Carry On: A Reminder of Black Beret Sunday

Marron bannerI’ve been a little quiet lately on AMV because of dissertation work, but I’ll be finishing Zane Grey’s surprisingly excellent (so far) anti-Mormon novel Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) sometime next week, and I expect to have a lot to say about it (and Ed Harris, for that matter).

Before tomorrow (2/3) comes, though, I want to remind everyone about Black Beret Sunday. Don’t forget to take this opportunity to raise awareness about Mormon Art and Literature by wearing a black beret, a maroon-colored item of clothing, and/or a cockroach pin. I know many people–including me–have certain reservations about the ethics and effectiveness of Sunday activism, but I am sure the following death threats I have receive will steel your nerves and lend conviction to your soul:

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Thoughts on Teaching and Mormon Assimilation

Since Kent’s post on a free online Mormon literature course, I’ve begun thinking about what Mormon texts I could use in a survey class on nineteenth-century American literature[1. Is a class solely on nineteenth-century Mormon literature too much to hope for?] and how I could justify their place on the syllabus.[2. The fact that I feel I need to justify their place is part of what this post is about.] In some cases, like the millenarian poetry of Parley P. Pratt and W. W. Phelps, I think I could easily place them with early American Protestant poems and hymns that express similar millennial longings. I could also find a place for poems by Eliza R. Snow and Emmeline B. Wells among American women poets of the West, as critic Nina Baym has done in a recent work.

Nephi Anderson and other early Mormon fiction writers could also be worked into a syllabus. In some ways, after all, their fiction is not unlike the works of late nineteenth-century African American writers like Charles Chesnutt and Frances Harper, who also used the short story and novel forms to explore the problems and potentials of assimilation, social passing, and identity. At the same time, however, the works of Chesnutt and Harper have the advantage of belonging to a minority group whose basic narrative has already been well-incorporated into the broader American narrative. When teachers go to teach Iola LeRoy, that is, they don’t have to teach students from the ground up about racism, slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, racial stereotypes, and Jim Crow–the issues these text are responding to. They usually have high school and college history classes–not to mention the tireless efforts of social activists–to thank for at least some basic student knowledge about these issues.

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David M. Clark remembers Richard Cracroft

David M. Clark, author of The Death of a Disco Dancer remembers Richard Cracroft and recommends a couples of Cracroft’s essays.

Wm writes: David M. Clark, who you may know as the author of The Death of a Disco Dancer, emailed me the following tribute to Richard Cracroft. I’m pleased to be able to bring it to you.

With great sadness, I learned of the passing of Richard Cracroft, the great BYU English professor and the beating heart and soul of Mormon literary criticism.

Dr. Cracroft was intelligent, jovial, irrepressibly optimistic and exceedingly generous. Not all great scholars are great teachers, but he was known and beloved as both. He was, in my mind, the consummate BYU professor – scholarly, accomplished, unpretentious, open-minded yet fully committed, fully believing, an unapologetic disciple.

I was one of the lucky students that got to know him reasonably well. Not only was I fortunate to take a few of his classes but I was also fortunate enough to be an American Studies major when he was running our fledgling little program. His love of literature, particularly literature of the American West (Twain, Cather, Stegner et al.) was infectious. He loved the humanism of Stegner and Cather and the humor of Mark Twain (summed up he said by the incongruity inherent by the collision of Eastern values with the hard realities of the Frontier — akin to a “belch in the parlor”). He always (always) accentuated the positive. I learned from him that the Mormon experience, even the experience of a middle-class, suburban, know-nothing Mormon punk like me was relevant and maybe even compelling. Continue reading “David M. Clark remembers Richard Cracroft”

Review: A Few Good Mormon Novels

So there’s several Mormon novels I read that I kept meaning to review, but never got around to it. They were there in the back of my head, screaming at me, “Tell the world about us!” I looked compassionately at those great works of art and said, “Okay, I have a duty to you for making my life that much better. Okay.” So these are going to be fast and dirty, but they’ll be better than the guilty silence that has waited impatiently the past several years. So here’s a handful of some of the best Mormon Literature that I have come across the last several years:

Pictograph MurdersTHE PICTOGRAPH MURDERS

by P.G. Karamasines

Written by AMV’s very own Patricia Karasamines, this novel still has left a very vivid impression on me, despite the fact that it’s been probably six or seven years since I read it. It’s the story of Alex McKelvey, a Mormon convert who participates in a BYU sponsored archaeology dig in Southern Utah. Alex is a English/folklore student at the Y and a naturalist, so although she isn’t actually studying archaeology, her interest in the Southwest and the myths and culture of the Native Americans makes her interest in participating in the dig more than believable. At the dig, a disappearance and possible murder occurs, which leads us into an intriguing plot involving the possible involvement of mythological figures, culture clashes, and a tight, interesting thriller plot.

