This Week in Mormon Literature, July 21, 2012

This week, a series on how Mormon teen literature presents to girls ideas about their bodies, Walter Kirn reflects on his time as a Mormon, and new books by Card and Dashner. Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Blog Posts

What I Learned from Jack Weyland, or a New Series on the History of Mormon Girls, by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, The Juvenile Instructor. “Juvenile Instructor will be hosting a series this summer in which a number of scholars, including Elizabeth Pinborough, Susanna Morrill, and Andrea Radke-Moss, read and critique Mormon teen literature and romance novels. The idea is to understand how these books presented ideas about the body, modesty, and dating. Although some of the commenters will examine recent fiction by classic authors such as Jack Weyland, the bulk of the series will focus on works from the 70s, 80s, and 90s in an attempt to understand how we got where we are. How did all those copies of Charly that my friends bought and read on the bus affect the way that they thought about dating and romance?” This project is a continuation of The Mormon Body Project, which asked what a history of Mormon women and their relationship to their bodies would be like.

Confessions of an Ex-Mormon.  Walter Kirn, The New Republic. Kirn, a popular national novelist (Up in the Air) and essayist, writes about his experiences with Mormons.  Two stories he tells have appeared previously in slightly different short story forms (“Whole Other Bodies” about his family’s conversion when he was a teen, and “Mormon Eden”, about his experience visiting a Mormon historical site as an older teen). Kirn’s take on the Mormons is largely positive. It is interesting to note that the AML Award he won in 1990 for the short story collection My Hard Bargain helped him through a difficult period. He wrote, “My first book, a collection of short stories that opened with a tale of masturbation and ended with one about a drunken missionary, had won a little-known literary prize from a broad-minded Mormon cultural group.”   James Goldberg gives an appreciative reply to the essay.

A thought on spiritual experience in fiction (James Goldberg, Mormon Midrashim). “How do you balance a desire to depict life-changing spiritual experience with traditional cautions against the deus ex machina? . . . In the Book of Mormon, revelations don’t end our problems. They launch our journeys . . . people don’t read to see people change without effort, and the Bible doesn’t teach that belief in God solves anything on its own . . . We deserve stories that show the richness of revelation and the unique setbacks and triumphs people experience through deep religious commitment. Will taking this structural cue from the scriptures help us write them?”

David Farland takes charge of publication process with thriller (Daily Herald feature).

Thoughts on the Definition of Mormon Literature. By Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World. “The boundaries between Mormon and non-Mormon literature are not distinct, but hazy, ambiguous, and contestable. They are, in other words, like most of the boundaries we encounter in life, and their failure to formulate neatly is something Mormon literature scholars will have to learn to live with, if not warmly embrace, if they want the field to go anywhere.”

Romance Novels Without the Sex, by Ariel J. Smythe, Huffington Post Book Section. Article about Shadow Mountain’s new “Proper Romance” brand of “sweet” or non-explicit romance novels. Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson, is used as the primary example.  “”I am always looking for ‘No-Sex’ romances,” Kristie Revicki, Teen Librarian at the Suffern Free Library, says. “And we get a lot of adult readers looking for YA Romance, too, especially paranormal and dystopian- you know, those stories where the collapse of society is only slightly more important than the romance.” Revicki reports that her reading population also includes the Hasidic community, another reading group interested in the “No-Sex” stories. “A lot of preparation went into the creation of the ‘Proper Romance’ brand,” Heidi Taylor, Publishing Manager and Acquisitions Editor at Shadow Mountain Publishing says. “We worked in partnership with (Donaldson’s) agent who is very familiar with the Romance genre and was able to give us a feel for how big this ‘niche’ audience really is.” The publisher did brainstorming sessions, tested stories with readers, and were then ready to launch their “Proper Romance” umbrella. The end result was what Taylor calls a brand of “clean, smart, engaging, romantic stories that will never embarrass the reader.””

