Thoughts Toward a More Thorough Treatment of Mormons, Mormonism, Literature, and Theory

Last week Kent asked AMV readers to consider what would make a Mormon theory of literature different. I could be wrong, but I’m assuming that his points of comparison–his different than–are general theories of literature as well as the theories of literature practiced in the Mormon Letters community. In response to Kent’s query, to the responses it received, and to some other things that have been written in the past two years or so about the relationship among Mormons, Mormonism, literature, and theory, I’m developing some ideas on this relationship and the ways it has been theorized by members of the Mormon letters community; as I develop them, I’ll further address some things that I think are vital to this relationship and how it functions as a critical apparatus. I offer the incipient thoughts that make up this post in earnest of the more thorough treatment I’m composing. My primary focus in this brief discussion is to outline the ways theory and Mormonism get talked about in Kent’s post and its thread of responses (at least those made up to Jonathan’s 2/10/14 reply).

I see reference to at least three kinds of theory in the discussion: theories of Mormon literature, theories of Mormons and literature, and Mormon theories of literature. While I plan to elaborate more on these kinds of theory as I develop a more extensive response, for now here’s how I distinguish among them: Continue reading “Thoughts Toward a More Thorough Treatment of Mormons, Mormonism, Literature, and Theory”

Welcome Sarah Dunster and Luisa Perkins

LDS authors Sarah Dunster and Luisa Perkins are joining AMV!

I am very pleased to announce that Sarah Dunster and Luisa Perkins are joining A Motley Vision. Both are longtime commenters at (and friends of) AMV and have also been interview subjects.

Luisa is the author of Dispirited, a work of contemporary dark fantasy which was published last year by Zarahemla Books.

Sarah’s historical LDS novel Lightning Tree was published last year by Cedar Fort.

Both have had other works published in a variety of venues and have things to say about the world of Mormon literature and culture. Please join me in welcoming them to the team.

The Matched Trilogy: Teenagers and correlated media

Wm discusses Chapter 9 of Ally Condie’s Matched and what it says about art, propaganda and teenagers.

Note: this post contains spoilers for Matched, but not for the other two books in Ally Condie’s trilogy.

In my first reaction to Ally Condie’s Matched, the first book in the Matched trilogy, I noted that the worldbuilding she creates for cultural products in the Society plays on our current worries about media/information overload and obsession with listmaking and also reflects her experience as a Mormon who grew up in the era of correlated materials in the LDS Church. I want to discuss how this actually plays out in the novel and what it says about the teenage experience.

In Chapter 3 we learn about The 100. Cassia, the main character, explains that the Society had committees who picked out the best 100 songs, paintings, stories and poems. The did this because “culture was too cluttered” and no one can “appreciate anything fully when overwhelmed with too much” (29). Having 100 works of art across four major forms still leaves a lot of works to study in a school setting. But what does it mean for leisure time? Continue reading “The Matched Trilogy: Teenagers and correlated media”

A nod to Mormon history in Ally Condie’s Reached

I can’t tell you what it is because that would be a huge spoiler. But there’s a major one (and it’s one Condie writes about in the acknowledgements).

I still need to fully process the Matched trilogy (of which Reached is the final book). I’m fascinated by the fact, though, that although you could read it and love it without any knowledge of Mormonism at all, it contains within it major resonances with Mormon history, landscape, doctrine and practice.

James Goldberg’s The Five Books of Jesus

William explains what James Goldberg’s The Five Books of Jesus accomplishes and what he experienced reading it.

At the Sunday morning session of the October general conference Elder Jeffrey R.

Holland related the episode in the New Testament where the risen Christ appears to the Apostles and instructs Peter to feed his sheep . As he did so, Elder Holland modernized the scriptural language and provided context and interpolation that brought a fresh experience and added meaning to that episode of scripture. It was a powerful talk. And it put me in mind of James Goldberg’s The Five Books of Jesus, in which he applies a similar approach to the whole of the Gospels.

