This Week in Mormon Literature, December 21, 2012

Merry almost-Christmas! There is lots going on this fortnight. Three Christmas plays are finishing their runs in Utah this weekend, with Javen Tanner’s This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long looking especially enticing. Four new films have recently been released, led by Christian Vuissa’s Silent Night. A new anthology of scholarship on Mormons and popular culture is published, including several articles on Mormon literature. And finally, we were saddened to hear of two recent deaths, the journalist and editor Preston McConkie, and the author John M. Pontius. Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com. Also, I am working on my year in review, so if you have any comments about trends in Mormon writing/publshing this year, or have a list of favorite works, please drop me a line.

Blogs, news, and awards.

GoodReads Best Books of 2012:

Science Fiction: #5: Orson Scott Card, Shadows in Flight.

Fantasy: #17. Brandon Sanderson. The Emperor’s Soul.

Romance: #7. Julianne Donaldson. Edenbrooke.

Horror: #15. Larry Correia. Monster Hunter Legion.

Memoir: #13. Stephanie Nielson. Heaven is Here

Graphic Novels and Comics. #4. Becca Fitzpatrick and Jennyson Rosero. Hush, Hush.

Young Adult Fantasy and SF. #17. Becca Fitapatrick. Finale.

Middle Grade & Children’s. #7. Jennifer A. Nielsen. The False Prince. #11. Brandon Mull. Beyonders: Seeds of Rebellion. #15. Shannon Hale. The Princess Academy: Palace of Stone.

Amazon Best Books of 2012: Teens: #2: Ally Condie. Reached. #4. James Dashner. The Kill Order.

Amazon Top 100 Selling Books of 2012 for Teens and Kids includes: Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen by Richard Paul Evans, Reached by Ally Condie, The Kill Order, by James Dashner, Finale, by Becca Fitzpatrick, Seeds of Rebellion, by Brandon Mull, Tiger’s Destiny, by Colleen Houck

A Deseret News article about transitions at Deseret Book. “Embracing the future: Deseret Book undergoes transition from frontier bookstore to digital innovator”

At A Motley Vision, Kent’s Sunday Lit Crit Sermons includes a 1910 editorial by Joseph F. Smith, Clean Dramatic Amusements, after which Kent links Smith’s cautions with the changes in Church control of the theatre in Utah at the time, and a 1910 article by Horace Whitney Copyright and “Dramatic Clubs”. Mahonri discusses Blinded by the Fire: Cultural Memory and the Response to My Mormon History Plays. Theric interviews Segullah editor Karen Austin at A Time of Transitions for Segullah. Scott Hales discovers The Anti-Mormon DNA of “Hinges”.

““My Religion”: Miguel de Unamuno, Jack Harrell, and Religion as Struggle,” by Jacob Bender, at Ships of Hagoth. Bender compares Harrell and his disturbing story “Calling and Election” with the Spanish writer de Unamuno’s essay “My Religion”. Unamono says, “My religion is to look for truth in life and life in truth, even knowing that I may never find them while I am alive. My religion is to struggle constantly and tirelessly with mystery; my religion is to wrestle with God from the break of day until the close of night, like they say that Jacob struggled with Him.” Also at Ships of Hagoth, “The Disarming Essay”, the author talks about conversations with texts, based on a reading of an essay by Patrick Madden.

Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon, edited by J. Michael Hunter, is being published by Praeger on December 31. The blurb reads, “It provides an unprecedented, comprehensive treatment of Mormons and popular culture. Authored by a Mormon studies librarian and author of numerous writings regarding Mormon folklore, culture, and history, this book provides students, scholars, and interested readers with an introduction and wide-ranging overview of the topic that can serve as a key reference book on the topic. The work contains fascinating coverage on the most influential Mormon actors, musicians, fashion designers, writers, artists, media personalities, and athletes. Some topics—such as the Mormon influence at Disney, and how Mormon inventors have assisted in transforming American popular culture through the inventions of television, stereophonic sound, video games, and computer-generator animation—represent largely unknown information.”  Theric discusses the volume here. Among the articles and their authors are: Mormons and Cinema (Randy Astle), Mormons and American Television (Megan Sanborn Jones), Mormon Drama (Eric Samuelsen), “As Much as Any Novelist Could Ask”: Mormons in American Popular Fiction (Michael Austin), Mormon Contributions to Young Adult Literature (Toni Elise Pilcher), Testifying: Mormonism and the Writings of Stephenie Meyer (Kristi A. Young), Orthodox vs. Literary: An Overview of Mormon Fiction (Christopher Kimball Bigelow), Mormon Picture Book Authors (Rick Walton), and Mormons and American Comics (Theric Jepson).

Magazines and short stories

Sunstone Issue #169, Nov. 2012 is a special literary issue. It includes the article “Making Meaning as a Mormon Writer” by Jack Harrell, subtitled “The day Derrida walked into Deseret Book.”  There are four short stories, by Courtney Miller Santo (“The Opposite of Sound”), Joshua Allen (“How They Get You”), Heidi Naylor (“Name”), Brett Wilcox (“One Glass Ball”), and Larry Menlove (“Willing To Work”). Also H. Parker Blount’s essay “Ancient Fairy Tales Written for this Generation”, and for the back page An Olive Leaf column a reprint of the late Richard H. Cracroft’s essay “Gently Down From Pedestals” about Mormon humor.

