_The Hobbit_ Strikes a Personal Chord– Again.

My wife and I finally got the chance to see the first part of The Hobbit trilogy the other day (with two young kids, our opportunities become more rare, so having Anne’s parents in town really helped in this regard). I was wary at first. I had read a number of negative reviews and, being a lover of Tolkien’s work and the previous Lord of the Rings films, I was afraid to see the film version not live up to expectations. Lowered expectations always help when going into a film (part of why I read the critics first), and this proved to be the case here. But, even if I had higher expectations, I still believe I would have been just as moved by the film. Continue reading “_The Hobbit_ Strikes a Personal Chord– Again.”

_A Roof Overhead’s_ Real Life Sam Forrest: The Baptism of Noel Miller

Noel Miller and Ivy Worsham-Gambier in my play A Roof Overhead

Over the course of the past several months, Noel Miller and I have become good friends. We met at a party last Spring hosted by some mutual friends in the theater department (okay, so I was crashing their cast party for Sorry, We’re Closed…but I was invited by the playwright Cody Goulder!). Noel stood out to me. I felt like the Spirit was trying to tell me something about her, so I kept her on my radar.

Our next involvement with each other was when the above mentioned Cody cast her in staged reading of my play Evening Eucalyptus which was being put on for one of classes for one of my classes for the MFA in Dramatic Writing that I’m currently working on. Not only did she have the best Australian accent, which the play required, but she had an emotional resonance which was powerful in the role. I was impressed with her as an actress and as a person. Once again, I felt the Spirit attempt to tell me something about her.

When I found out that my play A Roof Overhead was accepted at part of the next 2012 season of ASU’s student theater Binary Theatre Company, Noel was one of the first people who came into my mind to invite to be a part of the production. At first it was as a lighting designer, since she had done an excellent job in that capacity in Cody’s play Sorry, We’re Closed, but having seeing her skills as an actress in the staged reading of Evening Eucalyptus, I felt prompted the following Fall to have her audition for an acting role instead …which became a rather providential move.

Noel rocked the audition and landed the lead role of Sam Forrest. In A Roof Overhead, the character of Sam is an atheist who moves into the basement apartment underneath a family of Mormons, the Fieldings. The conflict that ensues because of their clashing cultures and belief systems is the central obstacle in the play, as both sides make major mistakes and move towards understanding, tolerance and love. It turned out that casting Noel as the atheist Sam was a good bit of casting, as Noel was an ardent atheist herself and could very much relate to and convey Sam’s character from a very real, natural place. At one point during rehearsals Noel jokingly yelled at me, “Mahonri, stop writing what’s in my head!” It turns out Sam and Noel were working from very similar places. Continue reading “_A Roof Overhead’s_ Real Life Sam Forrest: The Baptism of Noel Miller”

Stephen Carter’s What of the Night?

WhatofTheNight_LGI’ve been following Stephen Carter’s career for several years — from his participation on the AML-List during it’s heyday, to his graduate studies in creative writing, his work on the Sugar Beet and then as editor of Sunstone. I like Stephen, and I like his essay collection What of the Night? (Zarahemla Books — note that the e-book editions, including Kindle, are only $2.99) I’ve put off this review long enough (not because of lack of interest, but because of lack of time) so I’m not going to go into detail about the collection, but I will make a few points.

1. What of the Night? is like a really good album. It’s of one piece but with variation. Themes repeat, tone modulates but doesn’t swing to extremes, length varies but within a range. These essays go together. There’s a rhythm to the collection and the reader (or at least this reader) feels that they were all written within the same energy.

2. There is humor. There is earthiness. There is doubt. But on the whole I like that the Church’s pull on Stephen is generally a good thing. Sometimes a perplexing thing, but a good thing. And that the essays are more about Stephen figuring out where he is located in relationship to the LDS Church, to Mormon culture, to the gospel, to his family than trying to make grand, global pronouncements about how the reader should feel about such things. He’s a dude trying to figure things out. I can relate, even if my particulars are very different because I never quite felt the pressures of Utah culture that he did growing up.

