This Month in Mormon Literature, Late July

The Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium begins July 30, including a Mormon film festival. Several Mormon authors win RONE awards. The final novel by the late Linda Sillitoe, one of the great late-20th century Mormon authors, is published. Orson Scott Card writes about Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive. Ben Abbott takes his play Questions of the Heart on a Western cities tour. Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.


Sunstone 2104 Salt Lake City Symposium, July 30-August 2, at the University of Utah. The symposium includes the “Bridges and Byways in Mormonism” film festival, which will feature 23 films about Mormons building bridges and forging their own unique paths in the faith. Continue reading

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in verse #43 : hero’s journey

When Leonard Cohen said “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash,”[i] he probably didn’t have Joseph Smith in mind. Joseph Smith burned brightly in a world lit only by fire, and he left a splendid ash indeed, but Cohen most likely has never considered that ash. That is my task today.

On November 27th, 1832, Joseph Smith sent a letter from Kirtland, Ohio, to W. W. Phelps, the Church’s newspaper editor in Independence, Missouri, in which this poem appears:

Little Narrow Prison

Now Brother William if what I have said is true,
how careful then had men ought to be
what they do in the last days lest they are cut short
of their expectations, and they that think they stand
should fall because they keep not the Lord’s commandments,
whilst you who do the will of the Lord
and keep his commandments have need to rejoice
with unspeakable joy, for such shall be
exalted very high and shall be lifted up
in triumph above all the kingdoms of the world —
but I must drop this subject at the beginning.

Oh Lord when will the time come
when Brother William thy servant and myself
behold the day that we may stand together
and gaze upon eternal wisdom engraven
upon the heavens while the majesty
of our God holdeth up the dark curtain
until we may read the round of Eternity
to the fullness and satisfaction of our immortal
souls? Oh Lord God deliver us
in thy due time from the little narrow prison
almost as it were total darkness of paper
pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered
and imperfect language.[ii]

The letter was written Continue reading

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Pioneer Day Free Association


One hundred sixty-eight years ago, the Brooklyn arrived in San Francisco, making it a predominately Mormon town (it didn’t last). In celebration of this moment, some free association. First, my comic about expedition leader Sam Brannan (originally published in SF Weekly), then a song by my favorite Mormon Austin band about New York City, then an image of Annie Poon’s New York-living lovelorn Puppy, then a Kershisnik painting with a couple that look like they may soon be lovelorn themselves, and finally a pre-trek Brigham Young looking shady, like he might be about to break some hearts himself. Continue reading

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The Business Side of Writing: Publicists

These days all authors are expected to invest in their own publicity, and most feel entirely unequipped. Whether you’re traditional or indie, this is your reality. A publisher will ask this of you. If you’re indie, you’ll find you’ll sell nary a book without it. Obviously, I write a lot about publicity in general, so this month I want to focus on publicists. Are they worth it? What types are there? And then I have a few case studies of authors who made good use of publicists. Let me begin this piece by saying that there are more options than people realize. Pay heed to all the horror stories about publicists who cost too much with no results, but don’t swear off all publicists as a result. There are success stories out there too.

What is a publicist? There is no official degree or certification. The term can apply to someone who just sends out press releases (which I don’t recommend) or someone who builds personal relationships with book bloggers to actually deliver reviews and features for your book. Publicists can be in-house with a publisher, or independent. They can be trained in marketing, or have no formal education whatsoever, and can work from swanky offices or their coffee table in their one bedroom apartment. What’s important is to realize that just because one kind of publicist doesn’t work for your career, that’s no reason to disregard them all.

How do I find a good one? Okay, here I’m going to split the reasoning into traditional and indie publishing. Let’s start with traditional publishing. There are a couple of types of publicists worth looking into. First off: Continue reading

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This Month in Mormon Literature, July 2014

The Mormon Lit Blitz is nearly over, vote now! Lots of award winners. The passing of a singular Mormon artist. The Newport Ladies group wraps up their series. Well-reviewed new YA novels from M. K. Hutchins, J. R. Johansson, and Kasie West. Carys Bray is another ex-Mormon literary author writing about Mormons in a faith crisis. Will it speak to Mormons? Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blogs

The Mormon Lit Blitz has been going on over the last few weeks. Read the 12 finalists, and vote by the end of July 5. The contestants are: Continue reading

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2014 Mormon Lit Blitz: Voting and Controversies


You have two days left to cast your vote in the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz. Will this be the year when fiction finally breaks the iron grip of poetry on the Lit Blitz crown? Will a male writer break into the top three for the first time ever? Will Merrijane Rice sneak up on rejection and bayonet it back?

Only you–and one or two hundred other voters–can decide! Cast your vote now and then go back to the Mormon Artist blog on 7/7/14 to see the results. Campaigning on behalf of your favorite pieces via social media or door-to-door canvassing is welcome and encouraged.


But it’s not all fun and games in this year’s Mormon Lit Blitz. Charges of censorship, conflict between genres, and an unusual case of “spiritual plagiarism” have all called into question the long-established honor of the Lit Blitz brand.

In today’s post, we bring you up to date on the rumors.

The McCumber Censorship Case

The biggest controversy in this year’s Lit Blitz has to do with an allegation by Andrew McCumber and his songwriting brother Baby “Yellow Bunny” McCumber that their work was censored between the time they dictated their experiences to Laura Hilton Craner and the story’s publication as a finalist.

