You’re looking for a book

.

Two Sundays ago, a member of my ward engaged me on the old question of the Great Mormon Novel. We were interrupted before we could finish our conversation so I wrote him an email. (You’ll note references to that conversation in the first couple books mentioned.) But hey—why not send it to you all as well?

The main difference between the email and this post is that I’ve added Amazon links since I’ve already promised to lend my copies to someone else.

Looking for those links, Amazon suggested some other books I might have liked to add to this list. Yup, Amazon. You’re right. I missed a few.  You should all feel free to fill in the gaps down below.

.

Hello, J*****. Here are some books I can lend you.

My criteria were: Written by a Mormon. About Mormons. Very good. That was it.

First, Magdalene by Moriah Jovan. This is the sex book that takes its shape from the Atonement story. It’s part of a series of novels about a Mormon family that date back to the 1700s up to the present day. You don’t have to read one to understand another, but they do share nice resonances when read together. This is my favorite. And, if memory serves, it’s the only novel here with the bishopric meetings and disciplinary counsels you were asking for. (when I’ve written more about a book, I’ll link to that writing in case you decide you care to read more, like so: more)

The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple. This is the 1942 novel we talked about that had Mormon up in arms. The novel has the sort of nuance we talked about, but it was about polygamy at a time we really really did not want to talk about polygamy. Any talk about polygamy was too much talk about polygamy and needed to be shut down. Any book that can be this hated deserves a second look. (more)

Dorian by Nephi Anderson. This one’s even older than Whipple’s. Anderson was working hard to make Mormon art good art, but then he died. It’s almost that simple. Anyway, Dorian is his final novel and although I no longer consider it his best, it’s good. The first time I read it I had an experience similar to the first time I read Jane Austen. Bonus: I can give you a copy of this one, since I have like thirty copies (not an exaggeration.). In short, it’s about a Mormon kid from a small town who’s intellectually ambitious. The only educated man in town is theologically minded and has a plan to combine science and religion into one great whole. Meanwhile, there are two girls and a boy’s got to choose. (more)

The Backslider by Levi Peterson. This is the first novel I thought of when I was trying to come up with Great Mormon Novels that Jordan Might Like. In part, because Peterson is clearly following in the path of people from the Faulkner/Hemingway era and I seem to remember you being a fan of that era of American lit. This is the story of a cowboy with good moral intentions and plenty of moral failures. His groin does a bit too much of the decision-making here, but even more controversial is the theophany at the end of the novel. Which for my money is one of the most beautiful passages in Mormon lit. (more)

Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist. I love this book so much. One of the best books of any stripe I’ve read the last five years. I do think the final pages are a misstep, but they’re the only part of the novel Lynsey liked, so take that as you will. (I handed it to her saying she had to read it that this was a novel about us and—it didn’t take.) Anyway, if you read the title carefully, you’ll catch on to the novels central conceit way quicker than I did. This is the only novel listed here that’s about Mormons but in a way that only Mormons will be able to tell it’s about Mormons. But it’s unquestionably a portrait of a Mormon marriage and one that I find heartachingly beautiful. (moremoremore)

The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark. This poor book has the worst cover of the bunch, but it’s a terrific read. Its protagonist is a deacon in Arizona coming of age just as his senile grandmother moves in with the family to die. It’s funny and it’s potent. (more)

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus. This is the only missionary story I’m including. mostly because I’ve kind of avoided it as a genre and kind of because the few others I’ve read aren’t that great. But I haven’t read the ones that are supposed to be best so … who knows. Anyway, this one is a missionary / mystery / noir / gangster / magical realism novel. Plus it takes some digs at multi-level marketing, but you’ll be spending most of your time in Brazilian slums, so bring soap. (more)

Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom. This I put last because it might not be a novel. It’s a short-story collection about a single family and they tie in well enough for me to consider it a novel, but I leave that as an exercise for the reader. Incidentally, the author also put together the most important / most broad recent collection of Mormon short fiction. (moremore)

Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives by Karen Rosenbaum. This is another collection that might be a novel but it’s a little further away from noveldom than the last one. But of course you should read it because you know Karen and because she is an amazing writer. I can give you a copy of this one too because I bought a copy and then she gave me one. I haven’t finished it yet, so it’s not officially on this list, but hey. Karen.

Byuck by Theric Jepson. I can give you a copy of this too. I have loads. (more, but not by me)

Adam & Eve in 2016

.

AMV’s about page is very upfront about the inbred nature of the current Mormon-arts community, but this post seems to require a direct reminder of the fact.

