Mormon LitCrit: From Imitation to Innovation; or, Why Mormon Writers Should Move Out of the Basement

Cultural texts do not exist independent of one another, but in an interdependent relationship we call the tradition. New texts rely on the tradition of older texts, and older texts depend on new texts to keep the tradition vibrant and relevant. The text that leaves no inheritance—or makes no case for its place in one—damns itself to obscurity. We read Hamlet today not because of what it is, but because of what it sustained and made possible. The same is true about watching the television series Lost, the presence of which we now feel whenever we hear the Gilligan’s Isle theme, read Joseph Hilton’s Lost Horizon or Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, or watch the latest episode of Once Upon a Time or Revolution. We also catch the scent of it in the most episodic of television shows—past and present—and their refusal to conform to the serial format Lost reinvigorated.  

Closely associated with tradition is imitation. For beginning artists, imitation is a useful way to learn necessary skills while learning the tradition. When I was a senior in high school, for example, my creative writing professor had us write poetry that imitated famous poems like “Dover Beach” and e. e. cummings’ “in just—.” Later, as an art major at Ricks College, I kept a “Masters Journal” of sketches done of in imitation of the Old Masters of the Renaissance. The theory behind these exercises—and that’s precisely what they were: exercises—was that imitation offered some insight into the style and technique of successful artists. Through them I was supposed to find my own artistic sense. Imitation was never meant to be the end of the line.

Sadly, imitation often seems to be the goal of Mormon cultural production, particularly in the kitschmarket. I became aware of this when I worked as an early-morning custodian at the BYU Bookstore, one of the great Meccas of the Mormon Knock-Offs industry. Since then, I’ve kept an eye out for examples. Here are a few of them:

You can probably come up with a few more—especially if you have more frequent and direct exposure to the LDS kitschmarket than I do. The rule seems to be that if anything has recently hit it big on the national stage, some Mormon entrepreneur has already capitalized on it with a knock-off. You can even find knock-offs of successful Mormon products like The Work and the Glory, which has spawned several less-successful imitations (see here and here for examples) since its initial publication in 1991. The same is also true, I imagine, for the Tennis Shoes series.

Imitation, of course, is not unique to Mormon culture as all culture follows the trends that prove most popular and lucrative. Take a look at the inbreeding that happens in the YA fantasy market, where books about boy wizards, vampires, and post-apocalyptic dystopias give birth to more of the same. Originality and trend-setting is a more difficult task, and Mormons writers—with the exception, perhaps, of Stephenie Meyer—seem more likely to follow trends than to start them. This was true even in the early days. What is B. H. Roberts’ Corianton but a Mormon knock-off of Ben-Hur? What is Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon but a Mormon knock-off of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward? Both Ben-Hur and Looking Backward were enormous best-sellers in the late nineteenth century, after all, and Roberts and Anderson certainly took note of them.

Some Mormon fiction, to be sure, rises above the level of imitation. While The Backslider seems to have much in common thematically with Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, it seems to be more in conversation with that book than an imitation of it. Likewise, Jack Harrell’s Vernal Promises seems less an imitation of The Backslider than an engaged rewriting of it. In a sense, each novel is indebted to the one before it, and each modifies the way we understand the others, without becoming an overt plagiarism. Much the same thing occurs in Margaret Young and Darius Gray’s Standing on the Promises series (read this too), which clearly borrows from the conventions of Gerald Lund’s The Work and the Glory series (and its imitators), yet subverts them—even to the extent of Signifin(g) on them—with an alternative version of Mormon history that privileges the story of African-American Mormons over those of their white brothers and sisters.

Even these novels, however, are rather imitative on the levels of form, style, tone, and structure. As far as I can tell, the Mormon literary avant-garde moves a cautious twenty years or thirty years behind the cutting edges of the literary establishment—and even then the avant-garde plays it safe. Douglas Thayer, for example, is probably the Mormon fiction writer most affected by American Modernism, yet his brand of Modernism is more Hemingway and Fitzgerald than Faulkner. And as postmodernism goes, Mormon authors have tended to be more Raymond Carver than Thomas Pynchon or Don DeLillo. Again, this conservatism seems to have always been the case. While Added Upon is a kind of paradoxically imitative work of experimental fiction, Anderson’s subsequent novels generally hold the conventional line of popular didactic fiction.

Why Mormon fiction tends to follow rather than innovate is a question we can open up for debate. I believe it has something to do with assimilation and the desire to fit in and be respected. Even though we don’t realize it, I think we Mormons are still smarting from a childhood of playground bullying. Having been abused early in the national presses, and soundly threatened by the fatherland to shape up or ship out, we have a deeply-rooted need to prove our worth and show that we’re just as good as the other kids. When we write, we’re not trying to show how different we are or how innovative we can be—that’s proved to be way too dangerous in the past. Instead, we’re simply trying to show that we’re smart enough, skilled enough, and normal enough to write a short story or novel that doesn’t raise a suspicious eyebrow or merit easy dismissal. And we take the same approach to other forms of culture, from poetry to film to t-shirt design.

Of course, I think Mormon knock-off culture will diminish as Mormonism matures and gains more confidence in itself and its worldview. How long that will take is as predictable as the Second Coming, yet I’ll play the Millerite and guess that the end of Mormon cultural dependence on imitation will happen on October 22, 2044. By then, I imagine, we’ll find our own niche in the tradition and build upon it in a way that is more innovative than imitative. However, we must learn how to participate in and contribute to larger conversation in order for this to happen. If we allow ourselves merely to parrot other works in with a gentle Utah accent, we do no better than the man who bolts his bed to his parents’ basement floor and orders new wallpaper from Amazon. Sometime between now and thirty-two years from now, we’ll need to pack up our U-Haul and bid the parents adieu. We’ve learned a lot from them, and they are part of who we are, but it’s time to do our own thing with the DNA they passed down to us. We need to do it and they need us to do it. It’s in both of our best interests.

A few developments give me hope that we’re moving in the right direction. Mormons have seized the blogosphere and created the so-called “Bloggernacle,” a digital behemoth that even outsiders recognize as distinctive and culturally insightful. Recent Mormon literary contests like the Mormon Lit Blitz and the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contests, while less-recognized, have also done much by claiming flash fiction as a genre for innovative Mormon expression. (I was impressed, for example, with how stories like “Little Karl,” “Maurine Whipple, Age 16, Takes a Train North,” “Release,” and “Avek, Who is Distributed” told Mormon stories that took us off the beaten paths of Mormon storytelling.) These developments and others make me wonder if we cannot find a way to combine storytelling with the technological possibilities of hypertext, video streaming, social media, memes, e-publishing, and anything else out there that’s available to redefine the way we experience storytelling. Writers have been experimenting with this kind of literature for at least the last twenty-five years or so anyway, so Mormons are about due to pick up on the trend, which hasn’t quite gone mainstream yet.

Perhaps, uncharacteristically, we can jump the gun and make a mark in electronic literature before it becomes the standard.1


1 Maybe it’s too soon to be calling for a new fiction contest or Lit Blitz, but I think one that encourages technological and narratival innovation is in order. James?