At A Motley Vision: William on the various brows at “The serious dethroned; the middlebrow ceasing to strive”, Tyler introduces a new Mormon poetry blog at “I Will Praise Thee with the Psaltery & Lyre”, Kent’s Sunday Lit Crit Sermon spotlights “John Taylor on Books” and Charles “Stayner on Interpreting Scriptural Poetry”. He also discovers a reference to what could be the “First” Mormon Literary Journal – 1839”.  Finnaly, William Morris and James Goldberg talk about the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest.

New Books and their reviews

T. Lynn Adams. The Lost Curse. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, July 10. YA mystery/speculative. Sequel to Tombs of Terror. Two friends find an ancient artifact, and an adventure begins.

Braden Bell. The Kindling. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, July 10. Middle grade light fantasy/adventure. A thirteen-year old discovers he has superpowers.

Ms. Yingling Reads. “Funny, funny lines! Any book with the first line “Connor Del didn’t mean to set anyone’s gym shorts on fire” will be a popular book. I also thought that the world of magic was realistically and clearly defined. Using a school setting more than home worked well in this instance. The magical names and activities were all coherent and cohesive, which is a big plus, since so many magical realism books struggle to get this right. There is a nice blend of action and strategy. Very pleased . . . This book could have used a bit more editing– with some more polish and attention to pacing, etc., it would be absolutely brilliant.”

Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson. Earth Unaware: The First Formic War. Tor, July 17. Science fiction. Prequel to the Ender’s Game series, set 100 years before Ender’s Game. Card and Johnson have also been writing a graphic novel version of this same story, published by Marvel. Johnson has collaborated with Card on several previous projects, including the novel Invasive Procedures.

Kirkus Reviews. “This greatly expands on material from existing backstory and a suite of Marvel comics . . . The story progresses nimbly, with plenty of tension and excitement and Card’s usual well-developed characters, although regulars may note a tendency to belabor certain matters in a manner uncharacteristic of Card solo. Like the similarly endless Dune saga, it’s impossible to pass up a new entry no matter how unpromising it may seem at first glance.”

SF Site. “I don’t think this is a novel that stands on its own, as its main purpose feels like a set-up for the second volume in the trilogy. But endings count for a lot, and in this case, the ending is a cliff-hanger that makes the slow start worthwhile. It has me looking forward to the inevitable confrontation and to see where all of the pieces from this first book will fit in the next installment. . . . For those who’ve never read Ender’s Game, or maybe read it many years ago, this book offers a convenient way to ease into Card’s classic work for the first time or as a re-visit. But for die-hard Enderverse fans, the jury may still be out until round two of this trilogy is published.”

Ender’s Ansible. “On the surface, Earth Unaware is a story that’s been told and retold in the publishing world of science fiction. An alien invasion takes places and the human race responds. What differentiates Earth Unaware from earlier storylines are the characters presented in the novel. Different chapters are told from the perspective of various characters which keeps readers turning pages and eagerly waiting to learn who survives (and doesn’t survive). If there’s one thing you need to know about Earth Unaware, it’s what Aaron Johnston writes in the novel’s afterword “We knew from the get-go that we weren’t writing Ender’s Game. This wouldn’t be the story of a single hero; it would be the story of many.” Each character is motivated by familiar and personal relationships in a way that allows readers to experience the emotions and rationale of each character. No character is as brilliant, witty or compassionate as Ender, which is refreshing considering Bean’s development in the Shadow series . . . Earth Unaware is an enjoyable read for any fan of science fiction. If Ender’s Game made you want to play laser tag, Earth Unaware is going to send you into the paintball field to play Capture the Flag. The story is strong enough and distant enough from the original story to stand apart from the Enderverse.”

Marc Haddock, Deseret News. “The authors present both groups at their best and their worst. Card excels at peeling away the actions of his characters to expose their most private motivations, and he does it well here.”

Michaelbrent Collings. Apparition. Self, July 3. Speculative horror. Something is driving parents to kill their children.

James Dashner. The Void of Mist and Thunder. Shadow Mountain, July 10. 13th Reality series, volume 4.  Ebook only, the print version will be available in September 2012. The finale of the series.

