My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites

So this is not some snazzy, official list with criteria, rubrics, or voting committees. This is just my personal, gut-feeling-favorite Mormon Arts contributions that I have experienced this year. This also doesn’t mean that it was even published or produced in 2012… these are works/artists that I have personally encountered this year (or so).  So keep that in mind as I submit “Mahonri Stewart’s Personal Mormon Arts Favorites of 2012!” (Which may or may not become an annual tradition, depending on how lazy I am next year).

FAVORITE MORMON PLAY: MELISSA LEILANI LARSON’S MARTYRS’ CROSSING

MARTYRS' CROSSINGSo, beyond what I’ve seen my Zion Theatre Company produce this year, I haven’t had a chance to see much Mormon Drama in 2012 since I live in Arizona (kind of pathetic since I’m supposed to be the Mormon Drama expert around here). I can’t visit Utah on a whim to see the rare Mormon themed play that comes around (or, this year, New York with #MormonInChief!), but what I have done this year is read a bunch of older Mormon plays to finish my editing for Saints on Stage. Since one of those plays was produced again this year, I am choosing Martyrs’ Crossing, which has been getting great reviews at the Echo Theatre in Provo. I saw BYU’s production of the show years ago and read it again this year, and it’s as beautiful and vibrant as I remember it. Melissa is one of Mormonism’s best playwrights and, although I would  call Little Happy Secrets her best work so far, Martyrs’ Crossing is a personal favorite, much due to Mel’s beautiful writing and to my love for Jean d’Arc… who I may tackle a play about some day as well, although it would be pretty different than Mel’s take. Mel keeps beating me to the punch on stories that I love, including Jane Austen’s Persuasion and her upcoming adaptation of my all time favorite novel, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Despite that personal frustration, I can’t but help look at these works and say, “Well, at least Mel wrote it, because it’s beautiful.”

FAVORITE MORMON PLAYWRIGHT: MATTHEW GREENE

Although I haven’t seen or read it, just the fact that Matthew Greene was able to get a Mormon themed play up in major a New York fringe festival is nothing to sniff at. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for #MormonInChief,  but I admire Matthew (who was in BYU’s WDA Workshop with me several years ago) for really jumping into the New York theater scene and progressing the cause of Mormon Drama. He’s also got an upcoming play coming soon to Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City called Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Matthew is getting some real traction in his career as a dramatic writer and I believe it’s well deserved. Continue reading “My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites”

Review: With a Title Like _Monsters & Mormons_, How Could You Not Have Fun?, Part One

It’s taking me a while to get through  Monsters & Mormons, not because it’s not super enjoyable (because it is!), but because it’s a pretty long book (which, to me, is no flaw. The upcoming Saints on Stage: An Anthology For Mormon Drama which I edited for Zarahemla Books is a behemoth as well). Also when I finish a short story, I feel a temporary sense of completeness, so the book doesn’t always draw me back like a novel does because I’m not left “hanging” so to speak. So I’ve decided to break up my review of Monsters and Mormons over a few different reviews so I can write while the stories are still somewhat fresh in my mind. It will also allow me to address the short stories more individually instead of as a blurred whole.

First, my overall impression of Monsters & Mormons: it’s a winner. A big winner. As some one who has lived in imaginative waters since he was a child and hasn’t been afraid to invite his religion to play in those waters with him, I totally dig projects like this. Now, I’ve never been much of a horror fan, especially when it leads to copious amounts of blood and gore. I mean, like, yuck. Not my thing. However, I do love ghost stories and supernatural monsters (I keep wanting to read some H.P. Lovecraft), and, if it doesn’t lead to too much gruesomeness, I can definitely enjoy stories like this. This is definitely not something I would suggest to some of my less adventurous or conservative thinking family and friends, but it’s something I would suggest to the imaginative Mormon who doesn’t mind mixing fantasy and religion (and I know a number of non-Mormons who would get a kick out of it!) . So let’s get to the individual stories in the first part of the collection:

Continue reading “Review: With a Title Like _Monsters & Mormons_, How Could You Not Have Fun?, Part One”

My take on S.P. Bailey’s Millstone City

William shares his full blurb for S.P. Bailey’s debut novel Milllstone City and discusses the novel’s dialogue with Mormon faithful realism.

AMVer S.P. Bailey’s Millstone City has already been reviewed here by Th. Jepson. The novel . The Kindle version is only $2.99 (other ebook formats to come) and the trade paperback is $15.95.

I provided a blurb for it. Partly because Shawn and I have been alpha/beta readers of each other’s work for several years now, but mostly because I really like what he did with Millstone City and how it fits into the field of Mormon literature.