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111 Responses to Mormon LitCrit: From Imitation to Innovation; or, Why Mormon Writers Should Move Out of the Basement

  1. MKHutchins says:

    While “Settlers of Zarahemla” makes me cringe, I think it’s unfair to say that sans Stephanie Meyer, there are no/few trailblazers in fiction. OSC’s “Ender’s Game” is considered one of the finest SF books of the past century. Brandon Sanderson writes fantastic, original fiction especially noted for its rigorous, scientific-like magic systems. I don’t know anyone except Howard Taylor who’s writing comic space opera four panels at a time. Vodnik, by Bryce Moore, is one of the best books I’ve read all year — taking a YA urban fantasy novel to a new place with new mythologies. In the short story field, Eric James Stone is always writing something good, and Nancy Fulda’s “Movement” is one of the best short stories I’ve read in recent memory.

    I also don’t think that retellings or stories set in a particular vein make a story unoriginal, or a knock-off. Shannon Hale’s “Book of a Thousand Days” and Jessica Day George’s “Princess of the Midnight Ball” are both delightful fairy tale retellings. James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner” is set in a dystopian vein, but it’s different than what went before it (Also of note: It was written & bought before “The Hunger Games” took off and dystopias became a hot commodity. At a conference, I listened to James talk about how the interest in dystopias led to a larger marketing push for his already-purchased not-yet-released-book. I’d argue that bucketfuls of vampire novels, or dystopians, has much more to do with sudden changes in buying tastes of publishers and less to do with artists being reactionary/immitative).

    In fact, when I look through the Mormon authors on my shelves, I see an abundance of creative works that are either doing something rather new, or doing something old in an innovative/new/fun way.

    • Scott Hales says:

      I certainly won’t argue with the notion that Mormon science fiction writing lacks creativity, and I’ll be the first to say that just because something sets a trend does not mean that it is automatically better than something that doesn’t. What impresses me about Stephenie Meyer, though, is that she contributed in a significant way to a genre already laden with conventions and simply did her own thing. Today, you can’t talk about vampires without talking about Twilight–even though Twilight is not very representative of vampire fiction in general. I’m not sure the same can be said about other Mormon sci-fi writers–even though they have been influential and highly innovative. Their work clearly shows an awareness of the tradition without upsetting that tradition too much. Of course, as you point out, Card may actually be one of the rare Mormon authors who shapes the tradition in noticeable ways. In fact, I would argue that Card is able to do that because he is so familiar with the tradition–and not just the sci-fi tradition. I get the sense that he is extremely well-read in English and American lit.

      Still, I hold to the notion that Mormon fiction tends to follow rather than innovate. Writers can’t escape influence, even when they try to, so their works always evoke other works. What I’d like to see are fewer works that try to copy the success of other works and more that try to make their own mark in the tradition.

      • Scott Hales says:

        And I should say that I think this innovation ought to happen not only on the level of content, but also on the level of form and style.

      • Scott Parkin says:

        Three trollish thoughts for the morning (maybe I shouldn’t write before the Diet Dew kicks in…).

        Some of this conversation feels like tribal hooting to me. My posse (cadre, cave brothers, whatever) writes cool and worthy innovation, unlike the rest of you hackish, banal deadbeats. The stuff I like is sparkling; the stuff you like is derivative. Etc.

        I liked both M&M (my review should appear in a future issue of BYU Studies) and both of James Goldberg’s contests, but their innovativeness exists only as an intra-communal expression of very old ideas and traditions from outside the community.

        Flash fiction, for example, is just a 20+ year old rebrand of the short-short, a form as old as fiction itself. Using that ancient form to tell Mormon stories feels less innovative in an absolute sense than in a parochial, intra-communal/intra-cultural sense.

        Likewise, the core conceit of M&M is cultural re-appropriation of a pulp tradition from a century ago (same foundation as modern sf, btw). It innovates within Mormon cultural assumptions of Mormon-appropriate by applying a very old and hackneyed rubric for story form/structure/content to our social, spiritual, and religious assumptions. In other words, direct conceptual imitation with a cultural twist.

        This idea of cultural re-appropriation (Wm’s formulation of a key organizing principle for M&M that also applies nicely to James Goldberg’s contests) seems like a fair definition of innovation within both the explicitly Mormon creative community and the Mormon marketplace. But the idea of re-appropriation carries within itself the fact that it’s recycling very familiar (aka, non-innovative) forms and ideas as its seed for new approaches within a limited community.

        In other words, it’s innovative *here* in the Mormon market, but it’s not actually innovative in an absolute sense. We’re just expanding the boundaries of a traditionally limited community, not Literature itself. Unfettering feels expansive, but it merely enables the use of existing (but previously inaccessible) spaces rather than creating truly new spaces.

        Innovative forms tend to be essentially inaccessible unless the innovation is extremely limited. I’ve read stories written entirely in the C computer language (micro stories in both size and structure) and Gilda Trillim’s word-image fiction is nothing less than extraordinary (see articles by Steven Peck on the work of Gilda Trillim for a fascinating look into what for me is an impenetrable form [[...ah, if only there were at least *some* poetry in my soul...]]). While both forms are startling, and thus demand new approaches to consideration, they are also of limited utility in reaching any but a tiny audience with their ideas.

        As a shameless thief, I admit freely to stealing/imitating (inartisticly) from Ms. Trillim’s form in a recent sf story. For me it was innovative because it changed the way I engaged some ideas, and I would expect readers to see it as at least marginally exotic and clever. Innovation within the genre, but not the greater literature.

        While I can’t argue that a fair few of the titles in the top post are indeed nothing more than cynical re-packagings of other people’s ideas designed to make a quick buck off of a specific regional/cultural market, some of those titles seem like discursive responses to prior works, not just cynical knock-offs.

        The idea of literary discussion through (culturally appropriated?) counter-example is part of a grand literary tradition. Imitating the form but opposing the content or viewpoint seems like innovation to me, precisely because it subverts the original text in key ways by explicitly using its forms to argue a fundamentally different (and often opposing) idea.

        In other words, it’s an argument in the form of narrative challenge and response, and one of the great (and old) traditions of the broader literature. It innovates at the level of idea or context, not form or structure. To me that’s still innovative, even if it doesn’t seem exotic. Not startling, to be sure, but no less a cultural appropriation than M&M or Four Centuries.

        Clearly I’m not seeing something here. And I’d like to. But I need some more help. I’m a hack, not an educated literateur, so I need some very basic assumptions to be more clearly explicated if I hope to understand these distinctions.

        If at all possible, speak slowly, like you would to a child. With specific examples. Because I’m just not seeing it, and I really want to. If I can.

        Unless I’m in the wrong forum, in which case all I can do is sit down and shut up.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Sorry for this tome’s location within this thread…I thought I was adding it at the top level. Oh bother…

        • Wm says:

          I actually think you’ve got it right, Scott P., that:

          Some critics (and perhaps consumers) value innovation in form; some consumers (and perhaps critics) value innovation in idea/context.

