Title: The Tree House
Author: Douglas Thayer
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Adult Fiction
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: 384
Binding: Trade Paperback
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.
Continue reading “Review of The Tree House by Doug Thayer”
Zarahemla 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”
If you know anything about Angela Hallstrom, you should know that she is a person of taste and a keen parser of literariness.
And if you followed my Twitter reviews of her new short story collection (archived here–scroll up for the key), then you know that I did not feel equally positive about every story she collected. In fact, some I didn’t really care for at all. But not liking a story in a collection–or even several stories–is a far cry from disliking a collection.
Let me explain. Continue reading “Why my not liking “Blood Work” means you should buy Dispensation”
This is the third and final entry in this series. The first part of our interview was about Ms Hallstom’s novel-in-stories Bound on Earth. The second was about her editorship of the literary journal Irreantum. This third portion is about the short-story collection, Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction, that she edited for Zarahemla Books (review).
Let’s start with what criteria a story had to meet to even be considered for inclusion. What were the ground rules going in to this anthology? Continue reading “Angela Hallstrom and the Art of Short-Story Arrangement”
A while ago I finished reading Jonathan Langford’s new novel, No Going Back, which is a coming-of-age story about a fifteen-year-old protagonist, Paul Ficklin, who is Mormon and who is attracted to boys. I was actually debating about whether or not I was going to read this novel when I heard Jonathan was writing it, because homosexuality is an issue that hits really close to home for me. When I got the chance to read Langford’s novel, though, I felt like I should. I had to take a couple of emotional breaks in the middle, but I got through it, and I’m glad I did.
I have some limited experience when it comes to reading gay Mormon narratives. I used to follow a lot of MoHo (Mormon homosexual) blogs, I’ve read most of the personal essays on Affirmation’s website, I’ve listened to Melissa Leilani Larson’s play “Little Happy Secrets” and some talks by Carol Lynn Pearson, etc. I wouldn’t say my consumption of gay Mormon writing has been comprehensive by any means, but my education in this genre is probably higher than your average Mormon. One of the things that always concerned me when reading these narratives was the lack of any kind of well-balanced position from a faithful Latter-day Saint perspective. Very few of the voices I read said anything really helpful for Latter-day Saints who are same-sex attracted and want to keep their covenants. Most things written on this subject tend to say one of two things: (a) “Keeping your covenants isn’t possible, so give up now” or (b) “You have to keep your covenants, but we can’t really tell you how to do that in practical terms.” That’s what’s so remarkable to me about No Going Back–Jonathan Langford knows exactly how to address this issue in practical terms. Paul is hit with most of the things a Mormon kid struggling with homosexuality would be hit with nowadays: coming out to his best friend and his family, confessing sins to his bishop, becoming depressed, getting disowned, questioning his faith, and challenging popular notions about sexuality. The journeys that his mother and his bishop take in supporting Paul through everything are also particularly illuminating and helpful. I agree with Linda Hunter Adams that this novel should be required reading for Mormon religious leaders.
With all of the practical advice, though, what impressed me even more about the story was the charity and compassion with which Langford portrays his protagonist and his other characters. He does this by being honest. Jonathan doesn’t gloss over the difficult, emotionally dissonant position Paul is in. He doesn’t pretend like it’s a struggle that has easy answers. He doesn’t vilify the students in the Gay Straight Alliance at Paul’s school, and neither does he portray the youth in Paul’s ward as being saintly (both communities in Jonathan’s novel end up causing Paul a lot of grief). But Jonathan also respects Paul by not pretending that his struggle can’t on some level be resolved in a way that brings internal peace. He presents Paul with the option of finding joy in keeping his covenants with God. To even say that that’s a possibility is a pretty unpopular statement to make in modern mainstream American culture. To say that that’s an option but also show how uniquely difficult and messy that looks when practically applied is not a very popular thing to do in Mormon culture. I know that it’s kind of clichÃ© to use the term “brave” when describing a work, but in the case of No Going Back, the word applies in a very literal way. It’s not easy to write about something so controversial in an honest way–in a way that will risk your reputation in your own tight-knit religious community as well as in the larger American community. That puts Jonathan in a position very similar to Paul Ficklin’s. Thanks for taking that risk, Jonathan, and giving Mormonism something that will help a lot of people who are struggling.
