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Still Life with Turkey Pie - 1627 - by Pieter ClaeszThe other day I realized I hadn’t updated the blog in over a year. Partly it’s because I wanted to focus on writing books rather than blog posts. But this being the holiday time of year, I figure a blog post can function a bit like the traditional annual Christmas letter to sum up my life for the people I don’t otherwise keep in touch with as well as I should.

Life for me still largely revolves around writing, and this has been a pretty productive year on the writing front. Two posts ago I mentioned that I had finished a historical novel (the third novel I’d written) set in France in the late 1850s. In the Fall of 2011 I queried a small number of agents on it, mostly to stick my foot in the water and get a sense of how much interest there might be in it. A couple of agents asked to see the manuscript, and one liked it but sent me five pages of editorial notes on changes she wanted to see. This was encouraging but also helped me see that there was a lot more work to be done. I had in the meantime started on a new manuscript (novel #4) that I was thinking would be a contemporary comic novel in the style of Christopher Buckley, with Mormons and spies in it. But I wasn’t very happy with how it was going, and it was dawning on me that I was not Christopher Buckley, so I set that one aside. I went back and spent about 6 months rewriting the historical novel, aka Novel #3.

In the spring I sent the revised version of Novel #3 to the agent who’d been interested in it. In the meantime she’d gotten very busy, and so while I waited for her to read it and get back to me, I started on a new book idea, which I’ll call novel #5. As the months dragged on with no answer on Novel #3, I kept thinking I should start querying other agents on Novel #3, but was crazy busy at that point myself, between working full-time, trying to keep my daughter entertained, trying to keep our apartment mostly free of health-code violations, and squeezing in writing time wherever I could, to keep up the momentum on Novel #5. So I didn’t get around to querying anyone until about a month ago. To my surprise, I’ve gotten a much stronger response than I ever have before on a book. I don’t want to get anyone’s vicarious hopes up, but I have sent out some partial and full manuscripts to some pretty good agents. What’s next? If you guessed “a lot more waiting for responses,” a gold star for you!

Meanwhile, I’m about 26,000 words into the first rough draft of Novel #5. It’s going to be another historical novel, but this time set in the ancient world, in the time of Christ, about the life of Judas Iscariot. Credit for the initial idea goes to my boyfriend, who is also a writer and is nice enough to let me steal his ideas. Apart from being a wonderful person, he has more cool story ideas in a morning than most people could come up with in a decade. One major challenge with this book, however, is that the historical research is so much fun, I keep just wanting to read and read and read instead of getting down to writing.

Also, I’ve signed up to go to my first ever full-blown writers conference! It’s in New York City in December, and is sure to be an adventure.

On the publishing front, it’s been a busy year as well – through my little micropublishing imprint, Strange Violin Editions, I’ve published Steve Peck’s novella A Short Stay in Hell as well as a nonfiction book by two former-Mormon sociologists of religion, Ryan Cragun and Rick Phillips, called Could I Vote for a Mormon for President? An Election-Year Guide to Mitt Romney’s Religion. (Spoiler: They don’t tell you who to vote for in the end.) And I’ve committed to publish one more book, a novel by Eric Jepson called Byuck, which is coming out shortly … in fact, writing this blog post handily allows me to procrastinate on some work I should be doing for it right now!

But the biggest news of all is on the personal front: My daughter is now in kindergarten! Yes, she is a big sophisticated school-ager now. She has definitely enjoyed the increased prestige. But the actual going to school? Not so much. I can’t say I blame her, because I never really liked school either. Luckily she only has seventeen more years to go!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Here’s hoping yours is wonderful and food-filled!

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Concussion mechancis

Concussion Mechanics, by Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been an eventful spring and summer in some ways, so I thought I’d do another catch-up post.

May: Concussion

In mid-May I had an odd experience. I was coming home from a dinner with friends at restaurant downtown around 11:00 at night, and took the American University shuttle bus from the Tenleytown metro station, which lets off near my apartment building so that I only have a 5-10 minute walk from the campus. The last thing I remember was getting off the bus, before waking up with everything dark, hearing voices over me:

“Was she assaulted?”

