YA Corner: Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Marriage

Emma received a marriage proposal on Christmas Eve. Actually on the stroke of midnight, exactly between the “Eve” and Christmas Day. That is what they told us and there is a Facebook photo with a clock on the wall to prove it. The light is dim in the picture but somehow there is a brightness in their eyes and smiling mouths. Well past exhaustion, I finally had all the Christmas presents wrapped and beautified, stockings filled, preparations for Mrs. Clauses’ Christmas breakfast readied, gone over and over the distribution of gifts to assure myself that no child would feel their allotment was unfair. I was in Deep Zombie Mother state. Nothing unusual — Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc., the holidays that cause me to perform feats that feel superhuman. Nevertheless, when said daughter came rushing in the house breathless and giddy and laughing, I was instantly, miraculously alert. There were butterflies swarming my stomach. Had it really happened? The most noble, handsome, sure-to-be-successful boy had asked the question! Four years of friendship plus chemistry had blossomed and now we would welcome another family member.

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Whitney Finalists 2013: First Impressions

The finalists for the 2013 Whitney Awards were announced last Friday and people are already talking about who was included, who wasn’t, and which books are likely to be winners. As I did last year, I’m going to share a few of my first impressions this month, and then follow up at least once during the next two months after I have read more of the finalists.

Who was included: My first, general, impression was that there were a lot of familiar names and familiar publishers in this year’s group of finalists. Then I looked more closely and realized something else–this year’s finalists are dominated by female authors. Out of the adult fiction finalists, 23 of the 25 books were authored by women (and the majority of them feature female protagonists). In youth fiction, 12 out of the 15 finalists were written by women, and many of them also feature female leads. The Young Adult General category books are all stories about young women, four of them with contemporary settings and one historical. Also, Heather Moore has dominated this year’s group with 4 books as finalists in four different categories. If I remember correctly, that’s the highest number yet for any author. Continue reading

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Orson Scott Card: Mormon Literary Pioneer

Quick: What author has arguably done more than any other to explore multiple ways of being Mormon, across multiple genres and audiences? Answer: Orson Scott Card.

Which you already knew, because you read the title of this column. It’s a point well worth making, particularly now when he’s returning once again to Provo next week to be part of Life, the Universe and Everything this coming Feb. 13-15.

You can’t read around for very long in Mormon literature without stumbling across Card’s name. As a young playwright, he was the author of several well-regarded plays on Mormon themes, including Stone Tables and Father, Mother, Mother & Mom. He also started a repertory theater company which experienced popular success but (as so often happens in endeavors of this sort) had to close because it ultimately failed to pay the bills. As an author of historical fiction, he was awarded the 1985 AML best novel award for Saints (originally published as A Woman of Destiny), featuring a composite female character from the early days of the Church, and more recently, he has authored several historical novels based on the lives of Biblical women. His stories have appeared in LDS church magazines (back when they used to publish fiction). He wrote scripts for scriptures on tape and revamped the script of the Hill Cumorah Pageant. He even tried his hand at an epic poem based on the life of Joseph Smith, though I don’t know if that was ever published.

All this aside from the science fiction and fantasy that he’s best known for — which, from a Mormon literary perspective, I think includes some of his most interesting work.

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Most Important Mormon Literary Writers, 1830-1890

Lists are fun usually because they are so subjective and arbitrary. The other day I was distracting myself from more “serious” work by thinking about the most important pre-Manifesto Mormon literary writers and posting the top five to my Tumblr page.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Eliza R. Snow

Did anyone else come closer to embodying Mormon literature in the nineteenth-century than Zion’s Poetess? While she wasn’t the best Mormon poet of her century, she consecrated her voice like no other

2. Orson F. Whitney

Bishop Whitney was probably the best and most ambitious Mormon poet of the nineteenth century—but his “Home Literature” sermon, which is still the starting point of most discussions on Mormon literature, is what places him so high on the list.