3. I like the cover.

4. There are a few sections where the writing seems too honed and needs to loosen up and breathe a bit. Endings end too early sometimes. Stephen seems at times too allergic to sermonizing or drawing larger conclusions. But really, that’s okay — he needed to err on that side of things as he learned his craft, and so does Mormon letters in general, I think. Right now honed and more personal, less socio-cultural is good.

Note: this review is based on a free PDF of the book provided to me by the publisher

Review of _Adventures of the Soul: The Best Creative Nonfiction from BYU Studies_

Title: Adventures of the Soul: The Best Creative Nonfiction from BYU Studies
Editor: Doris R. Dant
Publisher: BYU Press
Genre: Personal Essays Anthology
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: ix; 261
Binding: Trade Paperback
ISBN13: 978-0-8425-2739-2
Price: $14.95
Available from Deseret Book and other sources.

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the editor.

A good personal essay is like an evening spent in front of a fireplace with a longtime friend. It’s not about drama and high emotion. Nor is it about polished literary style — though there is a style and a demanding literary craft to writing such essays well. The essence of that craft lies in the achievement of a clear, intimate, authentic voice, as if the author were indeed a close and trusted friend. The satisfaction we as readers take from the experience springs in large measure from that sense of connection.

Continue reading “Review of _Adventures of the Soul: The Best Creative Nonfiction from BYU Studies_”

Stephen Carter on his new collection of personal essays

WhatofTheNight_LGZarahemla Books has recently published What of the Night?a collection of essays by Stephen Carter, Director of Publications and Editor at Sunstone. Stephen was kind enough to answer some questions about the anthology and about his role as a writer and editor and critic in the world of Mormon letters. So read on for his thoughts on being both a writer and an editor, Eugene England, Mormon comics and the craft of writing.

For those AMV readers who haven’t followed your career as it has unfolded over the past several years (and documented on the AML-List), could you briefly explain your journey into creative non-fiction?

I had been working as a news reporter for a few years and having the time of my life, but my wife and I could tell that it was not going to pay the bills. So we made the decision to give our careers a much needed boost by earning MFAs.

I know. Not the smartest way to boost one’s career. But we were young.

So we moved to Alaska with our two young children to go to UAF’s creative writing program. I went in to learn fiction, but the thing that was taking up most of the space between my ears at the time was my relationship with Mormonism. I found myself writing to understand that relationship, going into my past and teasing out the experiences that had brought me to this point.

My first attempts weren’t very good, and my essays turned out to be undisciplined and wandering. Fortunately, my studies in fiction had started to teach me how a story works. Once I learned to use those mechanisms, the essays began to take on a constructive shape and people started to like them. I got rejection letters with handwritten notes attached. And one day, Dialogue decided to print something I had written. Dialogue has always had good taste. Continue reading “Stephen Carter on his new collection of personal essays”

This Side of Lazarus

With my grandfather’s death just two weeks ago, the increasing demands of my doctoral studies, and my family’s attempts to move (they’ve been foiled for the moment by buyers that decided to back out at the last minute), I haven’t been able to give the final post in my series the time it needs. So I’m posting a narrative essay/autobiographical short story to tide myself over until I can get part five of “The Tragic Tell” written.

I haven’t written much in this genre, so this attempt may seem a bit amateurish; I’m open to any comments or suggestions you heavy hitting storytellers might have to make it better.

Anyway, here goes.

This Side of Lazarus

And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
-Luke 16:24

Come with me
and we will be buried in water,
fire, nomenclature, earth.
-Javen Tanner, “Eden”

I’ve been manipulating the story for years. It usually begins in the present tense at a Village Inn somewhere in Northern Utah. Several characters hover in the haze: my parents and siblings, my father’s mother, maybe some family friends. But Grandpa always confronts me clearly from across the table. Continue reading “This Side of Lazarus”