[muffled response]

“Okay,” says a voice near my head, “we’re just going to stitch you up. This might sting a bit.” The cold bite of a needle in my forehead, not painful, but cold. I open my eyes. The needle was just an anesthetic; now the actual stitching happens. It feels like something tugging at the skin on one side of my forehead.

“Where am I?” I ask, as the tugging stops and I hear the snip of scissors cutting the thread.

“You’re at George Washington University Hospital.”

“How did I get here?”

“An ambulance brought you.”

I mull over this and realize yes, I am lying in what appears to be a hospital bed, in a hospital gown. There are IV lines in my wrists. I put a hand to my head and feel that my hair is oddly matted and crunchy. It turns out I am covered with blood; my hair is saturated with it. The hospital bedlinens are also covered with it.

“What happened?” I ask. In retrospect I’m not sure why I was so calm, but nothing really bothered me too much about the situation at the time.

“We were hoping you could tell us that. You were found in the street on Nebraska Avenue. You got a pretty big bump on your head.”

It’s about two in the morning, I learn, and nobody knows exactly what happened to me. A night nurse tells me she saw my police report, which says that some witnesses found me on the ground and saw me throw up. I have a concussion and severe bruising on my knees and on the back of my left lower leg. Apparently when the ambulance came I was talking and moving around, but I couldn’t remember anything about myself to tell the ambulance workers other than my name and where I worked. I have no memory of any of this.

I still had all my clothes on and nothing had been stolen, so it appears the answer to that first question was no, I hadn’t been assaulted. Later I would formulate the theory that I’d been run over by a bicyclist or a moped, because of the bruises on the back of my left calf. They were too low to be from a car, but something had definitely run over me. I think a bike or something similar must have been coming up from behind as I got off the bus, and didn’t see me until it was too late. I still don’t know if it was the person who hit me who called the ambulance, or if it was a hit and run. I still don’t really know much at all about what happened.

They kept me in the hospital for two days. Whenever I stood up I was dizzy, and my bruises hurt a lot. I managed to rinse some of the blood out of my hair, but couldn’t really shower, and felt pretty gross. A handful of friends came to visit. When I was finally allowed to leave, I had to call someone to drive me home. The nurse gave me a bag with all my things in it. I tried to put my clothes on that I’d been wearing the night of the accident, but they’d all been cut up by the emergency room staff. They were soaked with blood and vomit and smelled horrible, so I threw them in the trash. A guy I’d gone on a couple of dates with, who’d come to visit me in the hospital and had brought me flowers and read to me for an hour, also bought me underpants from the hospital gift store – they were Hanes and they were huge granny undies that came up to my belly button. He was very embarrassed, but I appreciated having underwear. We are still dating.

My friend Tanya picked me up from the hospital and brought me some of her old clothes to wear, and drove me home (did I mention Tanya is a wonderful person? Check out her blog, and you’ll see what I mean.)

So that was kind of an adventure. In all I missed three days of work, and was dizzy for a week or two. Apart from the hospital bills, that was the worst of it. It could have been worse, and I feel pretty lucky, considering.

June: Novel #3

In June I finished the first draft of my third novel. It’s called What They Sought in the Sea, and is about a girl who washes up bruised and naked on the shore of a fishing village in Northern France in the 1850s. A local family takes in her, and they and their neighbors find their lives disrupted as they try to solve the mystery of the girl’s origins.

I’ve been revising the book since June and have gotten some good feedback from beta readers. I’ll be querying (more) agents on it soon.

July: Foray into Self-Publishing

A Lost ArgumentIn July I started to work on self-publishing my second novel, A Lost Argument, since despite a number of promising leads in the end I’d been unable to find an agent for it and didn’t have much hope for finding a publisher without an agent. In researching self-publishing, I gradually started to realize that with all the work that went into it, I could almost as easily set up my own press for publishing other people’s books.

