Liner Notes for Fast Offering

My short story “Fast Offering” was published in the Summer 2015 issue of Dialogue (if you’re not currently a subscriber you can buy a PDF copy of the story or issue individually — or even better sign up for a subscription and get access to it right away as well as to all of Dialogue’s archives). Electronic subscribers got access to it a couple of weeks ago. Print subscribers should soon receive their copy (if they haven’t already). Whatever way you access it, note that the issue also includes poems by AMVer S.P. Bailey and Emma Lou Thayne plus a bunch of other great writing.

The following liner notes to the story don’t contain any spoilers:

1. “Fast Offering” is the most traditional Mormon short story I have written: it’s solidly in the faithful realism school of Mormon lit (e.g. contemporary literary fiction that deals directly with Mormon [often Utah Mormon] characters and assumes that the LDS Church is true but complicates what that means for the lives of the fictional characters depicted) and features a setting—a small southern Utah town (Kanab) in the early 1980s—a situation-adultery—and a character—a precocious deacon—that scream faithful realism so much that I almost didn’t send it into Dialogue. This is not a William Morris story, I thought, with a bit of chagrin. But, of course, it very much is. I just had a moment of denial about it.

2. I didn’t plan on writing this story. It snuck up on me. Indeed, the idea for it came to me a few months after I had decided to take a break from writing Mormon fiction except for the occasional Mormon Lit Blitz entry. What caused me to fall off the wagon? I read Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro in June 2014. Two things from that reading experience infected my mind and wouldn’t leave without the exorcism of writing the story: 1) the detailed, merciless attention Munro pays to the emotional lives of her characters and 2) the way that she is willing to switch point of view characters in a short story. I probably could have fought off the first. The second, however, was a formal experimentation thing and that’s like catnip to me and all of a sudden my mind came up with a uniquely Mormon way to transition point of view changes throughout a fairly standard literary fiction short story. The idea occurred in June. I wrote 1500 words of the story, sat on it for a few months, and then wrote the rest of it in October and November.

3. The story originally had two more point of view characters and was 3,000 words longer. Dialogue Journal’s wonderful fiction editor Heather Marx suggested that I pare down the povs and reduce the story down to a more traditional ~6,000-word length. She thought it needed to be more a short story and less the start of a novel. She was right. So I made the cuts. I’m very pleased with the end result. I may also have plans for the characters I axed. But right now I’m not focusing on Mormon fiction. I’m back on the wagon and writing only genre fiction. Of course, you never know what might knock me off it again.

4. “Fast Offering” takes place in Kanab, Utah, in the late spring of 1981. The main character Welden Shumway lives in the third ward of the Kanab Stake. I lived in the third ward of the Kanab Stake in 1981. The story isn’t autobiographical in the sense that I was only 9 in 1981, the adulterous couple and the house they live in are completely made up, and I was pretty happy to live in Kanab when I was kid and, other than a vague idea of attending BYU, never thought about whether I might need to leave the town up some day up until we moved away the summer I was 12. On the other hand, many of the physical details are pulled from memory. And the overall sense of what small town Mormon life is like is somewhat autobiographical, although it’s also been warped by the passage of time as well as my reading of Mormon fiction. This story might be as much Doug Thayer fiction as it is William Morris memory. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

5. After reading through the prior four points, I’m frustrated by the reluctance I sense, that it’s almost an apologetic, as if I have to explain the existence of the story because it conflicts with my own personal sense of who I am as a fiction writer and a voice in the world of Mormon Lit. There might be something to that. But I think there’s something else going on. “Fast Offering” feels like an inflection point for my Mormon fiction writing (that, remember, I’m not actively pursuing at the moment). I don’t think that it’s all that different from the stories in Dark Watch and other Mormon American stories (now available—your purchase supports my Mormon alternate history anthology) — not on the reader end. But on the author end it felt very different. And it’s frustrating to me that this is the story that feels like that. Partly because it is somewhat autobiographical; partly because it is faithful realism; partly because I don’t necessarily like the characters I write about in the story (even though I love them). It feels like both a step backward and a step forward.

6. Stay (patiently) tuned?

Liner Notes: The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop…

Wm reveals the genesis of his story The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop… and its’ long, twisty road to publication.

Liner notes for The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop…, published Feb. 2012 on Mormon Artist as part of the Mormon Lit Blitz contest.

This story was born out of frustration and anger. It was early June 2009. I was upset with myself because I hadn’t managed to pull anything together in time to enter the Irreantum fiction contest. In fact, I was depressed about my fiction writing in general. But after wallowing a bit I decided to buck up and see what else I could do and ran across Sunstone’s short short fiction contest. The deadline was fast approaching, but I figured if I could come up with an idea for a story, I could finish it in time. But what?