Here is my full blurb for the novel:

In Millstone City, the LDS mission novel and the thriller collide to create something new: an intense, gritty story that is nevertheless shot through with resilience, honesty, optimism and, yes, that certain willful naïveté that missionaries possess. Call it Mormon neo-noir. Or full-throttle faithful realism. Whatever you dub this hybrid, clearly, S.P. Bailey is well versed in both of the literary streams he’s working with, and I’m very pleased to see him cross them to such good effect.

And here is another thought:

Part of why I think this counts as missionary fiction rather than just being a thriller is that it all starts with a minor infraction of mission rules. In other LDS mission novels, such a minor infraction may be played as comedy, or lead to some tension between characters, or simply try to capture the up-and-downs of a mission. Here it has major repercussions.

In addition, the resources the Elders call upon to help them with their situation — members, relatives of members, the mission president — are true to life. Also true to life is the fact that their efforts aren’t always 100% effective. This is not to say that this wholly a work of realism. But rather that because it draws enough on the tropes and traditions of  Mormon faithful realism, it has a bit more heft and dimension to it than I had expected, especially considering that it’s, essentially, a thriller/suspense novel.

Review: Luisa Perkins’ _Dispirited_ is a Supernatural Delight

Zarahemla Books hits the sweet spot again with its latest book offering, Luisa Perkins’ Dispirited. The supernatural thriller/YA dark fantasy is a worthy addition to Zarahemla’s quality library of Mormon literature, and continues to showcase the diversity Zarahemla displays on its shelf. Zarahemla is as much of a home for genre fiction, as it is high brow literary novels, as it is for personal essays, as it is for short stories, as it is now for Mormon drama (full disclosure: Zarahemla Books will be publishing a book of two of my plays in the next few weeks, as well as an anthology of Mormon Drama which I helped pull together later this Summer… but I was a big fan of ZB’s approach long before those projects). Dispirited continues Zarahemla’s big tent tradition with its blend of dark, magical realism and young adult sensibility (with a dash of the bizarre just to throw you off kilter).

Dispirited jumps right into the conflict in its first chapter when a young boy named Blake is grieving for his dead mother and so stumbles upon the ability to separate his spirit from his body (astral projection). Thus he travels to the astral plane in search for his mother. However, Blake is in for a rude awakening (or unawakening) when he tries to get back into his body, as he discovers that it has been possessed by a powerful evil spirit who has no intention of giving the poor child his body back. In the next chapter we are introduced to Cathy, years after the inciting incident. Cathy is the step sister of “Blake,” and becomes our main protagonist. The real Blake, now an exiled spirit out of his body, enlists Cathy in the battle over the possession and right to his body.  And then we’re off to the races, plot wise.

I found the initial premise fascinating, partly because I felt it was plausible. I have known people (including a personal friend of mine, as well as a Wiccan who I baptized on my mission) who had claimed to have accomplished this feat of “astral planing,” where they could separate themselves from their bodies, travel in a different plane of existence, and then return to their body (although my friend from my mission claimed that she had difficulty getting back into her body, so she never attempted the experience again). As a believer in this kind of supernatural possibility, having had a few difficult to explain supernatural scenarios in my own life, Perkins had me at the get go with this initial conflict. The central premise seemed real and organic, especially from a Mormon worldview. Sometimes magical realism, from the perspective of a Mormon, simply becomes realism. Continue reading “Review: Luisa Perkins’ _Dispirited_ is a Supernatural Delight”

Review: A Few Good Mormon Novels

So there’s several Mormon novels I read that I kept meaning to review, but never got around to it. They were there in the back of my head, screaming at me, “Tell the world about us!” I looked compassionately at those great works of art and said, “Okay, I have a duty to you for making my life that much better. Okay.” So these are going to be fast and dirty, but they’ll be better than the guilty silence that has waited impatiently the past several years. So here’s a handful of some of the best Mormon Literature that I have come across the last several years:

Pictograph MurdersTHE PICTOGRAPH MURDERS

by P.G. Karamasines

Written by AMV’s very own Patricia Karasamines, this novel still has left a very vivid impression on me, despite the fact that it’s been probably six or seven years since I read it. It’s the story of Alex McKelvey, a Mormon convert who participates in a BYU sponsored archaeology dig in Southern Utah. Alex is a English/folklore student at the Y and a naturalist, so although she isn’t actually studying archaeology, her interest in the Southwest and the myths and culture of the Native Americans makes her interest in participating in the dig more than believable. At the dig, a disappearance and possible murder occurs, which leads us into an intriguing plot involving the possible involvement of mythological figures, culture clashes, and a tight, interesting thriller plot.

The characters in the novel were well drawn and intriguing, especially Alex (and, interestingly enough, her Siberian husky Kit), as well as the portrayal of the Native American mythological figure Coyote. Character driven in a magical realism setting, this was an achingly beautiful novel, despite masquerading as a thriller. The evocative language Karamesines uses, especially when describing Southern Utah’s emotional beauty or  using her archetypal brush to paint new visions on Native American mythology. Being a lover of mythology, cultural exchange, and poetic prose, this book was right up my alley. Beautifully written, intelligently plotted, and deeply satisfying, I would heartily recommend The Pictograph Murders to nearly anyone.

