New Venue: Everyday Mormon Writer

If you have not yet voted in the Mormon Lit Blitz, you should. I tallied a hundred of the votes last night before deciding I had to sleep, and it’s a very tight race. The current lead of the top piece is a whopping two points over its nearest rival, and most pieces could emerge as front-runners by the time I’ve tallied the seventy votes still left in the inbox.

Which is good news for Mormon Letters. Different people are responding to different things, and that means there’s an audience with wide enough tastes to accommodate many voices.

That’s why my wife and I are launching a new venue called Everyday Mormon Writer. We’ll officially open on March 16th, but I’ve put up a few sample things if anyone wants to take a look now.

The concept is pretty simple. Starting on the 16th, we’ll publish one very short Mormon work per week. Gradually, we’ll build up pieces until we have enough to publish every day without having to worry about running out of work. We’ll publish new work, previously published work, work by people who died long ago, whatever–so long as we can abridge or serialize it to read easily online, and so long as it contributes something worthwhile to a religious LDS audience.

In addition to the creative works themselves, we’ll have an occasional “Soapbox” column to feature discussion points or aesthetic rants and a Reviews column. We’re hoping the reviews column can be something readers learn to trust as a gateway to books that would speak to their Mormonness, whether those books or Mormon Lit or stuff from elsewhere that might have resonance with our faith and values.

On the website, we’ve got information on how people can contribute money to help fund future contests or their skilled literary labor to help us sort through the submissions pile. We’ve also got draft submission guidelines posted already.

This site will not be a crowning jewel of Mormon Lit. But I think it will be a valuable building block: a place for readers to find what they like in Mormon Lit rather than assuming that there’s nothing in Mormon Lit they like, and a place for writers to learn by having constant opportunities to experiment themselves and constant opportunities to read other writers facing overlapping challenges.

What do you think of the concept and of the site so far? Anyone care to offer one form of support or another?

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42 Responses to New Venue: Everyday Mormon Writer

  1. Wm says:

    I like it.

    Will Mormon Lit Blitz semifinalists automatically be considered for publication? What about other entries?

  2. James Goldberg says:

    Oh! Yes, meant to mention that.

    We will be emailing numerous people about their Lit Blitz submissions in the next month, either requesting permission to publish or else offering revision notes and encouraging a resubmission.

    So: you don’t need to resubmit your Mormon Lit Blitz pieces to the new email. We have notes in the old email, just haven’t gotten around to sending them out yet.

  3. Wm says:

    One more thing for James:

    You use the word serialize in your post above, although it doesn’t appear in the submissions guidelines. I realize that you’ll need to get a better feel for things both in terms of editorial flow and readership, but I am highly interested in the notion of serialized Mormon fiction, especially if it’s truly written for serial form (rather than just a longish short story or a novellette broken up into chunks).

    So this is simply to register that I’m interested in the idea of reading and perhaps even writing and/or editing serial fiction.

    • James Goldberg says:

      Wm,

      We didn’t put serialization in the submission guidelines yet precisely because we don’t want ever unfinished novel in our inbox with a cover letter saying perhaps it could be published over the next year and would be finished by then.

      Our current thought is to allow submissions of longer, serialized work only from people who we publish in short form first. But we didn’t see a need to add that to the submission guidelines until we’ve got some people published.

      Thanks for asking!

  4. Scott Hales says:

    I think this is great. It has the potential to be the Blitz’s most enduring legacy.

    I especially like the idea that Mormon writers can use it as a place to hone their skills, experiment, and learn.

    Good luck!

  5. Jeanine Bee says:

    Is there going to be a forum for discussion? I’ve enjoyed the discussion on facebook, but it would be nice to have the reader thoughts and questions linked directly to the piece.

    • Katya says:

      Second this. (If you don’t want them to appear on the main page, you could set up a second “discussion post” accompanying each entry. That way you keep the discussion separate from the work, for people who want that, but you still keep the discussion on the site and archived for future reference.)

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        I have resigned myself to the fact that people are increasingly using Facebook as their sole platform of participation. For example, on 9gag.com, you must have a FB account to participate in the least. There is no alternative sign-in method. in the last couple of months, I’ve run across a couple more new-ish sites with the same setup. I find this disturbing and so I’ll just not patronize those sites.

    • We haven’t committed yet to any given plan for a forum for discussion. My main concerns with having one on the site are a) moderation ends up becoming its own task which can distract from the work of running the site and b) having discussion right after the piece can encroach on the time for individual reflection.

      I’d just as soon have discussions take place off-site in a variety of venues: on authors’ blogs, on blogs like AML and AMV when people there are interested, and yes, maybe on Facebook sometimes.