But it’s not just the plain yet lyrical and evocative language that James brings to this novelization of Christ’s life that makes it such a success. It’s not just a translation compiled into a coherent narrative (although that aspect in and of itself is of value). Rather, it is an exploration of social movements and relationship dynamics and Jesus guides both of those into a situation where his teachings and ministry forge a small community that can survive his death, believe his resurrection and establish His Church.

A novel like that requires careful balance: too little context and it risks being insubstantional; too much and it’s plodding historical fiction; too much characterization (by examing the feelings and motivations of those in Jesus’s circle) and it bogs down; too little and we’re left wondering why his apostles and family members react the way that they do.

James gets the balance right. Continue reading “James Goldberg’s The Five Books of Jesus”

A method for easily voting in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest

Five easy steps you can take to make sure that you vote in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest.

Everyday Mormon Writer is reporting that four of the stories in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest are within three votes of the top position and all of the stories are within ten votes. This means that if you haven’t voted yet, you really should make your voice heard — because it will count. And since voting closes at the end of the day Tuesday, Nov. 6, this weekend is your bet for making it happen.

With that in mind, I have a method for you that will make it easier to decide and vote. It’s the same method that I suggested for the Mormon Lit Blitz but updated for this contest:

First: open up your email program, create a new message, type VOTE in the subject line, and then the numbers 1-4 (each on its own line).

Second: click on this link. If you have a lot of browser tabs open, you might want to close them first or open a new browser window.

Third: Scroll down and right click on each of the contest entries, which are linked to from the post I linked to in the second step. You should now have 12 open tabs. Click on each one and read as far as your interest is captured — or just skim. If you like what you read, go on to the next tab. If you don’t like it or have “meh” feelings, close the tab. That entry is now out of contention. Do this with each open tab. Try to get down to at least six or seven in your first read through. If in the end you don’t have it down to four, click on the tabs, re-skim, read deeper if you want to. If you are having a hard time making a decision, take a deep breath or two and just go with your gut.

Fourth: Now that you have your final four, click through them real quick and think about which ones you responded to the most strongly. If your browser allows you to do this (and most should) begin re-arranging the four tabs with the piece you like most to the left and the one you like least to the right. Keep re-arranging until the order feels right. The moment you feel like it feels right STOP and go immediately to the next step. If you don’t, there’s a danger you’ll second-guess yourself and then the process will drag out. Don’t let that happen.

Fifth: Type the name or title in your email in the order in which your tabs are arranged (left to right  slots into 1 through 4). Copy and paste this email address into the “To:” field: Hit send. And you’re done.

Congratulations and thank you for your support of Mormon literature!

Discuss Avek, Who Is Distributed by Steven Peck

AMV hosts a discussion of Steven Peck’s 22nd century Mormon story Avek, Who Is Distributed as part of the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest.

Wm says: I’m pleased to host a discussion of the penultimate story in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest. Here’s a guest post from the contest organizers to help us kick things off:

You may have heard of the “Four Centuries of Mormon Stories” contest before, or even smelled its aroma rising out of Minnesota, the Middle East, or Pleasant Grove. If you haven’t, the conceit is simple: we’re featuring very short stories about Mormons in the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd centuries, then holding a vote for the best of our twelve finalists and giving $400 to the winner. We’re also holding a blog tour of discussions, bring the people to the stories and the stories to the people. Or something like that.

Seriously: if you haven’t read these stories, take half an hour to catch up. Or at least take three minutes to read Steven Peck’s “Avek, Who Is Distributed” and discuss it today and one of the world’s oldest Mormon arts & culture blogs.

Some questions:

  1. What are your initial reactions to the story?
  2. How much would you pay for a StraythoughtAssist device?
  3. What role might all the Mormon Literature ever written have played in Avek’s intense desire to join the Mormon panth
  4. If you could have lunch with Avek, what questions would you ask him? And what drink would you order?

