Peculiarity, Assimilation, and the Purposes of Mormon Literature

Reading William Morris’ short story collection Dark Watch and Other Mormon-American Stories reminds me why I—and everyone else—should bother with Mormon literature. The excellent, relatively short collection explores Mormonism’s place as a subculture in a broader cultural context, taking a giant step back from Mormon Faithful Realism’s efforts to explore how individual Mormons find space within Mormonism and the Intermountain Mormon West. Like no other recent work of Mormon literature, that is, Dark Watch foregrounds and engages questions about Mormon assimilation to force readers to reflect on the consequences—both positive and negative—of Mormonism’s slow retreat from peculiarity.

For many readers of this blog, I think, the purpose of Mormon literature is to provide a sense of tribal belonging—sort of like the way a professional sports team unites a city. In Mormon literary texts, we see reflections of ourselves and our ward members in characters and situations, and that experience helps us understand, make sense of, and take pride in the faith and culture around which we order our lives. These texts also teach us how—or encourage us, at least—to be better Mormons within the Mormon world by providing useful models: idealized depictions of Mormons using agency well and/or stinging portraits of Mormons behaving badly.

Continue Reading →

Fifteen Things You Should Know Before You Try to Write Mormon Missionary Fiction

  1. You are not the first person to write a Mormon missionary story. In fact, there’s a good chance that your Mormon missionary story has already been written.
  2. You stand a better chance of writing a good Mormon missionary story if you take the time to read Mormon missionary fiction written by other writers first.
  3. Mormon missionary stories can explore more than just the tensions between doubt and belief and individuality and conformity. Also, stories involving the pairing of an obedient with a disobedient missionary already have two strikes against them.
  4. It is okay for the missionaries in your story to be naïve; however, it is not okay for you, the writer, to be naïve about them and their experiences.
  5. Your story about the Mormon missionary who has sex is neither edgy nor original. It has been told many, many times before.
  6. Stories about Sister Missionaries are often more interesting and original than stories about Elders.
  7. I have never read a story about a senior missionary couple or a disabled missionary, but I want to.
  8. Mormon missionary stories do not need to be about white American young men. They do not need to involve Americans. Nor do they need to involve humans.
  9. Sometimes the best Mormon missionary stories focus on the characters who are not missionaries.
  10. Foreign and urban mission fields do not need to be danger zones.
  11. Your story about a misunderstood Mormon missionary intellectual has already been written.
  12. The best Mormon missionary stories maintain a global perspective without losing their intimate sense of place.
  13. The Great Mormon Missionary Novel is yet to be written.
  14. Mormon missionary fiction succeeds only when it becomes more interesting than real-life mission stories.
  15. Mormon missionary work has changed a lot in the past year. New Mormon missionary fiction should reflect this change.

Interview with Nebula & Hugo Award Nominee Nancy Fulda

In last month’s SF&F Corner post, I interviewed Nebula Award nominee Brad R. Torgersen, and I promised an interview with the other LDS nominee, Nancy Fulda, in this month’s post.  However, between that post and this one, the Hugo Award nominations were announced, so I will discuss the LDS Hugo nominees before getting to the interview.

The Hugo Awards have been given out by the World Science Fiction Convention (colloquially known as WorldCon) most years since 1953.

Both Brad and Nancy received Hugo nominations in the respective categories for their Nebula-nominated stories.  Other LDS Hugo nominees this year are:

  • Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson (along with non-LDS co-host Mary Robinette Kowal), in the Best Related Work category, for Writing Excuses: Season 6. This is their second consecutive nomination in the category.
  • Howard Tayler and Travis Walton, in the Best Graphic Story category, for Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication. This is Howard’s fourth consecutive nomination in the category and Travis’s second.

Past LDS Hugo nominees include M. Shayne Bell (1 nomination), Orson Scott Card (16 nominations, 3 wins), Zenna Henderson (1 nomination), Raymond F. Jones (1 regular nomination, 1 retroactive nomination), and this humble blogger (1 nomination). (Hat tip to Marny Parkin’s Bibliography of Mormon Speculative Fiction.)

