Review: Stephen Carter’s _What of the Night?_ is a Lonely, Lovely Journey

I had planned on reading Stephen Carter’s What of the Night? on the side, as I worked to plow through other books I wanted to get through. It was a book of personal essays, so it would be easy I thought to read one or two a day, while focusing on the full length fiction on my new pile of books I wanted to read and review. About a day and a half after starting the first essay I had read the entire book in two sittings. Granted, the book is a slim one (168 pages), but the book had caught me off guard with how entrancing and poignant it truly was.

Carter’s voice is intimate–exposed. He speaks of faith and doubt and spirit and family and struggle with the disarming honesty that causes you to lay your judgmental attitudes aside and simply listen to his complex thoughts and simple heart. His tales include his time with Eugene England before he died, the disappointments and triumphs of a Mormon mission, a tutorial through clippings with his grandmother, bright Alaskan lights and dark Alaskan doubts, a black sheep brother who showed him the way, the weight of priesthood, and the liberation of the Spirit. Each essay was carefully crafted like a sonnet or a piece of excellent cinema. Ponderous, vulnerable, honest, loving, good, afraid. Many of the things we carefully sidestep, Carter plunged into and felt his way through it, even when it became painful. It’s a brave, beautiful piece of work. Personal essays aren’t my typical reading, but this particular collection had me enraptured and made me want to pick up some more of Eugene England just to get some more of that style of intimacy and quietly spoken lives.

Now I do have a beef with one of the essays, “The Departed.” I started writing it about in this review, but then realized how disproportionate my discussion about that one essay was becoming in regards to the context of the whole book. So if you’re interested in reading my comments about Richard Dutcher and Eugene England in context of What of the Night? go to this other post here.

As it is, though, I wanted this short review to highlight how truly moved I was by Carter’s work. I recommend it enthusiastically without hesitation. Those who read it will be blessed by an insightful mind, a compassionate soul, and a troubled heart.

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”

Sunstone’s Gift to Me and You

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Sunstone, quietly and without any fanfare that I’m aware of, has made it’s archives (save the few most recent issues) available for free online.

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Including the comics issue I edited! Which is primo content, I assure you.

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Sunstone has just provided an incredible resource which I encourage you to check out.

For free!

Although, speaking of money, Sunstone could use yours even if they’re being coy about it. Considering thanking them for the pdf bonanza with some lucre.

My story cycle Gentle Persuasions now available for free

My story cycle Gentle Persuasions can be downloaded for free from Dialogue’s website.

I just noticed that Dialogue has made its 2009 issues available in its open archive, which means that you can read my short short story cycle “Gentle Persuasions” for free (PDF download). Or you could just go ahead and download the entire issue. And should you decide to read “Gentle Persuasions”, you might also want to check out the liner notes. And if all goes according to plan my prose poem* series “Speculations: Wine” and “Speculations: Oil” will appear in the spring 2012 issue of Dialogue. So you might want to subscribe now.

* not sure exactly what to call them, but in the series are short short stories, creative exegesis, anecdotes, extended jokes — many of them some or all of those at once. I use prose poem because I approach each one by looking for the rhetorical conceit and poetic rhythm and language that I would with poetry.

Irreantum 13.1

Some quick, subjective reactions to the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Irreantum

Favorite review: “Modern Mormon Family: Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth” by Scott Hales. I find Scott’s writing style quite winning and charming in this review.

Favorite essay*: “Wrestling with God: Invoking Scriptural Mythos and Language in LDS Literary Works” by James Goldberg. His other essay is funnier and more interesting, but this is solid, critical (and critical) work. I haven’t read something that feels like it really moves the field in awhile. This does — both descriptively and prescriptively.

Favorite poem: “Disco Hero” by Liz Chapman. Uniquely Mormon, very funny, and totally approachable. Just what I need from poetry that appears in Mormon journals.

Favorite short story: “Flight” by Courtney Miller Santo. I love that it’s an old couple and how their oldness and their coupleness plays out and how real, yet unique, yet fictional it seems. I enjoyed the background presence of the mommy blogger daughter (although it’s maybe a little too hammered home in the end). The imagery with the hummingbirds somehow feels like it’s adding to the whole mix without screaming allegory. Very nicely done.

*Note that I’m bundling the critical essays and creative nonfiction, which I probably shouldn’t, but I see them as all on the same continuum and so react to them as such.

Irreantum miscellanea

I’m sure that by now you’ve seen the winners of the which were announced last week. But have  you also read Lisa Torcassso Downing’s post about this year’s fictioncontest? It’s very much worth checking out.

AMVer Tyler Chadwick won on honorable mention for his poetry. I hope that means that it will be published in a future issue. Although with only two issues a year and 5 poetry, 5 fiction and 4 essay winners (including honorable mentions), that’s pretty much both issues filled right there. I guess that’s why the publication no longer accepts rolling submissions.

I entered two stories in the contest this year: one was a piece of near future, post-apocalyptic science fiction that takes place in the same world as my 2010 contest entry; the other was a piece of contemporary literary fiction that takes place at an MLA conference in San Francisco. They definitely represent the two major tracks of my current fiction writing interests, and I’m currently wondering which one to go down.

