gifts. Much has already been said about the story, but I think the discussion is far from over. In fact, I’m interested in reading more of what people think about the ways gender and power play out in the story.

For today’s discussion on Dawning of a Brighter Day, however, I’m mostly interested in learning your thoughts on the first seven pieces featured in Mormon Lit Blitz, individually or collectively. I’m also curious to know your thoughts on the following questions:

1. What is the Mormon Lit Blitz telling us about social media’s potential as a vehicle for Mormon literature?

2. Is the Mormon Lit Blitz, which features the work of eleven women and two men, revealing anything new about the ways gender plays a role not only in Mormonism, but also in the creation of Mormon literature?

3. Does the Mormon Lit Blitz’s focus on attracting a committed Latter-day Saint audience seem to play out noticeably in the works featured in the contest? Do the works seem to be holding anything back, or pulling punches, for the sake of their audience?

What do you think?

(NOTE: Feel free to talk about other matters Blitz-related. Treat the above questions as suggestions merely.)

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33 Responses to The Mormon Lit Blitz: Week One

  1. Merrijane says:

    That’s an interesting question about pulling punches, because I think a lot of non-LDS people think that’s what we do in our art. It’s human nature to do it when talking or writing about your own church, family, sports team, group of friends, etc. Me personally–if I feel like I’m going to pull punches on a subject, I prefer not to write about it at all.

    • Wm says:

      I’d also argue that every writer holds back or pulls punches in that they give in to a certain mode and/or genre of writing. Ignoring the orthodox Mormon experience and the sweetness of Mormon life can be pulling punches just as much as only focusing on those two things.

    • James Goldberg says:

      I really like Kathryn Soper’s “Oil of Gladness,” which is up today.
      I think of all the pieces so far, though, it’s the most self-aware about possible audience reactions. She’ll stop and say things like, “I know I could have chosen to see this as sexist, but that’s not at all how it felt.” Now, I think those are good moves for a potential audience used to university ways of talking about gender. But it has made me think about who we’re tempted to pull punches for.
      I personally agonize more over how to say things to a university humanities audience than about how to say things to a religious church audience. I guess I figure that church readers will be willing to forgive me a lot as long as they feel secure that I’m pro-faith and not making fun of them, whereas university discourse in the humanities is all about taking apart things people say, so I have to be a little more on guard before speaking my feelings, and I’m always tempted to add little qualifiers and disclaimers.

  2. Katya says:

    So, what was the rationale behind directing the discussion to the Facebook page instead of allowing comments on the submissions, themselves?

    • James Goldberg says:

      I felt strongly that the reader’s experience with the piece of art and the online conversation about that piece of art should be two different things. My feeling is: if you leave comments open on the pieces, the end of the pieces can get diluted by the string of responses, so it’s better to give people that feeling of the end on the blog and then let them join a fresh conversation if they choose to do so.

      • Scott Hales says:

        Also, I think we wanted to bring people to the Facebook page to enable and encourage the “liking” and “sharing” of the pieces. Facebook has been a great tool for getting the word out about the contest. The way it allows you to broadcast what you do and do not like to hundreds of people is something that blogs can’t replicate.

        • Moriah Jovan says:

          Except some people aren’t on Facebook, on purpose, for a valid reason.

          This speaks to the “findability” of the people who might be open to Mormon lit but…can’t. Which is at the base of this entire movement.

  3. Katya says:

    I felt strongly that the reader’s experience with the piece of art and the online conversation about that piece of art should be two different things.

    I can definitely see that perspective (and I agree, to some extent). However, it does mean that the conversations about the pieces won’t be available to others in the future, because they’ll be buried in the Facebook archives. (Even coming a week or so late to the Blitz, I’m having trouble finding the conversations about the various pieces.)

    • Moriah Jovan says:

      I have strong (negative) opinions about its accessibility being limited to Facebook. I’ll spare everyone.

      • Wm says:

        I understand. I prefer the blog format myself and am a reluctant Facebook user. At the same time, being on Facebook allows in an audience of readers and commenters that you likely wouldn’t get in solely the blog format.

        • Katya says:

          At the same time, being on Facebook allows in an audience of readers and commenters that you likely wouldn’t get in solely the blog format.

          There’s no reason you can’t have discussions in both places, though. And I think it’s naive to assume you aren’t losing people (such as Moriah) when you cross platforms.

        • Moriah Jovan says:

          If it is that people like me are not the target audience, then I guess no harm, no foul.

        • Jonathan Langford says:

          I’m also a non-Facebook user who didn’t participate in the discussion for that reason. Unfortunately, any choice of medium will leave some people out. This particular one loses me and Moriah, but other choices would have lost other people. It’s like choosing a time for ward choir practice: any time you choose will lose some people.

          Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to discuss the entries, I waited until this post before reading them. Unfortunately, I now have work deadlines I have to contend with. I plan to read, but may not get to it immediately (or in time to vote).