      But…I suppose we could add a “discuss” tab along the top and host discussions on the site, but not directly after each piece, that way. Your thoughts on pros/cons?

      • Katya says:

        I don’t mind where (or even when) the discussion takes place, so long as the discussion is accessible in the future. If AML or AMV wants to host a discussion (delayed or otherwise) those approaches would be fine with me.

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        I would suggest an old-fashioned message board. I run a phpBB one (and have for the last eight years), but for some reason I don’t remember, I used another one for an aborted Peculiar Pages board.

        In any case, a message board would be separate, archivable, and accessible in the future

        • Wm says:

          A message board also requires moderation and requires a certain level of participation to really stay alive, but I agree that it could be a great resource, especially for sharing writing tips or even (with protected boards) running critique groups.

          But use SMF — not phpBB.

      • I moderate a forum right now that might be worth considering for this type of discussion. It’s on Orson Scott Card’s Nauvoo.com website, and it’s called the Nauvoo Workshop for LDS Writers.

        Right now it is not very active, so I would welcome something that people could discuss there, and the space is certainly available.

        I would be happy to set up a discussion area with topics for each submission, which could be linked to quite easily. And I would do the moderating as well.

        The only drawback I can see is that in order to post, people would need to register (it’s one way to keep out the spam).

        If you think something like that might work, please let me know.

        • James Goldberg says:

          Kathleen,

          That sounds awesome. I could create a “discuss” link on the sidebar that directs people to your discussion board. It would probably be best if there’s a forum labeled Everyday Mormon Writer instead of working out of the current “Discussions of Published Work” forum, but I’ll leave that up to you.

          Thanks!

          • Moriah Jovan says:

            I dunno…I’d think twice about hosting my project on somebody else’s site, subject to someone else’s rules and moderation.

          • Th. says:

            .

            I think it really needs to be one the same website as the works proper. Otherwise there will be a disconnect for readers.

          • James Goldberg says:

            One of EMW’s main objectives is to coax wary readers into Mormon Lit. Because of that goal, it seems like a losing proposition to me to risk having someone feel alienated by the conversation in the comments and therefore check out of the site as a whole.

            While outsourcing the discussion will almost certainly decrease the volume of discussion that takes place, it also absolves EMW of responsibility for the conversations. If someone’s feelings are hurt on EMW, I think it’s fair for them to stop spending their free time on EMW. If someone’s feelings are hurt elsewhere, it’s easy to just drop out of the discussion but keep reading the EMW website.

          • Th. says:

            .

            I guess I can see that argument, though I have to believe that the chances of someone getting engaged through the conversation is at least as great as them being pushed away.

          • Th. says:

            .

            In related news, my favorite lit mag, One Story, with a surprisingly healthy distribution for a lit mag, has almost no discussion. Of course, it’s paper-only, but it also puts its (very nice) author interviews on a separate site from its discussions (which never get going).

            It is of course possible to have a successful literary outlet without a comments section (they are an Internet-era innovation, after all), but it will be very hard to build any sense of community.

            So I suppose it depends on your end goals.

          • Jonathan Langford says:

            Re: James’s concern about contaminating the reading experience with the conversation: in my case, the option to discuss and see what others are saying is a big part of the attraction. If I looked at a site like that and didn’t see any way to comment, I’d quite likely just click away without reading further. On the other hand, seeing names like those in this discussion making comments would engage my interest.

            A conversation hosted on a different site might be okay — but I’d consider it a real annoyance, and quite likely wouldn’t stick around long enough to notice that it was an option.

            You’ve got to consider your audience breakdown. How many of your potential readers are like me? I honestly have no idea.

          • I don’t know either.

            I guess I’m hoping, though, that the readership isn’t based on the lure of online community so much as on the availability of online content that enriches readers’ real-life community. Where I hope the best discussions take place is in families where readers share a piece, in wards where the piece becomes an example in a conversation, etc.

            I’d also like to see conversations between writers in places like virtual Nauvoo, and conversations between writers and critics/cultural theorists in places like AML and AMV. But that’s extra, not essence. I don’t think the primary purpose of writing should be to promote conversations among writers.

          • I’ve set up the discussion area, on the Nauvoo Workshop for LDS Writers forum, and links should go directly from each work posted on Everyday Mormon Writer to the topic for that work.

            Registration for the forum (to enable posting in the discussion topics) starts here:

            http://www.nauvoo.com/ubb2/cgi/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=agree

            Please read the whole thing–yes, they are rules, but I think they are the same rules that AML has posted for discussions on other forums, such as the AML list.

          • Katya says:

            Where are the AML discussion rules posted?

          • Th. says:

            .