I was on the commuter bus one morning. My thoughts were on my frustrations. I had recently acquired Metric’s album Fantasies because it had been on sale on Amazon for $5. I put my headphones in and fired it up. I needed some music to get me out of my head. The first song “Help I’m Alive” came on. It has a strong drumbeat, which I love. I started drumming with my fingers. And then Emily Haines sang “Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer? / Beating like a hammer? / Help, I’m alive, my heart keeps beating like a hammer.” I pulled out my mini yellow legal pad and wrote “Elder Russell’s greenie wouldn’t stop drumming.” I jotted down a few more notes. Continue reading “Liner Notes: The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop…”

Liner Notes: Speculations: Oil & Wine

Liners notes for Speculations: Oil and Speculations: Wine, which appear in the spring 2012 edition of Dialogue.

“Speculations: Wine” and “Speculations: Oil” appear in the Spring 2012 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. They are companion pieces to “Speculations: Trees,” which was published in Irreantum. Several of the pieces in “Speculations: Oil” come from the same flurry of writing that led to “Speculations: Trees.” When I finished Oil, I decided to submit it to Dialogue. It was accepted. And then it fell through the cracks. Kristine Haglund, the editor, was very apologetic about that when I finally decided to ask about it. But to be honest, I was kind of glad that it had because in the meantime I had come up with some ideas for “Speculations: Wine” and asked if I could finish that and then resubmit the two works together. Kristine agreed. This was in the spring of 2011. Because of Monsters & Mormons, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work on Wine, but then in the fall of 2011, I felt the urge to procrastinate other tasks, and went ahead and wrote most of it. I’m glad I did because just a couple of weeks later, Kristine emailed and asked if I could have things ready for the next issue. I’m lucky she was proactive about it because who knows how long I would have waited around before finishing it and resubmitting. Here’s a tip for my fellow writers: if an editor expresses interest in an unfinished piece, don’t let too much time go by before you finish it.

I really enjoy writing the Speculations series, but I also find it to be the most difficult writing I do because I’m trying balance several different tones (they’re all supposed to be funny and serious and sincere in varying degrees) in each section and across the entire piece. And then I’m also trying to balance each section against the others in the piece. And I’m trying to do that without repeating myself. It was certainly tempting for “Speculations: Wine” to just use some of the same forms/concepts that I used for Trees or Oil. I tried to resist that. Hopefully I succeeded.  Continue reading “Liner Notes: Speculations: Oil & Wine”

Liner Notes for “County Doctor”

I decided to go ahead and do full-fledged liner notes for “County Doctor,” my translation of the Franz Kafka short story “Ein Landarzt” (typical translated “A Country Doctor”). If you have not read the translation, you can find it here. Read it first because what follows does contain “Spoilers.”

PROCESS:

I began the translation in June 2004 — shortly after the debut of A Motley Vision. I had an hour and a half each way daily commute on public transportation at the time and had finished up my low-brow fiction binge that had occurred in the 8-9 months after completing my master’s degree. I wanted to write but didn’t have the time or focus for fiction. So I decided to translate my favorite Kafka story. I found the original German text on Project Gutenberg, copy and pasted it in to a word document and then went through a inserted page breaks after every 2-3 paragraphs of text. I printed out the resulting document (I can’t remember how many pages it ended up being) and every workday or two I’d slide one of the pages, one other blank piece of paper, a letter-size portfolio and my 1952 Langensheidt’s German-English/English-German paperback dictionary in to my backpack. Every night on the way Continue reading “Liner Notes for “County Doctor””

Liner notes for “Gentle Persuasions”

So if I am understanding things correctly, the fall issue of Dialogue has been printed and will be previewed at the Sunstone Symposium this week, and it contains my Dialogue debut — the series of five shortish short stories “Gentle Persuasions.” So not to torture those of you who won’t be receiving your copy in the mail for several weeks, but I promise liner notes in my author’s note, and I am a man of my word.

Okay, so part of why I do this is simple self-indulgence. But it’s also part of my project to demystify and interrogate the production, distribution and consumption of fiction and to document my own thinking as a writer and a critic. There are spoilers ahead if you care about such things. Not major spoilers, but spoilers. The good news is that if you purchase an electronic subscription to Dialogue, you can read the story (and all the other good content) as soon as it is posted. Continue reading “Liner notes for “Gentle Persuasions””

Liner notes for “Speculations: Trees”

The next issue of Irreantum will feature “Speculations: Trees” my first creative work to be published in print. Many thanks to the editors for a) considering publishing an honorable mention and b) working with me to edit it for publication. It’s a double issue so it costs $10 and can be (you can also view the table of contents there). Or you can subscribe to a full year of Irreantum for $16. Or join the AML for $25.

But if you want to read it, you’ll have to track down a copy of the issue because out of respect for the AML, I will not be providing it for free anytime soon.

If you will be receiving this issue of Irreantum or are motivated to purchase it, you might want to wait and read the liner notes until after you have read it. Spoilers abound and a lot of the below won’t make sense without a knowledge of the work. Sorry.

I’m not sure how to describe “Speculations: Trees” — and have tried out several different options none of which seem to really work for people — but what I would currently call it is a series of five short pieces that are sort of a combination of creative exegesis, prose poem and parable. Or something like that. I’m open for suggestions. Anyway, here are my completely self-indulgent, but hopefully not entirely dull liner notes: Continue reading “Liner notes for “Speculations: Trees””