Brad R. Torgersen was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which is included as part of the Hugo ballot but is not a Hugo Award.  Past LDS Campbell nominees include Orson Scott Card (winner), Larry Correia, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells.

Now, on to the interview with Nancy Fulda (which was conducted before the Hugo nominees were announced): Continue Reading →

Interview with Nebula Award Nominee Brad R. Torgersen

Established in 1965, the Nebula Awards are kind of like the Oscars of science fiction and fantasy. Nominees for the awards are chosen and then voted on by members of the professional organization for speculative fiction authors, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  Past LDS nominees include M. Shayne Bell (1 nomination), Orson Scott Card (9 nominations, 2 wins), William Shunn (2 nominations), Dave Wolverton (1 nomination), and this humble blogger (1 nomination, 1 win). (Hat tip to Marny Parkin’s invaluable Bibliography of Mormon Speculative Fiction.)

This year, for the first time ever, two LDS authors have been nominated for the Nebula Award at the same time: Brad R. Torgersen in the novelette category, and Nancy Fulda in the short story category.  The winners will be announced at the Nebula Awards ceremony in Arlington, Virginia, on May 19.

I decided it would be worthwhile to interview the two nominees.  First up is Brad R. Torgersen, whose nominated story, “Ray of Light,” appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact. (The story is available as an ebook from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

Continue Reading →

Going Viral with Mormon Lit

I’ve just had a rather strange experience.

On Monday night, I wrote up a blog post in response to a New York Times op ed piece that was pretty negative about Mormonism. The NYT piece was really nothing new–the central point seemed to be that Mormons are naive, kooky creatures who just crawled out of some time capsule. Which I’m sure you’ve heard before. Maybe it was seeing it in the NYT that motivated me to respond. Maybe it was just that my mom had to go before I finished talking with her on the phone about it.

But whatever the reason, I wrote a response, and posted it, and put up a link on Facebook.

According to Google Analytics, over 17,000 people have read my piece since then.

Continue Reading →

Publishers Corner: Checking in with Signature Books

Guest post by Tom Kimball

What a wonderful age we Mormons live in. Authors with LDS backgrounds like Elna Baker and Brady Udall are receiving national attention for their books, while Walter Kirn had Up in the Air turned into a film starring George Clooney. Scott Carrier turns up regularly on NPR. Even Deseret Book is publishing more fiction and personal essays than ever before. You can find Mormon stories in magazines and blogs and you can read them on Kindle and on cell phones. Now the Church itself is promoting authentic personal stories on its website, YouTube, and on ten-story-tall billboards (and there are some great ones from people like Brandon Flowers of The Killers). If you’re Mormon and have a story to tell, the only thing keeping you from presenting it to the world is your own imagination. Don’t try to tell a warts-and-all story at Church, of course; but otherwise, it’s gratifying to see the increasingly eager audience for it outside the chapel walls. Continue Reading →

Attila the Hun, Sunday School, and Sunstone

Last Sunday in Gospel Doctrine, the teacher read several quotations about leadership and forced us to guess from whence they came. The statements were things like, “[Leaders] must understand that the spirit of the law is greater than its letter,” and “It takes less courage to criticize the decisions of others than to stand by your own.” Congregants responded with guesses attributing everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Jesus Christ himself. Continue Reading →

Agency and Storytelling

I just finished reading well over 100 entries to Irreantum’s fiction and creative nonfiction contests, narrowing them down to a set of semifinalists over which our contest committee can wrangle.  Reading all those stories and essays can be a bit of a slog, it’s true.  But it’s also one of my favorite things to do as Irreantum’s editor.  (In fact, I like to do it so much that I’m staying on as Irreantum’s contest coordinator after stepping down as editor at the end of this year.)

One of the reasons I enjoy it is because I’m a great lover of stories—stories of both the true and made up variety—and it thrills me to see story after story after story, each one original in its own way, being made about Mormon experience.  Some of these stories are better told than others, it’s true, but even the most amateur entry contains a kernel of a tale.  And the best stories?  (And there are some really good ones this year, I’m pleased to say.)  The best ones kept me glued to my computer screen, had me wiping away tears, helped me yearn or thrill or discover right along with the protagonist. Continue Reading →