About the Sunstone authors: I think Harrell and Allen (both of whom blog here) and Menlove (who has had several award-winning stories in recent years) are familiar to most here. Courtney Miller Santo had her first novel published this year. Heidi Naylor is an English instructor at Boise State University. Her short story “Revolver” received the Alexander Patterson Cappon Award, chosen by novelist Daniel Woodrell, and appeared in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s magazine New Letters #77.2, Winter 2011. It has been nominated by the Pushcart Board of Contributing Editors for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. “Name” won the Brookie and D.K. Brown Fiction first prize at Sunstone Magazine. Her story “Language of Desire” appeared in The Idaho Review, Summer 2011, and “A Season of Curing” appeared in Chariton Review, 35.1, Spring 2012. Brett Wilcox is a counselor, this is his first published story.

Steven L. Peck. “A Classical Haunting.” Lissette’s Tales of Imagination #5, Dec. 2012. A ghost finds himself in the unusual position of convincing the newest owner of his house that the place is indeed haunted.

Katherine Gee Perrone, “The Fall”. A skit at Everyday Mormon Author

A story by Scott Parkin was a 4th Quarter Finalist for the International L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, but it failed to win a first prize.  It still might be included in the printed anthology.

New books and their reviews

D. J. Butler. Teancum(City of the Saints Part the Fourth).Self, Sept. 29. Steampunk. Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Burton, Sam Clemens and Brigham Young race to avoid a war in Deseret.

Susan Law Corpany. Shaking Down Santa. Hagoth (self), Dec. 18. Christmas romance.

George, Jessica Day. Princess of the Silver Wood.  Dec. 11. YA fantasy. 3rd book in the Princess of the Midnight Ball series. Includes elements of the Robin Hood, Little Red Riding Hood, and 12 Dancing Princesses stories.

USA Today. “Not one, not two, but THREE fairy tales mashed together in one? I’m in . . . An adventurous romance that sneaks a bit of humor around the darker edges of the tale, Princess of the Silver Woods is a magical mash-up and a lovely addendum to a classic tale.”

Deseret News. “This novel is a fun, quick read with a nice twist on the classic fairy tales and a light romance. There are a few details that get a little confused, and sometimes the 12 princesses can seem little more than a bunch of names, but these are minor flaws and don’t detract overly from the read. In the end, we learn that not all wolves are bad, not all hunters are good and when you combine courage, faith, sacrifice and love, magic can happen.

Susan J. Kroupa. Out-Sniffed. Laurel Fork Press, Dec. 14. Middle grade mystery. Doudlebugged series #2. Detective’s 10-year old daughter and dog help to solve a crime. Laurel Fork is Kroupa’s self-publishing venture.

Melissa Lemon. Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem. Cedar Fort, Dec. 11. YA Fantasy. Snow White reimagined, told from the POV of the mirror.

USA Today. “I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh perspective the so-often-dehumanized character of the Magic Mirror brings to the tale. He’s snarky, yet vulnerable, and his compassion while watching the princess grow up under the care of her once-gentle-but-now-abusive uncle is as endearing as his frustration at being unable to do anything — directly — to help her. Time and again, Melissa Lemon injects expected story elements with the unexpected, bringing them to life in unconventional ways. Whether it’s the introduction of strange royal traditions practiced by Mayhem’s neighbor, the Kingdom of Mischief, a prince who isn’t as princely as he should be, or apples that appear in orchards rather than in the gnarly old hands of a hag, Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem is quite an original telling and a fresh but still recognizable fairy tale to curl up with on a cold winter night.”

The Book Smuggler: “While I like the air of finality to this book, Princess of the Silver Woods is decidedly my least favorite of the trilogy – in part because of its insta-love-y lead pair, in part because it negates the purpose of the entire second book, in part because the story, while engaging, still feels somewhat sanitized and safe. On a character front, Petunia is my least favorite of the series heroines . . . I wasn’t quite convinced by the fairy tale-ish aspect to this book, though I must give Jessica Day George credit because her writing is as beautifully even handed and wonderful as ever. Even with the more frustrating aspects of the characters and plot – namely the lack of any true danger or intensity facing these beautiful, resourceful princesses and suitors – Princess of the Silver Woods is a well-spun, engaging tale. Rating: 6 – Good.”

Lund, Gerald N. The Guardian. Deseret Book, Dec. 26. YA suspense. A family heirloom with mysterious powers helps a teenage girl and her family and friends to fight off extortionists. Elder Lund’s first work of fiction in several years.

Heather B. Moore. Third Time’s the Charm. Self, Dec. 5. Romance novella. “An Aliso Creek Novella”. Twice-divorced single mother finds romance. Looks like it is the first of a series about the adult challenges faced by a group of women who had been friends since high school.

Mindy, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “This novella is very close to perfect. It has great characters that you care about quickly, and an all around fantastic story. Liz is an adorable character that had me smiling with her funny quirk”.

