Waiting for the Mormon Serial

A couple of weeks back I did something I’m awfully good at: I stuck my foot in my mouth. A friend had posted a link on Facebook to a T-shirt designed by another friend. A black shirt that read in white block letters: “Adnan did it.” I commented on the post: “Wow. People are jerks.” To which the shirt’s designer promptly replied, “Thanks.” Yep, that’s my foot, and it’s in my mouth. But I should probably rewind a bit and explain.

Over the past couple of months, I have listened obssessively to a new podcast called Serial. An offshoot of the popular NPR program This American Life, Serial has broken records as the most listened-to podcast ever with something like 5 million listeners.

Serial is faithful to its name. It tells a fascinating story over a number of episodes, each roughly an hour long. The finale, episode 12, airs this Thursday. The premiere season revisits a 15-year-old murder. In late January 1999 a Baltimore teenager disappeared; her body was discovered in a park a month later. Her ex-boyfriend, a high school senior, would eventually be convicted of the crime; he is presently serving a life sentence. He still maintains his innoence.

Sarah Koenig, the podcast’s writer and host, has rehashed the case over the past year. She’s sifted through court records and police interviews, logging numerous hours of phone conversations with Adnan Syed, the man the state of Maryland found guilty of killing Hae Min Lee. With each episode—and I promise, there are no spoilers here—I swing back and forth in my belief regarding either Adnan’s guilt or innocence. As I listen, I ask myself: If Adnan didn’t do it, who did? Why did the police never really investigate Hae’s current boyfriend Don, a man considerably older than she? What was Adnan’s lawyer thinking? What’s the deal with that guy named Jay? Who is telling the truth? But did Adnan do it after all? Could he?

Beyond all of that is a simple truth: A girl is dead. A high school senior. A girl with dreams, with plans, with college ahead of her. With life ahead of her. A girl who wrote in her diary about boys and school, who had a great sense of humor, who played lacrosse and field hockey, who had a job at the LensCrafters at the mall.

What troubles me the most about Serial and its sudden, overwhelming popularity is that this story, this true and tragic situation, is being treated as an entertainment. It’s taken over conversations at water coolers everywhere. Separated by 15 years and the frame of a podcast, we talk easily about the people involved in the case like they are characters on a Dick Wolf crime procedural. Sure, the story is fascinating. But does that mean it’s acceptable to weigh a man’s guilt and innocence flippantly, like we might consider entrees on a menu or prices at the gas pump? “Are you on Team Adnan, or Team Don?”

And yet I won’t stop listening. I can’t stop listening. I want to know more. Serial is well crafted, a narrative that just sucks you in. My writer’s brain wants to create as complete a picture as I can of the murder and the events surrounding it. I want to wander the halls of Woodlawn High School with Hae and Adnan, understand their relationship, deducing what drove them apart, all the time wondering if those events drove Adnan to murder. It’s almost as if I appreciate the humanity and reality of the story more because it makes me uncomfortable.

You might ask: Mel, what does any of this have to do with drama, let alone Mormon drama? Maybe not a lot, so I hope you’ll forgive me. But it’s got me thinking: Mormon history is pretty thorny and uncomfortable, and that thorniness is a turn-off for many. I may be the odd one out, but the thorny bits intrigue me. Do we as Latter-day Saints have a story of Serial proportions? And though it may be all kinds of difficult to hear, I’m definitely looking forward to the telling of it.

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Children’s Lit Corner: Christmas Books for Families

While I was growing up, Christmas in our house meant, in part, listening to the next installment of A Christmas Carol every Sunday night. I tried to carry on that tradition in my own family of boys, but there are so many, many Christmas books that it has been hard for me to stay only with Dickens. Here are some of the Christmas books we’ve enjoyed over the years, as well as some new ones that I hope to read to grandchildren when they come along in a decade or two. Continue reading

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The Business Side of Writing: Year End Madness

It’s that time of year again, the holiday season. What does this mean for you as a writer? All kinds of things if you write as a business. I did a similar post to this last year, but it never hurts to update the checklist. If you write for your business:

