This Week in Mormon Literature, May 25, 2013

The Mormon Lit Blitz is going on this week. The New York Times produced an in-depth article on the BYU Animation program, its success in placing graduates with Hollywood studios, and the issues of how Mormon values play in the entertainment world. There was also a notable article about gay Mormon characters in recent theatrical pieces. BYUtv presented its first scripted dramatic television series. Brandon Sanderson’s new YA series got starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, as well as some less enthusiastic reviews. Richard Paul Evans has a new bestseller, and Laura Andersen and Rachel Whipple debuted with national novels. TC Christiansen’s latest movie will be opening, and Mahonri Stewart’s Mormon theater anthology is now available. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and articles

The Mormon Lit Blitz is going on now, at James Goldberg’s Mormon Midrashim blog. So far there have been stories or poems by Jonathon Penny, Scott Hales, Sarah Dunster, Ben Crowder, Hillary Stirling, Merrijane Rice, Steven Peck, Marianne Hales Harding, Emily Harris Adams, and Katherine Cowley. There are separate posts to comment on each work.

When Hollywood Wants Good, Clean Fun, It Goes to Mormon Country. New York Times article about the BYU Animation program and its success in placing graduates with Hollywood studios. “Those films have consistently racked up student Emmys and student Academy Awards. They’ve played at Cannes and Sundance. Most important, they’ve impressed recruiters. Out of nowhere, B.Y.U. — a Mormon university owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has become a farm team for the country’s top animation studios and effects companies. Unlikely as it sounds, young Mormons are being sucked out of the middle of Utah and into the very centers of American pop-culture manufacturing. Praising the program in a speech on campus in 2008, the president of Pixar, Edwin Catmull, noted: “It’s the perception not just of Pixar, but also at the other studios, that something pretty remarkable is happening here.” (During the production of “Brave,” for example, a 14-person team tasked with rigging the complicated musculature in horses and wrangling Princess Merida’s curls included six B.Y.U. alumni.) Once Catmull’s speech circulated online, prospective students from around the world started e-mailing the director of B.Y.U.’s program, R. Brent Adams, wanting to apply. Adams did what he always does. He sent each a link to the university’s honor code . . . “I never heard from any of those people again.” The typical B.Y.U. student doesn’t seem like a natural fit for Hollywood. Mormon culture tends to see the entertainment industry as both a reflection of and contributor to our “morally bereft society,” as one alumnus put it. Many of the students I met rarely, if ever, watch R-rated films and could name the handful of exceptions they had made. One 27-year-old junior remembered seeing the Civil War drama “Glory” in high school. Another was working part time at a company in Salt Lake City that cleaned up Hollywood films and released family-friendly versions on DVD. Recently, the student told me, he digitally replaced a cigarette in a character’s hand with a pretzel. The B.Y.U. program is designed to be a similar kind of ethical counterweight: it’s trying to unleash values-oriented filmmakers into the industry who can inflect its sensibility. “Without being preachy about it,” Adams told me, “if we can add something to the culture that makes people think about being better human beings — more productive, more kind, more forgiving — that’s what we want to do.” . . . “Honestly,” says Marilyn Friedman, the former head of outreach at DreamWorks, who visited B.Y.U. frequently, “the first few times I went to Provo, I was like: What am I doing here? I’m a little Jewish girl from back East. But I was just amazed by how absolutely lovely those kids are. They couldn’t be nicer, humbler, more respectful. It’s a pleasure. And when they come here, they stay that way.” Many students are already married with children by the time they graduate; they want to excel at their jobs to give their families stability. Many have served missions abroad, often deposited in third-world countries amid great suffering, and are years older than the typical college student by the time they graduate. “It means there’s a maturity level there,” says Barry Weiss, a longtime animation executive and former senior vice president at Sony. “If I’m a senior executive and I want to get people on my team, they’ve got to be hard-working and serious people. They’ve got to understand that this is a business — it’s not just art for art’s sake. The kids coming out of B.Y.U., they’ve got that box checked.” . . . “One of the horrible things about Mormons is that we’re so polite,” Kelly Loosli, a faculty member, later told me. “It’s one of the serious issues facing our community: our polite culture is problematic for excellence.” Loosli has taken it upon himself to be the program’s bad cop, showing students how to tell one another when their work looks terrible, to get them industry-ready. “I’ve made a lot of people cry,” he told me, proudly . . . I kept being reminded that B.Y.U.’s program was only 13 years old: most of the moral emissaries that it has been pouring into the industry are still climbing to the positions from which they’ll be able to truly influence a film’s tone and content. One day, there will be alumni directing and producing, students insisted — it’s an inevitability. “Right now we’re the workhorses,” an alumnus at DreamWorks told me. “But I think our future is bright in terms of being able to shape the industry.””BYU animators