W. H. Pugmire. The Strange Dark One. Miskatonic River Press, Nov. 15. Horror short story collection. “Pugmire collects all of his best weird fiction concerning H. P. Lovecraft’s dark god, Nyarlathotep . . . Each tale is beautifully illustrated by the remarkable Jeffrey Thomas, who is himself one of today’s finest horror authors.”

Kristen D. Randle. The Christmas Pony. Self, Dec. 9. Christmas novelette. The spirit of Christmas at a horse rescue farm.

J. Scott Savage. Zombie Kid. HarperCollins, Dec. 26. Middle grade comic fantasy. First book in the Case File 13 series. 6th grade boy turns into a zombie on Halloween, and he and his friends try to reverse the curse.

Publishers Weekly. “Savage trades the elemental magic of his Farworld series for an entertainingly gross blend of comedy and horror in the first book in his Case File 13 series . . . This is mainly Nick’s tale, but the rapport between the boys is strong (and their rivals, a trio of Halloween-loving girls, seem likely to reappear). Savage incorporates elements of voodoo practice into the creepy mystery the boys unravel, which will keep readers’ interest even as they are laughing at gags involving everything from dog food to severed fingers.”

Kirkus Reviews: Starred Review. “Striking the perfect balance between rib-tickling humor and bone-chilling adventure, the first novel in Savage’s new middle-grade series is sure to please young readers looking for a thrill. It’s hard to imagine that readers (particularly boys) won’t enjoy every minute of hair-raising fun.”

Mindy, LDSWBR: 5 stars. “I’m assuming from the title that I won’t be giving much away when I say that Nick turns into a zombie. The funniest part about it is, he enjoys it. And so does his friends. Carter and Angelo are the perfect mix of humor and smarts. Angelo always has his head in a book, trying to read his way out of problem, while Carter wants to eat his way out . . . This is a book full of humor, gross zombie antics, and lots of fun. This is a perfect book for your middle grade reader, your teen, and you. Another favorite of mine was the chapter headings, make sure you don’t miss those.”

Steve Westover. Gold Clash. Cedar Fort, Dec. 11. YA Suspense. LDS youth group visiting Missouri Church history sites run into treasure seeking kidnappers.

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 4 stars. “There are multiple plots vying for attention in this mystery novel and it is part of the mystery to link them together. Some of the clues are pretty obscure unless the reader has a strong background in Missouri history through the middle of the nineteenth century. Even so the mystery is tantalizing and fun to try to solve. The FBI agents bring a touch of romance to the story though I would have liked to see the female agent who is also the senior agent make more of the discoveries and behave better toward her partner. The young leader from the reenactment is a fun character, the kind everyone loves, but at the same time drives everyone a bit crazy. He does accomplish what he sets out to do however. The other characters are very much individuals and well drawn”

Rebecca Woods. Nathan of Silver Falls. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Dec. 11. Silver Falls series v. 4. YA historical.

Reviews of Older Books

KSL Best Books of 2012 (by Teri Harman):

3. “When Women Were Birds: 55 Variations on Voiceby Terry Tempest Williams. Terry Tempest Williams, award-winning Utah author, inherited her mother’s journals after she died at the age of 54 from cancer. When Terry opened the journals, each one was empty. In this breathtaking piece of creative nonfiction, she explores what it means to be a woman, a person and to have a voice. Rich in wisdom, insight and power.

7. “Big In Japan” by Jennifer Griffith. This book is incredibly fun, but also manages to tug at the heartstrings. Buck Cooper is a six-foot-six, obese Texan who has spent his life as the butt of everyone’s jokes. All he’s ever wanted is to fit in and find love, but he struggles with both. Then fate takes him to Japan, the land of Sumo. In a country where being big can bring fortune and fame, opportunity finally comes knocking when Buck is thrown into the ring. But life in Sumo is anything but easy and he has to risk everything, even his life, to reach out and tackle the dreams he’s always wanted.

10. “After Hello” by Lisa Mangum. With inviting writing, a quick pace and a wonderful first-love story, this book is a pure delight to read. Utah author Lisa Mangum has a gift for subtle, but smoldering romance. It’s Sara’s first trip to New York City. With her camera in hand, she is ready to capture every moment of the experience. As she stands on the busy streets of the city she watches a handsome guy step out from a bookstore and she impulsively takes his picture. From that one picture a whole day of adventure is born. Sam and Sara partner together to find an elusive piece of artwork and along the way discover the unexpected: love and themselves.

Julianne Donaldson. Edenbrooke (FoxyJ). “I’d heard a lot of good things about this book, but I wasn’t that impressed by it. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t good–just a light little read for a Sunday afternoon that left me feeling kind of ‘meh’.”

Sarah M. Eden. Unlikely Match (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “Eden’s style is remarkably readable. Though she’s a fan of Jane Austen, her voice is distinctly her own and a great deal more fun. She’s adept at creating both humor and pathos. Her characters feel real and show a great deal of growth as the story progresses. Though this book is not literally an LDS novel, it shares the standards and philosophies of members of the Church. The plot is well-executed. It builds in a satisfying manner with a nice balance of humorous situations, serious moments, a touch of mystery, and a charming romance. She handles the gripping denouement in a way that is both sensitive and realistic.”

