Guest Post: An Illustrated Definition of Mormon Literature

I’ve been busy these past few days, so I decided to pass my monthly post on to someone with a little more time. You might recognize her as Enid Gardner, the star MIA Maniac of the webcomic The Garden of EnidAside from being an expert in all things weirdly Mormon, she’s also (to my surprise) a Mormon lit enthusiast. 

Below are Enid’s thoughts on the definition of Mormon literature–something we’ve all argued back and forth over the years. In some ways there’s nothing new here, and I’m not necessarily sure I agree with everything she says, but I like how she tries to narrow the field by focusing on overt content and community membership (broadly defined) and investment.  Like her, I’m uncomfortable with labeling something “Mormon” that isn’t overtly so.

But, I don’t want to get ahead of her and steal her fire. Here she is:

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This Month in Mormon Literature, March 2014

Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy Words of Radiance opened at #1 on the NYT Hardcover list, and has gotten very strong reviews. National YA authors Bree Despain, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Jennifer Nielsen, Bethany Wiggins, Dan Wells, and Carol Lynch Williams all had new novels published. A ton of Mormon-authored plays are just opening or will soon open on Utah stages, including new plays by Melissa Leilani Larson, Mahonri Stewart, Jordan Kamalu and George Nelson, and Eric Samuelsen. Segullah announces its literary contest winners. Brad Torgersen makes the cover of Analog. The Whitney Award voting will be soon, and there are a ton of book reviews as readers are busily going through the list. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com. Continue reading

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Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction and #2 on the overall USA Today list.  It’s the second book in his Stormlight Archives series, which began with The Way of Kings. I re-read/listened to the first book shortly before the new one came out, so that it would be fresh in my mind.  It also allows me to compare the two books, and in my opinion, while The Way of Kings was very good, Words of Radiance is even better.

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The Sacred and the Profane

We are often counseled not to make light of sacred things. For many that means staying clear of any expression of the difficult or intimate, to keep it ourselves so as to protect our individual understanding from public misunderstanding. To hide or shield the personally transcendent from less charitable eyes.

And yet as both storytellers and readers there is a real power in looking closely at what we believe (or perceive) and deconstructing the sensual or emotive experience so we can consider with less immediate passion. Brutalizing the moment so we can lay bare its parts and their connections, so as to better comprehend them both individually and collectively. It enables us to formulate not only what we believe, but why we believe it. A more qualified faith. Continue reading

Posted in Community Voices, General | 4 Comments

The Business Side of Writing: When Looking for the Right Agent, Be Rational

This month I said I’d talk about vetting agents, but you know? I’d like to approach this from a slightly different perspective. There are a gazillion guides out there about where to find agents looking for new authors, how to write a query letter, and so on. Let’s step back from that a moment and talk about where you, as a writer, should be before you start searching for an agent. Let me relate a story that got me thinking about this. On a bulletin board that I peruse sometimes, I read a post by someone who wanted to submit to an agent, and had met said agent at a conference. The agent had requested a 30 page writing sample, but then this writer had looked at the agent’s website and seen that they usually want a 25 page sample. He asked the community what he should do, and the responses were frankly surprising. People got all in a tizzy saying that maybe he should call to confirm the sample size and maybe he should go by the website guidelines if he were to submit at all.

None of these people were ready to get an agent, which isn’t to say they can’t get agents. I’m saying they aren’t ready for a healthy agent/client relationship. If an agent asks you for one thing, and then dings you for not giving him/her something different “because that’s what’s on the website,” then they are not someone you want to work with. Period. You need to be at a stage of your career that, emotionally, you understand that before you enter into a contract that allows another person to enter major business negotiations on your behalf. Fred Saberhagan once told me, “An agency relationship is like a marriage. You need to find the right person.” As any of us who’ve ever dated know, finding the right person requires looking inward and becoming the kind of person who can bring something to a partnership and enter into a productive relationship. Continue reading

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2014 Association for Mormon Letters Conference–Call for Proposals

The Association for Mormon Letters will be holding its annual conference on April 11 and 12 at Utah Valley University. The theme for this year is “New Faces of Mormonism: Are We Changing the Way We See Ourselves?”

We will consider papers discussing the implications of efforts for greater transparency in the Church, especially as these efforts relate to literature/film. Papers on the recent church statements clarifying controversial historical issues are welcome. All papers related to Mormon letters will be considered.

Send proposals to glenn.gordon7@bigpond.com by March 20.

