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”

Best of Mormonism 2009 (in brief)

I was pleased to receive a copy of Best of Mormonism 2009 (edited by Stephen Carter) by virtue of my Irreantum subscription. That was a nice bonus. I mostly endorse Theric’s review and recommendations. But to be brief and positive:

My Favorite Work: Neil Aitken’s poem “Traveling through the Prairies, I think of My Father’s Voice”

The One I’ve Been Thinking About: Lisa Torcasso Downing’s short story “Clothing Esther”

Prose I Most Admire: there’s some very good writers here, but the one that really got me in the flow of the language is Joshua Foster’s essay “God Damned the Land But Lifted the People; Or, A Redemption in Three Levitations”

Best Use Of Humor: To be honest a bit disappointing overall, but this sentence from Lynda Mackey Wilson’s essay “We Who Owe Everything to a Name” cracked me up — (talking about a book about she received from her agnostic parents called The Origins of Life) “There were dramatic pictures of lightning flashing over moody ammonia seas.” (152)

Favorite Sentences/Lines: I’m going to pick two. From Aitken’s poem — “…Here, the wind sounds the same/ blown from any direction, full of dust, pollen, the deep toll of church bells/ rung for mass, weddings, deaths. …” (1)

And from Lance Larsen’s essay “A Feeling in Your Head”  (which is about him as a young boy with an uncle fighting in Vietnam and the fragile hope for his return) — “On winter Sundays, we entered the church for sacrament and sermons in afternoon light, then exited in darkness, as if our praying brought on the gloom, our singing caused it to lick at the chapel windows, our amens led it to press down on the station wagon my father maneuvered through the streets like an elegant hearse.” (115)

The Best of Mormonism 2009: An interview with its editor

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When I first heard of this anthology, I did not know it was intended to be a yearly series. So when I noticed the 2009 on the cover I was thrilled.

The anthology includes work from Irreantum to The Iowa Review and points inbetween. A goodly percentage of it is from LDSy publications, but not at all all — just over 50% (I redid my math after the interview, but I’ve put the full contents and their original sources up at The Mormon Arts Wiki if you want to know more.)

The anthology is solid. Not entirely representative of my own taste, but why should it be? I interviewed the book’s editor (Stephen Carter, also the head editor of Sunstone) about this exciting new addition to Mormon letters — one I hope lasts a long, long time.

Someday I hope to have a full shelf of these babies in all different colors. Continue reading “The Best of Mormonism 2009: An interview with its editor”

Holy fools wrestling with god

Somehow I missed that Eugene Woodbury had posted an essay titled on his Web site. Or perhaps I knew about it and then forgot about it and then rediscovered it. Whatever the case it’s a fantastic read. So go read it.

It was written as a response to an essay by Stephen Carter and Stephen and Eugene did their duo-presentation at a Sunstone Symposium and the back in 2007.

Eugene (summarizing Stephen) begins with:

We propose that narrative fiction constructed in a Mormon context and for Mormon audiences often strays from conventional storytelling in several ways. Principal among these is the negation or diminution of the “second act.” These stories skip from the first act (the set up) to the third act (the reassuring resolution), leaving out the struggle in between. Continue reading “Holy fools wrestling with god”