Janet K. Halling. An Unexpected Angel (Sheila, LDSWBR). 5 stars. “How amazing is it when a short book, only 120 pages long,can make you sit and cry and cry? An Unexpected Angel is truly an unexpected read . . . Will I share this story with my kids and other family members? 100% yes! I loved this book so much, I plan on buying several copies to give to family members. The messages found in this book are so important I HAVE to share it with my loved ones. This is a 5 star book that you will want to own and share this Christmas.”

Carla Kelly. Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand (Jacob Proffitt). “This book was fantastic! It’s a regency romance without any tinkering and I can’t tell you how much I hope that all of Carla Kelly‘s work turns out so well—think Georgette Heyer, but at a lower social strata and with a bit more drama. Most of this difference is in our heroine. She’s widowed and has two daughters (four and six years-old). Much of the plot is driven by Roxanna trying to remain independent of a brother-in-law’s inappropriate advances (that cross the line into selfishly evil, in my opinion). Since she has no means of support, this becomes difficult as he is her closest living relative. Don’t get the wrong impression, however. This isn’t a drama with romantic elements. The other way around, I’d say. The drama is the background and Roxanna is a wonderful heroine who remains sympathetically cheerful (without being cloyingly so) through seemingly overwhelming trials. Since Lord Winn turns out to need her as much as she needs him, it’s a strong story about friendship, caring, family, and love.”

Lisa Magnum. After Hello (Shanda, LDSWBR). 5 stars. “After Hello is different than anything I’ve read before. Each chapter alternates between Sara, written in 1st person point-of-view, and Sam, written in 3rd person point-of-view. This actually works wonderfully. The transitions from chapter to chapter felt seamless . . . After Hello is clean contemporary YA fiction that, though I already knew it would be good, ended up being even better than I expected. I recommend it to anyone looking for a great read.”

Rachel Ann Nunes. Line of Fire (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “It’s a tense, breathless ride that kept me flipping pages while always remaining appropriate for an LDS reading audience. That’s something I’ve come to depend upon from Rachel Ann Nunes – no matter what the topic, no matter what the genre, she tells compelling, realistic stories while never compromising the integrity of the story. Yes, this is the paranormal genre, but it was not creepy or satanic in any way. Rather, the character of Autumn Rain relies on her intuition, which happens to be remarkably strong within her. The insights she has aren’t the result of seances or anything else that would make a reader uncomfortable, but are a natural gift that she uses for the benefit of others. “Line of Fire” was a perfect amalgam for me of family relationships, the search for self-identity, the exploration of romantic feelings, the thrill of a good suspense, and the enjoyment of a well-crafted story.”

Lehua Parker. One Boy, No Water (Ashlynn Green, Deseret News). “”One Boy, No Water,” has a good plot, but was a bit harder to read because of unfamiliarity with all the words in the story. This book would be interesting to those who want to learn parts of the Pidgin language. The language in this book is not explicit, but it does use many Hawaiian Pidgin English phrases. Hawaiian Pidgin includes partial words from other languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Hawaiian, Portuguese and English. The Pidgin dialect would be more easily understood if the reader had some sort of background living in Hawaii, even if for just a short amount of time. The best thing about this book is the glossary in the back — and it would be beneficial to read the entire glossary before starting the book.”  Honestly, these are the kind of crappy reviews that are in the Deseret News these days.

Steven L. Peck. The Scholar of Moab. (Michael Austin). an elegant novel by a writer who takes the craft seriously . . . But (as is so often the case) it’s the questions that actually matter, and they are legion. Peck takes us effortlessly through explorations of art, theology, narrative, history, morality, memory, faith, sexuality, and the nature of consciousness. Both of the scholars of Moab grapple with these issues, almost always in vain, but there is both nobility and a fair bit of comedy in their attempts.

Eric James Stone short stories (James Goldberg). “”Loophole” is a relatively early story of his that shows that Mormon comedy can actually be funny. I especially recommend it to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “The Ashes of His Fathers” is the one I personally find most moving. It brings old, epic values of sacrifice, the search for dignity, and heroic compassion into a tidy, bureaucratic futuristic setting. Beautiful and unexpected. It’s also wonderful for showing how a character can find meaning in his faith without requiring any kind of faith from the reader. That’s a gift of Eric’s that shows up in several of his other stories as well.  And of course, I have to plug “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” which explores what Mormonism might mean to aliens far older and more advanced than us. And what it’s like to be stuck without a date in the middle of the sun. In all seriousness: I think the stories we dwell on help us think through and refine our views of life and morality. And so I think it’s worth paying attention to and supporting great writers like Eric James Stone who come from our community and aren’t afraid to artfully share some of their insights with us and the rest of the world.”  James adds on Facebook: “Rejiggering the Thingamajig” is a fabulous story about typical motherhood. If you consider a Tyrannosaurus Sapiens with a firm commitment to pacifist Buddhism typical motherhood. Which, thanks to Vilo Westwood, I do. “The Greatest Science Fiction Story Ever Written” is a must read for any writer who receives a rejection–worth returning to every time you get a rejection. My goal is to read this story at least thirty times next year…”  Scott Hales: “”They Do It with Robots” convinced me that short-form fiction about super-heroes could have depth.”

