Confession: I have mixed feelings about writing as a technology.
On the one hand, I’m amazed by how abstract marks on a page or screen can evoke the voice of a person thousands of miles–or years–away. Writing does a wonderful job at expanding the range of minds a given reader can interact with.
But it does so at a cost. I get to transmit my voice further through letters by sacrificing tone, gesture, body language, the energy of physical presence. And in listening from a distance, you lose the possibility of immediate response and the presence of the rest of the audience. That’s a high price to pay. We get distant connection at the risk of some immediate isolation.
What can we do to make up for the costs of writing? Last month, Jonathan Langford posted about communities of Mormon readers and writers and suggested that fans and scholars have a richer, more natural experience of story when they engage in further conversation with each other. Discussion groups, blogs, and live gatherings help counteract the necessary narrow experience of text. He also noted that many great written stories were products of live conversations and relationships between writers.
Today, I’m going to talk about three of my own current efforts to help make Mormon Lit a richer, more communal experience for writers and readers alike: the Mormon Lit Blitz, a reading with Steven Peck at Orem Library, and the upcoming (June 27-29) Mormon Writing Retreat/Master Class.
1) The Lit Blitz.
Because of problems with the Everyday Mormon Writer website, we’ll be posting Lit Blitz finalists on mormonmidrashim.blogspot.com this year, starting on Monday 13 May and continuing through the next Saturday, 25 May. Though I’m sad the contest won’t lead people into the archives of other EMW stories, the venue change may give a little boost to readership since my blog has a fair number of regular followers.
While the Lit Blitz has no live component, the feeling of real-time event, the bringing together of eleven different writers, and the audience voting all seem to strengthen the sense of community. And the ease of sharing the pieces makes it simpler to turn friends into readers: I’ve talked with a lot more friends about individual Lit Blitz pieces than about Mormon novels, which I’d have to talk them into reading first.
I enjoyed the blog tour for the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest, but did not get around to setting one up for this Lit Blitz. Having discussion on the same blog as the stories are posted may end up attracting more participants though: we’ll see.
2) The Reading
On Wednesday, May 15th at 7 pm Steven Peck and I will be doing a joint reading at the Orem Public Library. This morning alone I’ve had two different friends contact me because they saw my face on a poster there. The idea of a live event excites people.
My hope is that by reading from the 2011 and 2012 AML Novel Award winners at the same time, we’ll have a chance at a triple audience: Peck fans, Goldberg fans, and Mormon Lit fans. I’m excited to have people who come for my book hear from Steve and vice-versa. I also think it will be cool for people in the area who love craft-driven Mormon work to share physical and conversational space.
Admittedly, we’ll have an easier time getting out an audience in Utah Valley than in most parts of the world. That said: it doesn’t take a whole lot of people to make a good reading, and I’ll bet small-audience reading gatherings in other places would help give people living near any given author or small set of authors a richer experience of Mormon Lit. What experiences have others of you had with readings in your areas?
3) Mormon Writers’ Retreat/Master Class
When we planned this year’s writing contests, we also decided to hold a writing class for up to 12 writers who care about Mormon Lit. Part of what we want to do is share insights into how writing works. Much of what we want to do is share face time and see what new ideas can come out of the exposure to each others’ ways of thinking.
The Writers’ Retreat/Master Class will take place at a cabin near Heber, Utah on June 27-29. There is no charge for tuition and space for all participants to sleep in the cabin: the only costs will be travel to Salt Lake City or Utah Valley (we’ll carpool from there) and food (either purchasing your own or contributing to a group fund if you’d like to share meals).
To apply, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by May 31st with short responses to the following three prompts:
1) What short reading would you recommend to writers and the retreat and why? (That is, what can Mormon writers learn from your recommended reading?)
2) What’s a cool (even if impractical) idea you’ve had for a Mormon Lit project? What might you write were it not for constraints of time, money, or fears-you-can’t-actually-pull-it-off?
3) What is your writing like? Attach a writing sample of no more than 500 words with the beginning of a story, essay, play, or other type of piece, previously published or in progress to give us a quick sense of what you can do.
We will select our class and respond to applicants on June 1st, 2013.
Please consider applying–I realize travel and time costs can be limiting, but I also feel like we’re at an exciting period in the history of Mormon Lit and stand to gain a lot by having face time together to compare notes, brainstorm, and challenge each other.
Writing is solitary work, but imagination and storytelling need not be. Let’s take the time to share the richness of live interaction together.