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

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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 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.

Continue reading

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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


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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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.

Continue reading

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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 by March 10.” Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 1 Comment