        • Scott Hales says:

          I’ll be the first one to admit that using Facebook as a homebase for discussion is not without its problems. Maybe the next time we do a Lit Blitz–if there is a next time–we’ll find a better way that accommodates more people.

          That said, part of why we’ve set up this discussion is to open up the conversation to those who aren’t on Facebook. True, it’s not the best substitute for the Facebook discussions, but it does make a space for those who prefer the blog format.

  4. Wm says:

    One thing that I’ve found interesting is that it seems like a lot of the reactions have more to say about the form than the content. I have no idea if any of us are pulling punches because there’s not a lot you can do in 1,000 words.

    The advantage of the short form, though, is that it seems like so far the finalists are encapsulating some core concerns of the modern Mormon American experience.

    • Scott Hales says:

      You may be right, Wm, but there were two or three entries that I really liked, but which didn’t make the cut because we ultimately felt they were too edgy for the for the contest. You can fit a lot into 1000 words. In fact, I’ve been amazed by how much meaning our finalists have managed to cram into 1000 words.

      • Wm says:

        I agree that you can fit a lot in. But you have to stick to one idea and you don’t have a ton of room for exploration of a variety of ideas and attitudes. Being too edgy doesn’t mean you’re not pulling punches. It just means you’re pulling different punches.

        All of the works posted so far have one or two good solid punches to them. That’s the beauty of short work — you really feel them land.

  5. James Goldberg says:

    Re: the gender composition of the writers.

    I think there are more LDS women than men writing, period. Numerous things may be contributing to that, but I think it’s pretty clear.

    I think LDS women have a more developed language for gender-related issues that interest them than men do. We just don’t know how to talk literarily about the issues in modern Mormon manhood, whatever that means, as well as women seem to be exploring modern Mormon womanhood.

    And yes, I realize that there’s a lot of overlap between the two experiences. And I think Sandra Tayler’s piece is a good example of an issue that applies to both genders.

    But maybe that’s just it: female voices about how to balance work and family seem to be a lot clearer and more common than male voices on how to balance work and family. Even for the highly parallel conversations, men don’t seem to be saying as much.

    • Wm says:

      I need more time and energy for writing.

    • Merrijane says:

      The membership in the Utah State Poetry Society also has a high ratio of women to men. In my local chapter of about 10 regularly active members, only two are men. Also, only two of these members are younger than me (I’m 40). Most are well-past retirement age.

      On the other hand, I have several male family members and friends who write and are very good at it–they just don’t join groups and enter contests.

  6. Marianne Hales Harding says:

    I like having the discussion separated from the pieces for just the reason stated above!

    I’ve really enjoyed the first week of the Blitz. I’ve shared the pieces on my FB wall and have enjoyed seeing the positive responses. One of my friends was excited to discover the blog and hoped to be able to read short pieces of LDS lit on an ongoing basis. It hasn’t generated a huge discussion on my wall, but I think more people are checking out the pieces than are commenting (maybe?).

    I did notice the gender thing right away as I was pitching each piece on my wall and realizing that most of them spoke to the LDS woman’s experience but, hey, I love that perspective! ;) That perspective resonates with most of my friends as well.

    In Bulk was the most popular one among my friends, by the way. It was the only one that was shared from my wall as well.

    • James Goldberg says:

      According to Google Analytics, “In Bulk” got nearly 19,000 views–suggesting that maybe your experience of having it reposted by friends is not unique. “No Substitute for Chocolate” got about 560 views and the other pieces are mostly in the 300s to date.

      That’s pretty good, though I’d like to make a push to get more people to read each of the stories during the March 1st-March 15th voting window. Given the low time commitment to read, I think we can broaden the audience on this one beyond the core of 300 or so.

      What is impressive to me is that all of the pieces seem to have average times on page long enough to suggest nearly everyone who shows up is actually reading the whole piece. That is unusual for the internet.

      And, in defense of facebook, it has been very nice to see decentralized conversations going on: relatives and old mission companions have commented on my wall who would not, I think, be likely to venture into a more public literary discussion.

      I will add, though, that we had considered lining up a different blog discussion venue for each day (maybe having “The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop” being discussed on Modern Mormon Men one day and “No Substitute for Chocolate” on Zelophahad’s Daughters the next). But it would have been a pain to arrange, and we worried that whoever’s piece ended up getting discussed on my personal blog might feel shafted. ;)

  7. Emily Harris Adams says:

    Re: Are we pulling our punches?
    With writers and readers who alike
    Turn their cheeks from blows
    Of every sort
    (punches, slaps,
    slanders, anger,
    and attacks)
    Rather than rain down retaliation,
    It’s logical to ask if these feel
    They can strike a first blow,
    Rather than a second.

    Are we able to bludgeon others
    With over-sized mayonnaise bottles?
    Eager to slap incessantly drumming companions?
    Ready to deck
    The men holding pansies?

