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By Emily Bleeker

I took all of my kids with me to Target today. Yeah, you all know what that is like–lots of requests, lots of “where is your brother?” and plenty of forgotten items on my list. As I was checking out, there was a woman ahead of me on the phone, clearly in a hurry, and the cashier wasn’t moving fast enough for her. She rolled her eyes, first to herself and then she looked at me as though I was going to play along with her “can you believe this” game. I gave her a smile and a shrug as I managed my kiddos who were blissfully unaware of the drama ahead of us and placed my last items on the belt. Then the woman slammed on the counter, making us all jump, and said “COME ON!!!! Push the button!”

The cashier was a young woman with dark, curly hair and adorable glasses and looked vaguely familiar. When the woman slammed on the counter, she jumped and turned around, confused. Then taking it all in she said, “I’m deaf!” and pointed to a small handwritten sign on her register that said: HELLO, I’m deaf.

The angry woman didn’t seem to care. She rolled her eyes at me again, and this time I looked at my feet. The cashier also looked to me with tears in her eyes, and I tried to give her a little okay sign and smile. I wish I’d done or said more. When the woman snatched her receipt and walked off in a huff, I took my place in front of the register. The young woman looked at me and mouthed, “I forgot my badge today. Everyone keeps getting mad. That’s why I made the sign.”

I remembered why she looked familiar. She’d checked me out before but with a little tag under her name that said: “I’m Deaf.”

I felt terrible about the way she’d been treated and tried to tell her that it wasn’t her fault. I tried to find a way to show her that she was doing a good job, but I don’t know that I helped much. We were both shook up, and I’m sure she went home feeling heavier that day. Continue Reading →

Introducing Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical

Introducing Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical

by Jerry Argetsinger

Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical
Edited by Marc E. Shaw & Holly Welker
Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016
Hardcover, 196 pages, $75.00 (Kindle $56.80)

Now in its 7th year, having opened March 24, 2011, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon is still one of the most popular shows on Broadway.  Two national tours have been crisscrossing North America for five years. Productions are also running in London, since 2013 and Melbourne, since earlier this year. Even as I write, a National Tour is performing for the second time in Salt Lake City.

An excellent collection of critical essays on the musical was published last year but seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. Mark E. Shaw and Holly Welker’s Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical has yet to be reviewed in any theater or academic venue. I was invited to write a brief introduction to the book for AML, even though I authored one of those essays. To be completely transparent, I do not know any of the other contributors and the first time I read their essays was when I received my author copy of the book May 3, 2016. When I finished reading the volume, I wrote this general response in my journal: “Six brilliant, two very good, and two all right essays on the Musical.”  Of course I included my own as one of the six, so there may be a bit of exaggeration on that point. I was honestly amazed at the quality of scholarship and am very proud to be included. Among the “reader reviews” at Amazon.com and Mormon Main Street, it is clear that essays are valued differently by individual readers who point out their own favorites. Continue Reading →

Interview with McArthur Krishna, AML Picture Book Award winner

McArthur Krishna, along with Bethany Brady Spalding and Caitlin Connolly, were the recipients of the 2016 AML Picture Book Award for Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families (Deseret Book). McArthur is interviewed here by Rachel Davis, who often reviews LDS children’s books and teaching materials.

I know you and Bethany worked together before on a pair of Girls who Choose God books. How did your collaboration with Caitlin Connolly come about?

Continue Reading →

In Which I Solve a Maurice Sendak Mystery, by Mackenzi Lee

Below is a blog post by the author Mackenzi Lee, from August, 2013. I thought it was delightful, and asked Mackenzi to allow us to reprint it here. Lee has since had two YA novels published to great acclaim, including The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and Booklist, and which debuted at #8 on the New York Times Young Adult Hardcover list last week. I will include more about Lee and her books at the end of this post. For now, enjoy her 2013 post, which she wrote while she was working as an intern at the Friend magazine. 

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective.

I think every kid goes through this phase at one point, and I remember mine very distinctly. I read detective books. Played detective games1. Had a detective club2.

But I was never good at solving mysteries. Not even the really obvious ones that all my friends claimed they had figured out from page five. I combated this by mostly reading mystery books that were billed as unsolvable, like Westing Game and And Then There Were None, so I didn’t feel so stupid when I couldn’t figure them out.

I’ve always loved mysteries, but real life mysteries are not like books. The clues never appear as conveniently or fit together as neatly as they do in books. And mysteries, contrary to what Nancy Drew led me to believe, do not happen every day.