Terri Ferran. Choosing Charity. Cedar Fort, July 10. General. Third in the Faith, Hope, and Charity series. The first two books were about Kit’s romance with a Mormon boy and conversion. In this volume, she is married, and reconnects with her birth mother who abandoned her to die as a baby.

Erik Olsen. Garden of Lost Souls. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort. July 10. Middle Grade/YA fantasy/adventure. Book 2 of the Flynn’s Destiny series.

Jolene Perry. Spill Over. Self, July 7. YA romance.

Lara Stauffer. Unearthed. Horizon Publishers/Cedar Fort, July 10. Young Adult.  A young man, estranged from his father and the Church, rediscover both on an archeological dig in Mexico. First novel. I think this is the first novel Horizon has published in years. It is a semi-independent imprint of Cedar Fort, run by Duane and Jean Crowther, which has only done non-fiction since it was acquired by Cedar Fort in 2004.

Karen Tuft. Reality Check. Covenant, June.  Romance. A Mormon girl wins the heart of a millionaire on a The Bachelor-type reality show. First novel.

Cathy, Fire and Ice. 4.5 stars. “I enjoyed this story. I thought that the whole reality show vibe felt real, with backstabbing contestants, producers and constant gag orders. I liked the plot and I liked that things didn’t instantly work out for either Lucy or Ethan, they had to work for their happily ever after. I thought that Lucy and Ethan felt real . . . This was a cute romance and worth the time it takes to read it!”

Kathy, Bookworm Nation. 4 stars. “Reality Check was a fun read, I really enjoyed it. Lucy was a very likable heroine. She was nice, witty and had good morals. I think that is one of the things I liked most about her. She had a strong testimony and was able to share her beliefs without being judgmental or preachy. I thought she was easy to relate to . . . Overall, a very fun read.”

Bookworm Lisa. 4 stars. “This book for me was a pleasure read. Sometimes I love to just escape into the story and enjoy the characters. This is a great book to take with you to the beach or pool and relax in the sun with . . . There are many situations that are quirky and typical of this kind of a book. Nevertheless, I found it to be a fun and quick read.”

Sheila, LDSWBR (positive).

Rick Walton (author) and Nathan Hale (illustrator). Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody. Feiwel & Friends, July 17. Children’s picture book.  A parody of Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline.

Publishers Weekly: “Walton and Hale beat Goodnight Goon parodist Michael Rex to a 1939 classic: Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline. Playing on the Americanized rhyme between Madeline and Frankenstein, Walton and Hale style themselves as “Ludworst Bemonster” and recast the Parisian girls’ school as a ghoulish academy: “In a creepy old castle all covered with spines,/ lived twelve ugly monsters in two crooked lines…. The ugliest one was Franken-stein.” Instead of headmistress Miss Clavel, readers get Miss Devel, a pallid scientist who sleeps on a gurney; instead of appendicitis, Frankenstein suffers from a missing head, and a voodoo doctor attaches a replacement. Frankenstein’s classmates—including a mini-Dracula, mummy, and swamp thing—are so impressed by Franken-stein’s new neck screws, they follow his example and lose their heads in the book’s inconclusive conclusion. Walton and Hale mime Bemelmans’s poetry and lithography, amplifying the grotesque and picturing stone castles in autumnal shades of pumpkin and ash. Fans of the original—unsettling in its own right, for its lack of parents and predictable comforts—will enjoy spotting the parallels in this creepy-cute Halloween substitute.”

Chris Crowe. “A brilliant and funny parody of the classic MADELINE; this picture has all the right pieces—accurate parody, clever writing, spot-on and subtle illustrations. This could be used in a high school English class to teach the art of parody!”

Rebecca Woods. Rising Winds of Silver Falls. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, July 10. Young Adult. 3rd in the Silver Falls series. Revisiting a series that began in 1997.