“Gay Mormon Characters Step Out of the Shadows” (Kellie Kotraba, Religion News Service). Article about gay Mormon characters in plays about Mormons, written both by Mormon and non-Mormon authors. From Angels in America to Matthew Greene. Quite detailed in terms of the number of plays it mentions, although not particularly analytical, article, with quotes from several authors and producers. The article got picked up by the Huffington Post, Washington Post, and others.

“A Few Publishing Facts”, by Lyle Mortimer/Cedar Fort (LDS Publisher). A realistic/pessimistic view of the current bookselling business environment. This was followed in a few days by a more optimistic article by WiDo’s Karen Jones Gowen, which called on authors to contribute in a new renaissance of literature.

Speaking of Cedar Fort, they broke ground on a 17,000 sq. feet warehouse extension last week.

“What Books Should I Read?”: Essential Readings in Mormonism for Every Member (Benjamin Park, BCC). There are a few literary works thrown in, with mostly history, theology, social studies, etc. Lots of comments.

Essential:

Levi Peterson, The Backslider (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986). A classic Mormon novel, and captures the tensions of (desired) sacred and profane in everyday life. We are all fallen, imperfect people, yet within that status there is still beauty.

Maurine Whipple, Giant Joshua (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1942). Another classic Mormon novel. I think it’s important because it humanizes historical figures and makes our pioneers look human. Also, it’s story is moving and makes our past seem a lot more, well, real–much more than academic history, I would argue.

Nearly Essential:

“Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (New York: Free Press, 2012). A poignant, sweet, and thoughtful story of what makes Mormonism so powerful, frustrating, and, in the end, rewarding. It is also designed to build emphathy and demonstrate diversity.

Eugene England, Making Peace: Personal Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995). It has been argued that the personal essay is the best form of Mormon cultural expression. And Eugene England was the master of it. Would that all Mormons were exposed to his thoughtful, peaceful, and worshipful version of Mormonism. (Also, note that you could pick up any of England’s collections, like Dialogues with Myself and Quality of Mercy, and still turn out alright.)

Angela Hallstrom, ed., Dispensation: Latter-Day Fiction (Salt Lake City: Zarahemla Books, 2010). We’ve had an explosion of great short stories of late, so something needed to be included. This compilation is worthy of the list and a great read.

Steven Peck, The Scholar of Moab (Torrey, UT: Torrey House Press, 2011). Even the approach, speculative western, merges the sacred and profane in a way that perfectly captures one of Mormonism’s paradoxes. And though a comedic tale, it asks fundamental philosophical questions that will last long after the laughs. Bonus points if you also read his A Short Stay in Hell, which might make you start hating our doctrine of eternity.

Brady Udall, The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010). Though about a fictional modern polygamist in a fundamentalist group, it touches on notions of solidarity, community, and fallibility that are at the crux of the Mormon tradition.

Laurel Thatch Ulrich and Emma Lou Thayne, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1995). Another collection of essays by phenomenal writers, this compilation offers poignant reflections on the experiences of Mormon women.

LDS Publisher has created a new website for LDS fiction notices, http://www.newldsfiction.com/, separate from her main LDS Publisher page, which is now for articles and discussion about literature and publishing.

New Books and their Reviews

Laura Andersen. The Bolyen King. Ballantine, May 14. The Bolyen Trilogy #1. Alternate Tudor historical. First novel. What if Anne Boleyn had given birth to a boy, and was never executed? And what if that boy grew up to become king of England? Alternates between the points of view of William, the Boleyn King; Elizabeth, his older sister, and two friends. William tries to prove himself amidst whispers of treason and calls for war, relying on his sister and his friends to guide him and support him, while facing their own problems in the dealings of court. Issues of religious rivalries. See Eric James Stone’s interview with Andersen, and the discussion of alternate history fiction by Mormon authors.

Kirkus: “An entertaining book for Tudor history buffs that’s grounded in acute psychological and political insight.”