            I can’t imagine reading 1118 words that, I assume, boil down to be nice, be respectful, get along.

            Why 1118 words just to say that?

            #curious

          • Moriah Jovan says:

            Please read the whole thing–yes, they are rules, but I think they are the same rules that AML has posted for discussions on other forums, such as the AML list.

            Not interested in affirming my testimony to post on a message board, thanks.

          • Katya, the AML list discussion rules were posted every so often on the AML list. I could post them again, and you could read them that way, if you’re subscribed to the AML list.

            Th., I didn’t write the rules, I just moderate the discussion. I suspect that they are so long because of the bad behavior of some people on Card’s other website and forum, which is for his science fiction and fantasy (Hatrack.com). There was a forum there for fans and writers under 18 which got so out of hand that it was completely deleted. (I’m just glad I wasn’t the one he asked to run that forum.)

  6. Marianne Hales Harding says:

    I think that’s a great idea! I’d love to help in whatever way an overworked single mom with very little free time can… :-)

    • Marianne,

      The two main options are to a) read and rate submissions in little batches like 10/month and/or b) write.

      10 pieces per month from a short short slush pile is probably manageable, especially since you could probably do it in the brain-dead time when you’re procrastinating other things. ;)

      Let us know!

  7. Jonathan Langford says:

    I think this is a wonderful idea. Mormon lit needs more publication venues. Online is one place where there’s been a real gap so far. Kudos for your enthusiasm and energy.

  8. Jonathan Langford says:

    One possibility might be to do it the way Theric has been doing the pieces from Bright Angels and Familiars over at AMV: feature a link that takes readers offsite to read the piece, but then have the discussion waiting there whenever they’re done reading and want to comment and post.

    Speaking only for myself, having to go to another site or use Facebook to post would significantly decrease my likelihood of visiting. But then, I’m possibly not part of the central target audience for this venue, since I tend to prefer longer forms and often have to prod myself to read short stories.

  9. Jeanna says:

    I think this is a lovely idea, and I love the idea of using sites like this to discover/rediscover Mormon writing that we can enjoy. I’m one of those who had sort of written off a lot of Mormon lit as “not for me.” (That said, however, I must admit to an appreciation for a bit of fluff now and then.) I’ll second Marianne, too–would love to help in some tiny way.

  10. Kaja says:

    I definitely like the idea of a rating system. I enjoy the discussion as well, but since I don’t use FB, I would prefer the discussion be right after the piece. That’s just my opinion.

    Oh, the joys of being in charge! I wish you good luck! :)

  11. Jonathan Langford says:

    In response to a fully-embedded comment of James:

    I guess I wasn’t thinking of the purpose of writing being to promote discussion among writers, but rather among readers — and between the reader and the text. The writer, too, but even more than that, the text.

    I like discussions. I get bored when I’m simply asked to listen or read and not respond. Always have. Back when I was in school (college and before), I always had to raise my hand, ask questions, and make comments, just to keep myself engaged.

    In my case, very often I *do* read in order to discuss what I’ve read afterwards: with my friends, my children, my spouse, and others. Even when that isn’t the case, I often read because of the conversations I’ve seen and been around that get me excited about the work in question. Whether I *should* or not (and I do feel a bit like I’m being scolded for not reading the way you think I should), that is simply the way it is, for me.

    One of the things I noticed in Italy was the way that art wasn’t separated from life. In the U.S., it seems to me that we put art in a place apart. We treat it with reverence rather than exuberance. We frame it in a variety of ways. To me, the notion of fencing off a work of literature from the space where it’s talked about feels like that.

    • Katya says:

      Thirded.

    • Wm says:

      One way we went about this at Popcorn Popping was to have some parameters for commenting on the creative work we posted and we allowed the authors to tells us which one they wanted. Now, the approach was a little different because we were sometimes posting work where the authors specifically wanted feedback, and I don’t know that we ever got enough traffic to truly test those parameters (and, yes, it is can be a hassle to moderate sometimes), but I think it worked quite well overall.

      And by parameters I mean things like:

      Feel free to comment on anything.

      Feel free to discuss the themes and characters and your reactions to them, but let’s not nitpick grammar and sentence level stuff.

      The author is specifically looking for feedback on writing style and sentence-level choices.

      etc.

    • James Goldberg says:

      Sorry to sound scoldy. But, you know, I’m basically a cranky, scoldy old man at heart. So don’t take it personally.

      Your thought about art being integrated into life more fully is beautiful. I guess I’m hoping that fencing the discussion off makes the discussion energy get closer to life rather than staying on the site. I may turn out to be wrong about that.

      But yeah–I love the idea of exuberance rather than reverence as the preferable attitude toward art. Lovely.

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