          Innovation is also often relative to what a particular reader, writer, critic, group, field has already been exposed to.

          To be honest, I hate the word innovation. It’s almost always meaningless.

          On the other hand, to put it bluntly: I’d like for both Mormon faithful realism and SF&F written by Mormons to tackle some harder projects and be in dialogue with some of the more complex/interesting/whatever work that has been published in the last 10-15 years. I have suggested two authors in this thread already.

          Here are three more:

          China Mievelle
          KJ Parker
          Marilynne Robinson

          Note that all of the authors I mention have their limits and weaknesses. Mievelle is not so great at endings. Jennifer Egan’s near future sci-fi could be a bit more developed and rigorous. KJ Parker can be a bit cold, etc.

        • Scott Hales says:

          “To be honest, I hate the word innovation. It’s almost always meaningless.”

          Agreed…especially since it is so weighted with notions of “making it new”–as if art could be made ex nihilo. If I have a weakness, it is my imprecise selection of terms. Recommendations for alternatives?

          As I see it, innovation is not so much about doing something that has never been done before and more about destabilizing or unsettling the reader. I cited the flash fiction stories from the 4C contest as examples of stories moving in the right direction because I felt that they destabilized me more than others. Never mind that they were written in a form that has been used and recycled before. The stories made me rethink what I understood about the Mormon past and present–and about the way we write about them.

          And what Steven Peck is doing with “Gilda Trillim,” I think, deserves recognition as something really interesting/exciting happening right now in Mormon fiction. At times I find it mind-numbing, but I always find it innovative in a destabilizing sense. And I wouldn’t cast any final judgments yet on its potential influence in the Mormon letters community. I imagine we’ll see more like it and/or inspired by it in the future.

        • Wm says:

          I’d settle for more experimentation.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          In which Scott.Parkin realizes he has been fully and properly punked because he thought Gilda Trillim to be an actual person and those works of creative fiction to be articles…

          Inopportune literalism strikes again.

          This never happens to me with Onion articles.


        • Th. says:


          . . . or me it was innovative because it changed the way I engaged some ideas . . .

          I will often crank out a short story just to try out some brilliant idea or technique I’ve bumped across. Or, for instance, “The Avon Lady” was languishing unsaleable until I gave it a frame, an idea I lifted from a Neil Gaiman story. It was an innovative idea for me, I tried it, it’s now in my toolbox.

          I’m not convinced it’s possible to do anything entirely NEW. All we can do is grow our own skills and hope our collection of tools is different enough to expand the literature.

        • Wm says:

          And yet narrative frames were once considered the most stodgy of devices because they were over-used in the mid-to-late 19th century.

          So, yeah.

        • Th. says:



          Innovation, folks!

  2. Jonathan Langford says:


    I think that in the interests of building a broad case you’ve wound up overgeneralizing. In particular, I have to agree with MK that I’m not sure what you’re saying holds true when it comes to genre fiction, particularly sf&f.

    In addition to Card — whose treatment of religion (for example, in the Folk of the Fringe stories) is also noteworthy in my view within sf&f — I’d point to Zenna Henderson, whose “lost generation” sf works have a peculiar community- and family-centered focus that again is pretty innovative for sf. And there are a lot of other individual Mormon sf&f authors (such as Dan Wells) whose works I’d want to examine carefully against the lens of tradition before concluding that they are essentially imitative.

    More broadly, I have to challenge the idea that there is a single literary tradition in relation to which Mormon writers can be broadly placed. I don’t know enough about the other genres to have an opinion, but despite some cross-pollination, I would argue that sf&f represents a distinctly different literary tradition from mainstream American (and British) fiction. Different values, different traditions, different antecedents, different communities, and different markets and means of production. The question of whether Mormon sf&f authors bring something original to that field must, I think, be considered separately from the question of originality in “Mormon fiction” as a whole. (I have some rudimentary thoughts on the subject, but now lack a wide enough reading to pursue the argument; so far as I know, no one else has taken it up either.)

    Which leads to the problematic question of just what “Mormon fiction” is. Most of your examples are taken from fiction with distinctly Mormon content, and/or developed for a Mormon audience. What is true of either or both of these is not necessarily true about fiction written for non-Mormon audiences and/or not dealing with explicitly Mormon themes.

    • Scott Hales says:

      “I have to challenge the idea that there is a single literary tradition in relation to which Mormon writers can be broadly placed”

      Do I make this claim? Or do you imply it from my apparent overgeneralization of Mormon writers? I think the way I try to use “tradition” in this post is broader than that. I understand “tradition” to be an intertexual web that defies linearity. Mormon writers, I would say, are Mormon independent of how they draw upon the tradition. Margaret Young and Darius Gray are as Mormon as Obert Skye, but how they draw upon the tradition is radically different.

      Of course, I’ll readily admit that all Mormon writers are not Obert Skye and we can spend all day talking about Mormon writers who are innovative. But at the end of the day I don’t think we can say that Mormon fiction–both that which relates to Mormonism and that which doesn’t–favors experimentation or innovation more often than not. It proceeds cautiously.

      • Jonathan Langford says:

        Actually, I inferred it from what I saw as the way you were positioning your discourse about “the tradition” to which Mormon writers are reacting. Obviously I misinterpreted what you meant.

        My point isn’t that tradition is nonlinear, but rather that there are multiple webs (to use your metaphor). The tradition as sf&f readers and writers know it simply isn’t the same as the tradition of American realism-modernism-postmodernism.

        One of the great problems of sf&f literary criticism has been a tendency to adopt the methods and values of mainstream literary criticism in ways that aren’t well suited to the genre. This (for example) has led to overattention to authors such as Le Guin and Bradbury whose work can easily be discussed in those terms, and inattention to authors such as Heinlein and Asimov for whom this is less true.

        So what does this have to do with the argument you’re making? Mostly, I would claim that the relationship of Mormon sf&f authors to the larger sf&f tradition isn’t a subset of the relationship of Mormon mainstream authors to the mainstream literary tradition, but is mostly a different thing, by almost any lens you choose: historical, thematic, communitarian, stylistic, or commercial. As such — regardless of whether your argument holds water for mainstream Mormon writers and fiction — it needs an independent analysis before you can say whether it holds water for sf&f authors as well. And the same may be true of other genres, but I don’t have a good enough sense of the particulars of those genres to tell one way or the other.

        A final, separate point: you say that we can’t say Mormon fiction (by which I take it you mean here all fiction by Mormons) favors experimentation or innovation more often than not. But what field or community does? It seems to me more or less a given that most literature in any field isn’t going to break boundaries. (Which suggests, rather disturbingly, that innovation may not be a terribly critical value for most art, but that’s another discussion.) A more reasonable standard is: How are we doing compared with other groups? Or any set of authors of approximately the same size as the group of Mormon writers? Does Mormonism encourage us to take creative risks beyond what we might take if we weren’t Mormon? By that standard, I suspect that Mormon sf&f writers at least aren’t doing too bad.