Interview with Courtney Miller Santo, author of The Roots of the Olive Tree

Courtney Miller Santo is a writer of mainstream/literary fiction who has been published in the Mormon literary journals as well as nationally. Her debut novel was just published last month. You can find out more about Santo at her author blog.

I’ll be honest — I had never heard of you until you were published in Irreantum. Tell us a bit about your background as a writer (you worked as journalist, right?), including when you started writing fiction with Mormon characters/themes.

There’s no reason you should have heard of me unless you read the Charlottesville Daily Progress, where I worked as a reporter for a bit. I didn’t get serious about my writing until I went back to school to get my MFA. Although I’d always been a voracious reader, I hadn’t considered the parallels (or I should say potential for parallels) between certain communities of writers and Mormons. I read Ozick, Malamud, Singer, Roth and even Jennifer Weiner and I kept wondering what Mormons could learn from them about writing about the culture surrounding religion, if not the faith itself. This is not to draw comparisons between the religions, and the traditions, just to say their approach to being Jewish struck a chord in me. I’ve primarily integrated Mormonism into my short fiction. It’s present in the novel, but not in any overt way and none of the protagonists are Mormon. But anyone who has a passing familiarity with the Book of Mormon will recognize the importance of the olive tree and the large families.

I really loved your short story “Flight”. What was its genesis?

Thank you. That story grew out of an afternoon I spent wandering around Balboa Park in San Diego. I’d bought the tickets intending to attend a wedding, but the wedding got called off and so I spent the afternoon thinking about why relationships fail and ended up taking the wrong path. Instead of going to the botanical house, I ended up on the backside of one of the park buildings is a tree filled with dozens of hummingbird feeders. The day I stumbled upon it there were also dozens of birds feeding and I sat on the curb watching them and outlining the story that would become “Flight”. Continue reading “Interview with Courtney Miller Santo, author of The Roots of the Olive Tree”

A Mormon reference in Karen Joy Fowler’s short story collection

I’ve been reading What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler. I’m enjoying it very much — Fowler infuses the literary with the weird in a way that speaks to my particular tastes and obsessions. I plan on writing about it more on my author blog, but I also found a Mormon reference to document here at AMV. It’s found in the story “Familiar Birds”:

“The Mormons used to make tea from this,” Daisy said. She was pointing to a particularly leggy, stickery plant. “They picked the leaves and dried them and then put them in boiling water. They thought this tea stopped pregnancies. Any woman found with the dried leaves was excommunicated. Or thrown into prison.” (94)

Now Daisy is likely unreliable when she talks about nature. The story is about Clara, a young woman who makes an extended visit with Daisy and her parents every summer (so her parents don’t have to pay for child care). Daisy likes to menace Clara with rural knowledge. So all the details could be completely made up. I wonder, though, how Fowler came up with the anecdote, especially since it correctly uses the word “excommunication” which suggests some familiarity with Mormonism.

As far as I know Mormon tea is the same thing as what people in Kanab (the town in southern Utah where I spent my childhood) called Brigham tea. As I recall, Brigham tea was made with stems — not leaves. In fact, Ephedra (which is what Brigham tea is made from) doesn’t have leaves. It is leggy, though. I don’t know about stickery, though. It’s pointy at the top, but I don’t really associate that with stickery.

I’ve tasted Mormon tea once when I was a kid. It’s not very good.

A poll for those entering Everyday Mormon Writer’s upcoming contest

With just over 10 days left to enter Everyday Mormon Writer’s , I thought I’d see if we can get a sense of which centuries AMVers are focusing on. If you have entered or are planning on entering the contest, please answer the following question.

If you have no idea what I’m taking about, read my interview with James Goldberg on the contest. Or click the link in the first sentence of this post.

Full disclosure: I have entered the 20th, 21st and 22nd century contests.

[poll id=”8″]