Reviews of Older Books

S. P. Bailey. Millstone City (Doug Gibson, The Political Surf, Ogden Standard-Examiner Blog). “There’s been an emergence in what I call the Mormon pulp fiction genre. Far less refined than an Orson Scott Card novel, writers delve into thriller tales with Mormon plots or ideas. Last year the short story anthology, “Monsters & Mormons” was published. Tales included missionaries fighting off flesh-seating zombies and another missionary being rescued in outer space by polygamous aliens. And now “Millstone City,” from Zarahemla, provides the Mormon pulp fiction novel . . . The term “pulp fiction” is not a criticism of the tale. Author S.P. Bailey has written an exciting, fast-paced, heavy-on-action story that takes constant twists and turns, with Carson and his companion, Elder Nordgren, racing from one threat only to encounter a more dangerous one in the next chapter . . . As with pulp fiction, there are plot holes. It’s hard to believe that the pair’s mission president would sit still and wait for the missionaries to come to him . . .  That’s not a huge objection, though. The isolation the missionaries experience, along with the constant threads of danger that arrive every few pages, are what makes this pulp fiction work so well.”

Christine Feehan. Samurai Games (RT Book Reviews).

Betsy Brannon Green. Murder By the Way (Alicia Cunningham, Deseret News). “”Murder By The Way” stands well on its own and can be enjoyed without reading the previous books. However, readers need to be cautioned that they can easily solve this “whodunit” mystery long before the main character puts all of the clues together, making the ending a little frustrating for readers who prefer sophisticated twists and turns.”

Shannon Hale. Midnight in Austenland (Shelah Books It). 2 stars.  “One of the things I find interesting about Shannon Hale is that her young adult fiction feels much more highbrow than her fiction for adults. All of the adult-market novels she’s written have been escapist romances (two set in Austenland and one where Brad Pitt falls in love with a housewife, basically) while her middle grade/YA books (like The Goose Girl) are rich in symbolism and descriptive language . . . The book deviated from being a romance and became a mystery-cum-romance. I had a really hard time getting caught up in Midnight in Austenland. I know that Shannon Hale’s Austenland wasn’t all that well-received when it was published in 2008, but I thought the book was kind of sweet; it was definitely a page-turner. But this time I found myself skimming. For at least a hundred pages I wasn’t even sure who Charlotte’s romantic interest would be . . . Maybe if this book had caught me in a different, less rushed, time of my life, I could have gotten wrapped up in the story, but I felt that this was one where the reader really had to work at enjoying the romance of the story.”

Tracy Hickman. Wayne of Gotham (Andrew Adams, Deseret News). “It’s true that most Batman stories pick and choose which aspects of the various continuities they wish to follow, and this is no exception. But Hickman does little more than summarize some of the better known back stories before veering off in a direction that is seemingly completely unsupported by current comic book arcs . . . Batman himself is somewhat unrecognizable. No one likes a bully, least of all one who bullies an old man — especially when that old man is Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and confidant. Hickman channels some of the darkest iterations of Batman, including one who apparently has no problem killing . . . In the end, this novel doesn’t satisfy as much as other Batman novels, comics and films and is too distracted by a newly crafted history, slightly cheesy 1950s dialogue and somewhat repetitive exposition.”

Dean Hughes. The Winds and the Waves  (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Hughes is one of the best when it comes to allowing his readers to feel and see what his characters experience. His depictions of the poverty of mid-nineteenth century England and the injustice of laws that kept vast numbers of people living lives lower than that of slaves are shown in heart-breaking detail. The bigotry and violence found on America’s outposts strips away any romantic illusions one might have of that frontier period. Nauvoo is little more than a muddy, disease infested swamp. The people are poor and living in hastily built cabins. The big difference is that the people in Nauvoo have hope and faith. They trust their hard work will pay off, granting them better lives. The story moves at a comfortable pace and both stories hold the reader’s attention, though I’ll admit I like the earlier story and characters more than the contemporary one. It took awhile to warm up to the female leads in both segments. I found reading the story in two different time periods annoying. It was like reading two separate books at the same time . . .  Overall, The Winds and The Waves is both satisfying entertainment and thought provoking social commentary. It also takes a close look at how testimonies are built, the doubts and questions that may still linger after conversion, and how faith impacts spiritual growth.”