The new online miniseries Adam & Eve is written and directed by Davey and Bianca Morrison Dillard. They were both early joiners of New Play Project, which began life as “mere” student works, yet gained acclaim, gathering words like renaissance and breakthrough and baby-this-is-the-future. It didn’t hurt that established playwrights like Eric Samuelsen and Melissa Leilani Larsen, and Mahonri Stewart were seduced by all this young blood and provided additional work for them to produce. No doubt, NPP, while it lasted, was a marvelous thing, and everyone involved deserves fond memories of their own and long memories of ourn.

My intimacy with NPP began with Davey approached me about publishing a collection of NPP work. I had a couple stipulations but was largely hands off, and the thing came out almost six years ago now, if you can believe it. Among the short plays included in the collections was Davey’s “Adam & Eve.” It was his first attempt at playwriting. One of his better NPP plays. And, apparently, has not unclutched him ever since as it appears now in serial film form as “Adam & Eve.”

[keep reading] Continue reading “Adam & Eve in 2016”

#MormonLit: Halloween reading

.

I read at least one scary book per October. I think the best one I tried this time around was Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon. It fell apart a bit at the end, but I was on codeine at the time so my opinion is suspect.

I’ll let someone else defend horror today, but if you’re just now getting the jones for a scare, some successful Mormons in the field to check out include Michaelbrent Collings, Dan Wells, and Ben Hopkin.

Zarahemla has put out a few frighteners: Dispirirted, Brother Brigham (out of print), Angel Falling Softly (out of print).

And hey!

Most importantly, as always, Monsters & Mormons. You can’t do better than that on Halloween.

Mormonism and the Arts at the Berkeley Institute

Mormonism and the Arts

.

Today at the Berkeley Ward we had a visitor from the Graduate Theological Union. He’s taking the class on Mormonism Bob Rees is teaching and part of the homework is watching a session of General Conference and attending a local ward. It was, I admit, a bit strange to have someone take notes as I taught high priests. That isn’t the sort of thing high priests usually do. Especially when I’m talking.

Anyway, it’s an exciting time in higher ed for Mormon Studies around here, in my opinion. Besides the growing interest at GTU ( where I once had the pleasure of being on a Normal Mormon Panel for a class taught by the Bloggernacle’s own Lynnette), there’s also the everfun activities over at the Berkeley Institute.

Sharpminded remembers and Theric completists may recall a few years ago when I gave a lecture (or, rather, led a discussion) on Mormon fiction at the Berkeley Institute of Religion. Happily, MJ Pritchett is running the arts series again with a slightly adjusted list of topics (and they have been adjusted again since the poster to your right was created, though I don’t know all the alterations).*

I’m making three visits this time around as the closest-thing-available-to-an-expert. In order, I will be discussing Poetry, Fiction (lit), and Fiction (sf/f).

Tomorrow is my first visit and I will be visiting each week for three weeks. Each of those Tuesdays I will post the reading assignment so you can pretend that you’re in your late teens or early twenties and as lucky as these kids. (Don’t try to be as cool as them though—seriously: don’t even try.)

For future dropbys’ sake, the links are (will be): Poetry, Fiction (lit)Fiction (sf/f).

.

*Because I know you can’t read that poster image too well, here’s the series as originally announced. I wish I felt comfortable crashing every single week.

1. Introduction:  Mormonism in the Arts vs. Mormons in Arts

2. City Planning:  The Plan for the City of Zion, the Mormon Village and Suburban Mormons

3. Architecture:  19th Century-Iconography of Early Temples

4. Architecture: 20th Century-Period Revivals, International Style and Standard Plans

5. Poetry:  Mormon Women Poets:  From Eliza R. Snow to Carol Lynn Pearson

6. Literature:  Mormon Fantasy Writers in the Mainstream:  Orson Scott Card and Stephanie Meyer

7. Literature:  A Short Look at Mormon Short Stories

8. Visual Arts:  Visualizing God:  Mormon Images of Jesus

9. Painting:  Two Visions of the Book of Mormon:  Minerva Teichert and Arnold Friberg

10. Dance:  Dancing with the Saints

11. Music:  From MoTab to Motown:  Music and Missionary Work from the Tabernacle Choir to Gladys Knight

12. Music:  Music in Mormon Worship:  God’s Music and the Devil’s

13. Drama:  Roadshows, Pageants and Plays

14. Film:  From Provo to Sundance:  Cipher n the Snow, Tom Trails and Napoleon Dynamite

Review of Byuck… and other thoughts.

So, I finished Eric Jepson’s novel, BYUCK. I found it hilarious, heartwarming, and refreshing. The description of BYU (and Happy Valley) culture from the perspective of someone who wasn’t bred and born in it, who could therefore look at it from an outsider’s perspective, delighted and amused me. As I read the story, I remembered my own bemused feelings entering happy-valley culture for the first time. And I breathed a deep sigh of relief that I do not live in Provo anymore.