The idea was kind of appealing to me, because as I’d tried to find a publisher for my book, I’d had some discussions with other former-Mormon writers who wrote about Mormonism. There are a lot of very talented people out there writing about their experiences in and out of the Church, but it’s hard to find a publisher because Mormons, let alone ex/post/former/alumni Mormons, are something of a niche audience. If you’re writing faith-affirming stuff, there’s always the chance of getting picked up by one of the handful of Mormon publishers: Deseret, Covenant, or even brave little Zarahemla Books (go them!) And every now and then you get the rare breakout book that catches the attention of mainstream publishers, like Elna Baker’s  New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, or Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints. But for the most part, ex/post/former/alumni Mormon writers are on their own. If I started my own press, though (I thought), I could maybe do my own little part towards finally giving that niche audience a home for those writers’ books.

And so I kept on researching …

August: Publication (and Novel #4)

And in August I registered my own publishing imprint, Strange Violin Editions, with the United States ISBN agency (Bowker) and bought a ten-pack of ISBN numbers. I bought the website domain name, and put in a registration with the Library of Congress so that in the future I’d be able to get cataloging-in-publication data for the books I published. And I published my novel as an e-book through Smashwords.com under the Strange Violin Editions imprint. Whoo-hoo! Next came the Kindle Edition on Amazon. Then I dove headfirst into the arcane world of print book design and formatting and immersed myself in the geeky details of typography, and finally uploaded the files for a paperback version on Amazon.

I also started a new novel, which will be my fourth. I haven’t picked a title yet, but it’s going to be a comic novel (a la Christopher Buckley, hopefully) about a high-ranking Mormon Church leader gone bad who’s secretly working to undermine the Church. When he takes a ditzy young artist for a mistress, the two get caught up in international intrigue and espionage. It’s going to be seriously fun to write, I think.

September: Introducing Strange Violin Editions!

That paperback version is finally available for sale. And I put together the Strange Violin Editions website. I’ll be sending around a formal call for submissions at some point, but the online submissions manager is already set up and ready to go, which means folks can start submitting now. And last week, I sent out a book contract to my very first author, Steven L. Peck (well, my first author other than me, that is!) It’s all coming together. Pretty exciting!

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Moonshine

Moonshine, via Mark Oldman (http://www.markoldman.com/)

(Quick announcement first: I’ve added a new section on Mormon-interest books to my “Recommended” page, in case anyone’s interested.)

So, the weekend before last, Amandine and I drove down to Knoxville, TN, so she could spend some time with her dad. The drive was long (8 1/2 hours), but I dulled the pain somewhat with one of those portable DVD players you hook on to the back of the passenger seat, so Amandine could watch videos. (Her hands-down favorites: Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses and Angelina Ballerina.)

Once I dropped Amandine off at her dad’s Friday night, though, heaven awaited: a weekend all to myself, my first since Amandine was born nearly three years ago. (Amandine seemed pretty excited about it too. She was all: “Okay, Mommy, you can go now.”) I stayed at the St. Oliver Hotel in downtown Knoxville, right on Market Square. It was pretty close to my ideal as far as hotels go: historic, with charm and character, clean, cozy without being kitschy, and not too expensive. All the rooms were furnished with antiques, but there was no chintz and lace like in some stuffy Victorian B&B (the kind I never get to stay in, because they tend to be child-hostile)—instead it just looked cool and chic. And my room had real wood floors, even in the bathroom!

Saturday was a nearly perfect day. I slept well, woke up early, got dressed, and went downstairs to the library room, where the hotel had free wi-fi, to check my e-mail. After that I stepped outside, and market day on the square was already booming, with farmers and artisans setting up their stands. I wasn’t hungry for breakfast, and the coffee shop wasn’t open yet, so I sat on a park bench and people-watched in between working on novel revisions. Then I found I was hungry after all, so I went and had flapjacks at Trio Cafe, which were very good (if only they used real maple syrup, though; my Canadian connections have spoiled me for the fake stuff. I had to make up for it by smearing the pancakes with a whole ball of butter …).

Next stop was Coffee & Chocolate for a chai latte, more people-watching, and more work on novel revisions until the early afternoon, by which point I was hungry again. Then to Tomato Head for a nutritious and fortifying lunch of carrot soup and chorizo-avocado enchilada. After that I was in a bit of a food coma, so I went back to the hotel for a short nap.