Cameron Wright. The Rent Collector (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). Grade: B. “An incredible tale.  It’s a story of survival, hope and a mother’s refusal to give up on her child’s present or future.  From its hard-to-stomach setting to its memorable characters to the powerful messages it imparts, The Rent Collector is touching without being sentimental.  Sure, Sang Ly’s narrative voice sounds a little too American, but still, the book opened my eyes, moving me to tears—of gratitude, of appreciation, of empathy.  I read the novel at Thanksgiving time and nothing, perhaps, could have made me more grateful for the many advantages and blessings I’ve been given.  If you’re feeling low this holiday season or if you just need a story that entertains and inspires, buy a copy of The Rent Collector today.”

Theater

This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long. Created and Directed by Javen Tanner. The Sting& Honey Company, Leona Wagner Black box, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, SLC. Dec. 21-23.  “Now in its fifth year, this beautiful telling of the Christmas Story has already become a favorite. Join us for an evening of astonishing imagery and music, including Nativity poetry written by a variety of poets from Shakespeare to W.B Yeats to Li-Young Lee.”

Reichel Reccomends: “The Nativity story has been told in many different ways over the centuries, but for a fresh approach you need to see This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long, The Sting and Honey Company’s version that will be presented this weekend in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. What distinguishes this production from others is the fact that it’s done in mime, the action is choreographed to music and spoken texts, and the actors wear masks. “It tells the story in a new way,” said Javen Tanner, co-founder and director of The Sting and Honey Company. It was Tanner who conceived and created this version back when he was a member of New York’s Handcart Ensemble. “[J. Scott Reynolds, Handcart Ensemble’s artistic director] wanted a piece we could use as a December fundraiser,” Tanner said. “I experimented and created an artistic piece about the Nativity using masks and poetry.” And when Tanner left the group and returned home to Utah to become head of the theatre department at the Waterford School in Sandy, he brought it with him.”

UTBA Review of the 2011 performance. “If you like musical theater, then you’re set. You’ve got a wide array of musical offerings in Utah to choose from. But if you prefer something a bit more substantial, more artistically satisfying, and more true to the reason for the season, then you ought to check out the Sting and Honey Company‘s production of This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long. The Sting and Honey Company is creating for themselves a reputation for producing high-quality work that pushes the bounds of modern theater in Utah, and this show continues to strengthen that reputation . . . Without a doubt, the most beautiful scene of the play is “The Christ”, where we finally see the culmination of all that made the Nativity story so important in the grand scheme of things: scenes from the life of Christ. I was deeply touched by this compelling portrait of Christ as a healer, teacher, sufferer, and King. This among other things is what sets this show apart from so many of the other shows this season. This show is all about Jesus Christ–the celebration of whose birth the Christmas season is allegedly about. Again, Javen Tanner has done a masterful job in staging this show. I often felt like the compositions created were those of a master painter and that I was watching a living painting–which may have some truth to it. If it isn’t clear already, you should know that I really enjoyed this show, and wholeheartedly recommend that you go see it. At the same time, it isn’t for everyone. It’s a highly stylized, thought-provoking, and definitely requires you to use your brain in order to make the connections with the symbols and to follow the somewhat abstracted narrative. If you don’t like modern dance or modern art, then this modern play probably won’t be your cup of tea. But if you’re up for something different than seeing Tiny Tim hoisted on to Scrooge’s shoulders for the thousandth time, and looking to reconnect with the original story of Christmas in a new way, you should absolutely go to this show.”

A Joyful Noise. The Covey Center, Provo, UT. Dec. 6-22. Written by Tim Slover.

UTBA review (Carson Wright): “The play has become a Christmas tradition at the Covey Center, offering some variety amidst the countless productions of A Christmas Carol in the area. This year marks the fifth production of the play at the Covey Center. It’s popularity and success are most likely due to the over arching themes and message. Like Messiah, the play is a spiritual piece. Joyful Noise explores spirituality outside of the institution of religion and ultimately seeks to answer the question, “Where does God belong?” The spiritual nature of the piece works well during this special time of year, when many turn their hearts and minds both inward and upward. The Covey’s Joyful Noise is successful in delivering its message. However, it struggles to do so because of issues in pacing. Scene changes often feel long and clumsy. It seems that all the furniture for a scene must to be swapped out for an entirely new set of furniture during every scene break . . . The acting is, for the most part, two-dimensional and lacks a depth representative of these conflicted characters . . . Overall, the production’s pacing problems make the content difficult to engage with. The piece feels long and slightly under-rehearsed. However, even with its faults, the message of the Covey’s Joyful Noise is clear: God is in everything and God is for everyone. Though it is somewhat didactic, the play is uplifting and it’s spirit settles in nicely during the holidays. If you’re dying to find a show that will get you into the holiday spirit this season, and you’ve already seen A Christmas Carol, go see this production.”