        Which isn’t a reason not to encourage innovation. Where I take issue with the approach you take here is that it doesn’t seem well adapted to recognizing innovation when it does occur outside the mainstream. If you want Mormon sf&f writers to respond to your call to arms, you need to show that you understand what they’re already doing first.

        • Scott Hales says:

          There’s a lot to respond to here. I’ll try to have a go at it.

          1) I’ll grant that the word “tradition” is problematic, and I knew that going into this post. the downside of it is that it can suggest an old-school stodginess that privileges “great works” of literature over traditionally “minor” or “marginalized” works. It is a conservative word, in a sense. At the same time, I like the way it suggests that there is a commonality between works that follow each other in time. It is appropriate, in other words, to say that a work follows “in the tradition” of another work. However, we err if we say that it belongs to that tradition alone. That’s why I like to think of “the tradition” a web of lineages far more complex than, say, human lineages. A better word might be “intertexuality,” but I think that word erases some of the important generational aspects of the relations we’re discussing here. I like the idea of “intertexuality,” especially since it allows for different kinds of texts to be recognized as influences. But tradition also gives the sense that we’re building something. I hate the word as much as I love it.

          2) I’m kind of surprised that this conversation has focused so much on sci-fi, although I shouldn’t be. Since I’m not as well read in Mormon sci-fi as you are, I’m willing to concede the point. I’m planning on doing some research on it soon anyway, so I’ll have to test my theory and see if it “holds water.” Part of me also wonders if the very act of a Mormon writing sci-fi is not something that is relatively safe. I know this is not a popular opinion to have, but Mormons have a long established history with sci-fi and I question whether contributing to that genre is not another act of imitation in and of itself. In other words, I want to know if we have become routine in our sci-fi, and it has become the easy choice for Mormon writers. Again, this is only a theory.

          3) Which leads me to my next thought: perhaps what I’m getting at in this post, and where this discussion is leading, is that Mormon fiction writers should consider moving beyond the notion of genre. Wm has already asked what is beyond postmodernism, and I think the end of genre may be one of the possible “beyonds.” As a logic, after all, postmodernism has been hyperaware of genre and its limitations. In some ways, I think it has brought literature/culture to the point where genres no longer matter. This is, perhaps, one reason why I’m resisting your notion, Jonthan, that science fiction and fantasy and “mainstream” fiction require different understandings of tradition and different critical lenses. I’m not sure I agree with that.

          4) I am perhaps demanding too much from Mormons writers. As James pointed out a few posts ago, we’re doing so much better (not to brag) than other relatively new quasi-ethnic religious groups. At the same time, other relatively new identity groups, like the LGBTQ community, seem so much more willing to work the tradition in arresting ways. I’m not saying we need to produce art like their art, but I think we need to seek after voices we can call our own.

        • Jonathan Langford says:

          The main reason I’ve been focusing on sf&f is that it’s the one field where I feel like I know enough to say something. I’d call myself an sf&f reader/critic by original impulse, and only secondarily a mainstream reader/critic.

          The Mormon sf&f community has a long and fairly independent existence, compared to the Mormon literary community in general. People like myself and Scott Parkin and Kathleen Woodbury were part of that community long before we joined the AML crowd. I like the notion of ecumenicism — it’s one of my prime reasons for being involved in AML — but I think there’s a danger in obscuring specifics, particularly when they seem based on a perception of a common history that runs contrary to my perceptions and experience.

          I’m not sure it’s really accurate to think of authors as existing prior to, and independent of, genre. Most sf&f writers I know have relatively little interest in other forms of writing. With a few rare exceptions such as Wm Morris, I don’t see many writers who are genuinely torn between several different genres they want to write. While genres may evolve, I don’t think we’ll ever be post-genre, because it’s my perception that the desire to read and write are desires that exists largely in and through genres.

          Case in point: postmodernism. I honestly don’t think that the postmodern crisis in storytelling was really a big issue for many people outside a fairly narrow thread of literary fiction (itself, I would argue, a distinct genre with its own issues). The very concern with moving past postmodernism is, for me at least, evidence of the narrowness of your definition of innovation and the literary tradition.

          Which again, isn’t to say that innovation isn’t important. What I’m arguing in favor of is a discussion that respects that individual writers write within their own specific communities, to their own particular readers, in response to their own particular traditions. If anything, I think that will make us more able to identify and celebrate innovation and accomplishment.

        • Wm says:

          I’m less torn and more…profligate. Or perhaps bi-curious (although my interests extend into other genres as well — just not quite so strongly at the moment).

        • Wm says:

          One of the things that is interesting to me is how well SF&F has done at absorbing postmodernism and producing fiction that addresses the concerns of postmodernism without creating as alienating of stories. While at the same time literary fiction has increasingly turned to genre to help it recover from the crisis of postmodernism.

        • Th. says:


          I worry that every discussion like this evolves into a rahrah for Mormon specfic writers. Is this the only type of writing we can aspire to?

          Not to knock it, but it seems like we’re anxious to retreat to our sf&f cave (which is, granted, very very deep) rather than seeing what else is out in the world.

        • Scott Hales says:

          So, you’re suggesting we not nitpick and have an actual conversation about new ways to write Mormon literature?

        • Th. says:


          Don’t you dare put words in my mouth!

  3. Jonathan Langford says:

    One more thought. It seems to me that there’s a significant difference between being influential and being innovative. Texts can be innovative without being influential. And I suspect they can be influential without being innovative–something I suspect may be the case with Stephanie Meyer, though I lack the detailed knowledge of vampire literature to make that case. Both may be worthwhile goals for Mormon writers (though what I know of literary history suggests that influence, at least, represents a confluence of many factors largely incalculable by the writer) — but they are different goals. Which is it that you’re calling for here?

  4. Wm says:

    Speaking from the side of myself that engages in artistic production:

    It’s not easy to be in dialogue with great works of literature, and especially not when you also want to include modern Mormon and modern American culture (and socio-political dynamics) into that dialogue. Add on innovation in form, and, well, things can get incredibly complex and daunting.

    Now, of course, it’s quite possibly to be a precocious genius (avante garde or populist or both) and not worry about all that and produce something innovative. I don’t know how that happens, though, so it’s not something I can weigh in on.

    But really, I don’t know that the situation is all that different for Mormon writers than it is for American writers: having played out Modernism and chased down the cul-de-sacs of Postmodernism, what’s left?

    I know that, for example, every time I think about working on something very postmodern, I find myself bored with it. And I find modernism fairly silly (unless we bring in some other concerns and try to stretch in/across some Mormon metaphor, which is what I try to do when I write Mormon faithful realism). The closest I’ve come to a sweet spot is my Speculations series which tries to cram in everything. The weakness with those works, though, is that their effectiveness relies heavily on being able to read them through a filter of orthodoxy (because that’s the place they’re coming from) while at the same time being aware of the various discourses and conversations they are riffing on.