    As one of those who
    Both writes and reads,
    And who, in life, turns
    Her cheek, and sometimes bleeds,
    I will answer thus:
    “Of my pulls and punches,
    I can’t be sure.
    I was simply writing.”

    • Wm says:

      Amen, Sister Adams.

    • Lee Allred says:

      With the tale I told my annointed soul
      Was quite Punchéd full of holes.
      E’en though I pulled, like a virgin wool’d
      Every punch I dared fair throw.

      I ha’ skittered round the unholy ground
      Controversial and profane,
      Yet the mad’ning crowd barketh long and loud
      As it lay chase down the lane.

      So I’ve come to think ere I dip my ink
      Might as well speak straight and plain.

      If blood be the price of lit’racy
      If blood be the price of lit’racy
      If blood be the price of lit’racy
      Sweet Heck I ha’ paid in full!

      (with apologies to R. Kipling and his Song of the Dead)

  8. Kerry says:

    Oh, if only all of us could comment in verse! Actually, no. That would be a terrible idea. I’m an AWFUL poet.

    I’ve been thinking about the 19,000 vs. 300 hits. (I heart numbers. So much. Especially because there’s always a story behind them.) (So maybe it’s not the numbers, themselves, that I love, after all, but the secret, hidden–almost occult!–stories underneath them?)

    You mention the piece and its appeal/defense to/of large rural families (and/or Mormon families). And that made me wonder if it isn’t something of a rallying cry for conservative families in general. If you read it that way (am I the only one who reads it that way? I’ll have to double check the discussion), it could make a lot of sense that it would be so viral. After all, there’s a massive conservative showdown at the moment. A frenzy of defense for the conservative point of view. A frenzy of discussion of what that point of view actually is.

    With all of that energy, with so many people out there searching for a rallying cry that speaks to their deepest, truest, values, perhaps the author gave them just that.

    (And, personally, I’d rather have her out there with this rallying cry than, say Mr…. Nah, I won’t go there. It’s not my point, anyway. :)

  9. Katya says:

    Collected thoughts:

    1. I realize that I have broken one of my cardinal rules by saying only critical things about something I actually really like. So please let me say that I’m really enjoying the Lit Blitz (even though I’m behind on participating) and I am very appreciative of all of the work that’s gone into it.

    2. I don’t mean to suggest that having a Facebook page and campaign was a bad idea. On the contrary, Facebook and Twitter are great vehicles for spreading information quickly. But as someone who is professionally concerned with archiving information and personally concerned with Mormon literature, I’m sad that discussions about the individual Lit Blitz stories aren’t taking place somewhere where they will be accessible in the future.


    I will add, though, that we had considered lining up a different blog discussion venue for each day (maybe having “The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop” being discussed on Modern Mormon Men one day and “No Substitute for Chocolate” on Zelophahad’s Daughters the next). But it would have been a pain to arrange, and we worried that whoever’s piece ended up getting discussed on my personal blog might feel shafted. ;)

    This sounds like an amazing idea, and also a huge amount of work. Maybe next time (next year? In two years? next Leap Year?) we can design some sort of “opt in” system of matching posts with the most appropriate blogs without stepping on toes or hurting feelings.

  10. Jonathan Langford says:

    So. I am finally sitting down and reading these entries.

    In Bulk, by Marilyn Nielson: Enjoyable. Nicely polemic, with some well-turned phrases. I particularly like the final 3 lines:
    Here, it falls down on us like stardust.
    My children run laughing through its showers.
    We shake it, shining, from our hair.

    But do kids really sleep 2-to-a-bed anymore? Except for sleepovers, I mean?

    The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop… by William Morris: It seems to me that this nice little piece captures perfectly willful near-randomness of spiritual gifts, and other kinds of gifts. So many little details in this story are just right. It’s almost a parable. “The wind bloweth where it listeth…”

    No Substitute for Chocolate, by Jeanna Mason Stay: Amusing. Made me grin, or possibly smirk. A harmless little fantasy that sadly, will never actually come true…

    Second Coming, by Emily Harris Adams: And this one made me laugh at loud. And then I printed it out, and shared it with my wife and 17-year-old daughter, both of whom also laughed.

    The Road Not Taken, by Sandra Tyler: A very nice little story, though I think it may push the idea a bit too far at the expense of the story, if that makes sense. This story partakes of sf’s cardinal virtue of making the metaphorical literal, and making us consider it as such.

    Stillborn, by Merrijane Rice: Well stated. I particularly like the following, uncomfortable though it is:
    Sometimes a heart stops beating
    and dreams bleed free
    in a slow, red river
    of barren pain.

    Unfortunately, the “turn” of the poem at the end is a didactic truth, rather than a personal or poetic one.

    Oil of Gladness, by Kathryn Soper: While well-written, I thought this piece illustrates one of the limitations of the ultra-short form. I found what Kathryn did with the materials of her recollection (e.g., engaging semi-obliquely with the issue of women and the priesthood) more interesting than the recollections themselves.

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