The Christmas Box: The Musical. Empress Theatre, Manga, UT. Nov 30-Dec. 22. Music, lyrics, and book by David R. Naylor. Based on the book by Richard Paul Evans. World premiere. Broadway World interview with the directors: “David R. Naylor, a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is a composer and arranger of sacred and educational choral and instrumental music.  He obtained rights by contacting Evans through email, and he sent Naylor in the direction of his agent. That’s been some years ago, a little over a decade. Since he finished writing the show, David has just had the music sitting in his piano bench and said he felt it was time to finally let someone else direct this show.”  The show should not be confused with a musical version Eric Samuelsen and Murray Boren did at BYU in 1997. I remember Eric panned that show himself at AML-list soon after the performance.

UTBA Review: “Though The Empress Theatre’s adaptation of The Christmas Box is not at the professional level or standard of the some of the other theatres in the nearby area, it still carries with it a special spirit of community, sacrifice, and love that is apparent throughout the production. The script, written by David R. Naylor, is fairly didactic and somewhat predictable, but it still moves the story along. There are many location changes written in the script, which makes for a somewhat choppy ride during the production. Still, the script provides a strong enough foundation for the story it is telling. An impressive sixteen original songs are included in the production, also written by Naylor, and are not very memorable. However, they generally effective in forwarding the plot and exploring character . . . The Christmas Box is an excellent way to get into the holiday spirit this year. It makes up for any shortcomings with a strong sense of love and community. Its message of the importance of families is poignant and extremely appropriate for this time of year. Theatre goers should consider making a short trip to Magna to visit this little gem of a Theatre. Bring the family and make a day of it!”

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Book-it Theatre, Seattle WA, Sept. 18-Oct. 28. Adapted and Directed by Annie Lareau. Based on the book by Jamie Ford. Seattle Times review: “Book-It Repertory Theatre’s stage adaptation of the recent best-seller is mounted with great care by adapter-director Annie Lareau, her design team and a well-populated, compelling and diverse acting ensemble. Yet the nearly three-hour work can also be reverent and inclusive to a fault . . . Though clunky at times, Ford’s narrative is rich in incident and historical detail, and a suitable eye-opener for young adolescents. And Lareau’s staging of it is enhanced by Andrew D. Smith’s lighting, Kevin Heard’s jazzy sound design, and Jocelyne Fowler’s ’40s attire. But the script crams in so many short scenes, it can get choppy and ponderous. Nor is there a tempering of the book’s somewhat didactic tone, and its sentimentality . . . But “Hotel” is accomplished, and can be very moving. It’s hard not to be touched by Henry’s love for and anguish over Keiko.” Talkin’ Broadway review: “Plucks warmly at the heartstrings, while subtly reminding us of some of our own country’s more shameful missteps. It is recommended, and worth getting on a wait-list for ticket cancellations.”

BYU undergraduate student Ariel Mitchell’s play, A Second Birth, was selected as a David Mark Cohen Regional Finalist/David Mark Cohen National Semi-Finalist. A Second Birth was chosen as one of the two Region VIII finalists for this award. As a regional finalist, her play is forwarded to the Kennedy Center headquarters in Washington D.C. After all eight regions have turned in their finalists, a group of readers will be invited to choose the top play, which will receive the David Mark Cohen award for 2013. The David Mark Cohen award may be presented to any working playwright whose play is premiered and produced by a college or university theatre program and entered as an Associate or Participating entry within the KCACTF.

Film

Silent Night. Christian Vuissa, director, writer, producer. BYU Broadcasting and Covenant Communications. Story of the Austrian priest who wrote the hymn in 1818. Filmed in Austria. November DVD release, shown on KBYU on Thanksgiving, and available for streaming on BYUtv.  Daily Herald feature story.

Deseret News: Scott Livingston: “The casting is pitch-perfect, the cinematography makes a comparably low-budget production look like it came straight out of Hollywood, and the setting itself (Austria!) all lead to true Yuletide alchemy. Of the many seasonal viewing options available at Christmastime, “Silent Night” is likely to become a perennial favorite.”

DN: Chris Hicks: “Making a low-budget, independent-period piece, and especially shooting it on location, is no easy task. But “Silent Night” is obviously a labor of love for Vuissa. A native of Austria, he is right at home filming in these location settings, some of which are authentic to the story . . . In lesser hands the material here could be overwrought or histrionic or sappy and sentimental, but Vuissa keeps the temperature at just the right level throughout. And his script’s economy of dialogue is natural and smart. For me, “Silent Night” is Vuissa’s most resonant, heartfelt work yet, one that’s sure to join all those holiday perennials in our home for many Christmases to come.”