Through the afternoon heat and into the early evening I stayed in my hotel room and had a particularly successful revising session. I finally managed to rewrite a scene that almost every one of my critiquers had said was a missed opportunity, and which I had felt intimidated about attacking.

It’s a peculiar sort of pleasure, but a genuine one, to spend almost an entire day in the company of  one’s own imaginary novel characters. A bit like being around a group of delightfully well-behaved children who go around saying one absurd, adorable thing after another—at least, when your characters are clever likeable people rather than, say, depraved evil villains.

At 7:30pm I had a reservation at one of my favorite restaurants in the whole country, RouXbarb,* headed up by chef Bruce Bogartz. (Other favorite restaurants: Buck’s Fishing & Camping in DC and Boulevard in San Francisco. All three of these I’ve liked better than wd-50 in New York.) Since I was eating solo, I was seated at the “chef’s table,” which is sort of like bar seating, but in a u-shape so it’s easier to talk to other people. Being a shy yet sociable sort of person, I appreciated this setup. At one point, back when I was single the first time around, I trained myself to enjoy eating in restaurants by myself. Since then, I’ve known I can always do fine with my own little table and a book, and as often as not I end up in conversations with people at other tables anyway. But the chef’s table was still a nice accommodation—sort of the restaurant equivalent of a youth hostel atmosphere.

I had the chicken liver appetizer, the watermelon salad, the scallops, and the white-chocolate banana pudding. Everything was amazing, especially the chicken livers, which were sumptuously crispy and perfectly complemented by the sweet-tart tomato jam and cheesy grits. It’s a BYOB place, and I hadn’t thought to bring anything to drink, so the bartendress poured me a glass of house red, looking sorry that I wasn’t getting anything better. Then some of the other people at the chef’s table invited me to share a glass of some really nice wine they had brought, and the bartendress was greatly relieved.

Meanwhile, Chef Bruce kept leaning over from his post in the kitchen, greeting new guests, teasing and hassling the regulars (of which there were many), and making colorful remarks. Upon learning why I’d come to Knoxville, he declared I ought to be drinking moonshine. I laughed it off, but later in the evening a mason jar was set down on the counter in front of me, containing a clear, cold liquid, alongside a couple of chilled shot glasses.

“We don’t have a liquor license, so you’ll have to pour it yourself,” I was told.

Intrigued, I screwed off the lid of the mason jar and poured myself a shot. I asked my newfound friends at the table for advice as to whether I was supposed to sip it or just knock it back. The consensus opinion was that I should take a sip first so I’d know what I was getting into, and then knock it  back. So I took a sip, and ended up sipping all of it, because it was actually not bad-tasting at all. It was the sort of drink that wakes you up, too, instead of making you feel sleepy, so fortunately it gave me renewed energy for tackling my banana pudding.

No longer a moonshine virgin, I came back to the hotel, read a few chapters of a book (Allison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs, which I picked up randomly in a used bookstore and ended up enjoying a lot), and went to sleep.

Sunday afternoon I went to pick up Amandine from her dad’s house and heard about her many adventures, which included making cookies, swimming, drawing, and playing with power tools, apparently.  Then we headed back to DC. So it was a short trip, but a successful one all around.

In moonshine’s honor, I leave you with this nostalgic video to contemplate:

*I wrote a fuller review of RouXbarb a couple of years ago on TripAdvisor, after the first time I went there (it’s the one entitled “So good it made me want to do backflips”).

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White Painting (Three Panel), by Robert Rauschenberg, 1951

"White Painting," by Robert Rauschenberg (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

I’ve been thinking about novel plots lately and what makes the difference between good ones, bad ones, and nonexistent ones. Of the critiques I’ve received on my last novel from various people who’ve read it, the most troubling one for me is that “almost nothing happens.” Of course, in writing it, it seemed to me that quite a bit happens in the story. People have conversations! They have thoughts, ideas even! They feel things, decide things, change their minds about things. To me, those all seem like things that happen.

I think what such criticisms are getting at is that, while “things” may technically “happen,” they are boring things.