    I still need to read the Scholar of Moab, but I’d say that Bela Petsco’s short story collection; Monsters & Mormons; Angel Falling Softly; The Pictograph Murders; and The Five Books of Jesus are the works that come to mind as doing something interesting with Mormonism and form.

    • Scott Hales says:

      I readily endorse your last paragraph–in fact many of those works appeared in an earlier draft of this post.

      My thought is that Mormon writers already need to be looking beyond modernism and postmodernism since that’s the direction contemporary fiction seems to be headings. I personally dread the thought that Mormon writers will embrace a kind of postmodernism that was in vogue in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. We need to be looking ahead of us and around us, not thirty years behind us.

      • Wm says:

        I’d say the Jennifer Egan and Karen Joy Fowler are two authors to become familiar with if the goal is to look around and ahead.

        Although I should point out that A Visit from the Goon Squad was actually presaged somewhat by Todd Robert Petersen’s Long After Dark.

        • Scott Hales says:

          And now I’m curious. I tried to read Jennifer Egan’s “The Keep” once, but I couldn’t get into it.

          So I’ve put off reading Good Squad…

    • Scott Hales says:

      And, yes, I agree that this is not just a Mormon problem.

      • Th. says:


        I think part of the problem is the nimrods who came up with the terms “Modernism” and “Postmodernism”—I think the semantics here are inherently limiting.

        • Scott Hales says:

          The term post-postmodernism is even floating around out there, which is a useful idea…but a rather inelegant term to try to use.

        • Wm says:

          I don’t think that the producers of art should worry too much about labels, but I think that both modernism and postmodernism can be useful terms when applied to a specific set of texts/works with some specific concerns.

          And whether conscious or not, most writers today are operating within in a tradition that includes those two trends in fiction (in a greater or lesser way).

          In fact, in some ways modernism and postmodernism are too fiction what punk and post-punk are to current pop/rock music.

        • Th. says:


          I agree. Writers who spend time labeling themselves are wasting their time. The best writers are the ones we can’t quite label until a movement grows up around them.

    • Th. says:


      I too am bored with the silliness. I used to write all sorts of [post]modern stuff, but I grew out of it.

      Right now I’m trying to engage Moby Dick with my current novel project. Which is crazy hard. Right now I’m trying to decide if I can pull it off without an Ishmael. I want to, but it’s tricky. . . .

      • Scott Hales says:

        I think that since Mormonism and postmodernism are an ill match anyway, it’s not a bad idea to leap over it altogether–insofar as that’s possible. I think the postmodern moment has introduced some important ideas for literature, but I’d hate to see Mormon writers try to recreate that moment with a Mormon spin. I’d much rather see us trust our our own -ism(s) without apologizing for what postmodernism likely sees as its/their limitations.

        It’s inevitable probably that Mormon writing will have some intertextual exchange with late-twentieth century postmodern fiction, but I don’t think we need to force it.

        • Scott Hales says:

          Which brings us back to Wm’s question about where we go now. As I say in the post, I think we need explore the possibilities of new media and how they have the potential to change the way we make and receive fiction and other literary forms.

          What I’ve liked about this year’s two online contests is that they have not focused on genre, but on creating an understanding of Mormon literature that has less to do with generic conventions and more to do with constructing a Mormon identity for both the writer and audience. Plus, with the added incentive to discuss the works online–first on Facebook, then on the Mormon blogosphere–they forced us to think of ourselves as a community. I found that both contests created an interesting camaraderie and wore away the wall between author and reader. Maybe we could explore how this kind of digital space could inform the way we tell our stories.

          Imagine, for instance, what would happen if we read novels the way we’ve been reading flash fiction.

  5. Scott Parkin says:

    On an unrelated note—

    Since I seem to have lost functional ownership of my own first name in this forum to Mr. Scott Hales, might I suggests some alternative monikers for myself.

    Rex (middle name)
    Parkman (high school football coach’s misconception)

    Other ideas accepted. Sorry for the interruption.

  6. Mark Penny says:

    Where is Inigo Montoya when you need him?

    Scott H, you’re really talking about divergent evolution, which will only happen in some kind of isolation. We are still in the world and saturated with its cultures. I apologize if somebody’s already said that.

    Speaking of isolation, may I recommend a project currently under development?

    • Scott Hales says:

      Explain how you derive “divergent evolution” from the post…

      As I see it my post is not asking that we separate ourselves from the world and its cultures, but rather that we find a less imitative way to engage those cultures.

      • Mark Penny says:

        You want us to develop our own way, not just our own themes and so on. To do that we would have to, in some way, isolate ourselves or become isolated from our host cultures, make some kind of island (physical or mental) where, with time, we would alter what we brought from the world into something new. Hmm. There’s a premise! Without that isolation, we will just keep turning what the world provides to our own ends.

      • Mark Penny says:

        “Cultural texts do not exist independent of one another, but in an interdependent relationship we call the tradition.”

        “Closely associated with tradition is imitation.”

        “Sadly, imitation often seems to be the goal of Mormon cultural production, particularly in the kitschmarket.”

        “Imitation, of course, is not unique to Mormon culture as all culture follows the trends that prove most popular and lucrative.”

        “Some Mormon fiction, to be sure, rises above the level of imitation.”

        “Even these novels, however, are rather imitative on the levels of form, style, tone, and structure.”

        “Why Mormon fiction tends to follow rather than innovate is a question we can open up for debate.”

        “Of course, I think Mormon knock-off culture will diminish as Mormonism matures and gains more confidence in itself and its worldview.”

        “A few developments give me hope that we’re moving in the right direction.”

        “Perhaps, uncharacteristically, we can jump the gun and make a mark in electronic literature before it becomes the standard.”

        “Maybe it’s too soon to be calling for a new fiction contest or Lit Blitz, but I think one that encourages technological and narratival innovation is in order.”

        • Mark Penny says:

          I see two strands here: one that pleads for originality of narrative elements and one that pleads for innovation of narrative structure and technique.

          “Some Mormon fiction, to be sure, rises above the level of imitation.”

          “Even these novels, however, are rather imitative on the levels of form, style, tone, and structure.”

        • Scott Hales says:

          Yes. But that doesn’t mean they must come about via isolation–although I agree that isolation would enable them just as it could potentially stagnate them. (We have evidence of this in the BoM, right, with the Nephites and the Mulekites?)

          The best minority literatures (i.e. Jewish lit, African-American lite, LGBTQ lit, etc.), also, have developed distinctive voices and have been highly experimental even with (and perhaps because of) constant exposure to the tradition and more dominant cultural trends.

        • Th. says:


          The more I read the Book of Mormon the more I agree with OSC’s theory that the Mulekites aren’t Israelites at all.

        • Mark Penny says:

          We can go round the mulberry bush on this forever. My essential point is that if you want to be different from those around you, have to stop taking in so much of what makes them them. It’s like when someone goes off to another country for a couple of years (assuming they don’t recreate their hometown in the new locale). Actually, two things happen in that situation. First, they begin diverging by mutation. They get out of step with the folks back home. They become something different just by being away for a while. Second, and this is a new point, I guess, they talk on new attributes from their new milieu.