But this week, I got to solve a real-life mystery. And not just any mystery—a kid lit mystery!

The story of my kid lit mystery begins yesterday morning. I was very grumpy yesterday morning. The hard drive on my work computer died, and thus I couldn’t do any work for a while. The only non-computer assignment I had was one my editor had given me a few days ago: a man had called and asked us to find a song he thinks was maybe in the Friend sometime between now and forty-five years ago, and he didn’t know the title, just the first line3. Seriously. So my job was to go through old copies of the Friend from the sixties and find the song.

I was not looking forward to this job, so I grumpily pulled up a stool in our archives and started grumpily going through copy after copy after copy of vintage Friends.

And then I found this:

Image

The cover of the November 1969 issue. Continue Reading →

An interview with Matthew James Babcock, AML Poetry Award winner

Matthew James Babcock is the recipient of the 2016 AML Poetry Award for his collection Strange Terrain (Mad Hat Press, 2016). He is interviewed here by Dayna Patterson, who runs the Psaltery & Lyre poetry website.  

DP: Can you talk about the title of your collection, Strange Terrain, and how you arrived at it?

MJB: The title comes from a line in the poem “Five Laotians.” It has no special meaning, but I liked the way the words went together, and I liked the way they described the collection as a whole: a ramble through some strange psychological, emotional, visual, and textual switchbacks and sloughs. The book is a bit form, a bit formless, more unformed than formed, and so given its harum-scarum approach to a kind of evolutionary, organic poetics, I thought I’d call it that. It’s a weird book, in the same way some landscapes in the Rocky Mountain Northwest are weirdly beautiful, and don’t seem to go together until you stare long enough to see they do.

DP: Why the almost restless experimentation with form? What drives you to attempt new forms in a poetic age that largely eschews formalism?

MJB: One luxury of being a writer of no consequence is that you can ignore editorial bias.  You can eschew those who choose to eschew you. Such stylistic stoicism, however, has its cost, as it’s taken me a quarter century to bring out this book. Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know two things: 1. that it would take twenty-five years to write this book, and 2. that I was writing a book. In my twenties, I think, I was just sounding off my pop-gun of poems, trying prose, trying forms, trying anything to figure out what kind of writer I was. In my late forties now, I’m not sure I’ve figured that out. That “restless life unchanged” in “Cherry Tomatoes: A Rhapsody” is most certainly mine. Continue Reading →

An interview with Jeff Zentner, AML YA Novel Award winner

An interview with Jeff Zentner, winner of the 2016 AML Young Adult Novel Award for his debut novel, The Serpent King. Jeff’s book shares the stories of three teenagers living in a small town in Tennessee who each, in their own way, look for escape from the constraints they see limiting them. It’s been widely praised in numerous starred reviews and was also awarded the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award for a debut YA novel. He came to writing books for young adults after a career in music, and his second book, Goodbye Days, was published earlier this year. His website (jeffzentnerbooks.com) has more on his books, hosts some of his music, and features one of the better FAQs on the Internet. Jeff is also an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Tennessee.

The interview was conducted by Jon Ostenson, an assistant professor in English Education at Brigham Young University.

Can you tell us more about what inspired the writing of The Serpent King? Why this book, this setting, these characters?

I wrote The Serpent King as I was transitioning over from being a musician. I based the concept of the book on two songs that I had written, that I thought had more of a story to them than I had told in the original songs. I chose this setting and these characters because they had been in my head for a long time, producing songs without my knowing it. Continue Reading →

An interview with Anthony Holden, AML Comics Award winner

An interview with Anthony Holden, the winner of the 2016 AML Comics Award for his collection Precious Rascals. The interview is conducted by Brittany Long Olsen, the winner of the 2015 AML Comics Award. Precious Rascals is a collection of comics chronicling the life and times of the Holden family, encapsulating the last 8 years of their lives raising a house full of wild children. Anthony Holden lives in Oregon, where he spends his daytime hours trying to balance playing with children while making art for film, television, comics, and books. His favorite breakfast food is waffles. His comics  and drawings can be found at: twitterfacebookinstagram, and tumblr.
As seen in Precious Rascals, you’ve been making comics about your family for many years. What made you decide to collect them into a book at this point in time?
I’ve shared the strips with family and friends for years and years. Many of those people have prompted me to consider putting them in a book for some time. I never felt like the audience was large enough until recently when my online following had grown to a point that I felt like I could justify having boxes of books taking up half our garage.