Continue reading “Review: A Few Good Mormon Novels”

Steven Peck reading from The Scholar of Moab today at BYU library

Steven Peck will be reading from his novel The Scholar of Moab. today, Friday Feb 3, at noon in the basement auditorium of the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU. He brought me by a review copy the other day and we had a good chat. He moved to Moab when he was in high school, after the uranium boom and before the tourist boom. Should be a good reading.

I told him I’m intrigued by the petroglyph on the cover, which makes the design is similar to the cover of Patricia Karamesines’ The Pictograph Murders. They’re both mysteries of sorts, so I’ll be interested to compare approaches. I should have more after the event, and maybe some pictures.

_Rings of the Tree: A Multimedia Play_ Premieres in February

Rings of the Tree Still Photo #1Zion Theater Company and Imminent Catharsis Media are presenting national award winning playwright Mahonri Stewart’s play Rings of the Tree on Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, February 4 at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City; as well as Thursday, February 9, Friday the 10th, and Monday the 13th, at the Grove Theater in Pleasant Grove. Continue reading “_Rings of the Tree: A Multimedia Play_ Premieres in February”

The Nephite Conspiracy: Mormon elements in James Rollins’s The Devil Colony

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Let me start by admitting that I pretty much hated this book. Let’s just get it out there so we won’t have to keep talking about it. I hated the flat characters, the adrenaline-pimping pacing, the absurd science, the conspiracy theories within conspiracy theories, the Illuminati/Cobra badguys, the kitchen-sink idea inclusiveness, the audience pandering, the prestidigitational narrative breaks, the wowza-zowza phrasing —

I could go on.

Anyway. In addition to the usual suspects (Thomas Jefferson, painters, corrupt military, secret societies, ancient families, villains with broken bodies as well as souls), this book also features Mormons. Continue reading “The Nephite Conspiracy: Mormon elements in James Rollins’s The Devil Colony”

Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books

Title: I Am Not a Serial Killer
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2010 [My copy of the book has a copyright date of 2010, with a listing of “First Edition: April 2010.” Yet I know this book was actually published originally in 2009, and it won a 2009 Whitney Award for best first novel by an LDS author. I think what happened is that it was released in the UK in 2009, but was not released in the U.S. until 2010.]
Number of Pages: 271
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2782-6
Price: $9.99

Title: Mr. Monster
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 287
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2790-1
Price: $11.99

Title: I Don’t Want to Kill You
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 320
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2844-1
Price: $11.99

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Includes spoilers for Book 3 in a very general sense, but no specifics.

John Wayne Cleaver, the main character of I Am Not a Serial Killer, is kind of a weird kid. 15 years old. Helps out in his family mortuary. Obsessed with serial killers.

Continue reading “Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books”

Review: Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes

Shadow Mountain was kind enough to send me their summer/fall catalog early this summer and ask if I’d be interested in reviewing any of the titles therein. I have been meaning to tackle something by Rachel Ann Nunes as part of my wm-reads-lds-genre-novels project, so I jumped at the chance to get a copy of Imprints ( Amazon ). This title marks Nunes’ foray from Romance in to the Mystery/Thriller genre so it seemed like it would be a much more approachable entry in to her work for someone like me.

For this review, I’m going to break it in to four parts: the set up; what works; what doesn’t work; and the novel as Mormon literature. Each of those is going to be written from a slightly different point of view as I negotiate between my identities as a fan of genre fiction but with a bias towards genre work that has strong literary elements (the good ones — not the precious/precocious literary stuff); a writer and editor of fiction; a cheerleader for Mormon fiction; and a Mormon literary critic.

The Premise and Setting

Adopted by hippie parents, Autumn Rain lives in Portland, where she runs her late father’s antiques shop. She has also recently been reunited with her twin sister (also adopted — and apparently the main character in a previous Nunes novel) and has a crush on Jake, the tall dreadlocked African American dude who she sold her father’s herbal remedies store to. Autumn also has discovered (post the trauma of her father’s death in a bridge collapse) that she has a paranormal power: she receives impressions and memories from physical objects (assuming that they have been imbued with strong emotions [love, anger, terror, etc.]). She used these powers to solve a previous case, and the word gets out so one day a community college instructor turned private investigator named Ethan McConnell shows up with a pair of worried parents. It turns out that their daughter has semi-recently joined a commune that may or may not be a dangerous cult — the same commune that Ethan’s sister had joined almost a year previously. Autumn gets sucked in to the investigation, eventually going undercover with Jake and with Ethan’s help.

What Works

The setting: Portland and Oregon is the perfect place for a hippie chick with paranormal powers, and Nunes weaves in some good details and locations. Continue reading “Review: Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes”