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Mormon literature and culture



Last Build Date: Thu, 25 May 2017 14:31:59 +0000

 



Comment on My 2016 Whitney Awards ballot and observations by William Morris

Thu, 25 May 2017 14:31:59 +0000

Thanks, Annette. That context is helpful. Some of the historical romance novels I've read have been category romances (although I know them more as series romances), and I'd say that what I mentioned point number 4 still applies. To be more specific (and I'm going to keep these general so I'm not singling out any of the non-Sarah Eden books that were finalists [that title isn't really included in this list because of its western setting]). 1. Part of the tension and charm created by Regency (and [sort-of*] Regency-adjacent) romances is the way notions of social propriety complicate gender relations. Playing with or complicating those notions is something most any romance novel set during this time period should do. But however much you do so, you should be consistent across the novel in the valences in effect for both the couple and those around them. Not because of the needs of historical accuracy (although that's always nice to have), but because to do otherwise completely muddies the system of tensions set up by the existence of social propriety. 2. The same as number one but in relation to class. 3. Very few (if any) authors are going to be able to out-Austen Austen. But if you're going to go for wit and humor (and I think you should--a humorless courtship would be awful [both for the romance novel readers and in real life]) then bring some zest or quirk or, most importantly, specificity to it. One of the most frustrating things for me with the novels is that I felt like quite of few them (maybe even all of them) had a fantastic heroine, but she wasn't quite let off the leash. Or she was let off the leash in the wrong way (that gets back to the point about propriety and setting up the rules, etc.). Sometimes it had to do with the plot mechanics she was in; or the other characters weren't honed enough; or simply because she didn't quite come into full enough resolution. To expand on that (clumsy) metaphor: too many were standard def where they had the potential to be high def. And, again, this isn't me judging them against a literary fiction novel aiming at some sort of psychological realism, but rather the category they're in. 4. The Regency period (especially for the gentry and aristocracy who tend to be main characters in Regency romance novels) doesn't exist in a socio-political vacuum. This is an era build on British colonialism. That should be acknowledged. That doesn't mean every romance novel needs to expose the horrors of colonialism. Not at all. Nor that the characters should completely speak to modern sensibilities (if anything most historical romances could do a bit better at creating just a bit of separation between their characters and modern sensibilities). And it all takes some skill and finesse, but I do think that there should be some nods, either overt or subtle to the socio-political conditions that create the lives our main characters lead. Even Austen does so, and she was writing during the era. 5. A successful romance novel is able to balance on that edge of the reader knowing that the couple is going to get together but not quite able to see how they will overcome the internal and external factors that keep them apart. Similar to, in fact often intertwined with, my point above about propriety, authors need to be able to set up the broad strokes, the rules, for the reader and then tease out the nuances and the risks so that what looks like a locked door between the couple slowly gets unlocked (and then bursts open for the happily ever after ending). 6. This may seem to conflict with my points above, but some of the issues with the novels this year is that they tried to do too much with sub-plots or additional narrative layers or were clumsy with things like symbolism, resonance, humor, minor characters, etc. Romance, in particular, tends to be stronger than other genres in its use of symbolic resonance, that is, the use of physical items or sensations that then get repeated in varied ways throughout the[...]



Comment on My 2016 Whitney Awards ballot and observations by Annette Lyon

Sun, 21 May 2017 03:25:12 +0000

I managed to vote in only 2 categories this year, something I felt better about thanks to the addition of star rankings for the overall awards--I didn't have to feel guilty about not reading every single finalist! Love the new system! One thing to note about Historical Romance--and about Romance as a genre in general--that may clarify a bit regarding expectations and quality: Romance, regardless of time period, is typically categorized as either "single title" or "category." SINGLE TITLE romance novels are longer, tend to have a wider scope on themes, more complicated and woven plots, larger casts, and so on. An example: Sarah M. Eden's HOPE SPRINGS. CATEGORY romances, on the other hand, are a different animal. They are expected to be shorter works with a more specific, narrow focus with one main conflict, fewer subplots, a smaller cast, etc. An example: Sarah M. Eden's COURTING MISS LANCASTER. This year, ALL of the Historical Romance finalists were CATEGORY romances. It's not that the authors aren't capable of writing books with more depth or whatever. After all, Eden, whose THE SHERIFFS OF SAVAGE WELLS was a finalist this year, also wrote HOPE SPRINGS, which is definitely a more complex book on several fronts than SHERIFFS or COURTING MISS LANCASTER. HOPE SPRING has more layered conflicts and themes and a grander setting and backstory. Plus, HOPE SPRINGS won Best Romance as well as Best Novel for 2014. I have a suspicion that any disappointment in the Historical Romance finalists this year is from readers assuming that a quality romance is a book that delves into deeper issues, complex plots, etc. In other words, some voters assume that "quality romance" equals "single title romance." This year, they got category romances instead. If you're expecting something very different, that could understandably feel "less than." And yes, single title and category romances are very different animals. Yet they're both valid forms of romance, and both are published all the time. Yet criticizing a category romance for not being a single title is similar to complaining that the film SOME LIKE IT HOT doesn't delve into the raw depths of humanity like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Meanwhile, SOME LIKE IT HOT is regularly listed as one of the funniest movies of all time (and is often listed as THE funniest). As a comedy, it never tries to be a sweeping WWII epic like Lawrence of Arabia. They're different kinds of films altogether. Yet the movie's Oscar, 2 Golden Globes, and other awards (including one for Lemmon's performance and another for Billy Wilder's writing) are ample evidence that it's an excellent film in its own right. Whenever I cast my Whitney ballot, I try very hard to set aside my personal tastes about whether or not a book is something I enjoyed and/or would reread and instead focus on WHAT the author was trying to accomplish within the bounds of their genre and HOW WELL the author executed that goal. To make any kind of informed vote, I need to understand the expectations and conventions of whichever genres I'm voting in. In other words, what does QUALITY mean in THIS genre? My personal tastes and expectations need to be set aside when making that kind of judgment call. After all, the Whitneys aren't a popularity or personal taste contest. This year's HR finalists are all very talented. A a look at some of their other work shows that they are all skilled writers in a variety of areas of the romance genre--whether that's single title or category romance. Several of the authors have written both, and they're very good at both forms. That's the crux: there are TWO forms of romance, and not everyone realizes that. Hope that helps clarify a bit!