3. Parley P. Pratt

The P. in Parley P. Pratt should stand for “prolific.” He wrote poetry, fiction, and drama in addition to sermons and missionary tracts. Why doesn’t he rank higher on the list? While his literary output was significant, he is remembered today as an early theologian, missionary, and martyr. Aside from a few hymns, his literary work–like his long poem The Millenniumis forgotten… 

4. W. W. Phelps

Phelps wrote “The Spirit of God” and other memorable hymns of the restoration (which, unlike Pratt’s hymns, we still regularly sing), but he also edited the Evening and Morning Star, the first periodical to publish Mormon literature. Even though he wasn’t as prolific as Pratt, is it fair to say that W. W. Phelps invented Mormon literature?

5. John Lyon

No one remembers John Lyon anymore, which is unfortunate. A Scottish poet of real literary talent, Lyon provided a model for Mormon artists when he consecrated the profits of his poetry collection The Harp of Zion to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. His writings, like Nephi Anderson’s a generation later, also offered an early international view of Mormonism—which remains relevant today as Mormonism continues to globalize. 

Have I missed anyone important? Who would make your top five?


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In Tents #37, Some Additional Views on Figures and Speech

I have had a few additional views in relation to this matter.
(D&C 128:2)

We have to drop everyone twice, but we try to drop them gently. If they survive they get to go home and we want as many to survive as we can.

The immediate cause of this New Year’s dream was listening to Diane Rehm’s interview with John Grisham on Dec. 31, where he read the opening of Sycamore Row, a description of a man’s careful preparations to hang himself with a proper hangman’s noose wrapped thirteen times. A more distant cause of the dream was a story called “Far to Fall” from an episode of Snap Judgment I heard August 9, 2013 while wandering through our stake’s third annual clothing exchange. (“Should I take this hat?” “Only if you want to look like Gilligan.”)

Chaplain Chris Hoke was telling about how he had been called to the prison to talk to an attempted suicide, a man who had asked for him by name because he had laid hands on the man for his back pain. The man had made a noose of his bedsheets and put it around his neck. When the cell door opened for lunch he ran out, tied it to the railing and threw himself over. Landing pulled his spine into alignment, and brought him new joy, new gusto. Later, Hoke heard, after being deported to Mexico the prisoner had killed 14 people there, as part of a drug cartel, and used the same word, gusto, when asked why.

I’ve had the dream before. Continue reading

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in verse #37 : still Smarting

There is a complex of retirement apartments rising like a mushroom in a former farm a few blocks from my home in Orem calling itself Treeo, and advertising itself with, among other slogans, this:  “Where the smartypants live.[i]”  Smart looms large in their legend:  they have bought two of those cute little Smart cars and decorated them to emphasize their smartitude.  US News reviewers said of the Smart Fortwo that “According to the EPA, the Fortwo gets 34/38 mpg city/highway, which is good for the class, but low for such a small car.[ii]”  That’s my beef with the smart car:  how can something that small and light get such lousy mileage?  My son Cody[iii] has a better beef with Treeo — he pointed out that Treeo’s choice of slogan is as bad as its taste in cars:  it should be either “Where the smartypantses live” or “Where the smartypants lives.”  That’s the kind of attitude for which I was thoroughly mocked in grade school as, yes, a smartypants.

Christopher Smart probably wasn’t so mocked.  Born in 1722, he was sent, at eleven when his father died, to Durham School and, in 1739, to Pembroke College, Cambridge, whence he graduated in 1744 with a BA.  He was much smarter with his language than the people promoting Treeo, or the smart car.  Here’s one of the latter’s[iv] poems:

The smart electric drive’s single-gear transmission means
instant torque and smooth, dare-we-say, sexy acceleration.
Pair that with smart’s classic compact size and tight turning radius,
and you’ll pour milk down the drain just for an excuse to drive to the store.