The characters in the novel were well drawn and intriguing, especially Alex (and, interestingly enough, her Siberian husky Kit), as well as the portrayal of the Native American mythological figure Coyote. Character driven in a magical realism setting, this was an achingly beautiful novel, despite masquerading as a thriller. The evocative language Karamesines uses, especially when describing Southern Utah’s emotional beauty or  using her archetypal brush to paint new visions on Native American mythology. Being a lover of mythology, cultural exchange, and poetic prose, this book was right up my alley. Beautifully written, intelligently plotted, and deeply satisfying, I would heartily recommend The Pictograph Murders to nearly anyone.

Continue reading “Review: A Few Good Mormon Novels”

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.

Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books

Title: I Am Not a Serial Killer
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2010 [My copy of the book has a copyright date of 2010, with a listing of “First Edition: April 2010.” Yet I know this book was actually published originally in 2009, and it won a 2009 Whitney Award for best first novel by an LDS author. I think what happened is that it was released in the UK in 2009, but was not released in the U.S. until 2010.]
Number of Pages: 271
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2782-6
Price: $9.99

Title: Mr. Monster
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 287
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2790-1
Price: $11.99

Title: I Don’t Want to Kill You
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 320
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2844-1
Price: $11.99

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Includes spoilers for Book 3 in a very general sense, but no specifics.

John Wayne Cleaver, the main character of I Am Not a Serial Killer, is kind of a weird kid. 15 years old. Helps out in his family mortuary. Obsessed with serial killers.

Continue reading “Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books”

A list of my literary interests

So just for the record, here is a (probably incomplete) list of my literary and cultural interests:

  • canon formation and promulgation (especially as presented by anthologies, syllabi and awards
  • the intersection of literary and genre fiction, especially literary speculative fiction (slipstream, weird) and speculative literary fiction (allegory, magic realism, folk realism)
  • indie/DIY publishing and marketing
  • narrative theory, especially point of view and characterization
  • censorship and literary production
  • small magazines
  • theorizing the radical middle
  • hilobrow and the middlebrow and related issues (camp, kitsch, avant garde, etc.)
  • gaming as storytelling (from pen-and-paper RPGes to FPSes to social gaming)
  • fiction and landscape (especially prairie- and desert-scapes)
  • authorship and authority (from author interviews and public appearances to uses of social media by)
  • authorship and copyright
  • collaborative storytelling
  • Romanticism and post-Romanticism especially in relation to belated ethnic/minority/national literatures
  • the novel as discourse (especially Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia)
  • aesthetics
  • readership and reader response (everything from the cult of the author to strong misreadings to fan fiction)
  • representations of faith (and faiths) in narrative art
  • history of the book
  • the book/film review as literary discourse/form
  • Mormon literature as ethnic and/or minor literature
  • the history of Mormon literary criticism especially in relation to defining the field of Mormon literature
  • humor in fiction
  • permutations of narrative art (fiction, film, graphic novel, etc.) and how theory shifts to accomodate these forms

This is why I didn’t go on to a PhD program.

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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Writing Mormon Literature for a non-Mormon Audience

Note: This started as an entry for my personal/book blog, which focuses primarily (so far) on No Going Back and its reception. However, I quickly realized that what I was writing was taking a far more theoretical/literary direction. So I decided to cross-post it here, with apologies if needed, on the theory that I’d love to get some response to the question I’m trying to ask about how to write Mormon literature for non-Mormon audiences. So have at it!

It’s always interesting seeing what non-Mormon readers of No Going Back have to say about the book. For one thing, it includes an awful lot of Mormon detail. Since I never imagined that it might have a large non-Mormon audience, I didn’t go to any trouble to explain that detail. No real accommodations for any readers who don’t happen to be Mormon.

Continue reading “Writing Mormon Literature for a non-Mormon Audience”