Comment on My 2016 Whitney Awards ballot and observations by Jessie

Fri, 19 May 2017 02:56:46 +0000

I read the general fiction, historical romance, contemporary romance, and historical fiction categories this year. There were some great books and some not-so-great books, and I generally agree with your opinions. None of the historical romance books really stood out to me--they were very similar and had similar strengths and weaknesses. I also put the Sheriffs book at the top of my list because it was a little better than the others, but this wasn't a strong category this year. Three out of the five contemporary romance books dealt directly with Mormonism, two of them much better than the other. This seemed to be the only category this year that had books with Mormon characters. Both Melanie Jacobson and Jenny Proctor are consistently solid writers and they almost always deal with Mormon single adults, in settings outside of Utah. I was really pleased that Jenny Proctor's book (Love at First Note) won because I particularly liked how it had non-Mormon supporting characters who were three-dimensional, decent people that the protagonists had no desire to convert.



Comment on On sentimentality, cynicism and Mormon art by William Morris

Tue, 16 May 2017 22:51:46 +0000

I like the word tainted because it opposes a totalizing perfection (whether that be a shallow Mormon one or a neoliberal utopian one). But perhaps a better rhetorical move would be to use the word leaven.



Comment on On sentimentality, cynicism and Mormon art by Patricia K

Tue, 16 May 2017 22:27:20 +0000

Thanks for writing this Wm. A reason I appreciate it is that one of Arthur Henry King's mantras to writers was "sentimentality is unearned emotion". Now I know the source of his (frequent) statements about this problem in expression. Not just Mormon expression, but all expression through the last few centuries. Speaking of expression, I'm wondering if part of the problem with cynicism and sentimentality in art is that they operate at the "self-expression" level of artistic development. While I think self-expression is a phase every artist needs to go through--it's the "finding yourself" or "mirroring" stage of artistic growth where an artist finds ways to shape themselves in their medium so they can come to themselves--it's my thinking that ultimately an artist needs to leave this stage, develop a sense of audience, work to understand the audience, and write with the well being of that audience in mind. While sentimental and cynical artists can certainly shape their work upon ideas of an audience that seeks that kind of comfort in or confirmation of their beliefs, such a relationship between artist and audience really has nowhere to go. As you say, not much progression stuff going on in the artist, the medium, or the audience. But back to sentimenticism. To my mind, its biggest failure is not taking responsibility for its condition but instead subscribing to a kind of helplessness in the face of others' failures or in the failures of this world generally. In some ways, this is anti-art, if we consider the best art "powerful", meaning that at its liquid, sometimes ironic core, it inspires and enables change, i.e., progression. Sentimenticism, on the other hand, is a key ingredient in nostalgia, propaganda, slogans, etc. By the way, how do you reconcile your "everything is tainted" remarks above with your points about cynicism? "Tainted" suggests introduced impurity. While I can see the ironic twist on "everything" being tainted with goodness, etc., it seems an odd metaphoric turn, because something that's tainted with goodness in its pure state is 100% badness. If good art has an effect, this world should be rising, people should be becoming "more good". "Goodness" notwithstanding, "tainted" suggests a base metaphoric composition that seems to tug us back toward the cynical zone. Explain, please?



Comment on My 2016 Whitney Awards ballot and observations by Th.

Tue, 16 May 2017 16:55:04 +0000

. I need to do this again next year. It's been too long and there's no better way to see What's Happening Now than to jump into the Whitneys. I appreciate your write-ups.



Comment on On sentimentality, cynicism and Mormon art by William Morris

Tue, 16 May 2017 14:42:04 +0000

While I generally agree with your point, Jack, I think that Studio C is not all silliness. Some of their sketches have some bite to them.



Comment on On sentimentality, cynicism and Mormon art by Jack

Thu, 11 May 2017 07:20:21 +0000

It seems like all we want nowadays is silliness--and we've got the "Deseret Book" and "New York Times" versions of those: Studio C and the Book of Mormon Musical. It's all silliness. I don't know--it could be a backlash caused by decades upon decades of insufferable sentimentality; a retreat into a "safe" genre that wrestles with nothing really good, true, or beautiful.



Comment on Enter the Poetarium: On the Problem and Promise of Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy by Lee Allred

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 07:03:56 +0000

Good luck, Tyler! I once worked a couple cubicles over from Alex C. in the same department. As fascinating a person as he is a poet! :)



Comment on Enter the Poetarium: On the Problem and Promise of Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy by Th.

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 19:07:28 +0000

. Great news, Tyler! Get some oxygen when it's all over.