Occupy Books & Things

B&TContestPerhaps I’ve been too influenced by politics, but I think its time to Occupy Books & Things.

The LDS mailing catalog Books & Things has announced a May “LDS Author/Artist Contest” in which visitors to their Facebook page can “vote” for their favorite author. The favorite author will then win a 1/4 page ad in the Fall issue of their catalog.

What would happen if the winner was someone that they don’t normally carry in their catalog? Someone that they don’t think is “right” for their audience?

Anyone want to play a little mischief?

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Bright Angels & Familiars: “Opening Day” by Doug Thayer

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Since I’ve been something of a negative nelly in this series so far, displaying a rich panoply of bad attitudes and an unpleasant irritability, I feel obliged, before saying anything about my previous experiences with Thayer’s work, that this story was a stunning read. And I mean that more literally than is usually intended in literary reviews. I sit here typing, feeling stunned.

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Doug Thayer on Mormonism as a faith that invites novelists

As I mentioned in my post Doug Thayer sums it all up, Thayer’s “About Serious Mormon Fiction” is remarkable for the in-depth and broad look he takes at the field. There are a numerous passages that I could quote that would lead to fruitful discussion, but I’m just going to focus on one.

After covering a lot of ground and then going in to some specific ideas for the types of Mormon novels that he would like to read, Thayer writes:

Contemporary Mormon life itself helps to create this need for a serious fiction. A faith that believes in perfection, a life filed with attainable goals, large beautiful families, the near Second Coming, personal revelation, daily guidance from the Holy Ghost, eternal life with an eternal family, righteousness materially rewarded in this life, and degrees of glory invites interpretation, explanation. In short, is a faith that invite novelists. Because we as faithful, intelligent Mormons want to help to understand it all, to see how it works, or might work. And this is often best done in the privacy of a novel that the readers enter into imaginatively to experience vicariously with the protagonist all that he or she experiences, understands, and learns in the process.

For example, what is spiritual experience? We Mormons talka lot today about the spirit — feeling the spirit, being guided by the spirit, following the spirit, seeking the spirit, losing the spirit, being filled with the spirit, leading a spiritual life. We don’t talk much about living a religious life, but living a spiritual life. So what is a spiritual life, to folow the spirit? Are we really talking about experiencing the Holy Ghost, and therefore should write spirit with a capital S? If so, what does it feel like? How do you know if ou’re leading such a life? Is it only feeling, emotions, impressions? Is the intellect, the mind, objectivity, reason a part of spirituality? In what ways are our spiritual lives powerful, compelling, directing, satisfying, divine? As Conrad said, the novelist’s task is to make experience, something to be tasted, seen, heard, felt, and smelled. A realistic serious novel could create characters, images, situations that would help readers experience spirituality, help them hear, feel, and see it, know what it is and is not. (39)

I don’t know how well we accomplish this, but I like this notion of making experience and helping understand a lot.

Doug Thayer sums it all up

I’ve finally got around to reading Irreantum 12:2, the fall/winter 2010 edition of the Association for Mormon Letters literary journal. Okay, so, how come none of you have mentioned that Doug Thayer sums up the entire field of Mormon fiction in its pages? Maybe you did, and I just wasn’t listening. And I don’t agree with everything he says. But still, his essay “About Serious Mormon Fiction” (which is a revised version of his 2008 Eugene England Memorial Lecture* at Utah Valley University) is remarkable for its breadth. In it he discusses:

  • Why he writes Mormon fiction
  • What he means by “serious” Mormon fiction
  • What he thinks about the “great Mormon novel”
  • Why serious Mormon fiction will offend Mormon readers (but in a useful way)
  • What he defines as the Mormon audience and how thinks it can be reached
  • The state of Mormon publishing and what he thinks is missing (in particular he sees a need for “a major popular web site for serious Mormon literature” [and also suggests that it might need a rating system, which we have also discussed around these parts])
  • Some theories on why Mormon literature “doesn’t flourish as it might be expected to”
  • How he answers LDS-centric criticism of serious fiction
  • Possible “themes, conflicts and plots” for Mormon novelists and some of the types of Mormon novels he would personally like to read
  • How Mormon doctrine might inform the themes of serious Mormon fiction
  • Who is going to write these Mormon novels (not his creative writing students, he says)
  • The craft of fiction writing
  • The fact that the novelists he is hoping for are likely to be Mormon women (and why)

That’s a lot of ground to cover and Thayer basically tackles here all of the major issues of the field and ties them together and sums it all up, and it’s well worth seeking out.