Kevin Burtt, LDS Cinema Online: Grade: B. “Like Christian Vuissa’s other films, Silent Night is well-produced with some beautiful scenery (shot on location in Vuissa’s native Austria). The writing is basic and there’s little energy or action — also in common with Vuissa’s other films. Like his previous movie The Letter Writer, though, the material here is simple enough not to require anything more than what Vuissa gives it. Silent Night is a solid if unexceptional film, and succeeds mostly on the strength of its lead character with some good music thrown in as well . . . As with any film by an LDS writer or director, it’s natural to look for any kind of Mormon subtext, even in a fact-based story featuring Catholic characters. Mohr’s primary goal to get more people to “attend church” is more of an obvious nod to LDS philosophy rather than Catholic philosophy. And certainly Mohr’s “forbidden” attraction to a local woman and her son would draw a different response from an LDS context (where marriage is encouraged if not required for Church leaders) than a Catholic one. When Mohr shares with his friend his complaints that the (Catholic) Church “is not doing enough to alleviate the suffering of the people”, and that they don’t work to “offer hope and compassion, only to protect its authority”, it’s hard to tell if Vuissa is saying this (a) innocently, without any intention of linking these comments to the LDS Church today, (b) a direct attempt to remind current LDS that they should be heeding this same advice, or (c) an “apologetic” response to LDS critics who say the above, with Mohr’s friend’s response being “YOU [the individual] are the church; YOU are the message of hope and compassion”. Or perhaps (d) none of the above, where Vuissa has no direct motive in mind and has allowed viewers to interpret it however they prefer. It’s ironic (in a circumstantial sense) that I happened to view Silent Night the same weekend as the “Wear Pants To Church” controversy, along with the accompanying discussions of What It All Means. A film featuring women being blocked from singing in church because “that’s just not how things are done here” forms an interesting juxtaposition in broader LDS Church history where women have only been in recent decades allowed to pray in church or speak in General Conference — or current women being told by conservative members they can ‘kinda sorta wear pants to church services but if you loved the Savior you wouldn’t’ . . . Possibly Vuissa simply found the story of Joseph Mohr — a good man doing his best to bring the love of God to his fellow man regardless of circumstance — compelling and wanted to bring his story to the screen. To that extent, he has succeeded, and the fact that there’s also good music involved is just a bonus.”

Independent Critic: A-. “Vuissa has an undeniable gift for creating films that radiate faith, hope and love in abundance. Such is the case for the inspired Silent Night, a film that truly deserves to be a holiday classic and your family’s latest holiday tradition . . . D.P. Ty Arnold’s camera work is breathtaking in its simplicity, while Curtis McOsker’s production design leaves one impressed both with period accuracy and the way it serves as a companion to the story. Speaking of the story, Vuissa again pens a story that exudes both history and humanity with dialogue that is both faithful yet accessible.”

Meridian Magazine: “The latest from acclaimed LDS filmmaker Christian Vuissa, Silent Night is a story told with passion and subtle patriotism. You see, Vuissa is from Austria and this is the true story of Austrian priest Joseph Mohr, and how his ministry among the people of a small town drew him closer to Christ and inspired him to write the classic hymn Silent Night. Though the apparent use of native actors in an English-language film means that some dialogue is occasionally lost in Austrian accents, this is mostly not a problem and well worth it for the authenticity it yields. It must also be said that the actors, unknown at least in the United States, carry the film effortlessly, conveying wonderful subtlety as the natures of faith, doubt, misery, hope, and charity are brilliantly explored. They are aided by an excellent screenplay, gorgeous cinematography, and as expected, wonderful music. This is a sublime and inspiring true story, skillfully made and sweetly acted. You’ll want to watch it every Christmas season.”

Christmas Oranges. John Lyde, director and producer, Sally Meyer, writer. Distributed by Covenant. Plays Nov. 2-8. at the Megaplex theaters in St. George, Cedar City, Logan, Ogden, Lehi, Sandy, South Jordan and Centerville. Based on a children’s story by Linda Bevers, the movie tells of Rose (Bailie Johnson), a saintly orphan who must leave the kindly care of Mrs. Hartley (“Matlock” alumna Nancy Stafford) to the more severe setting of the subtly named Irongates. The headmaster, Mr. Crampton (Edward Herrmann), enforces harsh punishments for his strict discipline, even at Christmas. When Mr. Crampton’s kindly brother Joe (Bruce Newbold) brings the children oranges as a gift, Rose runs the risk of losing out when she breaks the rules. Edward Herrmann (the grandfather in Gilmore Girls) is becoming a go-to guy for LDS moviemakers lately.  Deseret News review: “This simple tale is fun and engaging, well-acted and heartwarming for any age. “Christmas Oranges” could rival any Hallmark production this season.”

SL Tribune (Sean P. Means). 1.5 stars.  “The made-in-Utah “Christmas Oranges” is the first holiday movie out of the gate, and we can only hope they get better than this syrupy mess . . . Director John Lyde and writer Sally Meyer lay on the sentiment in thick slabs, with no heart-tugging moment passing without swelling music and thudding dialogue to telegraph every emotion. The story, meant as a heartwarming tale of children banding together to give Rose a happy Christmas, is undercut by Lyde’s weak handling of his young cast members — leaving poor Herrmann, who’s always watchable even here, stuck with a role that’s a pale imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch and every other meanie touched by the Christmas spirit.”

