Since I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more LDS/Mormon books and since I’ve started reviewing them and recommending them, I’ve realized something important: I have a litmus test for Mormon literature. I have one overarching criteria that defines all of my Mormon literary experiences–whether it’s a book, the scriptures, or a General Conference talk. Continue reading “A Litmus Test for Mormon Literature?”
As Motley Vision‘s newest Official Contributor, I feel an obligation to have my first post explain something of my experience within and attitude towards the Mormon arts.
Several months ago, I plotted out a post called “Hero’s Journey of the Mormon Artist” which I had intended to submit to William. I’m glad I never finished it however as further reflection has suggested to me that I was implying that that my proposed version of the hero’s journey was a necessary part of being a good Mormon artist. As if being an Orson Scott Card or a Dean Hughes is more admirable than being a Heather Moore or an Anita Stansfield (no sexism intended). And so I continued refining the idea and now I feel that it is not Mormon artists who are on a hero’s journey, but the Mormon arts entire. I will not be going into all seventeen stages of the monomyth, but I will deal with the three major groupings and hit on the secondary levels when they seem helpful.
Wm writes: Every year since 2000, Andrew Hall has put together a Year in Review for all of the major genres of Mormon letters. AMV is pleased to bring you Andrew’s Year in Review for 2008. Today — a look at the Mormon market for books. Read the other entries in the series.
Andrew Hall’s Mormon Literature Year in Review — Part II: Mormon market books
There was a slight drop in the number of fiction books published by Mormon publishing houses in 2008, from 94 in 2007 to 86 in 2008. The dip was due largely to a decrease in the number of books published by independent publishers, such as Cedar Fort, the third largest publisher. Covenant and Deseret Book, which are now both owned by the Church, published slightly more novels in 2008 than they did in 2007. As a result, the Covenant/Deseret Book combination published 65% of the novels in the Mormon market in 2008. That is up from 56% in 2007, and around 50% in the five years before that. I have heard from some independent publishers that Deseret Book’s bookstore division makes it difficult for them to get even standard Mormon-themed novels onto their shelves. That is a very disconcerting trend. In any case, it is a good bet that the total number of Mormon fiction titles will go down again in 2009, because of the dip in the economic outlook. Continue reading “Andrew’s Mormon Literature Year in Review, Part II: Mormon Market Books 2008”
If you haven’t seen it yet, the finalists for the 2008 Whitney Awards have been posted. As expected, Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom is nominated in all three categories it was eligible for (novel of the year, new author, general fiction). And as expected, Angel Falling Softly was not a finalist in any category. And as expected, the presence of some national titles (in particular Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile, and the final volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series) on the list seems a bit unfair even though such titles are sold in LDS bookstores and consumed by LDS readers and written by Mormon authors and so fit the basic parameters of what makes a work a piece of LDS/Mormon fiction.
And yet all of the above (as well as the characteristics of the other titles that made the cut) are in keeping with the audience for the Whitney’s and are about as good a portrait of what the field looks like in terms of reader popularity and sales as you are going to get.
Should Bound on Earth win Best Novel of the Year (and should it also win an AML award — which seems likely) it will join last year’s winner On the Road to Heaven as a) a strong indication of the type of domestic, plain-style Mormon literary realism that does well with middlebrow LDS readers and b) establish Parables and Zarahemla as the best bets for writers and readers interested in Mormon literary fiction.
For the record, I’m not interested in comments bemoaning or defending the finalists. The Whitney Awards is a positive development in the field and a class act (at least in terms of their marketing/pr efforts and products — I can’t speak to how it is run in other areas). But it’s one only one aspect of the past year in Mormon literature and as lovely as awards are, they are at best a reductive form of validation and criticism. Although let’s be honest: The Whitneys have way more credibility than the Grammys.
The Whitney Awards take place April 25 in Provo. Tickets (which are $35) are available here. Hopefully the awards committee arranges to liveblog the event again. The liveblogging was quite entertaining last year.
Here’s the blurb I provided Zarahemla Books for Eugene Woodbury’s vampire/Mormon novel Angel Falling Softly:
In melding the vampire genre with Mormon literary fiction, Eugene Woodbury has created a hybrid that is startling, fresh, insightful and heartbreaking. When I first heard of this audacious project, I was both skeptical and excited. What’s remarkable about Angel Falling Softly isn’t just that Eugene does something new with vampire tropes (that in this case also involve the worlds of bio-tech and high finance) or that he provides a complex, touching portrait of a Mormon mother desperately trying to save her terminally ill child. It’s that he weaves these elements together with well-deployed literary (often Biblical) allusions and quotations that add substance to the questions raised about belief, redemption, desire, sin and death. The novel is insistently literary while being solidly genre-based. Sounds pretty cool, right? And yet what most amazed me is that he pulls it all off without violating the supernatural and metaphysical boundaries of
Mormonism or of the vampire genre. Which is not to say that the story is believable — it’s fantasy — but rather that by enforcing (and pushing against) these boundaries, he plays the two worlds against each other in way that maximizes reading pleasure and says something new about the Mormon experience
Content Warning: AMV draws readers from a fairly wide spectrum of the Mormon audience. Thus, I think it’s only fair to warn that Angel Falling Softly contains a couple of scenes of foreplayish but not at all sexy vampire seductions (that end in feedings — not sex) and one scene of marital sex that is sort of graphic but more with metaphorical than descriptive terms. None of the scenes are gratuitous — meaning they add to the story and the development of characters and the consequences of the story would be lessened without them. Nor are they particularly arousing. And really, parts of the Bible are much more sexy than what’s found in the novel.