Divine Rights of Writers

I’ve been making my difficult and sometimes dreary way through Clyde Forsberg’s ninety-eight-dollar tome Divine Rite of Kings (review arriving shortly), wishing I could see the good. His thesis is generally nasty: Mormonism, like its parent organization the Masons, is racist, sexist, empire-building and xenophobic, and no good can come out of Joseph Smith or his minions. He quotes sources without establishing their ethos — so many it makes my head spin, just taunting me to say this is exhaustively-researched and thoroughly cited — but mostly the book tastes bad, an eight-course meal in a foreign country whose ingredients don’t agree with my stomach and whose spices and oils never smelled right from the start. I’m almost done, and I haven’t found a way to recommend any of it.

Details will come later, in the review. Significantly, some other things have been going on this month that deserve attention. The election – yeah, that. (I hereby vow not to write about the nasty there. You’ve already heard too much.) But another thing going on right now is Nanowrimo.

NOT nasty.

Pretty nice, in fact.

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Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—15

The Spirit and the Baroque Sensibility: Clinton F. Larson, Part 2

**One of the most powerful instruments, in Clinton F. Larson’s view, for exploring various points of view was style. I have already noted his interest in style in connection with his observations that “a range of contrasting styles…can be used for expression of Mormon ideas,” that the clearness of the poetry that he himself wrote varied with the persona, the whole viewpoint, from he was trying to operate as a poet, and that to teach the gospel to people “we have an obligation to deal with various styles and ethnic groups in their own terms.”
**I continue to resist the notion that the artist’s primary task as artist is to “express” anything, including “Mormon ideas,” but Brother Larson recognized (and I recognize) the possibility that the Restorationist artist will be called upon, in fulfillment of his covenant of consecration, to do exactly that, and I read Brother Larson’s observations in this regard as good counsel about how to do that with integrity and effect, and possibly to transcend the merely propagandistic. Continue Reading →

Creative nonfiction is like fiction–how?

At Utah Valley University, I’m at the intersection of two unique situations.

(Or maybe they’re not so unique. Both situations can be found at other institutions of higher learning in Utah, though probably not to the degree that we have here in Happy Valley. But almost certainly they’re not found in other states. Anyway, the intersection itself is pretty remarkable, imho.)

First: a relatively high percentage of our students are LDS. Some are TBMs. Others are happily separated from churchgoing but inextricably yoked to the culture, a condition they either writhe against or roll with. And a fair number can (and do) say, “I was raised that way but I don’t do it any more.” They’re proud of it. Mormon, but not. We have a lot of those.

Second, we have a burgeoning creative writing program. There are more students in this emphasis in the English Department than in literary studies, Writing Studies, or education.

Mormon young people of all stripes, and a blossoming creative writing program—what more exciting intersection could there be?

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Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite–14

The Spirit and the Baroque Sensibility: Clinton F. Larson, Part 1

clinton-f-larson_long_trim**Clinton F. Larson picked up the main themes of Elder Whitney and Merrill Bradshaw’s thinking about art and carried them some steps further. (As with Elder Whitney and Brother Bradshaw, I am drawing here from my 1978 master’s thesis.)
**Professor Marden J. Clark, in whom Brother Larsen privately expressed great confidence as an explicator of his work and his intentions, observed in his foreword to The Mantle of the Prophet and Other Plays (Deseret Book Company, 1966), a collection of five of Brother Larson’s poetry dramas, that through all of the plays in the collection  “run the constant, if not the dominant, themes of the nature of prophecy and the transmission of the power of prophecy,” and further: “Beneath these themes and supporting them, stands a simple and surprisingly orthodox faith that provides a larger, more sublime theme: that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind. On this familiar Christian and Mormon ground Dr. Larson stands without equivocation, using his art to explore and bolster and define both the faith and the fact” (p. viii). Clark continued: “From this standpoint all five plays are didactic, in purpose as well as fact. Dr. Larson makes no apology for this, though he lives and writes in an age when didacticism is belittled as never before in the history of art. The artistic defense of such didacticism as Dr. Larson’s, however, is simple enough: (1) Nearly all art is didactic in effect, and (2) this work is not merely didactic” (p. viii).
Clark explained: Continue Reading →

On Writing, Mom-ing and Critics: An interview with Danette Hansen

What do you write? Tell me about your published fiction, and your current work-in-progress (if you don’t mind.)