Library Journal. “Andersen’s imaginative debut, the first in a planned trilogy, poses a simple but history-shattering question . . . Once the basics of her alternate-history universe have been established, Andersen focuses on creating an exciting, action-driven plot containing strong doses of both intrigue and romance. Tudor-era historical fiction fans who are willing to accept the unusual premise will be rewarded with an original and entertaining read that’s reminiscent of the best of Philippa Gregory.”

Historical Novel Society: “This was a surprising gem and a thoroughly enjoyable read. I like my historical novels to be accurate, so I did not expect to like a novel that rewrites history, but it is always so hard to read Anne Boleyn’s story without wishing it had a happier ending. Andersen has given Anne Boleyn fans the happy ending we desire, with a cast of likeable new characters like Minuette, Will, and Dominic, who blend with well-known historical figures like Elizabeth, Robert Dudley, Mary Tudor and the Norfolk family.”

Richard Paul Evans. A Step of Faith. Simon & Schuster, May 7. General/Inspirational. The Walk series #4. “Because his severe vertigo is diagnosed as the side effect of a brain tumor, Alan must go to Los Angeles for treatment. He is surrounded by those who care most for him: his father, who is happy to have Alan back in his childhood home; Falene, who has been by his side through his most difficult times; and Nicole, who helped him recover from a mugging in Spokane. One by one, Alan alienates them all, and he resumes his journey in angry loneliness. The people he meets as he walks the dusty southern back roads have lessons to teach Alan about accepting love. He just has to have faith that life can be worth living again—and that the woman he rejected will be willing to forgive him.”

Kirkus: “The stories collected on this journey, as in life, are left unfinished, raise many questions and, depending on what the reader brings, might provide some answers.”

PW: “With the exception of Christoffersen’s encounter with a disturbing cult that consumes two chapters, Evans moves events along at a rapid-fire pace. A few random strangers add to the complexity of the story as they provide physical, emotional, and spiritual assistance throughout the journey. There is also a healthy peppering of historical background for many of the towns visited. Christoffersen’s unconventional road trip travels a path of self-discovery and determination.”

Betsy Brannon Green. Proceed With Caution. Covenant, May 1. Suspense. Loosely connected to Hazardous Duty series.

Mette Ivie Harrison. The Rose Throne. EgmontUSA, May 14. YA fantasy. “A tale of two princesses—one with magic, one with none—who dare seek love in a world where real choice can never be theirs.”

Here There Be Books: “Princesses! Princesses who actually understand princess responsibilities re: kingdoms and marrying and having kids. These princesses aren’t the frou-frou, super modern romance princesses you may be used to from other YA books. I found that very refreshing. It was SO NICE to have more realism in a book with royalty and romance and magic! The realism balanced out the fantastical bits, and I think it made the story more exciting than it would have been had either of the princesses been more like someone transposed from today’s society into an early medieval-ish era. That said, I DID have a problem with the development of one of the romances . . . Didn’t help that I didn’t like the characters (they annoyed me), but my main problem was that it developed from relatively nothing into BAM, doomed romance! They met once and Dude was already rolling in the romantic angst. Princess took some time to get to know him before falling in love (good!), but I still felt like I missed a step somewhere . . .  There’s something for everyone in The Rose Throne. Magic, and romance, and realistic princesses who’re both selfish and self-less! There’s death and a fair amount of violence, too, and the pseudo-historical time period was neat. I very much enjoyed this book, and I’m for sure going to read the sequel when it comes out.”

Lynn Kurland. Roses in Moonlight. Jove, April 30. Speculative romance. MacLeod #13. Time travel to Elizabethan England.

Dene Low. Crimson Blues. Laurel Wreath, April 16. Romantic suspense. Leading criminal lawyer is tired of the big city, she moves to a smaller town in the southwest. A man gets set up by those on a school board opposed to his proposals.

Kathi Oram Peterson. Wanted. Covenant, May 1. Suspense. A rodeo veterinarian finds an armed and bleeding escaped convict in her truck. He is really innocent, and they try to solve the mystery of a string of murders.

Brandon Sanderson. The Rithmatist. TOR Teen, May 14. Middle Grade/YA fantasy. Gearpunk (Da Vinci-era technology, extrapolated hundreds of years into the future), magic. First in a series.