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Real Stuff—Children’s Lit Corner

“Fireman Fred, Fireman Frank, lift the ladder, squirt the hose!” Several times a day I would hear phrases like this coming from my young son’s bedroom as he played with his fire truck toy and one leg of a pair of red pants stuffed with batting as a fire extinguisher. Then dinosaurs would join the force (or be the things on fire) and even more squirting and sloshing noises would come from the bedroom. Finally I would hear the clacking and banging as the final line of defense— screwdrivers, hammers, and pliers—moved in to save the day! Yes, Ben had a brilliant imagination. (He still does, but it’s directed in different areas now.) All day long he fought the forces of evil, or fire, or rogue dinosaurs in adventurous escapades, always as the hero of his stories. When it came time for stories and reading, there were a few favorites we read night after night: a couple of books about firefighters, some about dinosaurs, and a book filled with pictures of hand tools. Ben liked fact books best, even more than Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter. We read some of those stories so many times that we can probably both still recite them by heart. Continue reading

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Pieces of Patchwork

When I was little I had a great fear of the dark. On a good night I might fall asleep and not wake until morning. More often I would wake during the long hours and even a bedside lamp could not comfort me, always knowing that the dark beyond the light was greater. At some point I learned to read and to realize that books could provide comfort. With a warm quilt and stack of books, I could endure a long dark night.

In two weeks my community will receive a visit from artist, writer, and illustrator, Julie Paschkis. Having a connection to the group of educators and librarians who assemble this annual “Visiting Author” event, it’s a delight to become acquainted with her fine work. But not only that, I have been taught (even charmed) by her explanation of the very personal experience that is writing and creating.

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in verse #38 : Greek to me

Alexander Pope, born in 1688, dead in his 56th year, commonly viewed as the last great neo-classicist, could also be viewed as the first of the Romantics — because of his sincerity.  As Aubrey Williams has it:  “Pope’s poetry can move us deeply because it so often stirs us to a sense of the innate precariousness of all things.  The uncertainty of riches, the decay of beauty, and the crash of worlds, these are the prevailing themes and subjects of his poems.”[i]  It is as if the boisterous discourse of Dryden, Butler, Rochester, Defoe, Swift, Johnson, Boswell et al. has passed him by.  Sure, he can write sarcasm, as in “The rape of the lock,” but his heart is in large-scale works like An essay on man, which opens its “Epistle I” with this:

Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things
To low ambition, and the pride of Kings.
Let us (since Life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o’er all this scene of Man;
A mighty maze! but not without a plan;
A Wild, where weeds and flow’rs promiscuous shoot,
Or Garden, tempting with forbidden fruit.
Together let us beat this ample field,
Try what the open, what the covert yield;
The latent tracts, the giddy heights explore
Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar;
Eye Nature’s walks, shoot Folly as it flies,
And catch the Manners living as they rise;
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can;
But vindicate the ways of God to Man.

Those 8 balanced couplets sound very reserved and sedate, but Pope is not afraid in them to take on John Milton and Paradise lost, the scourge of his Catholic family.  He is, like Milton, a religious exile, Continue reading

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The Reluctant Blogger: a quick metareview and my own look at its many positive attributes

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Ryan Rapier’s The Reluctant Blogger was one of the more widely reviewed Mormon novels of 2013 and although one review notoriously complained that protagonist Todd Landry “spends a lot of time [too much] exploring his feelings” (for a man), the bulk of the reviews agree that the novel is “beautifully woven,” features “lovely writing, and [is] completely convincing” and “one of the best I’ve read this year” (amen!)—“definitely worth reading”! Basically, pretty much everyone “enjoyed this read” even if they have “never cried so much reading a book”—but don’t just cry! “cry, smile, and feel”! Plus, phew, it “is respectful when difficult topics are brought up,” so even though characters may “challenge [or] doubt . . . at the end of the day they still rely on their religion.”

(And that’s all I can fit into one paragraph. For other reviews [and thanks to Rapier (ruhPEER) for providing me with his list], click here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Not a bad collection for a guy with a stated objection to reviewing other people’s books.)

In short, although people have quibbles, popular agreement is that The Reluctant Blogger is worth reading. I tend to agree (though for my reasons to the contrary, see my post on A Motley Vision, also appearing today), and in review I’ll focus on aspects of the story those reviews tended to avoid. Or, in other words, spoilers ahead. Continue reading

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