CoincidenceI have two historical novels published; one under the title Coincidence. With a strong Christian tone, the past and the present resemble each other in my tender WWII mystery where Annaliese risks her future career in her search for answers. It has a deep family history theme. Here is a quote taken from the story, “It’s the legacy our loved ones leave behind that is important, not how many years they actually lived on the earth.” The book is set in the Netherlands where my husband’s grandfather is from which gave it a personal feel as I wrote. Continue Reading →

New Voices: Cynthia Whitney discusses the need for diversity in LDS fiction

When I was asked to blog here on AML, I struggled to decide how I could best contribute to discussions. I landed on the idea of voices: we have a lot of discussion here on AML about the state of Mormon Literature, but (I believe) not enough voices in our community. With this in mind, I will be interviewing a different LDS author each month about the LDS writing communities they belong to. I’ll be asking about their experiences working with LDS publishers, as indie authors, or as writers working toward publication. I’ll also be collecting opinions about what they feel is working well in LDS literature, and what they feel could change for the better.

I am hoping that, in bringing fresh voices to the discussion, we will gain ideas about how to broaden AML’s reach, meet some unmet needs in the LDS writing community, and cultivate more diversity in AML.

To that end, I chose for my first interview Lucinda Whitney, an independent author of LDS romance. Continue Reading →

CFP: Announcing a New Anthology of Essays on Mormon Literature

596219Next year marks the twentieth anniversary of Eugene England and Lavina Fielding Anderson’s Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature. As the first anthology of Mormon literary criticism, it was an important step forward in the development of Mormon literary studies and served a generation of scholars well.

Unfortunately, while the essays in Tending the Garden remain useful, the volume itself has become outdated. Over the last two decades, Mormon literature and literary studies have evolved in surprising ways, thanks in part to the ongoing efforts of the Association for Mormon Letters and the rise of the internet. Indeed, as foretold by Lavina Fielding Anderson in her preface to Tending the Garden, the internet has allowed discussions of Mormon literature to extend beyond the borders of the Wasatch Front, introducing fresh insights and enabling a more global understanding of Mormon literature. Moreover, it has allowed scholars, authors, and enthusiasts of Mormon literature from around the world to feel a sense of community and engage actively in the ongoing development of Mormon literature and Mormon literary studies.

In light of recent anthologies of short Mormon fiction, Mormon poetry, and Mormon drama, I am putting together a new anthology of Mormon literary theory and criticism to be published by Peculiar Pages. The first part of the anthology will collect essays from the last twenty years about theoretical and practical approaches to writing and analyzing Mormon literature, while the second part will collect essays from the same time period about specific Mormon texts or literary trends.

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On Mormon Alternate History Stories

Last year, William Morris announced on A Motley Vision that he would be putting together an anthology of Mormon alternate history stories. As William explained in his first post on the subject, Mormon writers seem to be turning to alternate history in the wake of the Mormon Moment for “more compelling ways of expressing our culture and help[ing] us think through both our past and future trajectories in interesting and fruitful ways.” As evidence, he cites D. J. Butler’s City of the Saints and several Mormon Lit Blitz entries. To this list you could add Steve Peck’s “A Strange Report from Church Archives,” published in the final issue of Irreantum, and a handful of stories and comics in Monsters and Mormons.

I’ve always preferred historical fiction to other genres, and alternate history has fascinated me since I was a kid playing Civil War video games that allowed me to change the outcomes of famous battles. In the last few years, I have thought much about the common ground between fiction and history, particularly in the writing of it. Aside from the academic work I’ve done in this area, which has dealt somewhat with alternate history, I’ve done some creative work as well. On Wilderness Interface Zone, for example, I published two works of historical fiction—“The Curse of Eve” and “The Mechanics of Creation.” Of the two, “The Mechanics of Creation” is more of an alternate history—if only because the main characters are actual historical figures engaged in a situation that, while possible, likely never happened.