New York Times (Patrick Ness): “There’s always a boy, and there’s always a girl. They may not like each other at first, but they find a way to work together. Friendship always blossoms, sometimes romance. There’s a society they have to fight against and a secret to uncover that changes the world. They win in the end, though there’s heartbreak along the way and more danger ahead. Sound familiar? That’s probably because you’ve read “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent” or “Beautiful Creatures” or any one of a number of recent young adult blockbusters. Why do so many current Y.A. novels — including, I must admit, some of my own — hew so closely to this formula? Every genre (if we can call Y.A. a genre) has its common motifs, of course, but perhaps these elements recur so frequently because they capture something essential about what it is to be a teenager: suddenly alone in a society you don’t understand, friends who are both passionately devoted and heart-­crushingly duplicitous, a new set of rules that you must learn but which no one will explain. Being a teenager is difficult, and when you’re 16, a book that takes this fact seriously is water in a desert. As in every genre, though, it’s not the motifs themselves, it’s what you do with them . . . As to be expected from a best-­selling fantasy writer, the world of the novel is nicely fleshed out, with its clockwork horses (“Equilix Stallions”) and hints of wider history. Mostly, though, the fantasy here is very comfortable — nothing to scare those clockwork horses — and that points to a key weakness. The best Y.A. novels have a kind of animating vitality. For the course of their stories, they make you believe that the world really is at stake. That’s why they’re exciting and so often moving (and read so widely by adults). “The Rithmatist” is a little bit soft at the edges. Aside from a brief prologue, there is almost no action until the climax, and try as he might, Sanderson never quite succeeds in making two-­dimensional chalk drawings move from interesting to scary. The required elements of Y.A. are all present and accounted for. Joel and Melody are likable heroes, and everything moves along efficiently. But the world never quite feels as if it actually might end, which is what I think young adult readers are looking for, in whatever form. Because that is, after all, what every day feels like when you’re a teenager.”

Kirkus: Starred Review. “The inhumanly prolific author of the Mistborn trilogy conjures similarly baroque magic for a lapidary series opener aimed at a somewhat younger audience . . . Fantasy readers should devour this well-crafted mix of action and setup, enriched by a thoroughly detailed cultural and historical background and capped by a distinctly unsettling twist.”

PW: Starred Review. “Bestselling author Sanderson’s first YA novel is a delightful fantasy set in an alternate early 20th-century America made up of 60 loosely federated islands protected by Rithmatists, who use powerful chalk-drawing magic to hold at bay the voracious wild chalklings . . . Featuring ingenious magic (complete with profuse chalk drawing–style diagrams and illustrations from McSweeney), feisty characters, and a complex plot likely to unwind over several volumes, this high-spirited, exciting story will appeal to readers of all ages.”

AV Club, C. “Brandon Sanderson excels at building complicated fantasy worlds and intricate magic systems. Unfortunately his young-adult novel, The Rithmatist, is so bogged down in stale genre clichés that his knack for developing settings can’t save it . . . By making magic an integrated part of the world rather than a hidden facet, Sanderson is able to seriously contemplate the societal role that it would actually have in a way most authors avoid. He’s designed a fascinating alternate version of our world where North America is a massive archipelago connected by springwork-powered trains, the Aztecs still rule South America, and Korea has conquered all of Europe. His pages are flavored with how those changes could affect not just geopolitics but everyday things like food and dress. Yet it all seems like new scenery for a stage playing the same YA story of empowered teens solving problems that the more powerful adults around them seem helpless against while finding friendship, hints of romance, and new truths about the world around them. Even the characters are well-worn archetypes, like the extremely Snape-like Professor Nalizar, who Joel immediately suspects is behind the crimes for no reason other than the fact that he doesn’t like the guy much.Predictably, The Rithmatist is meant to be the first in a series. Like Harry Potter, it’s possible that these books will mature with time, but that will take a newfound tendency on Sanderson’s part to go beyond tracing over established YA works and draw characters and a plot that come to life.”

Donald S. Smurthwaite. Road to Bountiful. Covenant, May 1. General. A young man with a dead-end job takes a job driving an elderly man across the country. “In what becomes a life changing adventure, Levi finds himself transformed by a gentle and wise old man who inspires him to slowdown and enjoy the ride.”

E. M. Tippits. Love in Darkness. Self, May 21. YA romance. Shattered Castles #2.

Literary Time Out: “This Shattered Castles series isn’t quite as upbeat as Someone Else’s Fairytale, but I found that, especially in Love in Darkness, Tippetts does a very nice job of not making the hard issues included overly depressing and creepy. Love in Darkness takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride! Alex’s situation really pulled at the heart strings. I felt so bad for him in what could have been a hopeless diagnosis and life, but through it all he had friends to stand by him and help him. The romance was touching, especially how amazing Madison is to see beyond Alex’s illness, even when he thinks there’s no hope.”