H. B. Moore. Daughters of Jared (Jennie Hansen, AML). “H.B. Moore presents one of the best conversion stories I’ve ever read with the Daughters of Jared. The conversion is so subtle as Naiva struggles with the concept of deity and faith, the reader is almost unaware the groundwork is being laid . . . Moore’s earlier novels are all built on Book of Mormon characters and events, mostly prophets. They tend to be light romances placed in doctrinal settings with rich Book of Mormon settings. Daughters of Jared takes a different tack as it features woman, introduces no prophets, and deals with the Jaredites rather than the Nephites. The rich, detailed background is there, but the story is primarily imaginative though it fits the few known facts about this time, people, and events. This story, too, delves more deeply into the thought processes and emotions of the female characters than do Moore’s other books. Naiva is an excellent character and watching her grow, develop, and reach a point where she can determine her own course in life is both painful and satisfying. Even with the greater attention given to emotional details, Daughters of Jared is not a strictly character driven novel. It includes fast-paced action, suspense, and drama. It easily falls into the category of those “can’t put it down” books that keep us reading into the small hours of the night. The author builds the tension with finesse to keep the fiction arc climbing, then provides a satisfying, though not completely happy ending in keeping with the scriptural account.”

Jennifer A. Nielsen. The False Prince (Locus Magazine). “The novel’s biggest flaw (is) it’s very hard to believe that peasant children could be turned into believable princes in only two week, not to mention concealing royal deaths for so long. On top of that, there’s a plot twist that experienced readers will see coming a mile off, and it still feels like a cheat. Fortunately, stubborn, impulsive, sneaky Sage keep things lively, for a fun read.”

‘Sameness chokes oneness’: Notes on ‘A Short Stay in Hell’ by Steven L. Peck (Aaron Reeves, By Common Consent).

Steven L. Peck. The Rifts of Rime (Scott Parkin, AML). “”The Rifts of Rime” is a vividly imagined science-fantasy that puts interesting characters and uniquely realized cultures through difficult conflicts that I found engaging, interesting, and relevant. It deals with both social and existential questions in a direct, unflinching way within a world that is as imaginative and self-consistent as anything I’ve read recently. The novel is marketed for young adult readers but has been reviewed by many as a middle-grade tale, presumably because it uses talking animals as main characters—though if age of protagonists matters, we are dealing with a university graduate assistant, trade guild leader, and senior military officers. While I believe the story is accessible to young readers, its sweet spot is with readers who can engage at the level of existential exploration. Though it is a relatively direct conflict with clearly defined issues and sides, I don’t believe that clarity should be mistaken for simplicity. These are foundational issues of loyalty, hope, social role, social boundary, ethnic prejudice, manipulation of religion for political gain, revisionism, and nature of god, among others. These are core elements that demand their own space, not convenient add-ons. There is a deceptive depth to the story that will be lost on younger readers. The writing is clean with only a few plodding sections, and the regular appearance of squirrel poetry was endearing and relevant both as plot element and expression of the author’s own love of poetry. It’s not the sparkling prose you see in Peck’s other novels, but it is strong and readable and never gets in the way of the story being told . . . I referred to Rifts as science-fantasy, which may seem odd for an obviously fantasy story. My primary reason is this: in creating his world, Peck has gone to unusual effort to create a fully realized, deeply imagined world that is both unique and plausibly real in light of his squirrel protagonists. Peck didn’t just replace humans with squirrels and trivially squirrelish behavior in a general medieval morality tale; he created practices, folklore, poetry, common wisdom, and customs specific to each Quickened species that are plausible extensions of known animal behavior . . . Maybe my LDSness blinds me to Peck’s shameless didacticism, but I don’t think so. The society and mythos he has created is consistent and the characters react plausibly within it . . . This is not a great novel, but it is a good one that shows all the promise of initiating a very interesting series that I actively look forward to reading.”