          Just the other day, a church member I hadn’t seen in ages caught up with me on facebook and, after a few text exchanges, remarked that I had become more Taiwanese. In other words, to her I’d become less (Caucasian(North American(Canadian))) and more (Asian(Chinese(Taiwanese))). I’d lost some of the earmarks of my foreignness and gained some of the earmarks of Taiwaneseness. This wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in Canada or moved into little Canada over her. What I did was attend Chinese-speaking wards and settle down with a Taiwanese wife.

          When I was teaching English in Ukraine, I lived with local families, taught in local institutions, attended local branches and hung out with local friends. By association, I wound up rebuilding myself as something like a Russian.

          I didn’t have quite the same experience of re-invention as a missionary in Haiti, because my constant companions were Americans–although it’s safe to say I became more American through the experience.

          So my point is this: if we write like we’re in the world, we will write like we’re of the world. We will absorb the themes and structures the world hands down to us. If we want to write in some other way, we need to find or create a space in which we can evolve different themes and structures.

          One issue I’ve been pondering off and on is how to inform English language Mormon writing with non-English language Mormon writing. How do we join, influence and benefit from some kind of world Mormon literature?

      • Scott Parkin says:

        (…still trying [and largely failing] not to hang up on the word innovation…)

        Part of the challenge (and value) of a discussion like this is getting clear on some of the assumptions that drive the call to action. From an outsider perspective, I see Scott Hales’ call as less about experimental modes of story (though also part of that call), and more about engagement of the literary art from an aggressively Mormon standpoint.

        While Scott.H seems more interested in technical innovation than I am, the idea suggests that as Mormon writers we ought to expand our approach beyond the safest (blandest) and most imitative narrative modes as a means of more aggressively exploring the uniquenesses of distinctly Mormon mindsets, ideas, and assumptions. Use the innovative form to accentuate Mormon ideas—by using the distinctiveness of the form as a means of jarring our own assumptions about how we as Mormon writers can express distinctly Mormon things.

        In other words, use the innovative form to wake up both reader and writer to the uniqueness that is Mormon thought. The form is the tool of creation and expression, not the end of itself.

        (And I do believe we have useful and relevant uniqueness, though I know many think we are as conceptually bland as the vast majority of our narrative mode choices suggest.)

        Thus the conceptual usefulness of 4C, LitBlitz, and M&M. By offering a different frame for story ideation/conception, you spur writers to think differently about both story elements/contexts and mode of presentation, and to work outside their own (and their readers’) comfort zone, and (hopefully) deriving innovative (if not precisely new) ways for *us* to express ideas and for readers to see into them.

        To me that suggests not divergent evolution or cultural isolation, but active appropriation of the larger culture’s tools and techniques in our own (specifically Mormon) ways. Use their own tools against them. It will jar the mainstream (broad market) reader because their expectations of how those tools are traditionally used is violated; it will jar the Mormon reader because we don’t generally use those tools to tell our narratives. Like using Pulp-ish conventions to tell deeply (not trivially) Mormon stories.

        Everybody wins. Everyone is discomfited by the same story, if for different reasons. And in that moment of mild disorientation, useful (innovative?) thought occurs and the story gains power and value.

        Or so it seems to me.

        • Wm says:


          “In other words, use the innovative form to wake up both reader and writer to the uniqueness that is Mormon thought. The form is the tool of creation and expression, not the end of itself.”

          When I write fiction that explicitly deals in some way with Mormon thought, that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s also what I respond to most strongly in works by other Mormon writers. It’s not always the only thing I’m looking for — I have a general interest in the various genres (and especially the colliding of them). But it’s why I read the work of Mormon writers.

        • Wm says:

          I’ll also add that such appropriation (and re-appropriation) is a tool that other hyphenated Americans have used.

        • Scott Hales says:

          I would say this is largely correct, although I don’t necessarily think that what I’m calling for demands the rise of some sort of Mormon Nationalism. In other words, I don’t think what we have to write needs to radically convey our apparent uniqueness, although it can. Nor do I think what we write should always appropriate “outside” trends or tools against the mainstream, although it can.

          What I like is this: “Everyone is discomfited by the same story, if for different reasons. And in that moment of mild disorientation, useful (innovative?) thought occurs and the story gains power and value.”

          That this discomfiture happens is what’s important, not necessarily how it happens. Too often, I think we are more concerned about doing what we know will work and please (the extreme form being imitation) than doing what can potentially take our literature in new directions.

        • Wm says:

          ::stops working on the lyrics to a rousing Mormon culture anthem::

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Never always do anything unless your goal is ideological purity rather than useful creative expansion.

          I don’t believe I suggested anything different than that in my attempt to reformulate and integrate your thoughts using my terms. An idea of cultural isolation as a form of Mormon Nationalism was Mark’s (I think), not mine.

          Everything is a tool, and a tool has value only so far as it’s useful to me. The application of any model, frame, or call to action remains a (one of many) tool for expanding (some, not all) writers’ ways of conceptualizing stories, and (some) readers’ ways of engaging the marketplace—not a doctrine for either literary correctness or purity.

          We *ought* to do whatever works for us. But we also *ought* to be open to new ways of approaching creative expression from our own unique viewpoint (which includes, but is not limited to, our individually unique Mormonism).

        • Th. says:


          I think it’s also true that not everyone in the artistic community needs to be pushing boundaries. We need to push them, but not every individual needs to push them individually. We’ll always have room for another retelling of Jane Austen in the same old way.

        • Th. says:


          That said, I am a big fan of this:

          Everyone is discomfited by the same story, if for different reasons. And in that moment of mild disorientation, useful (innovative?) thought occurs and the story gains power and value.

          (Also, would it be possible to turn of the INK? It makes quoting each other a huge hassle. Jonathan?)

        • Scott Hales says:

          I think Charles W. Penrose already beat you to the rousing Mormon cultural anthem back when Mormon Nationalism was in vogue, Wm.

          “O Zion! dear Zion! Land of the Free, &c.”

          And sorry for the misunderstanding, Scott. If Mark can confuse us on Facebook, I can confuse you guys here. ;)

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Which is why it would seem useful to have a memorable handle. As a relatively boring guy IRL, at least I should try to *seem* interesting online.

        • Mark Penny says:

          My client, Mark Penny, hereby distances himself from the term “Mormon Nationalism” in all its manifestations.

          What I mean is that if we are to develop original forms of literary engagement, we need to “come out of Babylon” in some workable sense. If as a community we are merely Mormon drips out of the cloth of the world, we will naturally and inevitably have the image of the world engraved in our literary countenances.

        • Scott Hales says:

          It’s a matter of finding the right balance. We don’t want to be guilty of literary passing, but we can’t deny our debt to the tradition.

        • Wm says:

          I like to consider myself a fungus on the world. With things like M&M as my spores.

        • Mark Penny says:

          ::Deletes Monsters and Mormons from his Kindle for PC.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Never been a fan of fungi myself; don’t like the way they feel on the teeth. Can’t get over the image that I’m eating really big athlete’s foot.