Natalie Whipple. Transparent. HarperTeen, May 21 (also released in the UK, Hot Ke Books, May 16). YA Paranormal. Teenage girl is invisible, and her father forces her to do crimes. She and her mother flees, but her father looks for her. First novel.

Kirkus: “An invisible girl finds it hard to hide in this X-Men–meets–The Godfather debut . . . Despite a few improbabilities (most notably, presuming that a world-renowned celebrity would not be turned in to the media), the quick-paced story, set in the present day, ticks along. Attention to worldbuilding gives interesting details of Fiona’s lifestyle, such as the way she accessorizes to draw attention to the outlines of her body. Even as she constantly worries about her father and her brother, his henchman, catching up with her, she begins to trust and befriend fellow classmates with equally impressive and secret powers of their own. The slow buildup of romance with blue-eyed Seth and the revelation of his special ability heighten the tension and leave Fiona wondering if she’ll ever have a chance at a normal life. A great fit for fans of unusual love interests, happily free of all the brooding of Twilight.”

PW: “Superpowers are a dime a dozen in the alternate Earth of Whipple’s debut novel: a Cold War antiradiation drug caused rampant mutations among its users and their progeny, and vast criminal syndicates gained dominance in the following years . . . Whipple’s story starts strong but flags as Fiona slowly makes friends and becomes romantically entangled with a pair of superpowered brothers. The pace rapidly accelerates in the final chapters, but too much time is spent with Fiona fretting over exposing her new allies to danger. The novel reads more like a setup for things to come than a full-fledged story in its own right.”

Emily Ellsworth, Deseret News: “Natalie Whipple’s debut novel is exciting in its scope and premise. Though the plot of mutant superchildren is not new, Whipple freshens up the scene by exploring what it’s really like to feel invisible. Fiona has a constant internal struggle with her desire for someone to see her and notice who she is beyond her invisibility . . . With the exception of one minor flaw (the fact that as the only invisible person, Fiona’s presence in a small town wouldn’t be immediately recognized and reported), Whipple’s story is airtight. There is a great balance of action, suspense, and non-angsty romance. Readers who enjoy Ally Carter’s “Gallagher Girls” or “Heist Society” novels will find many similarities in the witty dialogue, smart characters and fast-paced plot.”

Dorine White. The Emerald Ring. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, May 14. Middle Grade fantasy. “Cleopatra’s Legacy”. “When twelve-year-old Sara Bogus finds an emerald ring that once belonged to Cleopatra, she couldn’t have anticipated where it would take her.” First novel.

Bookworm Lisa: “This is a middle grade book that I found myself getting caught up in the story line. The book is engaging and full of adventure and fun. I enjoyed the way that Dorine White wrote this book.  Her voice is active and runs smoothly.  She has taken an fascinating period of time and added a contemporary setting.  This is a book that I can see my kids reading and not putting down (I know that I couldn’t).”

Shelia, LDSWBR: “The Emerald Ring is such a great Middle Grade book. This is a book I would love to read to my school kids and my kids at home. My daughter almost stole it from me when she read the title and saw it was about Cleopatra. She loves Egypt and anything having to do with Egypt. Even though she is a mid-teen, I know that she will love this story. It has mystery, adventure, intrigue and everything you love in a fantasy book . . . This book is a winner on so many levels. As a teacher I love how it explores aspects of history. I know kids between the ages of 7-14 will really love this book.”         Jennie Hansen: 3 stars.

Reviews of Older Books

Stephen Carter. The Hand of Glory (Doug Gibson, Standard-Examiner). “This young adult paranormal novel is a genuine horror tale. Carter, who subtitles it “Harrowed Valley Hauntings: Book 1,” has written a spooky story with talented, and chilling illustrations from Galen Dara. The back story of “Hand of Glory” is steeped in early Mormon history, with polygamy, sin and blood as a means of settling dilemmas. The protagonist is Paul McCallister, 14, who moves to a small Wyoming town. He’s not too happy there, being chased by bullies and wondering where his mom disappeared to. Eventually, Paul’s activities energizes ghosts of a long-ago generation, leading to a scary resolution. I love antiques, old books and magazines, and anything that shows history at its dustiest. My favorite sections of the novel revolve around Paul’s visits to an old junk shop run by a distant relative.  To sum up, a great read, for kids and adults, but beware, this is not faux scary. It’s creepy.”