Off the top of my head, though, I can think of a number of well-known novels in which nothing, or almost nothing happens. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, for example, which is about a bunch of people in a mountaintop sanatorium who spend most of the book having conversations about humanism, communism, freedom, art, religion, death, life, love, and morality. Granted, one of the characters does have sex (once, and just barely), people die off every now and then, and one kills himself. Oh, and there is a seance where one of the dead people comes back to say hello.

Hmmm … actually, when you think about it, things do happen in that book. But mostly, it’s people thinking and talking.

Then there’s James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A boy grows up in Ireland, in a very Catholic setting. He wins an essay contest and uses the prize money to sleep with a lot of prostitutes. Then he hears a sermon and worries he’s going to hell, and becomes ultra religious. Then he goes to university and studies philosophy, loses his faith, and decides to become an artist. Okay, so there is some sex, but apart from that, it’s mostly thinking and talking and deciding things.

Another book I thought of in the “almost nothing happens” category is The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by French author Muriel Barbery, which came out relatively recently and which I really enjoyed. The main things that “happen” in the book are: An old concierge lady is secretly intellectual. A tween girl is secretly suicidal. A rich Japanese man moves into their building. They all eventually meet and talk and like each other. A minor character is into drugs, there are a few conflicts between dogs that live in the building and [SPOILER ALERT!] somebody dies. But the death is weird, almost as if it’s tacked on as an afterthought, just to make sure no one can say of this book that “nothing happens in it.” All the same, I loved it, and liked the other two book quite a bit too. Maybe one element of this book’s success, though, is that it came out first in France, where people study philosophy in high school, and public intellectuals have celebrity status.

In any case, I wonder: Does someone have to die or have sex in order for a book to count as having something happen in it? Can it count if people almost die or almost have sex, or if they just want to die or want to have sex? I’ve long had a theory about the stories that get printed in The New Yorker. Back when I used to read them regularly, I noticed that almost every story that made it in there had either death or infidelity or both in it. Are death and sex what make a good story? Can anyone think of a good book or story in which there are neither? (One notable exception to my New Yorker stories theory that I remember was a story, “The Boy Who Had Never Seen the Sea,” by J.M.G. de Clézio, who I think is French. Why is it always the French who can get away with low-plot stories?)

It makes me think of the movie Adaptation, with the script by Charlie Kaufman, who also did Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It’s clear in that movie that Kaufman is also struggling with questions of what makes a good plot. He puts himself into the movie as a writer with a twin brother. The twin brother also wants to be a scriptwriter, but takes a formulaic approach, reading books about how to write good screenplays and then writing them by the numbers. The conventional twin brother becomes successful, while Charlie’s writer character struggles, trying to preserve what he thinks of as his artistic integrity. He’s assigned to adapt a nonfiction book, The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, into a screenplay. The problem is that the book doesn’t have a plot. As the movie goes on with Charlie searching for a story, the plot twists begin to get more and more absurd. Orlean is revealed to be have an affair and doing drugs with the main character of her book, the brother gets killed, and another character gets eaten by an alligator.

The implicit question the movie asks is: Does it really make a better story if someone gets eaten by an alligator? Really? Or do we lose our honesty that way? Is fiction ideally supposed to be a flight from reality–reality with its boring, boring plots in which “nothing happens”—or a way to understand and explain it to ourselves, to make sense of it, to put structure and elegance and coherence into it?

Of course, in real life, people seldom get eaten by alligators, and often go for long stretches without having sex. Real life can be terribly boring and repetitive. And yet real life is also full of things I find fascinating. Small tragedies that fall short of death or infidelity, moments of despair, disappointments, wanting, beauty, sweetness, mysteries, deceptions, discoveries, and triumphs. Things people need to make sense of and process. I see value in writing and reading about such things, even if fiction tends to distort them as it makes sense of them, exaggerating, extending, reshaping, and rephrasing them.

I’m still wondering if someone should get eaten by an alligator in my book, though.

