A Live Reading, the Lit Blitz, and our Master Class Application

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 everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com 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.

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6 Responses to A Live Reading, the Lit Blitz, and our Master Class Application

  1. “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.”

    And this is why I love Mormon Drama. It brings back the communal conversation. ;)

    But related to what you’re actually talking about, this reminds me of Charles Dickens. He would tour around, doing readings of his work. I think hearing and author’s words from her/his own mouth is a wonderful thing. I wish I was in Utah to attend.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      There’s a crank in every crowd, and today I get to be the crank (to the surprise of no one).

      I’m not sure how drama brings back the conversation any more than literature. Yes, from a performance standpoint you have a more direct feedback (applause, audience reaction) that puts the response in more proximate space to the performance, but I don’t see the conversation as particularly any more direct or communal than the literary (or musical, or representational) forms.

      It just seems to me that interaction and conversation are rather different things, and drama seems no more suited to the conversation than any other performance art—even if it does situate performer and audience more closely together. The writing itself remains just as separated from audience in drama as it does in literature, as does the conversation that impacts that writing.

      Not to take a winky-fied comment too seriously; I’m just sayin’… ;)

      • Emphasis on why “I” love Mormon drama, Scott. I’m talking from my own personal experiences here, and obviously can’t speak for anyone else. But I have found tremendous satisfaction in seeing my imagination take “flesh and blood.” But, of course, I’ve been involved in the production aspect of my plays (as a producer, as a director, as a writer in rehearsals, as an audience member), so that same separation *hasn’t* been there for me.

        I feel very immersed in the process of creating that communal experience and having been through that process numerous times, I can say that, for myself, there has been a distinct difference in the experience than from my literary experiences. One’s not necessarily superior to the other–I’ve cherished my private, thoughtful time for books–but when its comes to a “communal” experience, for me there’s something special about theatre that other mediums (even film) don’t capture in the same way.

        • Scott Parkin says:

          I think we’re talking slightly different things. I’m catching more on the word “conversation” than the word “communal.”

          Working with smart and talented people to mount a production is an entirely different set of activities (and an obviously more communal one) than writing a story is—or even than reading a story in a public reading. The creative act in literature *is* an essentially solitary one, where the production of a play (or ensemble music) is a decidedly more communal activity (though writing the play seems every bit as solitary as writing anything else).

          I’m just not sure the conversation (between author and audience) is particularly better facilitated by drama than by literature. What I gain from performance (as both actor and musician) is not a conversation—though it is a very welcome exchange of energy.

          We’re all enthusiasts for our own causes and forms, and I would never dream of claiming one form as better or worse (as a musician, sometimes actor, and regular author, I have at least one finger in many pies). To James’ original point, there is a muffling distance between performance and audience for writers that can feel especially isolating.

          I’m just not convinced that the quality or quantity of conversation is greater in drama than it is in literature, regardless of the evidently greater direct communality of ensemble production.

          Perhaps straining at a gnat, but I think the distinction is worth making.

  2. Yeah, you’re making a totally different point than I originally was with my comment. That wasn’t what I was saying. ;)

  3. Marianne Hales Harding says:

    I think live readings create such a wonderful feeling of community. One of the big things I will lose when we move up to Happy Valley in a few weeks is my sweet little Open Mic Night community and the best outlet for my newly born poet (I just took it up because I wanted to be part of this writing community and it didn’t really work to read excerpts from plays in that forum).

    The Writer’s Retreat sounds like a treat, too. Wish I wasn’t already booked that weekend. :( (BikeMS up in Logan!)

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