Melanie Jacobson. Second Chances (Rosalyn). 4 stars. “I’ve enjoyed all of Melanie Jacobson’s books, and this was no exception (I read it in less than 24 hours) . . . I thought this book hit all the genre targets well: the characters were interesting, likeable, and had a great (albeit clean) chemistry with each other. The plot was fun and fast-moving, and the setting was deftly constructed to give a feel both of Southern California in general, but the S.C. LDS single’s scene in particular. Definitely a book I would recommend (for a fun, light read) and likely one I will reread.”

Theric Jepsen, Byuck (Doug Gibson, Standard-Examiner). “This is a crazy book. It’s chaotic but hilariously funny. It’s a satire on life at BYU in the 1990s and involves two eccentrics, Curses Olai and David Them, to create a rock opera, “Byuck,” which deals with avoiding what is regarded as the main responsibilities of being at BYU, namely matrimony and the ensuing white-shirt-and-tie responsibilities of adult life. The novel is intersected with assorted musings and academic contributions from Dave, such as his “Memory Book,” and lists of spiritual brainstorming from stake conference, and so on. There are witty caricatures, such as Peter, a “macho” BYU guy. A lot of people have compared “Byuck” to “Napoleon Dynamite” and I read a review that tagged it with “The Death of a Disco Dancer.” As I told the author, I kept thinking of John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces.” The plot’s not similar but it has some of that creative chaos that makes “Confederacy” so memorable. By the way, the history of Jepson’s efforts to get “Byuck” published, including his dealings with Deseret Book, are as chaotic and hilarious.”  (Also Gibson interviews Carter and Jepsen about the books here).

Ryan McIlvain. Elders. Feminist Mormon Housewives podcast: interview with the author about the book, his life and his stories behind the stories. He talks about marketing a book about Mormons to a secular audience and how he approaches the faith he grew up in but no longer belongs to.

Clair M. Poulson. Framed (Jennie Hansen, Merdian).Poulson has been entertaining readers with mystery/suspense novels that keep the reader guessing, a touch of romance, the everyday incorporation of faith in people’s lives, and an insider’s look at law enforcement for close to two decades. His newest book, Framed, is one of his best novels to date . . . Poulson’s characters are fleshed out just enough to make them feel like real people, but not so much they bog down the reader’s imagination. His main characters are bright, attractive people and are clearly LDS. His villains are plain evil, but he also includes a number of secondary characters who are good people with flaws or not-so-good people with redeeming characteristics. The plot swirls around two competing mafia style groups, one of which is headed by a man who is about to go on trial for some of his crimes and whose lead attorney is the murder victim. The other one wants his competitor to go to prison. Both employ men who arrange accidents or otherwise remove obstacles, steal evidence, or plant evidence. The story builds in a satisfying way and concludes with an abrupt surprise ending.”

Theater

Mahonri Stewart. Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama. Zarahemla Books, May 8. An immediately essential anthology of Mormon theater. It includes key theatrical pieces written from the 1970s to the present day. They are: Fires of the Mind, Robert Elliott, Huebener, Thomas F. Rogers, Burdens of Earth, Susan Elizabeth Howe, J. Golden, James Arrington, Matters of the Heart, Thom Duncan, Gadianton, Eric Samuelsen, Hancock County, Tim Slover, Stones, J. Scott Bronson, Farewell to Eden, Mahonri Stewart, Martyrs’ Crossing, Melissa Leilani Larson, and I Am Jane, Margaret Blair Young. Also a essay by Stewart. Stewart talks about the collection here and here, and especially here, where he talks in detail about each of the plays.

KUER Radio West program “Staging Utah Culture”, featuring Miguel Santana, Eric Samuelsen, and Troy Williams. A discussion of Utah culture and Mormonism in local theater. Kent set up an AMV discussion post on the program here.

Miguel Santana. The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County. Post Theatre, University of Utah, May 15-26. Feminist Mormon Housewives podcast talks to the author.

