Whitney Speculative Finalists 2011

This is the fourth and last segment of my Whitney finalist reviews, following earlier installments on general fiction, general youth fiction, and speculative youth fiction. I would have liked to do the other categories as well, but these are the genres that lie closest to my heart — and as many as I could get to by the voting deadline, which is this coming Monday.

All the regular warning: Story spoilers. My own opinions. Thanks to publishers of No Angel and A Night of Blacker Darkness for making electronic copies available. Please chime in with your opinions.

A final comment: Opinions about specific finalists and categories notwithstanding, I think the Whitney Awards fill an invaluable role within the community of Mormon letters, and very much appreciate the work that goes into them, including those who administer the awards and particularly the committees of judges. Thanks to all of you for your hard work.

Continue reading “Whitney Speculative Finalists 2011”

Evidences of uneasy assimilation

Wm uses recent podcasts with Elna Baker and Brandon Sanderson to discuss assimilated-ness and uneasiness when it comes to Mormons and Mormonism.

Let’s get two things out of the way first:

1. This references two podcast episodes that contain content some AMV readers may be uncomfortable with: Sex. Language. Irreverence. Transsexuality. etc.

2. I am an assimilated American (although not fully). It’s likely you are too. But if you aren’t, this post isn’t for you.

Today I listened to the episode Marc Maron’s WTF comedy podcast that was posted this past Monday, a live episode recorded at The Bell House in Brooklyn. After doing his opening bit, Marc Maron brought out Ira Glass and they talked for awhile (about Ira getting drunk, actually) and then (at around the 40-minute mark; and again: content warning) they bring out Elna Baker who reveals that she is no longer a practicing Mormon and talks about why that is and what she has done (as in, you know, “rule” breaking stuff) since making that decision. It’s about what you would expect if you know anything about the three personalities involved. And I say that with fondness. Continue reading “Evidences of uneasy assimilation”

Brandon Sanderson and magic systems

I don’t mean to harp on Brandon Sanderson, but while writing my previous post on Rosalynde Welch’s critique of thematic-focused Mormon criticism, the following thought occurred to me:

How do you explain Sanderson’s interest in the robust, rules-based magic systems that have become his raison d’être ? Is a Mormon explanation warranted? Is it sufficient?

I can see at least four explanations — all of them likely valid in varying amounts:

Mormonism as doctrine: in Mormon doctrine spirit is matter more refined and miracles are simply higher order physics. Magic that has rules as physics does and even some cases use physical materials ties very well in to Mormon doctrine.

Mormonism as community: Sanderson has been influenced by the work of Orson Scott Card (the Alvin books, How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, etc.) and David Farland (Runelords) and their penchant for rigorous magic systems.

Trends in literature: Sanderson came of age at the tail end of the fuzzy, soft magics found in the derivative post-Tolkien fantasy (Eddings, Brooks) and so, he, like other writers of his generation is both acutely aware of the flaws in soft magic and has the need to differentiate his work from his predecessors (this is oversimplifying the whole magic in fantasy debate/history, but it’s roughly enough true to serve my purpose here).

Trends in pop culture: Sanderson is a known player of role-playing games, including the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons. He’s also an inveterate collector of Magic: The Gathering cards. Clearly, someone who grows up with the precise rules and game mechanics and character stats of RPGs is going to be attracted to hard magic systems.

This is a straightforward example, but I think it illustrates well how neither an overemphasis on Mormon themes nor an elision of Mormon themes are likely to be useful in literary criticism of work by Mormon authors. Mormon literary criticism is a hybrid form — just like Mormon literature. Try as we might, when it comes to artistic or creative expression, we are in the world and of the world and yet not quite. We should rightly focus on the not quite — but not at the expense of all the rest.

Brandon Sanderson’s preoccupation with deification

Brandon Sanderson‘s preoccupation with deification has been mentioned in passing in at least two Writing Excuses episodes ( [transcript]; [transcript]). The way it manifests itself in his work is not necessarily uniquely Mormon, but certainly Sanderson’s Mormon-ness is a likely culprit for the source of the preoccupation.