Dan Wells. Hollow City (Updates to the Theory of Everything). “I really liked that I was completely in the dark until the very end of the book. I made several guesses, and they were all wrong. But that was awesome! Because what actually happened is way better than I could have thought up myself . . . The book ends suddenly (thank you for the epilogue!) but rest assured it’s the only way it could have ended, and it was great . . . All in all, this book was great. I definitely recommend it.”

Short Stories

The Maulana Azad Memorial Lamppost of Panipatnam”, By James Goldberg. At Pick of the Spindle, vol. 6.2. Inspired by the True Life Story of Ramesh Moses Kumar, M.D.

Nightingale Songs 1. An ebook to go along with Dave Farland’s novel Nightingale. It includes the Farland Short-story “Against Eternity”, as well as the winner of a short story contest.

West, David J. “The Dig”. In In Situ. Edited by Carrie Cuinn. Dagan Books, July 8.   “An anthology of science fiction stories featuring alien archeology, hidden mysteries, and things that are better off left buried.”  The story features “a female lead countered by a philosophical and psychotic Italian capitano during the early days of World War Two.”

Theater

Shelter, a contemporary rock/pop musical by playwright Brittany Bullen and composer (and brother-in-law) Newell Bullen, and directed by BYU theatre graduate Brighton Sloan, will be performed at the New York Musical Theater Festival, July 26-29. It was previously produced at the Murray Theatre (Murray, UT) in May 2011. It tells the story of a woman working as a counselor in a Philadelphia women’s shelter. Brittany is a graduate of Denison University, Newell is currently a graduate student in conducting at Boston University.  Recent interviews with Brittany about the play are available here and here. Also a UTBA preview of the play based on a recent preview performance.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” review (Deseret News). “The playwright’s attempt to stay true to the C.S. Lewis source results in a play that is overly long and overly dependent on dialogue. Characters enter, speechify and exit, with a lather, rinse, repeat format. It’s a wordy-wordy venture, without the story’s fantasy, adventure and old-school storytelling . . . The producers are to be lauded for their effort to open the wardrobe door and invite audiences into the magic and myth of Narnia.”

Film

Richard Dutcher Ep. 49 The Cultural Hall.  Podcast interview about Dutcher’s faith journey.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, July 22nd and 29th. I also note where the books are on the USA Today bestseller list, which lumps all books, hardcover, paperback, fiction, non-fiction, into one 150 book list.

Mass Market Paperbacks

#2, #4 SAMURAI GAME, by Christine Feehan (2nd week). #11 and #20 on USA Today. New volume in the Ghostwalker series shots nearly to the top.

#19, #13 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (11th week). Holding on strong.  #113 on the USA Today list (15 weeks).

Children’s Hardback

CROSSED, by Ally Condie, dropped off the list after the 10th week.

Children’s Paperback

#7, #6 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (43rd week). Up a notch.

Children’s Series

#6, #8 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (31st week).

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One Response to This Week in Mormon Literature, July 21, 2012

  1. Julie Nichols says:

    Thank you for directing us to the essay by Walter Kirn (to whose work I compared Millstone City in a recent review). Last week I was at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop, where critiquers noted that the Mormon elements in the manuscript I submitted could be used to much stronger advantage than I allowed. I’ve been holding back on Mormonness in my own writing for years, though I’ve won prizes in Sunstone and in Dialogue for fiction and nonfiction–holding back for various reasons whose extent I’ve carefully avoided exploring fully. I marked with an enthusiastic asterisk the session on “Who should I write for?” at next week’s SLC Sunstone Symposium, because that complicated question may very well be the key to my reticence, conscious or no. Alas, I’m recovering from knee surgery and can’t attend the session on audience after all. But Kirn’s story, and Goldberg’s response, and the TTWW, have me wrestling again. Stay tuned. I think Kirn and his ilk, mainstream writers with the ability to examine truthfully and generously the peculiarities of this good faith, without nihilism or bitterness, may provide much-needed guidance in a dark and dreary world. Whatever kind of Mo lit we write, our audiences need infusions of information and honesty they can trust. Thanks again, Andrew.

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