UTBA review. “The audiences meets the Pratt women in Payson, smack dab in the heart of Mormondom . . . As the women prepared for Emma’s wedding, the audience gained a deeper understanding of what Wendy had explained in her opening monologue: that none of these women was just as she seemed on the surface. Within the simple backdrop of a generic suburban home, each woman grappled with her relationship with both her family and the Mormon Church. Throughout the evening, it became clear that very often the two institutions are inseparable. I found that the play’s strongest point was in presenting the conflict between different styles of living the same religion. In their very stereotypical Utah county attire (costumes designed by Melanie Nelson), each actress gave a strong portrayal of a distinct style of Mormon, and the play spoke to me more about their interactions than their specific issues. The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County didn’t necessarily cover any new themes – the characters’ conflicts touched on the Church’s attitude toward homosexuality, the pre-1978 ban on blacks holding the Priesthood, the role of women, the Word of Wisdom (the Mormon ban on coffee, alcohol, and smoking) – all of which have been given quite a bit of public attention in recent years.  But, what this play brings to the table is a new look at how Mormons interact with people they care about who have a different take on “absolute truth.” . . . It surveyed such a broad range of issues within Mormondom that it could easily get sidetracked as the script meanders into different tangents. So, I found it refreshing that Santana and Harbold were able to still present the issues within engaging and tangible characters and always focused on the story first.  The only character who I found incongruous was Wendy. After she narrates the humorous opening sequence, metaphorically describing each of the Pratt women’s personalities in terms of their relationship with green Jell-O salad, Wendy becomes a minor character. While each of the other characters’ duality and motivations are explored, Wendy’s verve seems to disappear entirely as she goes from being the leather boot sporting descendant of Idaho apostates to an unquestioning, housewife. Perhaps that abrupt transition is the whole point of her character, but from watching the play, I got the impression that Wendy was given more attention in the book. Harbold directed a strong cast whose group chemistry made the play’s sometimes heavy subject matter enjoyable. The very gifted cast breathed life into their relationships and topics that could have felt tired without such vibrant actors. For a pleasant and often quite humorous look at Utah Mormon culture, you can’t go wrong with The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County.

Mahonri Stewart. The Fading Flower and Swallow the Sun (book). Nathaniel Givens, Times and Seasons. “Anyone can write about the subject of Mormon polygamy (just ask HBO), but looking at the issue through the lens of David becomes a powerful and uniquely Mormon reflection on the peril and promise of living in such close proximity to our historical legends.Of course with such a controversial and painful topic at the heart of the play, Stewart could easily have veered into advocating a particular conclusion or lesson, but the play remains too sensitive and nuanced to be reduced to simple morals. Although there seems to be a clear lesson to apply to the CES view of our history when Julia, David’s brother, says near the end of the play that “David did not lose his sanity because he was told the truth in the end, David lost his sanity because he was not told the truth from the beginning,” the play doesn’t end on that potentially didactic note. It continues on until the final scene where David and his family sing together a hymn he had written for the RLDS hymnal. Which is one of the most interesting things to me about the play: it only succeeds in so accurately reflecting a Mormon sensibility by having the main characters all view Mormonism (as we know it today) from the outside. As “the Brighamites”. Stewart succeeds in capturing the historical Mormon sense of longing and exile even in a play about our own history . . . In this review I have also chosen to focus narrowly on two specific elements (one from each play) that stood out to me as representative of the kind of analysis that these plays lend themselves to. That I can delve this deeply is, in my mind, a testament that that the source material has real substance. That I wanted to do so in the first place, on the other hand, is a testament to the Stewart’s craft and artistry as a playwright. I look forward to more from Stewart in the years to come.”

Film and Television

Ephraim’s Rescue. Opens May 31, 2013. T. C. Christiansen, director/writer. Companion piece to 17 Miracles. Stars Darin Southam. About the man who led the rescue of the Martin Handcart Company. Excel distribution. Opens in 23 theaters in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona.

Ender’s Game trailer released. The movie will be released Nov. 1. Jim Bennett (Deseret News) talks about the trailer, thinks the actor playing Ender is too old.   Buzzfeed: 12 Things The “Ender’s Game” Trailer Got Right.