1. Your agent and editor are celebrating the holidays too. Everything slows down during this season, so now is not the time to be rattling cages. Add your agent and editor’s names to your holiday address list and send them a thank you for all that they’ve done for you. If you’re unagented and trying to find an agent, understand that this season sees the slowest reply times to submissions. Even non-Christians can’t avoid the insane disruptions of the Christmas season. Be kind, and be patient if people are slow to reply. Continue reading

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In Memoriam-Emma Lou Thayne

Emma Lou Thayne, a giant in Mormon literature, passed away on December 6, 2014, at the age of 90. She was a noted author of poetry, fiction, essays, hymns, and travel stories, as well as her work as an educator, coach, LDS Young Women’s board member, and Deseret News board member.

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Thayne was born Emma Lou Warner on October 22, 1924, in Salt Lake City. She received a B.A. in English at the University of Utah in 1945, and taught as an instructor at the University of Utah Department of English and Division of Continuing Education, from 1946 to 1976. She continued to teach a writing class at the University of Utah up through 2013. She also taught in the University of Utah LDS Institute of Religion, and was Head Coach for the University of Utah Women’s Intercollegiate Tennis Team (1966-71). She received a M. A. in Creative Writing from the University of Utah in 1970. She was chosen by Thomas S. Monson to be the first woman to ever serve on the Board of Directors at the Deseret News, where she served from 1977 to 1984. She also served on the Board of Directors of the Utah Arts Council, the Utah Endowment for the Humanities, the LDS Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association, and the Salt Lake City Citizen’s Council. The Salt Lake Community College’s service learning center is named after Thayne. Continue reading

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This Month in Mormon Literature, Early December 2014

Television writer-producer Glen A. Larson, who put Mormon references in Battlestar Gallatica, passed away. So did science fiction author Alan Lickiss. Luisa Perkins won The Mormon Lit Blitz, and #MormonPoetrySlam is ongoing. Tim Wirkus’ City of Brick and Shadow, a crime drama/mystery featuring Mormon missionaries in Brazil, continues a streak of nationally published books late in the year written by and about Mormons. Mette Ivie Harrison’s upcoming The Bishop’s Wife will wrap up the streak after Christmas. Wirkus is part of a small cadre of Mormon authors in the graduate Creative Writing program at the University of Southern California. Poet Neil Aitken, novelist Ryan McIlvain, and short story author Ryan Shoemaker are also there. Other Mormon authors with books published nationally this month include Richard Paul Evans, Charlie N. Holmberg, Shallee McArthur, Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and RaeAnne Thayne. Gerald Lund is starting a new historical fiction series with Deseret Book. Please send any announcements, news, or corrections to mormonlit AT gmial DOT com.

News and articles

Glen A. Larson, a television writer-producer whose work included Quincy M.E., Magnum, P.I., Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider and The Fall Guy, died on November 14, at the age of 77. Continue reading

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In Tents #47 He is Risen and Other Texts That Don’t Behave as Textual Critics Think They Do Part VIII

Paul H. Dunn once told BYU faculty that during his first Thursday morning meeting in the tenple as a general authority he could understand how the war in heaven got started. This according to a report on the annual August university conference that appeared around 1981 in The Seventh East Press, a short-lived independent student newspaper whose distribution was banned on campus after running an interview in which U of U philosopher (and Swearing Elder) Sterling McMurrin said he had come to believe early on that angels don’t appear to 14-year-old boys.

I can see the article and the paper’s demise as suggesting the limits of dissent in the Church, but I usually think of them separately. The report was a welcome confirmation to my sense that being of one heart and mind did not necessarily mean sharing the same opinion on every matter. Indeed, there were some items–like the exact nature of God’s foreknowledge–that were matters of vigorous debate among General Authorities, Elder Dunn had said. (I appreciated that comment because I have never been comfortable with the idea that God knows every detail of everything that will happen before it happens. It’s hard to reconcile with the idea of human freedom, and it implies that God knew before the creation of the earth in which kingdom each person would end up.)

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