Meridan Magazine: The famous tale of kindness among lonely children at an orphanage is brought to life in Christmas Oranges, the most accomplished film yet from director John Lyde. It has some terrific performances, from the gruff Scrooge-like headmaster played by Edward Herrmann (Redemption, Intolerable Cruelty) to the warmth displayed by Nancy Stafford, from some terrifically nuanced work by LDS film veteran Bruce Newbold (Finding Faith in Christ, Only a Stonecutter), to solid acting by the children, led by Bailee Michelle Johnson (17 Miracles). This is a beautiful Christmas film with a timeless message, lovingly crafted, well-acted, and told with warmth and tenderness.

Saint Street. Rob Diamond, director, writer, producer. Nov. 6 DVD release.  Bridgestone/Good Moon Films. Follows the life of Percy, a good man who becomes focused on making money rather than spending time with his family. On Christmas Eve, he breaks yet another promise to his wife and children to leave work early and misses the annual Christmas party. After repeated warnings to change his ways, Percy suffers a serious car accident that causes him to lose everything, including his family, job, and the use of his legs. Confined to a wheelchair and homeless, Percy is humbled into living with misfits in the gritty world of Saint Street. Yet, godly examples surface in the most unlikely places, showing Percy that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel in this traditional Christmas story of faith, hope, and redemption.

Heaven’s Door. Craig Clyde, director. Craig Clyde and Bryce W. Fillmore, writers.  Bryce W. Fillmore and Dave Hunter, producers.  Starring Charisma Carpenter (Buffy, Angel), Dean Cain, and Edward Herrmann. DVD Nov. 27.  “Riley, a young girl in a small town, makes an unexpected discovery-a doorway to heaven, which leads to miraculous healing powers. She hides her gift at first as her parents struggle with a separation, and her mother continues to lose her faith. Riley is soon faced with the ultimate sacrifice … will it change her mother’s mind and bring the family back together?”

In Memoriam

Preston McConkie passed away last week. He was a journalist, webmaster, and editor, and a frequent commentator on Mormon literature sites. We pray his friends and family will be comforted during this difficult time.

His friend Eric W. Jepson wrote the following tribute.

McConkie’s self-penned user bio at Wikipedia states, “Preston McConkie is a journalist and webmaster, having written for the Weber State University’s Signpost, the Ogden Standard Examiner,Utah Weekly, Ogden City News, Weber Sentinel and Coolidge Examiner.He spent a stint during 2007 as webmaster of EnvisionOgden, a community blog in Northern Utah’s premier outdoor recreation center, then worked through 2007 and 2008 as assistant editor for the Uintah Basin Standard. His most often-linked piece is a single article he wrote in 2002 for FrontPageMag.com, predicting an inevitable war with Iraq. Just weeks after he left his job at the Coolidge Examiner, Mr. McConkie’s investigation request to the Arizona Attorney General’s office was upheld in an opinion stating that the Coolidge City Council had improperly and illegally held closed-door executive sessions to discuss raises for city employees . . . Mr. McConkie is the project editor of a cyberpunk novel that released at the beginning of August, 2007, Hunting Gideon by Jessica Draper. The backflap material and an inside blurb are written by him. Another comedy novel he edited, Byuck, is expected to be published in 2009. Currently Mr. McConkie is enjoying a state-sponsored vacation while he heals from an industrial back injury sustained in Oregon while driving a flatbed tractor-trailer, and spends his time cleaning up Wikipedia articles.”

John M. Pontius passed away on December 10, 2012, at the age of 60. He was an author of several LDS doctrinal books, as well as a Millennial Quest, a series of last-days novels.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, Dec. 23, Dec. 30

Hardcover Fiction

#24, #27 A WINTER DREAM, by Richard Paul Evans (7th week). Down from #21. Dropped off the USA Today list after 6 weeks.

Mass Market Fiction Paperback

#17, #8 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (20th week).

Children’s Middle Grade

x, #14 INFINITY RING BOOK 1, A MUTINY IN TIME, by James Dashner (2nd week).

Children’s Series

#4, #6 MATCHED TRILOGY, by Ally Condie (5th week). Reached was #87
and #107 in its 6th week on the USA Today list.

#7, #5, THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (212nd week).

Deseret Book Bestsellers

1. The Guardian (Hardcover) by Gerald N. Lund

2. Come to Zion, Vol. 1: The Winds and the Waves (Hardcover) by Dean Hughes

3. The Rent Collector (Hardcover)by Camron Wright

4. A Winter Dream (Hardcover) by Richard Paul Evans

5. Tres Leches Cupcakes (Paperback) by Josi S. Kilpack

6. Edenbrooke (Paperback) by Julianne Donaldson

7. Snow Rising (Hardcover) by Matthew Baldwin

8. A Nation Divided, Vol. 1: Storms Gather (Hardcover) by Robert Marcum

9. A Banner is Unfurled, Vol. 5: No Greater Love (Hardcover) by Marcie Gallacher, Kerri Robinson

10. Accidental Private Eye (Paperback) by Clair M. Poulson

11. An Unlikely Match (Paperback) by Sarah M. Eden

12. Smart Move (Paperback) by Melanie Jacobson

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2 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, December 21, 2012

  1. Wm says:

    Thanks for mentioning Preston. He is missed.

  2. Th. says:

    .

    I still haven’t got my Sunstone…..

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