Granite Flats. BYUtv’s first original scripted dramatic TV series, April. 8 hour-long episodes.  Mystery set in 1962 Colorado. Directed by Scott Swofford (producer of lots of Church and Church-adjacent films) and Ryan Little (Saints and Soldiers). Meridian Magazine feature by Tristi Pinkston.granite falls

Eric Samuelsen on Granite Flats. “Re-reading the description, it seems like there’s a lot of interesting dramatic stuff going on, and that it could be a compelling and enjoyable TV series.  But it doesn’t really work very well, and I think know why. In their advertising for the show, folks at BYU-TV kept saying that they wanted to make a family-friendly TV series.  And that’s fine, that’s a laudable goal, I suppose. The LDS critique of contemporary popular culture is that it’s too sexy, too violent, too profane.  The lament is, ‘why can’t we go back to the time when good entertainment didn’t have all that sex and violence?’  This show is an attempt to do just that.  But it seems defined by what’s essentially a negative aesthetic.  By insisting on creating an entertainment that doesn’t have certain elements, they haven’t really defined what they want to do instead. As a result, the show seems peculiarly undramatic . . . I mentioned Twin Peaks, and the show has a little of that going on too, but I don’t know how intentional it is.  It has some of Twin Peaks’ slow pace, awkwardly long and pointless conversations, the way the camera lingers on some otherwise innocuous object in a room.  But I don’t know if that’s an attempt at Lynchian weirdness, or just not-great direction.  They never seem to know when to end scenes, for example, all the cuts being either a half-second too fast or too slow . . . I don’t know if there’s going to be a second season of Granite Flats.  I suspect there might be.  The first season ended with a cliff-hanger, after all, and we still have room to suspect that all may not be well in Granite Flats.  Of course, based on the first season, I suspect they’ll find a way to squander the dramatic opportunities they’ve set up for themselves.  But I’ll watch at least the first episode.  It’s a show I keep rooting for, even when it disappoints.”

Salt Lake Tribune, Scott Pierce. “It’s a period piece set in small-town Colorado at the height of the Cold War. It’s trying to appeal to the “Touched by an Angel” audience. It is not religious; it is appropriate for family viewing. It’s good. Really . . . It looks good. It’s nicely written. There are good performances, for the most part. If you are flipping channels and come across “Granite Flats,” there’s nothing about it that feels preachy or — yes — Mormon. Executive producer and BYUtv general manager Derek Marquis described it as “a cross between ‘The Wonder Years’ and ‘”The Goonies’ ” — and he’s right.”

New York Times Review: “Lots of outlets — Nickelodeon, ABC Family, the Disney Channel — have taken aim at that elusive, possibly nonexistent swath of Americans who just want to be able to watch television together as a family without worrying that something distasteful or inappropriate for children will pop up. But everyone seems to have a different idea of what kind of content that demographic craves . . . The show combines small-town drama and a science-fiction vibe and, for the youngsters, throws in a sort of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew element, serving it all up with kid glove . . . And that seems like the connection point between the people of Granite Flats and the people who presumably are the intended audience for “Granite Flats”: fear bordering on paranoia. The fictional Granite Flats residents of the early ’60s are right to be afraid, because a lot of disruption is right around the corner: hippies, hard rock, black power, R-rated movies, Earth Day, soaring divorce rates, MTV, the global economy, cellphones, the Internet, “16 and Pregnant.” The people whom “Granite Flats” seems aimed at might well prefer to turn the clock back to a time before all of those things.”

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller List, May 26. Also the USA Today (one list that merges all the lists) and the Publishers Weekly lists.

Hardcover Fiction

A STEP OF FAITH, by Richard Paul Evans. #5 (1st week). Combined Print and Ebook List, #7. USA Today: #17, #110 (2nd week).  PW: Hardback fiction #5, #10 (2nd week). 19,674 copies sold the first week, 5837 the second week.

Mass Market Paperback

#7 ENDERS GAME, by Orson Scott Card (30th week). Combined Print and Ebook, #13 (1st week). Ebook, #14 (1st week).  USA Today: #31, #30 (25th week). Up to its highest point on the Mass Market list, and appearing for the first time on the Combined and Ebook lists.

ROSES IN MIDNIGHT, by Lynn Kurland. USA Today: #149, x.  1 week on the list.

Middle Grade

#10 WEDNESDAYS IN THE TOWER, by Jessica Day George (1st week).

THE FALSE PRINCE, by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Fell off the week after 4 weeks.

Young Adult

THE RITHMATIST, by Brandon Sanderson.  USA Today: x, #107 (1st week). PW YA: #6 (1st week). 4367 copies.

Hardcover Graphic Books

#6 TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, VOL. 1, by Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim (2nd week). Down from #1. PW Hardcover Fiction #25. 3272 units sold in its first week.

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