Advice for Mormon writers of historical fiction

As I revealed earlier in the year, I was a finalists judge for historical fiction for this year’s Whitney Awards. I’ll reveal my ballot after the awards are presented, but since that doesn’t happen until May, here’s some advice for Mormons who write or are considering writing historical fiction.

Keep in mind that I don’t write historical fiction myself and haven’t read deeply in the genre so my advice may not be worth much. But my exposure to it includes: reading all of the historical fiction nominees this year, reading the historical fiction finalists back in [[insert year]], other reading of Mormon historical fiction, other reading of historical fiction published in the past three decades, other reading of fantasy fiction that draws on historical fiction, reading of quite a few novels from the main eras that authors write historical fiction in (the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries), reading of nonfiction from/about those eras, and reading of several of Sir Walter Scott’s novels. Scott, along with Jane Porter, launched the genre of historical fiction. This is all to say that while it’s not one of my primary genres, I do have some familiarity with its tropes and forms and what it can do well. Continue reading “Advice for Mormon writers of historical fiction”

Millstone City of Brick and Shadow

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The remarkable thing comparing my reviews of Millstone City (by S.P. Bailey, 2012) and City of Brick and Shadow (by Tim Wirkus, 2014) is how differently directed my attention was and yet how many similarities the reviews (and their books) still share.

citiesinbrazilLet’s start with the obvious. Both novels have “city” in the title. Both novels take place in Brazil’s slums. Both novels feature horrific criminal activity. Both novels incorporate missionaries breaking rules, though managing to keep their deviance remarkably nontransgressive. Both sets of missionaries maintain an interest in fulfilling their call to preach even in the least agreeable of situations. Both adventures begin thanks to a link to the criminal world via a local convert. Both novels address the reality of evil and fail to provide a purely pat ending.

Thematically however, the novels are quite different. Continue reading “Millstone City of Brick and Shadow”

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus

sorry for the amazon link but this is the largest image available online and I feel obliged to link to its origin.

I’m a bit worn down by my Bishop’s Wife marathon so I won’t be giving this novel that level of attention though, frankly, I liked this one more. Both in terms of technique and story, this novel is what I’m usually looking for when I pick up a mystery. Don’t get me wrong—I did like The Bishop’s Wife—I liked how it was a cozy with sex and violence, I liked the characters and the setting, I liked the twists and the rolls, I liked the handful of plot-points left open.

But my all-time favorite mystery stories commit the crime against convention that City of Brick and Shadow commits. I’m going to present several observations now which move, approximately, from least spoilery to most spoilery. Feel free to slide down to the comments if you start getting uncomfortable, or to the next section if you get bored with my bloviating on any one point.

Otherwise, welcome to an unnamed Latin American country more commonly known as Brazil!

On point-of-view and naming

As Andrew said, “it is amazing how much the author just throws the reader into the world of the missionaries, without much explaining.” But it’s not just things like mentioning companionship study or curfews. Take the simple matter of naming. Continue reading “City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus”

Reengaging with Harrison’s first forty-to-sixtyby comparison to Wirkus’s first forty-to-sixty

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the opening pages of Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife and lamented their overly explicative nature. Now, I made those statements form my long-standing position that we don’t have to explain that much for a nonLDS audience to understand our stories, but Mette wasn’t trying to prove my hypothesis and I can hardly blame her for it. But, happily, the universe has provided another new, nationally released mystery/thriller this December 2014 by an LDS writer about LDS characters, and now I can compare them.

The Bishop's Wife & City of Brick and ShadowWirkus’s novel, like Harrison’s involves everyday Mormons tossed into dangerous circumstances including murder. (Note: I’m writing about City of Brick and Shadow slightly before reaching the halfway point. Also, like Harrison’s book, this was sent to me gratis by its publisher. Also! Like The Bishop’s Wife, I expect to get more than one post out of this novel. So yes, I will be comparing it to Millstone City at some point.)

Wirkus’s protagonists are missionaries serving in a Brazil slum, a location certainly more prone to ugliness than Draper, Utah, but still: it’s not like they put out a PI shingle looking for long-legged dames with murderous lovers to come looking for them.

How they do get into trouble is worth talking about, but all I’m interested in today is how Wirkus’s worldbuilding compares to Harrison’s and, ultimately, why it is, in one humble thopinion, better executed. Continue reading “Reengaging with Harrison’s first forty-to-sixtyby comparison to Wirkus’s first forty-to-sixty”

Some misorganized thunks on the marketing of The Bishop’s Wife

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All information, unless otherwise noted, from a promotional webpage aimed at reviewers and booksellers. It’s just what I found curious. That was my only criteria for quoting. Continue reading “Some misorganized thunks on the marketing of The Bishop’s Wife”

Gender in The Bishop’s Wife (divorced of context)

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bishrevThe Bishop’s Wife has a lot to say about male/female relations (and a lot about marriage in particular) and about the different roles of men and women in this particular Mormon community (from which we are free to extrapolate). I’m not ready to draw many conclusions regarding just what the novel is saying—that will be done better as more people read and begin debating motwaaw—meaning being, of course, ultimately, a very personal thing—but I want to provide some out-of-context quotations for your preliminary consideration.

Brethren, please check your privilege before proceeding.

Note: As I said last time, I will correct obvious errors, marking them with [molaq] and mark likely errors I can’t correct with [sic]. I will note location with chapter numbers and, if necessary for purposes of this post or to prevent spoilers, disguise characters and events via substitutions enclosed in brackets or through the omission of quotation marks. Sometimes I add comments in italics after the chapter number. Continue reading “Gender in The Bishop’s Wife (divorced of context)”

The Bishop’s Wife: the actual review

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TheBishopsWife-bitty

Before we get started, we have a bit of business this morning.

The back of my review copy reads “DO NOT QUOTE FROM THIS GALLEY” (allcaps in original) which I will be disregarding. How do you expect me to do a decent review if I can’t quote? That said, I will correct obvious errors (which I will mark [molaq]) and mark seeming errors I don’t know how to correct with [sic] (but without its usual snide connotation). I will note the location of these quotations with chapter numbers since my page numbers are unlikely to match anything you pick up.

These rules will apply to all posts in this series going forward.

Now, on with the show. Continue reading “The Bishop’s Wife: the actual review”

Let’s get those first forty to sixty pages out of the way first (the beginning of our thlook at The Bishop’s Wife) (no Cary Grant this time around)

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TheBishopsWife-bittyOne of the great challenges with writing a Mormon book for a national audience is deciding how much to explain. And it’s something I, for some reason, have particularly strong feelings regarding how it should be done. So let’s talk about Mette Ivie Harrison’s worldbuilding* in The Bishop’s Wife.

In the first forty or sixty or so pages, the titular narrator, Linda Wallheim, just spends too much darn time explaining the Mormon world of Draper, Utah. And it’s not just the quantity but the nature of the explanation that grates on me. For instance:

The church taught that everyone who was in the celestial kingdom had to be in a marriage—marriage was the highest law of the gospel—but that didn’t mean she had to be married to Tobias. In the old days, people would say worthy single women were lucky because they’d be married to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young in the afterlife. But people didn’t say that much anymore since polygamy had been carefully scripted out of the mainstream Mormon church.

This is pretty great because it throws a lot of my complaints into a single paragraph. Continue reading “Let’s get those first forty to sixty pages out of the way first (the beginning of our thlook at The Bishop’s Wife) (no Cary Grant this time around)”