The McCumbers say that a prior version of the work included the complete song text, and that a threatening email pressuring Craner to “revise the #*$% out of your story” was the cause of a change. “My brother just wants to sing his song,” says Andrew. “I don’t see why they had to take that away from us.”



A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

This year’s Lit Blitz features an all-time high of fiction among the finalists, and has been praised for bringing together popular contemporary realistic fiction, popular speculative fiction, and slipstream literary fiction. A few observers, though, have noticed the total lockout on contemporary realistic literary fiction–a mainstay of AML production through most of its turbulent 38-year history.

Why the lack of love for literary realism? A persistent rumor links the choice to a presentation by Scott Hales at the last AML Conference, in which Hales argued that a turn to the supernatural and bizarre was dominant among a new generation of Mormon literary writers.

“It just seems kind of convenient of him to predict the very trend he wrote his story into,” said a very old man with enormous wings. “What do they call that? A self-serving prophecy?”

A recently retired BYU professor is currently on a hunger strike, punctuated by the occasional meal break, in protest.

Spiritual Plagiarism

A third controversy is centered on a finalist poem by Jonathon Penny. Though lauded for his engaging and original use of language, Penny stands accused of plagiarizing the spirit of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ works–possibly via occult contact with the long-deceased poet.

Investigations are ongoing. A new system of computer analysis designed to compare the emotional fingerprint of works is currently being run on brain scans of Hopkins and Penny readers. Volunteers for participation in the study can contact their local Jesuit order for further information.

A separate investigation into possible steroid use by Penny has also been initiated, on the grounds that less than .5% of poets are naturally that muscular.

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YA Corner: Lavina’s Library

The much beloved building didn’t look like much on the outside. The structure was old, a remnant of early mining days. It was one story with a façade front, making it look a lot more substantial. It had been painted white years ago but now, in 1973, was worn down to grey weathered wood on much of the exterior. On the façade front were painted two large words in faded black lettering: McRae’s Grocery. The lack of vehicles parked around the building on any given day might deceive one into thinking the building was just another abandoned relic of a bygone day. But on Tuesday afternoons a small snake of smoke could be seen wafting out the chimney. If it was summertime, then no evident chimney smoke, but instead a door open wide to show business was “open.” When crossing the threshold your eyes might first light on a large flat-topped desk. Small boxes filled with index cards were laid atop the desk. An ink pad and rubber stamp could also been seen there. When walking further in one could see the bookshelves lining the walls of the room. An additional free standing book shelf was kept parallel to the shelf on the back wall. Next to the desk a black pot-bellied wood stove stood, letting its heat permeate the modest and humble space.

Continue reading

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In Tents #42 He is Risen and Other Texts That Don’t Behave as Textual Critics Think They Do Part III

Disharmony, Dat Harmony, Utter Harmony, or Harmony Pennsylvania?

Cleaning out my parents’ home recently I cane across my father’s copy of Our Lord of the Gospels, the Melchizedek Priesthood manual for 1958, the year I expanded our family. That was back when lesson manuals were written by individuals, not committees, like Hugh Nibley (Since Cumorah), Lowell Bennion (Introduction to the Gospel, and others), Harvey Fletcher (The Good Life), or in this case President McKay’s counselor, J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

I looked at the manual many times. I could tell from the title it was some kind of biography, but it didn’t look very kid friendly so I was an adult before found out what kind of a biography it was–a narrative harmony of the Gospels. I hardly need to explain that a harmony is an attempt to arrange the Gospels into a single account, but it might be worthwhile looking at those words attempt and harmony.

The need to harmonize suggests some disharmony, and all harmonies are attempts because there’s not a definitive harmony–can’t be. Continue reading

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A Mormon Grief Observed: Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley

I just became aware of a new literary novel about Mormons, Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley. The debut novel was published in the United Kingdom by Hutchinson (June 19), and will be published by Ballantine Books in the United States (August 12). Bray, who is British (from Southport, Merseyside), grew up as a member of the Church, but is no longer a member. Her main previous publication is a short story collection, Sweet Home(Salt, 2012), which won the Scott Prize. ‘Scaling Never’, an excerpt (or early version) of the novel appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Dialogue.

The British reviews of the novel have been very strong.

Daily Express: 5 stars. “Suburban Mormon life and an eccentric cast of characters bring humour and eccentricity into a portrait of a loving family de-railed by grief. At the heart of Carys Bray’s affecting and singular first novel is the death of a child. Continue reading

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in verse #42 : Art is God

A stake president once took me aside, a week or so after a stake conference, and in his own gruff but loving way, asked me a few questions. He had led me into the High-Council room, and then asked me to look at the pictures on the wall. Fifteen pictures. I didn’t need to count. I recognized the men in them — the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church. He asked me what they all had in common. I said “Well, they’re all old older white males.” [I pretended not to notice how young David Bednar was.] “What else?” he asked. “Well” I said, “many of them are bald, some are balding, but” — here I couldn’t resist — “Elder Bednar still has all his hair.” “What else?” he asked. “Well” I said, finally realizing that this was not an interrogation so much as an indoctrination, “they all have dark suits on” — I quickly checked — “but not all of them are black.” “What else?” “That about sums it up” I said. “Brother Clark” he said,  Continue reading

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