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

Reluctant-Blogger-The_2x3.

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

Posted in Mormon LitCrit | Tagged , | 1 Comment

More Mormon Comics, Please: A Review of Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood’s iPlates

Mormon comics have been around for a while. For the sake of time and space, I’m not going to attempt a complete history here, but I will direct you to Theric’s excellent chapter on Mormon comics in J. Michael Hunter’s two-volume Mormons and Popular Culture. It’s a history I’ve been unaware of for most of my life, despite my long interest in both Mormon literature and comics. Like most members of the church, the only Mormon “comics” I had access to were the church-produced scripture readers. But I never really thought of them as comics.

Lately I’ve been trying to make up for lost time, familiarizing myself with the Mormon comics scene and trying my best to follow Theric’s “five easy steps” to becoming a “Mormon-Comics Snob.” I’m still early in my snobbery, but I’m enjoying it immensely. As I’ve written about elsewhere, comics were a major part of my childhood and teenage years. While I quit collecting comics when I was fourteen, I cartooned throughout high school (including a year as the editorial cartoonist for the school newspaper), my first year of college, and my mission. After I got back from Brazil and became an English major, though, I made a choice to walk away from drawing to focus on poetry, fiction, and literary criticism. Looking back, I probably needed the distance. It had been a huge part of my life, but I was getting bored with it.

Then kids came along. I started watching cartoons again. Lot of cartoons. One thing led to another and, after more than a decade away, I got back into comics and drawing.

So far, Mormon comics have not been a huge part of my return to comics, but this year I’ve been taking steps to fix that. The other day I downloaded Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood’s iPlates, Volume 1 for my Kindle. One of my daughters has really taken to comic books lately, and, wanting to feed her habit, I decided to push iPlates her way. I hadn’t read it yet, but what I had seen of it impressed me. Besides, as a fan of Stephen Carter’s writing and a wannabe fan of Jett Atwood’s art, I figured it had to be good.

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In Tents #38 The Physical First, Then the Spiritual

On Sunday, October 15, 1843, Joseph Smith preached “at the stand east of the Temple.” He began by talking about the Government’s (capital letter his) failure to uphold the civil rights of the saints, then turned to the failure of religion to uphold people’s rights of inquiry, rights of access to God:

I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further;” which I cannot subscribe to.

I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors. (DHC, vol. 6, p. 57.)

We often see one or the other paragraph quoted separately, but not as often together, yet together they redefine our relationship to scripture. The first paragraph separates creed from scripture, the second invites us to think about the rhetorical purposes of scripture and of the people who transmit scripture from one generation to another.

And the two paragraphs are scandalous. “Do you really think Jehovah God Almighty would allow his holy scriptures to have errors in them?” a woman asked a young missionary, who thought (at least in retrospect), ‘Of course I believe that. God didn’t protect the Book of Lehi, didn’t protect the Word made flesh, so why protect the word on the page?’

But the first is also scandalous. Continue reading

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This Month in Mormon Literature, February 2014

I missed Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angels of Death when it came out last year, check out the stellar reviews of this literary novel. The AML Conference dates have been announced. Julie Berry is named to another Best Of list. Mirror Press’s box set of Mormon-market romances hits the USA Today bestseller list. Eric Samuelsen’s play Clearing Bombs premiered yesterday, and revivals of works by Melissa Leilani Larson and Margaret Blair Young are also happening this month. The LDS Film Festival was held in Orem. The missionary comedy Inspired Guns opened to poor reviews and box office. Marilyn Brown has a new novel out, and Kasie West’s and Kiersten White’s new paranormal sequels sound oddly similar. Whitney Award-based book reviews are starting to roll in. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blogs

The Association for Mormon Letters Conference will be held April 11 and 12, UVU. “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 10.” Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 1 Comment

Parallel Earths

I recently read An Island in the Sea of Time by S. M. Stirling, in which the entire island of Nantucket from 1998 A.D. mysteriously ends up in around 1250 B.C.  It reminded me quite a bit of Eric Flint’s 1632, in which an entire West Virginia town from 2000 A.D. ends up in the middle of Europe in 1632. (Just to be clear, I read Flint’s book first, but Stirling’s was published first.)

The 1632 series has spawned a huge fan community and hundreds of thousands of words of authorized fiction by other authors set in that universe.  While at the Life, the Universe, and Everything symposium last week, I chatted with Kevin H. Evans, one of those authors, and I mentioned that at one time, I had thought about writing a 1632 story in which a Mormon missionary just a few weeks from going home suddenly finds that home is almost 400 years away. (Who knows? Maybe I’ll write it someday.)  He mentioned that some authors had done a little bit with Mormons in the 1632 universe trying to restart the Church. Continue reading

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Mormon Enough? I’m Relieved to Discover…

In an accident of timing, I have the first AML blog slot after this year’s annual science fiction and fantasy symposium held in Provo, Utah (Life, the Universe, and Everything 32). And though my undeniably sf-nal heart and soul rejoiced in the entirety of the event, I will focus on a narrow slice of it here to explore a question of thematic Mormon content in distinctly non-Mormon stories.

The guest of honor for the event was Orson Scott Card. Though the big storm on the east coast grounded him there for two days and limited Card’s participation to only the last day (plus a tele-presence at one panel on Friday via Skype), he mentioned several times how much he appreciated the chance to talk about his sf work with an audience of (at least) cultural Mormons who had the tools to understand where he comes from. Continue reading

Posted in Community Voices, General, Mormon LitCrit, SF&F corner, The Populist's Soapbox | 4 Comments

2013 Mormon Literature Year in Review: Part 2, the Mormon and Independent Markets

Click here to read Part 1, about Mormon authors publishing for the national market.

Changes in the nature of book buying are causing shifts in the Mormon publishing world. In the past, some self-publishing authors had their works picked up by Mormon publishers. Recently, however, authors publishing in the Mormon market have started going the other way, turning away from traditional Mormon publishers towards self-publishing. Among the reasons authors have given for going independent include Mormon publishers’ increasingly restrictive contracts, their lack of marketing efforts, and the possibility to make more money on a moderately successful self-published novel than on a more successful novel published through a Mormon publisher. Some authors (such as Annette Lyon, Heather B. Moore, and Tristi Pinkston) are taking a hybrid approach, doing independent publishing in addition to their work with Mormon publishers. A new group, Indie Author Hub, has been acting as a clearinghouse for insider information, and will be holding its first Publishing Conference in Provo in June. Andrea Pearson in the group’s Executive Director, and Rachel Nunes and BJ Rowley are organizing the conference. Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 35 Comments

The Business Side of Writing: Does an LDS Market Author Want or Need an Agent?

Going off of the comments I got on last month’s post, let’s talk about writing for the LDS market and whether or not an agent would be beneficial. I think the best way to approach this topic is to list off the agent related comments I hear every now and then in LDS publishing and deal with them one by one. Then we’ll discuss whether or not my answers mean you want an agent. So, here we go – feel free to add more in the comments:

Agents are pointless and take your money without providing anything in return.

FALSE. A good agent can make your career even if you sell fewer copies than authors who are not making a living. A good agent raises your advances by more than the 15% commission said agent charges. A good agent keeps doors open for you so that if things sour with one publisher, you can move on to another. I’m not saying agents are miracle workers because they aren’t. What they are is specialists, and a good specialist will do a better job negotiating contracts than you will (unless you’ve got the skill-set of an agent yourself. In order to get that, you need to be negotiating contracts continuously in your genre.) Continue reading

Posted in Business Side of Writing | 6 Comments