          But I like the image. Just not fungus. Not to wrest the metaphor.

          (returning to cave now)

        • Wm says:

          It’s too late, Mark. You wrote The Defection of Baby Mixo. You’re already infected.


          I hate to break it to you, but, you’re one of the earliest members of the colony.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          As Mormon, I hope (not monster).

          The funny thing is that for all my discussion of Mormon sf and the need to engage, I have never contributed actual fiction to any of the fine projects or contests that have happened over the years. The one antho I was in died on the launchpad.

        • Wm says:

          Aren’t we all both?

          But more seriously: much of how I think about Mormon fiction in general and Mormonism in relation to genre fiction is definitely influenced by what you’ve written over the years.

        • Jonathan Langford says:

          I like the idea of stories that are discomfitting to different readers for a variety of different reasons. But I’m not sure all worthwhile fiction needs to be discomfitting.

          There’s that old saying about the purpose of the gospel of Christ to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (though according to Wiki answers, the quote was originally from Finley Peter Dunne talking about newspapers). Here on the AML side of things, I think we tend to focus on the second part of that as the goal of literature. On the other hand, I think most mainstream Mormon readers (and writers) tend to focus more on the former. Which may be the biggest single reason why most Mormon readers aren’t enthusiastic about the kinds of Mormon fiction we often talk about here.

        • Th. says:


          Although I think it’s a useful what of thinking about things, ultimately, I think it’s a false dichotomy. Good lit should do both.

  7. Jonathon Penny says:

    This seems as good a place as any to finally comment on Mark’s story in the recent context. “Baby Mixo” was, it seemed and still seems to me, interesting for its imaginative forecasting of one possible set of outcomes as we grapple institutionally with same-gender issues. That is, the same thing that has happened over plural marriage or lines of authority or the dissolution of other practices thought sacred and essential can happen over the question of same-sex unions.

    I thought it a provocative piece, worthy of the attention it received. But I also thought that the ostensible sic-fi component in it–Mars and interstellar travel, etc–was a distraction, influenced more by what Mark had been reading (Asimov, perhaps Bradbury) than by the requirements of the piece itself. That is, for me, what was truly new and interesting in the piece was flattened by this borrowing of what has become conventional. So while I agree that innovation is not only a rather liquid term, but that it is also rather hard to come by (nothing new under the sun, wot?), we might also do well to ask what serves. In literary writing (and not for-market writing–I think we all know the difference), this means asking what serves the piece, what contributes to its impact, its texture, its dynamic, its life, perhaps even its reception. What is integral to it?

    I guess what I’m suggesting (and I haven’t finished reading the entire discussion, yet) is that maybe it’s authenticity, not innovation or difference, that Scott and others are really wondering after. And if that’s the case, then the authentic Mormon literary voice will be multi-vocal: just so many voices as there are ideas, purposes, personalities, and traditions involved in the production of the text in the first place.

    • Mark Penny says:

      I hear and understand. I’ll just say re: Baby Mixo that, to my mind, the problem with the alternative sexual Mormon Mars colony has more to do with development than gratuitousness. For me there was delicious irony in a segment of the alternative sexual element going off into the desert to establish itself. I didn’t play that up at all, in part because of the epistolary format, which called for the narrator to only talk about things of interest at the time he wrote the letter. The interplanetary move from Mars to Earth was symbolic of Gary’s coming right out of the closet about his heterosexuality and his feelings about homosexuality.

      I think figuring out what serves is a good first step in divergent evolution–survival of what’s fit, so to speak, to be followed by random mutations which also undergo selection.

      I would like to see (and do) work along the scriptural model: a little less detail, a little more scope. And the hybrid type of stuff you and I have talked about in the past: prose and poetry and footnotes and what all, even extra-textual elements. In my own writing, I’m trying to resurrect, as appropriate to the piece, some things I like about nineteenth century European writing, notably authorial intrusion and dramatic historical sweeps. We often get so caught up in what’s current, and therefore cool, that we sometimes miss out on what might actually be more effective.

      • Jonathon Penny says:

        Oh, I’m not ignorant about the potential symbolism of planetary distance, removal, etc. I just don’t think it works in “BM.” Had you, for instance, addressed the “letter” to Mars and from Earth, or even just naturalized the references to location within the letter (When I was back on Mars, with you guys, I always felt. . . . Things are different here on Earth. . . .) it would have been less a distraction and more an extension of the story’s theme. I felt the same about the nickname anecdote: something about it needed to be said, but not that, and not that much, and not in that way.

        The matter may serve the story, but the manner didn’t, in my view. And the story’s mormonism, if that’s what Scott is really after, could have been better served by letting those elements more properly belong to the principal idea.

        Again, I think.

      • Th. says:


        I’m trying to incorporate more 19th-century elements in my current novel (hence my preoccupation with Moby Dick) and I agree: moving forward does not mean rejection of the past (the reason postmodernism [depending on how you define it] was something of a dead end) but growing out of the past. And that means engaging therewith.

        • Jonathon Penny says:

          I agree as well. My Pennywhistle stuff (the fiction and footnotes, at any rate) draw heavily from 18th and 19th century style, and some people don’t get it.

        • Wm says:

          Modernism was a rejection of the past. Postmodernism was a realization that the past always intrudes, but can never be fully settled, just like the future can be speculated, but never grasped.

        • Jonathon Penny says:

          Right. Except I disagree that Modernism was a rejection of the past on the whole. I think Modernism as critically constructed is, but there was a lot more going on than that. But if I cut and pasted my dissertation here, I might crash the site.

        • Wm says:

          How about: conscious attempt to break from the past with an express interest in innovation of form and style?

        • Jonathon Penny says:

          “conscious attempt to break from the past with an express interest in innovation of form and style?”

          I like this better. It leaves open a tendency for modernist texts to draw on the very things they pretend (or are pretended) to reject in theme and content.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      Speaking only for myself, I’m not sure divorcing the internal frame for a story from its presentation to satisfy a concept of literary purity is always useful. I tend to write science fiction when the way I explore an idea in my mind comes from a speculative origin. I tend to write fantasy when the idea presents itself to me in fantastic terms. I write essay, memoir, absurdism, etc. when the idea presents itself (and I internally develop it) in those contextual frames.

      So while I understand that for some the sf-ish elements of a story detracts from its core themes or ideas, as an author I choose the form precisely because that’s how the idea incubated for me. Another form of the same story may appeal to a broader (or at least different) audience, but that would not be the form the story took for me as author. Excising those parts after the fact feels like an unnecessary (though potentially useful) butchering and reduction of what was (for me) a fully formed idea.

      Of course a story can be told using many forms, with or without varying conventions of style or genre. Thus the value of many writers each offering their own take on similar (or even identical) core ideas. Or so it seems to me.

      • Jonathon Penny says:

        I agree with your first paragraph entirely, Scott. And that’s not what I was after. See my reply to Mark.