(This week’s music link: In Another World, by Donna the Buffalo)

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A shiny new bag

A Shiny New Bag

Chanson of Letters from a Broad has memed me. I am flattered to be memed, plus meming people back is much easier than thinking of a blog post on my own, so here goes. (For opaque reasons, the meme is called “Happy 101 Sweet Friends,” hence the title of my post.)

The instructions are: List 10 things that make your day & then give this award to 10 bloggers.

Okay, then, ten things that make my day, in no particular order of preference:

1. My daughter. Yes, I realize that is not very original, but really, honestly, I absolutely am monkey-bananas crazy about being a mom, and the great thing about it is that there is no social disapprobation there, the way there might be with other things I like such as eating warmed-up Spaghetti-os with meatballs from the can, or enjoying Stephenie Meyer novels. It’s rare for me to have a day that is not made far more awesome by having my daughter in it. (Although yesterday, when we had a long plane ride which began with her peeing on the seat, yesterday may have been one of those rare days …)

2. Badger sightings. There is this badger who lives in the neighborhood, and every now and then, I catch sight of him gamboling on the grassy hill between my row of townhouses and the one facing it. As sort of a city girl by nature who grew up in the desert, it never fails to astonish me that I am seeing an actual badger, live, in the flesh, right before my very eyes.

3. A shiny new bag. I get a good, old-fashioned, girly thrill from stalking a potential new purse for weeks online, drooling over it in private, mentally calculating how much I need to save up to afford it, fretting over other things I could buy instead of it, finally just breaking down and ordering it, and then wearing it everywhere even with outfits it doesn’t remotely match. Same goes for shoes.

4. Catching an obscure literary reference. It is so deeply satisfying when someone tosses off a phrase like “young Werther, here” in conversation (see the movie (500) Days of Summer), or has a quote in Classical Greek up on their Facebook page, or somebody refers to something as Proustian, and you’re all like, “Ah, yes, of course, so Proustian, that!” or “Ha, he is just like young Werther!” or “True—as they say, meden agan.” And you are suddenly filled with the happy sense that your many painful years of over-education may not have been a total waste.

5. Getting a piece of writing accepted for publication. This has happened to me a handful of times now, and it always feels like winning ten thousand dollars in the lottery, even though the most I’ve ever been paid for a piece is … oh, never mind … and even though I know from the start only my friends and family are ever going to read it.

6. Hearing about new, mind-blowing scientific research. Example: a philosophy prof friend told me about this book The Imprinted Brain, and it sounded so interesting I checked it out of the library and started reading it. So interesting, although I won’t bother trying to explain it here—read my friend’s review instead; the author has this mind-blowing theory involving the relationship between autism and psychosis and male vs. female brain characteristics and genetic expression. And then there was that great piece in the Atlantic on the orchid vs. dandelion genes a while back. Anyway, I just love stuff like that.

7. Communiqués from long-lost siblings. I love all my family to pieces, but certain siblings who shall not be named often go for weeks or months without calling or writing, which makes hearing from them extra exciting. Maybe that is all part of their devious plan, to be more appreciated as a sibling by being mysterious and rarely seen or heard from, but if so, I totally fall for it.

8. Seeing a large body of water. As mentioned previously, I grew up in the desert, so I still get a little frisson whenever I first catch sight of a river or lake or ocean or beach. All that blue, all at once. Heck, I even get excited about the creek in the park behind our neighborhood.

9.Participating in the pop-cultural zeitgeist. By this I mean those times when there’s something everybody is excited about—the new Harry Potter film, or the latest Battlestar Galactica episode, for example—and I am also excited about that same thing. I feel all swept up in the cultural  moment and one with the rest of humanity.

10. Offers of babysitting. Much as I love being a mom (see #1, above), the occasional break from motherhood is also very nice.

Here are my 10 blogs—again, in no particular order of preference. It was kind of hard to come up with this list because I don’t have too many friends who are really into blogging, at least not that I know of. I realize not everyone is into being memed, and for some of you the meme would not fit into the theme of your blog at all. So I will not be offended if you don’t meme back, no worries.

