“Then why read novels?”

In a recent review of a newly-published novel, I concluded that its “polemic” emphasis made me like it less than I might have otherwise.  Every plot point seemed to be put there in service of an argument against something, a heavy-handed set of choices I began to find distasteful not far into the book.

So an astute friend asked me pointedly, “Then why read novels?” After all, my friend said, you have to concede that the author has a point and wants to voice it. Well, sure. An author has every right to do that.  But my friend meant, I think, to make me look hard at my own choices. If, she was saying, you don’t like a novel to make use of polemic discourse (as Jane Smiley defines it in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel), what do you like — or want — or need — when you choose to read a novel?

An excellent question, which I’d like to tease out a little here at the beginning of a new year, since “novel” means “new” and so far, 2017 is a pretty novel year, and now’s as good a time as any to think about why we should or could want to read novels. (Which I think we should. And short stories too — though I’ll save a discussion of those for another post or two.) For what purposes do we Mormon writers and readers employ novels that might be the same or different from anyone else’s purposes? Do we employ novels in a peculiarly Mormon way that differs from how novels have ever been employed? At first knee-jerk, I don’t think so. But let’s look.

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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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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 →

The Business Side of Writing: Honing Your Craft and the Best Books on Writing

I’ll begin by saying that I of course will not present an exhaustive list of the best books on writing. I’m going to list the best books I know of on writing, and would love to have people add onto said list in the comments. One thing about being a writer is that no matter how long you work on your craft, you are always competing against people who are older and have been at it much longer than you have. You can never stop improving if you want to stay in the game, and while there are a lot of ways to hone your craft, reading good books on writing is probably the cheapest way – in terms of money, at least. You still need to put in the time to apply what you learn. So here are the books that I recommend.

Wanderings on Writing by Jane Lindskold

WanderingsOnWritingNook

I may be the first person to blog about this one, because it just came out. Some would say there’s no Golden Key, no magic word that you can learn to get yourself a writing career. Lindskold begs to differ. There is a Golden Key, the only catch is, you have to forge it yourself. So, while she can’t present you with a Golden Key, she can tell you how she forged hers. This book is a compilation of essays she’s written over the years on topics ranging from how to write a sympathetic villain to how to keep from driving your family insane as you pursue your dreams. The book is written in accessible, conversational prose. Once you pick it up, you may have trouble putting it down. Continue Reading →

A Shameless Plug for Irreantum

If you’ve already received and read the latest issue of Irreantum, you’ll want to skip this post. It’s just a shameless Irreantum plug. But if you haven’t read the newest issue of Irreantum yet, I hope this post will encourage you to get your copy and read it cover to cover.

At the risk of sounding a bit self congratulatory, I want to say that this issue of Irreantum is stellar—chock full of interesting writing. The art in the issue—images of abandoned buildings by photographer Brian Atkinson—is also fantastic.

If you haven’t read anything from the issue yet, you can start right now. Below is my editor’s note from it. As you know, in literary journals the editor’s note is that bit at the beginning everybody skips. I’m including it here in the hopes that you’ll skip it and go read other stuff from Irreantum instead. But if you must read the following words, fine. I hope they’ll convince you to read the rest of the issue.

(If you’re not an Irreantum subscriber, you can subscribe here.)

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Solving the Mystery of Writing

Did you know that when asked, an estimated 75% of people will say that they want to write a book?

But 75% of people aren’t writing books, are they?

There are probably a good number of people who are closet writers that we don’t know about, those who say they want to write, but aren’t able to produce a measurable word count, and those who are actively pursuing their dream.

It’s wonderful to want to write a book, but I’d like to share some advice for those people who REALLY are going to write a book. It’s for those people who aren’t content to just think about writing, they are willing to get down in the depths of that bottomless pit of writing knowledge–that black hole of possibilities in which you can change one word, turn around a sentence, and find the heart of your writing.

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Eli and the Morning Monster

This is Eli. Do not be fooled by his clean-cut appearance. He is five years old. He is my nephew. His favorite toy is his mouth and he runs with it nearly non-stop. Unless, of course, it is 7 am and time to get up for kindergarten. Then his jaw cannot move, nor his legs, nor his arms, and certainly not his eyelids. He is comatose. Continue Reading →

From The Writer’s Desk: Must Writers Suffer?

I’ll admit it. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve lived thirty-seven fantastically charmed years. I’ll spare you the sunshine-laced details of my history, but I’ll sum it up this way: good parents, good friends, good spouse, good kids, good job. I feel sort of like Hemingway’s Robert Jordan who says in For Whom the Bell Tolls, “I am of those who suffer little.” Continue Reading →

From the Writer’s Desk: Making Time to Write

Where does one find the time to write? Where do Mormons find the time to write? Over the years I’ve heard Mormons complain about this. The complaint usually goes like this: “I’d have a great novel to my credit if it wasn’t for the church. My family and my calling and scriptures and prayers and family home evening and genealogy—it’s all too much. That’s why I never write.” What they seem to be saying is, “It’s not my fault.”

At the risk of offending a lot of people, let me just say, “That’s bunk!”

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