Wm writes: Andrew Hall has really outdone himself this year with this look at the Mormon market which features not only works published but a run down of the players in the market as well as some original reporting on them. Sadly, Andrew is probably not going to be able to also do a look at film and theater. Happily, it’s because he and his family are moving to Japan where Andrew has secured a teaching position. Always cause for rejoicing in this tough market for academics. Congratulations and thank you, Andrew.
Click here to view data on the number of books published per publisher from 2000-2009.
Recently I have been worried that the Church-owned sector of the LDS literary market (publishers Deseret Book, Shadow Mountain, and Covenant, and the bookstores Deseret Book and Seagull) were taking too much control of the market, squeezing the independent actors out. That remains a valid concern in terms of the ability of independent publishers getting shelf space or promotion space in the Church-owned bookstores. Independent publishing has not dried up and blown away, however. Just the opposite, independent publishers published more literary works in 2009 than in 2008, and the ranks of the independent publishers grew slightly. Together with a downtick in the number of titles published by the Church-owned publishers, the percentage of titles published by the independent publishers was 50% of the total works published in 2009. This returns the market to the equilibrium that existed for most of the decade before 2008, when a drop in independent publishing resulted in the Church-owned publishers producing 64% of the titles. Of course, the Church-owned publishers achieve sales of which the independents could never dream. But I am glad to see that the independents have life in them. Continue reading “Andrew’s Mormon Literature Year in Review: Mormon Market 2009”
For the complete list of columns in this series, .
Fear is, I’ve come to realize, one of my great personal enemies as a creative writer (along with laziness). Part of this is probably just because of the kind of person I am. I suspect, though, that part of it may be endemic to the writing process.
Continue reading “The Writing Rookie #11: Overcoming Fear”
I’m cross-posting this from my blog partly because I think it’s relevant to our site focus — and relevant to some other recent posts — and because I don’t think very many people even know yet that my blog exists. Thanks for your indulgence.
It’s interesting being the author of a novel about a topic that matters so much to a lot of readers. Sex and religion are topics that people care about passionately (if you’ll pardon the double pun), and when they intersect, there’s little that’s more potentially volatile.
That’s all to the good when people like my book. I’ve gotten some amazing comments from people, not just about how the book affected them as a story but about the positive good they think it can do in the world. I’d like to believe those comments are all true. But it can be especially unpleasant when people don’t like my book — especially those who share my religious beliefs.
Continue reading “On Writing a Realistic Novel”
For Peter Peterson and Marlow Imlay,
two of the last great American barbers
The dedication in Todd Robert Petersen’s Rift is not merely incidental. The barbershop is a significant symbol in the book. Ah, barbershops. Okay. Before we move on, you’ll have to allow for a personal digression:
I’ve only been to a true, honest-to-goodness barbershop once. It’s just down the street from my house and it’s far more expensive than the cheap back-alley haircuts I usually get and it is a purely man’s world–a foreign country I call Mansmansylvania–littered with copies of National Geographic and racing and fishing mags and Playboys and it also has Phil who gave me the best damn haircut of my life (to use the manly vernacular). Continue reading “Stucki’s Hands and the Masculine Identity: a review of Todd Robert Petersen’s Rift”
Print copies of my book No Going Back are now available from Zarahemla Books and Amazon.com. (And at a pretty hefty discount off the cover price, too.)
No Going Back is a coming-of-age novel about a gay Mormon teenager who is torn between his feelings and his desire to stay in the Church. The cover blurb reads:
“A gay teenage Mormon growing up in western Oregon in 2003. His straight best friend. Their parents. A typical LDS ward, a high-school club about tolerance for gays, and a proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment to the state constitution. In No Going Back, these elements combine in a coming-of-age story about faithfulness and friendship, temptation and redemption, tough choices and conflicting loyalties.”
(A side-note: Does anyone know the logic that Amazon.com uses in deciding on the size of the discount it offers? My book is now selling for $11.53. Rift, by Todd Robert Petersen, released just a few weeks ago by Zarahemla Books, is selling for $13.22. Both have a cover price of $16.95. Chris Bigelow says he doesn’t know the logic, either.)