  1. Self-Portrait as
  2. Chocolate & Garlic
  3. Dan-Dee-Lyun
  4. The Post-Pessemist Association
  5. The Snarr Zoo
  6. The Sundance Burtons
  7. LDS Food Critic
  8. DCARTOONS
  9. Yopping
  10. Abdul Ali

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Large Polygamist Family

Polygamist Family Photo by Stephanie Sinclair

Back in January, I wrote a bit about the question of whether the Great (Ex)Mormon Novel had been or would be written, and what it might look like. And now just recently, Slate has an article by the poetry editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought that explores some similar questions and reviews a possible candidate for the title, Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist.

The book sounds good, but I find it interesting that many Mormonism-themed books that have been floated as contenders deal with Mormonism’s polygamous past rather than its plain vanilla present. American polygamy clearly has a lot of intrinsic novelistic drama to it, and so is a natural subject for fiction (not to mention nonfiction, like Jon Krakauer’s brilliant Under the Banner of Heaven). And clearly, also, this is the aspect of Mormonism that tends to capture the popular imagination, as witnessed by the continuing popularity of HBO’s Big Love and by yesterday’s Doonesbury cartoon. Books like Virginia Sorenson’s The Evening and the Morning, Levi Peterson’s The Backslider, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife, Carol Lynch Williams’s young adult novel The Chosen One, as well as less well known contributions like C.L. Hanson’s Exmormon all deal with polygamy to some degree or another.

The problem with this is that for your average Mormon on the street, especially once you get outside of Utah, polygamy is not a going concern or something you think about very often. At least, it wasn’t for me growing up and during my churchgoing years in Arizona and elsewhere. What I want to know is, where is the “Mormon” novel that isn’t about the freak show that is polygamy? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Well, *modest cough*, come to think of it, I’ve written one. I wonder if anyone will want to read a Mormonism-themed novel in which there is no mention whatever of polygamy …

Anyways, for some interesting discussions of the Slate article on other blogs, see also here and here.

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Illustration by Sylvia Long

Illustration by Silvia Long, via http://www.sylvia-long.com/

The morning daycare for Amandine is working out great so far. She seems to like it, and I’ve been able to get some revisions done on my book. I think the manuscript is just about ready to send out to some of my friends who’ve said they’d be willing to take a look at it. Apart from that, I’ve been filling out loads of federal job applications, some of which require the applicant to write more or less a novel-length description of their KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities). So the writing stamina I’ve developed by getting novels down on paper has stood me in good stead. You can’t say novel-writing doesn’t have its collateral benefits, even if one never gets published.

A friend lent me The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I finished that this week. I enjoyed the book as much as the movie, even already knowing the main plot points. The prose style was nice in the English translation, although obviously I can’t say how well it reflects the original Swedish. It’s kind of Ikea-style writing—clean and uncluttered lines, with function taking priority over form, but concern for pleasing design as well.

Amandine, who’s going on two-and-three-quarters now, is becoming very talkative and using complex sentences. She also makes up long, interesting songs about cats and bunnies and naps and diapers. I was particularly impressed the other day when she modified the lyrics of a lullaby that I’ve sung to her a lot. There is a children’s book by Sylvia Long with beautiful illustrations and alternative lyrics to the “Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird” song, that go like this:

Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mommy’s gonna show you a hummingbird.
If that hummingbird should fly, Mommy’s gonna show you the evening sky.
And when the night-time shadows fall, Mommy’s gonna hear the crickets call.
As their song drifts from afar, Mommy’s gonna search for a shooting star.
Etc.

The author’s idea was that the traditional lyrics are too materialistic—“I’ll buy you this, I’ll buy you that.” So instead she wanted to make the song about a mother comforting her child with the beauty of the world around them and her own love. I liked the idea, so I’ve always sung that version to Amandine as a bedtime song. The other day she was putting her favorite stuffed cat down for a nap and singing the song to the cat. Except Amandine’s version went like this:

Hush lillel baby, don’t say a wook, Mommy’s gonna show you a … cupcake.

Alas, the non-comsumerist subtext has clearly not sunk in. But at least it appears my daughter is a poet in the making. At any rate, I took the hint and made cupcakes yesterday.

Some soothing music to send you on your way:

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