*It’s a pity these aren’t better documented.

Review of The Tree House by Doug Thayer

Title: The Tree House

Author: Douglas Thayer

Publisher: Zarahemla Books

Genre: Adult Fiction

Year Published: 2009

Number of Pages: 384

Binding: Trade Paperback

ISBN10: 0978797175

ISBN13: 978-0978797171

Price: $16.95

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author, in trade for a free copy of my book, No Going Back.

Harris Thatcher has pretty much everything a 15-year-old boy could want, in his opinion at least: a perfect dad, a good family, and Luke, his best friend. He’s a good Mormon kid living in Provo, Utah, where his dad is a high school science teacher. It’s summer, with swimming and fishing to look forward to and high school starting in the fall. His only complaint is that World War II is winding down, so it’ll be over before he can be part of it.

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Some Definitional Thoughts About YA (Mormon) Fiction

Author’s note: This started as a post on my own blog on whether or not No Going Back is a YA novel. I showed it to William Morris, who suggested that I post it here. I quote from his comments: “I know you are worried about readers tiring of hearing about No Going Back, but this blog entry a) is literary criticism, which is the heart of AMV and b) tackles what is becoming a core question for Mormon fiction, imo, because of the huge number of authors finding success with YA and/or work for middle readers — that is, is YA capable of providing real literary value to Mormon letters and if so what level of “˜mature/explicit’ content can it deal with without alienating Mormon readers.”

So I’ve posted different versions (with different titles) in the two places. The version at my blog focuses on the original question of whether No Going Back is a YA novel. The version here retains most of that content, but also considers some more general questions about the nature and status of YA novels, particularly in the Mormon universe.

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Spring poetry, Writers for Young Readers venue change, Flickering, Bali and more

Cleaning out the mailbox/list of stuff I’ve been saving for a links post…

Spring Poetry Runoff

If you haven’t yet made it over to Wilderness Interface Zone for the second annual Spring Poetry Runoff, you should check it out. At last count, Patricia has 23 poems from 13 different poets lined up. The runoff is going to go well in to late April this year.

Looking for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference?

It’s not being held at BYU this year — but it will be held. Check out the For Young Readers website for details. In brief, it’s going to be June 14-18 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. The high number of active Utah-based writers and illustrators who focus on work for young readers means that you are going to get great panels and good networking opportunities so if you have an interest in the field, check it out.

Flickering hits the stage

Melissa Larson’s next play “A Flickering.” will have performances April 8-19 in the Provo Theatre. Here’s how Mel describes the play: “The play is set in New York in 1916. Max is a young woman trying to break into the infant movie industry while her best friend Samantha is on her way to a successful theatrical acting career. But controversy fuels the success of Max’s first film, at the risk of Samantha’s reputation — and their friendship.” Ticket info and show times at ProvoStage.org.

Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers paperback

Remember the excellent interview and awesome excerpt AMV ran a few months back about BYU musicologist Jeremy Grimshaw’s The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers? Well Mormon Artists Group has sold out of the limited collector’s edition of the book and so has now brought it out in paperback.

BYU Studies reviews Thayer’s latest

Philip A. Snyder has posted an in-depth look at Douglas Thayer’s latest novel The Treehouse over at the BYU Studies website. Snyder does an excellent job of situating the novel in the context of Thayer’s body of work. He also notes that Zarahemla Books (which has published Thayer’s last two works) will be coming out with a collection of new short stories later this year. And Snyder ends the review with a sentiment I very much agree with: “With Thayer in his eightieth year and contemplating retirement from BYU, now would be a perfect time to reissue his work so general readers, as well as scholars, could review the very fine career of a pioneering writer of Mormon and other western fiction. Thayer and his writing deserve no less than that.” The Treehouse is available from the Zarahemla Books website.

Segullah on the Whitney finalists

Emily M. and Shelah discuss their favorite finalists in each of the Whitney Awards categories over at Segullah. Although I don’t agree with all of their picks (more on that later), on the whole, I think their sensibilities are well in line with those of most AMV readers and am in awe of their ability to read every single finalist. If you are looking to dip your toe in to LDS fiction, Emily and Shelah’s picks are a good place to start.

And that’s all for now. I will continue to post a links roundup from time-to-time, but the best way to receive timely info on the cool stuff that crosses my transom is to follow AMV on Twitter.