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Moving Culture

At this year’s Association for Mormon Letters conference I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on teaching Mormon literature with Margaret Blair Young, Shelah Miner, and Boyd Petersen. Among the items we discussed at length was the challenge of finding an audience for Mormon literature—particularly among actual living, breathing Latter-day Saints. I don’t remember every point we raised during the discussion, but the idea that has remained with me is that we need to do a better job of moving culture.

Currently, Mormon culture—at least in the United States—is not a great incubator for readers of the kind of Mormon literature I usually write about (i.e. “literary” Mormon literature, “realistic” Mormon literature, “serious” Mormon literature, “fringe” Mormon literature, etc.). Generally, a few Mormons will read what Deseret and Cedar Fort publish, but far fewer will pick up something by Zarahemla and Signature Books. We can debate reasons for why this is the case, but I think it probably comes down to the fact that most Mormons a) don’t have access to these books and b) would probably be put off by their realistic (or surrealistic) portrayals of flawed Mormons anyway.

This is where the idea of “moving culture” comes in. For the Mormon literature audience to grow, we need to be able to move culture physically to the potential reader and move the culture (that is, change it) in a way that helps potential readers better contextualize and appreciate what they see on the page.

Obviously, both types of moving will take monumental effort and probably centuries of dedicated service. In the meantime, here are three things I think we can start doing today:

Be Open

Talk about Mormon literature online. Share your experiences with good works of Mormon literature. Link to free works of Mormon literature online. Don’t shy away from endorsing good Mormon literature because you worry that its content might offend your Mormon friends and family. Lend out your Mormon literature and even (gasp!) make some of it available for free online.

Change the Conversation

Too often, the first thing we talk about when we talk about art and media in the church is “questionable” content: bad words, sex scenes, decapitations, etc. Unfortunately, doing so often distracts from the weightier matters of these works—and establishes critical standards that can prove spiritually harmful if applied to fallible Church leaders, incidents in Church history, and people and situations in general. (If it is unfair to judge people by the cockroach rule, why should we judge media by that standard?) I think doing what we can to shift the conversation from content to context will help move culture to a place more open to varieties of Mormon literature. I also think it will make us a more charitable people.

Embrace the Radical Middle

Cultural movers should not expect change overnight. Indeed, if Mormon history has taught us anything, it is that Mormons take change sluggishly and do not wear extremism well. As we talk about and write Mormon literature, let’s eschew the usual extreme approaches and radically shoot for the center, inviting our extremist friends and neighbors to meet us in the middle. Besides, as several people pointed out during the conference, the Church at present seems interested in moving the culture away from past extremisms, yet it continues to move slowly on this interest because of the apparent reluctance of many members to move with it. Perhaps our current cultural moment needs a new Home Literature that works in tandem with those messages from the Church that encourage a more open-minded, thoughtful, and charitable membership.

Thoughts? What else can be done to move culture?

Guest Post: An Illustrated Definition of Mormon Literature

I’ve been busy these past few days, so I decided to pass my monthly post on to someone with a little more time. You might recognize her as Enid Gardner, the star MIA Maniac of the webcomic The Garden of EnidAside from being an expert in all things weirdly Mormon, she’s also (to my surprise) a Mormon lit enthusiast. 

Below are Enid’s thoughts on the definition of Mormon literature–something we’ve all argued back and forth over the years. In some ways there’s nothing new here, and I’m not necessarily sure I agree with everything she says, but I like how she tries to narrow the field by focusing on overt content and community membership (broadly defined) and investment.  Like her, I’m uncomfortable with labeling something “Mormon” that isn’t overtly so.

But, I don’t want to get ahead of her and steal her fire. Here she is:

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