        But here’s what I’d say in response to your second paragraph: in this case, I don’t think the story is a sic-fi story as written. I think it’s a fine, speculative piece of epistolary fiction with some sic-fi stuff lumped on. Were those elements better integrated, they would serve the story as they were intended to. I usually like Mark’s fiction quite a lot, but this one feels off to me because it feels forced, and I can’t even attribute the oddness of the fit to the narrator. The way those elements intrude in the “letter” doesn’t seem at all natural. And I can think of any number of ways of fixing that that call on sic-fi tropes:

        Hoboken, New Jersey, USNA
        Mars Colony Fathers’ Day, 2157

        Dear Dads,

        I was thinking the other day about that first extended visit to Mom and Aunt Whatever years ago. You remember the one. I stayed for several weeks because you guys had a thing here on Earth. Mom took to calling me “Baby Mixo,” etc.

        Of course, such solutions might raise new difficulties, but the point for me is that a son, no matter how awkward the revelation, wouldn’t be quite so strange about facts and facets everyone in the story already knows. He’d reserve the awkwardness for the revelation itself.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Understood. I think we were talking about slightly different things. I agree that Baby Mixo would have benefited from some refinement, reduction, and a strong consistency edit. (Sorry Mark; wasn’t in my top 5.)

          And I have to ask…Is your consistent reference to “sic fi” an indication of your general distaste for the category, or an unconsciously ingrained typo? Curious minds want to know.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Correction–top 4. I placed it 5th with a regretful caveat.

          (I actually wrote capsule comments and a top-to-bottom ranking for each story in the contest when I sent my vote in. It might be interesting to start a new thread on Mormon Midrashim or somewhere to solicit that kind of feedback. If anyone cares about my opinion on them I’d be happy to share.)

        • Th. says:


          Now that passions have cooled, I would share which of my six didn’t make the cut. And the final order. It could be an enlightening discussion.

        • Mark Penny says:

          I care, Scott. I’d love to see your notes about Mixo.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Where shall we do this? Is here an appropriate location, Jonathan?

          I think hearing peoples’ top five or six would be interesting, and a polite discussion around reasons would be enlightening in seeing how different readers responded to different things.

          For example, my number one (Little Karl) didn’t place at all. While that surprised me a tad, I can’t complain at all about the winners. Some of my lower placements were almost entirely about my own idiosyncrasies as a reader, not quality of delivery. I didn’t think any of them were less than fine stories.

        • Th. says:


          I’ll have to doublecheck my email, but I think Karl was my top choice as well. And although I liked Avek, I voted for Steve’s other story.

        • Jonathon Penny says:

          Not a conscious or an unconscious typo: I quite like the genre, actually. I’ve read nearly all of Asimov, Bradbury, and Dick (I tend toward cyberpunk, I guess, and Gibsonsims), and I really like David Mitchell’s stuff: literary sf. Anyway, nothing pejorative in my use. I just don’t travel in the circles enough to remember it’s a sore point. (And I don’t see why it ought to be.)

        • Jonathon Penny says:

          Ah. I’m just noticing now the “sic.” Sorry. I’ve been sick. And rushed.

          I was trying to type “sci fi” (I hate hyphens), but autocorrect is merciless, and I’m not reviewing before I post. Sorry.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Just curious. I’m not one of those who feels slighted in any way by the term “sci-fi” (though I’m not fond of its derivative “skiffy”). I’m personally just glad “scientifiction” never really caught on.

          Asimov remains one of the holes in my sf reading. While I’ve read much of his short fiction I have never read one of his novels.

    • Scott Hales says:

      “I guess what I’m suggesting (and I haven’t finished reading the entire discussion, yet) is that maybe it’s authenticity, not innovation or difference, that Scott and others are really wondering after. And if that’s the case, then the authentic Mormon literary voice will be multi-vocal: just so many voices as there are ideas, purposes, personalities, and traditions involved in the production of the text in the first place.”

      I’m about as comfortable with the term “authenticity” as I am with “innovation,” but I agree with the spirit of what this says. Perhaps part of what I’m saying (which may be hidden between the lines of my post) is that we need to be more authentic writers–not necessary to some transcendent Mormonness, but to our own Mormon literary voice–even if that Mormon literary voice differs from another Mormon literary voice. And to the kinds of stories we want to tell.

      At the same time, I think experimentation and innovation (as defined above) are key to finding those voices.

      • Jonathon Penny says:

        What about “integrity”?

        • Scott Hales says:

          Maybe we need a neologism. Something that combines all aspects of what we think we’re trying to say.

        • Wm says:


        • Jonathon Penny says:

          There is that which is, hypothetically, uniquely Mormon; that which is co-opted, assimilated, or “mormonized”; and that which, despite our best efforts, refuses assimilation (can one conceive of the grounds for a proper Mormon porn that isn’t merely satirical, for instance)?

          But all of these categories can be broken down further into sub-categories: experience, idiom, perception/perspective, theology, culture, imagery, etc. So it’s no wonder finding a term that works is a challenge. Seems like we’d need several. (And authentigralvation better not be one of them. Yikes, Wm!)

  8. Th. says:


    I suddenly feel like pointing out that Settlers of Zarahemla was officially licensed by Catan’s publisher. For what it’s worth.

    • Wm says:

      Yep. I also think it’s a fairly clever re-appropriation. It takes what is a generic medieval setting and turns it into one that is insistent both in its narrative/branding particularity and in its historicity.

    • Scott Hales says:

      Technicality. A rare moment when our imitations have been rewarded and even celebrated. But I think it’s out of print, right?

      I played Zarahemla first, for what it’s worth.

      I once saw a Pioneers of Deseret game advertised at the Bookstore once during education week. It was less-well made and seemed altogether derivative in the worst sense of the word.

  9. Jonathan Langford says:

    With respect to Scott’s query about a discussion of different readers’ judgments about the different contest finalists: I’d prefer that someone offer to start a new post about that, maybe just listing the links again for reference, so that the discussion doesn’t get buried here. On the other hand, I worry that waiting to do that could kill the discussion.

    So consider this an invitation to use this space. However, if someone wants to volunteer to put up a new post where the discussion could have its own home, please let me know.

  10. Mark Penny says:

    Or I could host it on my site. Or whatever.

  11. Wow. Come late to the party and get a seat way out back!

    My question at this point is very practical. Let’s assume we have a Mormon Lit Blitz, open to all genres, every spring. And let’s assume we have a themed contest every fall.

    What should future themes be?

    Scott H sounded interested in a contest that overtly asks people to write for the internet–maybe encouraging creative use of hyperlinks, visual elements, etc.?

    Mark sounded interesting in a multi-lingual contest. Judging entries and getting English translations for the bulk of the audience sounds manageable to me–I worry a bit though about being able to get word out and get submissions in from many different language groups.

    We could also do a Mormons around the world contest looking for poems/essays/stories about Latter-day Saints in different places–but with the announced goal of accepting only X number of pieces per region (based on content, not author’s address).

    Any of those sound good? What else might we do?

    We can have this discussion again elsewhere but might as well start it here if the party’s still going.

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