Continue Reading →

The Beginning of a Mormon literature in Spanish? Part 2, Mexico, Uruguay, and elsewhere

By Gabriel González Núñez

Part I of this article can be accessed here. In it, some introductory thoughts were presented, and Argentine authors were surveyed.

Besides Argentina, another country where Mormon authors are beginning to publish is Mexico. There are two Mormon authors that I know of in this country. The first goes by the pen name Elisabet Zapiæn, but she also publishes under her real name Elizabeth González Torres. She debuted with a novel in 2012 titled San Rafael (Ulterior Editorial). The novel is about a love triangle against the backdrop of a murder mystery in a town called San Rafael. It has no distinctive Mormon features. Zapiæn has also published three short stories in literary journals, none of which have any Mormon elements.

Another Mexican author is R. de la Lanza. In 2015 he self-published a short story titled “El jerarca” [which can be translated as The Leader], which is a detective story about the murder of a Church employee. In 2016 he published his debut novel Eleusis (published by a group of publishers-in-training under the name Intendencia de las Letras). It tells the story of several generations of Mexican Latter-day Saints, from Mexican-Revolution-era pioneers to modern young single adults in Mexico City. The work is unquestionably of a fine literary quality, and it is definitely a work of Mormon literature. The novel’s portrayal of modern Mexican Mormons as largely a group of hypocrites is likely to be off-putting to some among the more faithful Latter-day Saint readers. De la Lanza has so far written about Mormon topics because, in his own words: “It’s the world I know […] I don’t know anything about drug lords, about other worlds, like the world of labor unions, of large corporations, etc. What I am most familiar with is the world of my brothers and sisters in the Church.” Continue Reading →

The Beginning of a Mormon Literature in Spanish?, Part 1: Introduction and Argentine authors

By Gabriel González Núñez

Gabriel González Núñez was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and has lived in several countries, including Ecuador, Belgium, and the United States. His literary blog–which includes short stories, flash chronicles, and translations–can be accessed here. He lives in Brownsville, Texas, where he trains translators and interpreters at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is happily married and has, as of right now, two children.

Word has it that if you can speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese you can speak to the most members of the LDS Church. This reflects a demographic reality: the overwhelming majority of members of the Church live in the Americas. The most widely spoken language in the so-called New World is Spanish. Naturally, as membership grows in the Americas, the number of Spanish-speaking Latter-day Saints continues to grow. To me, this has meant for some time that there have to be Mormons in the Spanish-speaking world who write. And I’ve been trying to figure out who they are. Who we are, I should say, as Spanish is my native language and, I should add, the language of my heart (the two are not always the same).

As I searched, I discovered that indeed, Spanish-speaking Latter-day Saints are writing, some as a way to make a living and others because they have something positive to say. For this post, however, I will focus on writers who have published books that are literary in nature. I will survey a number of authors who are LDS and who have published either poetry, plays, short stories, or novels. I also will focus on contemporary writers, as my search did not really extend into past generations. Notice that the emphasis is on Mormon writers and not necessarily Mormon literature. That’s because, as readers will see, we can’t really speak of a Mormon literature in Spanish. Not yet at least. So literature by Mormons will have to do at this point. Even so, when I discuss these writers, I will make sure to point out any Mormon themes in their writing. Continue Reading →

Mormons and Horror: Light Within the Dark

Mormons and Horror: Light Within the Dark

by Michaelbrent Collings

Paper sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters, presented at Life, the Universe, and Everything writing convention, February 18, 2017.

(This post contains just the first part of Michaelbrent’s presentation on Mormons and Horror. Please see the full paper at his website, Written Insomnia.)

I am a horror writer.

I am a Mormon.

Whenever these two intersecting – and yes, they are intersecting – facets of my life are discovered, the response is invariably one of surprise, if not outright incredulity. Contrary to most people’s expectations, no one at church has every said, “A horror writer? Well, you are definitely going to Hell.” Indeed, the first person I tend to call when I want to watch a scary movie is  my stake president. That being said, even he was surprised when he first found out. Because it seems… what? Wrong?

And yet, as will be stated shortly, horror is perhaps the best-suited “genre” for Mormons; and Mormons are themselves the most horror-laden people… and neither in quite the way you would expect. Continue Reading →

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