Also last week: Volume 13, No. 1 of Irreantum arrived in the mail. I have yet to read it, but I did flip through it. AMVer Jonathan Langford contributes a review of Doug Thayer’s The Tree House. And several of our favorite commenters, including Scott Hales, Darlene Young, and James Goldberg have can be found in the table of contents. I also found myself looking at the cover and interior illustrations and thinking “huh, that style seems familiar to me.” Sure enough, Monsters & Mormon graphic novel artist Galen Smith contributed the art to this issue. I look forward to digging into it further.

I received a renewal notice with this issue. Printed at the bottom of the notice is — Irreantum featuring the NEW Mormon literature: “thoughtful, provocative, nuanced, articulate”

Poetry, asters to zeppelins

I started to comment on Tyler’s post, “Preach on, Sister Meyer.  Preach On.” But–look out–the comment mushroomed.  Adam G’s comment especially caught my attention. His question seems to be, is it possible to talk about poetry–especially in terms of hierarchies and other high-falutin’ standards for determining a poem’s worthiness–with language that doesn’t float above us like a leviathan, bomb-totin’, gas-filled bag of pretension?

If that’s his question, I think it’s a good one. Continue reading “Poetry, asters to zeppelins”

Karen Kelsay’s Light Touch: An Interview

Poet Karen Kelsay has been on my radar since Th. pointed me her direction eighteen months or so ago in conjunction with my work on Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets. She’s got an exquisite voice and her lyric is grounded in both its formal features and content that centers on making connections among individuals, generations, nature, memories.

But I’m getting ahead of myself—I’ll save my review of Karen’s work for a day in the not-so-distant future. Today it’s time for a little Q & A with Karen, Pushcart-nominated poet, journal editor extraordinaire, and virtual friend. She has been the featured poet in The New Formalist and Unfettered Verse: A Journal of Poetry, has made frequent appearances at Wilderness Interface Zone, and has two collections of poetry that occasion this interview: Dove on a Church Bench, which was released in April by Punkin Books, and Lavender Song, which will be released later this month by Fortunate Childe Press.

What follows is the result of a back-and-forth Karen and I shared via email over the past month or so. I want to thank her especially for humoring my string of follow-up questions! Continue reading “Karen Kelsay’s Light Touch: An Interview”

A quick poll on the 2011 Irreantum fiction contest

The deadline for the is this evening. I’m curious about what the rest of you are submitting. The Irreantum admins usually release how many total entries in a category, but I’d like to dig in a little deeper (but not in a way that tips your hand on exactly what you are submitting).

This poll is completely non-scientific, and I’m quite sure that most of those who enter don’t read AMV, but for those that do, please take a moment and fill out the following. Also: this poll (or rather series of polls) is more oriented towards fiction writers (who may also be poets and essayists). If there is interest in polls that come from the point of view of poets or essayists, let me know, and I’ll set something up.

So here’s what I’d like to know:

[poll id=”4″] [poll id=”5″] [poll id=”6″] [poll id=”7″]

Pre-existent Memories: C.S. Lewis, Joseph Smith and the Hero’s Journey, Part One

File:Hero 1000 faces book 2008.jpg For the past several years I have had a connection that has been floating around in my brain which I’ve been itching to iterate. In studying things as far flung as psychology, C.S. Lewis, Mormon theology and history, literary/mythical archetypes, world religions, and diverse world histories, these disparate parts have led me to form a pattern to the experiences of C.S. Lewis, the life of Joseph Smith, but also to the Mormon concept of the Plan of Salvation.

I have been teaching about Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” in my high school creative writing class and so it has set me back on this track of thinking which has been boring its way into my everyday unconscious for a long time now. For those unaware of what exactly “The Hero’s Journey” is, it chiefly comes from a book Joseph Campbell wrote called The Hero with a Thousand Faces . Written in 1949, it was a very important book that set forth the idea that there are patterns and archetypes found in all sorts of disparate mythology, fairy tales, religious narratives, and folk lore. That all these stories from unconnected and far flung cultures follow one basic story. It is also a trend that can be found in epic literature and film, which is uncannily and unconsciously present in everything from Homer’s The Odyssey to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. And many writers now purposely craft their tales to follow this pattern, George Lucas’s Star Wars being one of the most famous examples.

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BYU Experimental Theatre Company's production of _Prometheus Unbound_

I also purposely followed this pattern with my play Prometheus Unbound several years ago (and have addressed it less directly in other plays such as Swallow the Sun and my new work Manifest), much because the idea has fascinated me ever since I was taught it in my high school sophmore honors English class. Ms. Drummond mentioned Carl Jung’s revolutionary studies in the early and mid 20th century about archetypes (a simpler overview here) and the collective unconscious. In my terms, archetypes are repeating patterns that happen in mythology and other stories, in psychology, in dreams, and even (at least from what I’ve been able to observe) in many points in recorded, literal history (try applying this pattern to Joan of Arc, for example). Continue reading “Pre-existent Memories: C.S. Lewis, Joseph Smith and the Hero’s Journey, Part One”