I mention this because I think his work deserves closer examination. And what I’d like to see is less the reading of his works through the lens of Mormon culture, doctrine and history (such as has been done with Stephenie Meyer’s work) and more a through study of this preoccupation as a dialogue across his work and then a situating of that work in relation to notions of power (and especially super power) in fantasy. That is, it’d be relatively easy to do some basic deliniation of how the LDS doctrine of deification translates in to the themes realized in the Mistborn Trilogy and Warbreaker (and to a lesser extent Elantris and The Way of Kings). What could be much more interesting is what the texts themselves do that’s different from or similar to the general field of epic fantasy. This would be a different type of search for Mormon exceptionalism that would focus on the work itself rather than perceptions of Mormon underpinnings/the search for LDS traces.

This is a half-baked thought, to be sure. But it’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately as a way to think about what Mormon literary criticism could/should do.

Andrew Hall’s 2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market

2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review:

By Andrew Hall

Part 1: National Market, 2010

(Note: I am now posting at Dawning of a Brighter Day, the blog of the Association for Mormon Letters, a weekly column covering the world of Mormon literature.  The focus is on published fiction, but I also cover theater and film.  I also link to recently published literary works, news, and reviews. I hope to make the brief column a convenient gathering place for authors and readers to announce and follow news about the field each week.)

Mormon authors continue to enlarge their presence in the fields of nationally-published young adult and middle grade novels. Brandon Sanderson is becoming a leading light in the epic fantasy genre. Stephanie Meyer published another bestselling book. Glenn Beck sold nearly as many novels as he did non-fiction. I appreciate the width and depth of the work that Mormon authors are producing, and feel tribal pride in their success. But only a small percentage of the nationally published novels Mormons are producing what can be called adult literature. And only a miniscule amount of these novels specifically address Mormon doctrine, culture, or history. Brady Udall is a nationally recognized literary craftsman of the highest order. The fact that he has taken his skill and used it to explore a subject fundamental to the history of Mormonism, and did it with such skill, humor, and charity, thrills me to the core. For these reasons, without a doubt the 2010 Mormon novel of the year was Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist. Continue reading “Andrew Hall’s 2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market”

Why I like Writing Excuses

I tend to run hot and cold when it comes to listening to podcasts, and it’s only recently that I’ve become more dedicated to the consuming the form. And it’s only even more recently that I’ve become dedicated to , which features Mormon genre authors Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells (as well as guests) shooting off their mouths about various aspects of writing, publishing and selling narrative art. I was an early listener (way back in 2008) and even commented a couple of times on the show’s website, but I soon lapsed in to inactivity and only reconverted to the podcast last month.

Initially, I was approaching the podcast the way it’s mainly intended — as tips and tricks for aspiring writers of genre fiction. While I do sometimes fit into that category, that’s not necessarily something I’m looking for on a regular basis. So I stopped listening. What brought me back?

I decided to give it another try and realized that what makes Writing Excuses so entertaining is not the practical tips, but the literary criticism that Brandon, Howard and Dan engage in. I mean, I already knew they were amusing and articulate, and like most podcasts, Writing Excuses is them tackling a topic in a fairly off-the-cuff manner (although Brandon keeps things on track). What I had forgotten, until I started listening to some of the latest episodes, is how much of the podcast is the three of them (plus guests) gnawing away at the given topic through the lens of their own work and the work of others, and their creative habits and editing/marketing experiences and the habits and experiences of other creative types that they know. It’s real-time, unscripted literary criticism, and it’s interesting for me to hear them assign value to and puzzle out how certain examples operate in relation to both the topic and their perception of the standards of the field and expectations of their readers. And it’s especially interesting when they use examples of their own work because I’m familiar with it, and they, of course, know it so well. Also: these guys aren’t dogmatic. Which is good.

So if you have dismissed Writing Excuses because you aren’t interesting in creative writing tips, but you have an interest in literary criticism and can handle its expression in a populist, genre-oriented form, I recommend giving it a try.

Andrew’s Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market 2009

Wm writes: Once again AMV is proud to bring you Andrew Hall’s Year in Review in Mormon letters.

The story of the year in nationally published literature by Mormons was the memoir.  Two Mormon women, Elna Baker and Kathryn Lynard Soper produced honest and interesting life stories, to excellent reviews. While other Mormon authors sold more books, few other nationally published author made their Mormonism so central to their story.  Other big stories for the year include Stephanie Meyer’s continued dominance of the fiction landscape, Brandon Sanderson’s rise to the top of best seller’s lists, and the continuing flood of young adult speculative fiction. Continue reading “Andrew’s Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market 2009”