Conserving the environment? Woo hoo!
Driving a conservative-looking car? Womp womp.
That’s why the smart electric drive, like every smart, is endlessly customizable –
from vehicle wraps to tridion safety cells to mirrors and more.
Want us to cover your smart in photos of your cat? We’ll do it.
Seriously, try us.[v]

And they say that poetry has disappeared from  Continue reading

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Six Future Discoveries LDS Doctrine May Have to Handle

I’ve long thought that one of the advantages of having a church guided by modern revelation is that we Latter-day Saints don’t have to rely on finding ways to apply scriptural passages to technological developments in order to determine whether some technology or its use in particular ways is sinful or not.  For example, a church without modern revelation would have to figure out whether blood transfusions are sufficiently like eating blood that they fall under the proscription in Leviticus.  A church with modern revelation can provide a direct answer to the question of whether blood transfusions, in vitro fertilization, and many other modern technological developments are allowed under God’s laws.

Of course, there are many future technologies and discoveries that the Church has not yet had to deal with.  And I think there is the potential for some good science fiction stories there.  Since the Church has no revelation directly concerning these future technologies, what the Church’s position will be is still open.  So here are some science-fictional writing prompts: Continue reading

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101 Nauvoo-Related Riddles


I’ve noticed that this blog is about as eclectic as can be imagined and so I want to share with you something that can’t really be anywhere else but that I’ve long wanted to share with someone.

I spent winter semester 2000 as a college student in Nauvoo’s shortlived Joseph Smith Academy. The experience was the inspiration for my first (and still only) nonfiction work. At one point, Peace, Love, & Gingerbread was going to be Deseret Book’s first foray into ebooks, but then the guy in charge of ebooks was canned and that was that. And so the only place PL&G exists is on my personal site (more background; table of contents). I suppose at this point I should just make a free ebook to make it more accessible, but I’m skeptical that anyone would care.

That said, I was exceedingly proud at the time of this chapter of Nauvoo-related riddles. Some haven’t aged well, some only make sense in context of the larger book, some require ready knowledge of Church history—but at least a few of them are genuinely funny. If, that is, you have the sense of humor of an eight-year-old.

I give them to you now for use in all appropriate venues including but not limited to General Conference opening remarks, Mormon History Association presentations, slumber parties, pitch meetings, bookclubs, Air France safety briefings, and sandwich class.

All the good that never was.

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But Is It Mormon Enough?

Any time you form a group and attempt to facilitate discussions of interest to that group, one of the first questions is where to draw the lines to distinguish what we are/do from what other people are/do. What’s our communal identity? How do we differentiate? Beyond what we choose to embrace, what do we choose not to discuss?

Part I of an extended meander triggered by a misreading, supported by a misremembering, and reflecting an outsider’s view on a fundamental question of Mormon criticism that took the long way around to dovetail with the more traditional academic view.
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This Week in Mormon Literature, January 17, 2014

I am not going to get my Mormon Market Year in Review done until next week, so I am putting up a Week in Review in the meantime. Lots of awards, nominations, and best-of-2013 lists. I caught up on several 2013 novels I had missed, like Liesl Shurtliff’s Middle Grade novel Rump. Check out the story about Carla Kelly and BYU. In film Greg Whitley’s Mitt Romney documentary and a missionary comedy are being released next week. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News, Awards, Best-Of Lists, etc.

Margaret Blair Young (BYU-Provo) and Shelah Miner (BYU Salt Lake Center) are both teaching Mormon Literature classes starting in January. They both provide their syllabi: Margaret Blair Young’s “Literature of the Latter-day Saints”, Shelah Miner. “On Saying Yes (To Teaching Mormon Lit)”. Kent Larson writes about “Is the Demand for Mormon Literature Classes Increasing?” at AMV.

New LDS Fiction (was LDS Publisher)’s 2013 Book Cover Contest, the 5th annual contest, has begun. Voting closes on midnight on the 17th, so hurry!

Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL and Jenifer Nii’s SUFFRAGE were nominated for the American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg Award for Best New American Play Produced Outside New York in 2013. An average of 24 plays are nominated annually nationwide.

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best YA Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Boston Globe named it one of the “Best Young Adult Books of 2013”. Continue reading

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