It also brought memories of a story I wrote about six or seven years ago that was very similar (not in writing quality, but in subject matter, characters, setup.) Nobody has read it except for my family and the editorial board at Covenant, who eventually tabled and then rejected it, saying the audience was too narrow for them to spend money to publish it. I’m grateful for that now, because it wasn’t very well written and I needed the time to learn how to write properly before critics got at it.

But I found myself wondering, after I finished BYUCK, and as I looked back on the experience with Covenant: where is the place for that sort of writing; for the works of LDS writers writing about our LDS culture? And where is that sort of writing going, now that things are changing so drastically in the industry? Could this sort of writing appeal to a general, not just LDS audience, and how would we accomplish that?

There are some stories that are more narrowly focused on an LDS audience (and I’d argue BYUCK is an example of that; inside jokes only Mormons would get, mormon dialect, etc). There are some one could argue might appeal to a broader audience–Moriah Jovan’s Magdalene, Steven Peck’s Scholar of Moab.  But would they?

I’m wondering, too. What if something amazing, and literary, and focused entirely within the LDS experience (aka the Great Mormon Novel) would be considered even generally marketable by anyone. What if someone did write something along the lines of Potok’s works. Would anyone read it (and of course, *we* would. But would anyone beyond the world of LDS lit advocacy read it?)

I was thinking about how in general, people who consume LDS fiction are looking for an uplifting story that will make them feel better about their life and the challenges of being LDS in a world that’s not too kind to us. That’s often why I read it. I want an inspiring story about pioneers, or an uplifting romance (guilty) or something that makes me laugh at and love the absurdities of my culture and my life (like BYUCK, or Joni Hilton’s work).

And when we look at the audience for literary fiction, there are other issues. Is Mormonism really taken seriously enough, considered fascinating enough, to be a worthy subject of study? In general I feel like religion is out of vogue in the literary world. Maybe that’s pessimistic of me.

My question is, where is our audience? Do we have to channel things in a commercial direction, create the sorts of plots LDS readers will enjoy, in order to feed them some more complex and even controversial stuff? And if we’re trying to write to a general audience, what do we have to do to make it consumable to that audience? What have others done?  What are some success and failure stories?

Theric Jepson Uncut: The Complete Byuck Interview

Byuck

Yesterday Modern Mormon Men ran a shortened version of my interview with AMV’s own Theric Jepson about his new novel Byuck. The interview was too long for what I like to post on MMM, so I’m posting the interview in its entirety here.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, enter Modern Mormon Men’Byuck giveaway. They have five copies up for grabs, so your odds are good. The giveaway ends on January 25.

And now, the interview…  

Scott Hales: I think we ought to get this question out of the way first: How do you pronounce Byuck?

Theric Jepson: As for me, I rhyme it with yuck, but I don’t really feel it’s my job to tell people how to pronounce it. I’m the numbskull who gave my novel a ridiculous name. Now I must live with the consequences.

SH: What is the origin story of Byuck? If I understand correctly, you wrote Byuck a while ago, but shelved it after you were told that is was basically unpublishable? I that right?

TJ: I started Byuck as a play back in 1999. I had some problems developing it and shared what I had with one of my professors at BYU, Donlu Thayer. She liked what I had fine, but gave me some stellar advice. She told me I wasn’t ready to write this story yet, that I needed some distance. So I set it aside.

I picked it up again sometime after I graduated in 2002 (by which time I was also married). By 2004 I had a working rough draft which Fob (of The Fob Bible) helped me polish.

My original plan was to try and sell the book outside the Mormon ghetto, but I did have a weird history with Deseret Book, so I decided to try them first. Which is where the comedy started.

They liked the book but told me women won’t and since women are the only people who buy books they wouldn’t publish Byuck until I did some market research for them. (Really.) So I spent a year talking to women not related to me and who did not owe me money (Deseret’s stipulations) to read it and write responses. Those responses ranged from positive to very positive (except for the U of U alumna who accused me of writing BYU propaganda). I wrote up a massive report, sent it in, and received a form rejection letter. (Really.)

Continue reading “Theric Jepson Uncut: The Complete Byuck Interview”

Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon edited by J.Michael Hunter– coming soon to a university (but probably not a personal) library near you

praeger.

On December 12, I received my copy of the two-volume Mormons and Popular Culture in the mail.  know it’s not out until the 31st, but Praeger‘s the sort of classy joint that hooks the contributor up before the general population. I think this is the first time in my career I’ve received a copy of my work before the general public. . . .

Anyway, the two-volume work covers the gamut from film to football, with surveys on everything from comics to historical sites and closeups on folks from Stephenie Meyer to Glenn Beck. Some of the essays are versions of ones we know like Randy Astle’s work on cinema and some are utterly new. I mean—did you know about Rose Marie Reid? Continue reading “Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon edited by J.Michael Hunter– coming soon to a university (but probably not a personal) library near you”