Orson Scott Card – Fallen Author

There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Orson Scott Card’s writing. I read “Ender’s Game” in middle school and loved it, and read it a few more times as a teen and was fascinated by the things I’d missed the first time around. It was a masterpiece. I especially used to like his short fiction: it was raw and rough hard sci-fi. He had a talent for capturing the darkest elements of human nature and the struggle we each must personally make against them.

Through the years, though, I found I tired of Card. His new books were increasingly bland, predictable, andrepetitive. I eventually gave up entirely, since if I really wanted cheap pulp-fiction sci-fi, I could find better examples elsewhere.

Fast-forward a few years. I learn that Card is involved with the National Organization for Marriage, an organization I have never liked much because of its dishonest anti-gay rhetoric. Even before I lost all faith in the LDS church, I always had issues with the church’s political stance on gay marriage… I was okay with religious organizations dictating moral standards for their members, but for society as a whole…?

More recently, I had the misfortune of happening across this little bowl of tripe. Card’s essay about “the hypocrites of homosexuality” is nothing we haven’t all heard before. My main objections to his reasoning are his insistence that the laws of god as purveyed by the “prophets” is unchanging (when LDS church dogma has in fact evolved rapidly for the last couple of centuries), his “I’m the victim here” condemnation of his own critics, and his sleight-of-hand transition from condemning the idea that the church should accept homosexuality to condemnation of all legal recognition of rights for gays.

The first is self-explanatory: sure, the will of the prophets can’t be contradicted, except when later prophets overturn “God’s word” entirely. To suggest that the church never changes its mind in response to the moral progress of society as a whole is to ignore entirely the church’s historical stance on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Or should we still kill anyone who marries across ethnic boundaries?

Card’s defiantdefenseagainst his “satanic” critics is laughable. At the end of the article, he notes that just as he predicted, he had been unfairly labeled for his upright and honest writing as “homophobic” and other related terms. While it is true that Card never directly advocates violence or hatred toward gays, he consistently refers to their feelings in a way thatdismissesthem as selfish or unnatural. He even advocates kindness toward individuals, but outright animosity toward gays as a group. Poor Orson! How dare those mean old gays and their brainwashed friends attack him for his honest portrayal of their sinful lifestyle?

Finally, Card pulls a funny little trick when hetransitionswithout warning from defending a church’s right not to condone homosexual behavior (which I grudgingly accept) to insisting that government ought to condemn the same. He makes the argument that government ought to defend its citizens against such offenses as murder, and the same goes for gay marriage! I think the difference is obvious, but if it isn’t, I’ll point out that gay marriage does not hurt those who don’t approve of it as long as they don’t engage in it. You can babble all you want about churches losing their tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform such nuptials and such, but frankly I am an advocate of removing tax-exempt status for churches entirely (treat them like non-profits or something for all I care, it’s just silly to give them specialprivilegesjust because they have “church” in their names). The bottom line? The LDS church need never condone gay marriage as far as I am concerned, but has no right acting as a political entity trying to ban the same at a state of federal level. The individuals in the church are free to vote as theirconsciencedictates, of course, and if they choose to vote for intolerance, that is their decision. That’s what we have courts for — to prevent the “moral” majority from needlesslyoppressingminorities.

How did Card go from the masterpiece of Ender’s Game to the pile of steaming poo that constitutes this essay? I wish I knew… How do authors so fall from grace?
One theory (purely speculative) springs to mind. I remember my father telling my young self that he suspected Card of having strong homosexual feelings himself, and of struggling with said feelings because of his LDS faith. This was simply based on my father’s assessment of Card’s writings.
If this was true, it all begins to make sense. Card’s lifelong struggle and self-hatred due to his hidden homosexual tendencies have finally manifested themselves in his old age as hatred toward all thing to do with homosexuality. We all attack most vehemently what we hate most about ourselves. In addition, he seeks to “redeem” himself from his earlier, darker (and brilliant) writings by writingincreasingly-conformist books filled with more and more tiresome apologetic viewpoints designed to ameliorate his inner Brigham Young. The tortured young author has become the self-righteous old puppet of his religion’s ideology. And now he rides on the wave of fame (and maybe shame?) of his earlier self in order todisseminatehis uncreative ideas about how other people’s sexuality should be treated.

Mourn with me a moment, brothers and sisters, for the passing of a great author, not into a noble death, but into shameful triviality.

Cross-posted from my blog No Answers.

Interesting Jewish/Mormon story in the New Yorker!

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you guys how much the Mormons love to compare themselves with the Jews (or, if you do need a hint, read this post). This comparison is usually kind of one-sided — Mormons love to contemplate the parallels, and the Jews are (usually) blissfully unaware of their Utah-based secret admirers. Until now.

Nathan Englander’s story What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is far more about Jews than it is about Mormons. However, his discussion of Mormonism is so exactly what the Mormons would like the Jews to be saying about them that I had to google the author to check whether he was really Jewish and not Mormon. For example, in the story, a secular Jew complains about how disrespectful it is when the Mormons perform baptisms for the dead on behalf of Holocaust victims, but the faithful religious Jew blows it off as a trivial concern. Also, they can relate on the basis of religious-based dietary restrictions:

“I’ll tell you,” Mark says. “That’s got to be the No. 1 most annoying thing about being Hasidic in the outside world. Worse than the rude stuff that gets said is the constant policing by civilians. Everywhere we go, people are checking on us. Ready to make some sort of liturgical citizen’s arrest.”

“Strangers!” Shoshana says. “Just the other day, on the way in from the airport. Yuri pulled into a McDonald’s to pee, and some guy in a trucker hat came up to him as he went in and said, ‘You allowed to go in there, brother?’ Just like that.”

“Not true!” Deb says.

“It’s not that I don’t see the fun in that,” Mark says. “The allure. You know, we’ve got Mormons in Jerusalem. They’ve got a base there. A seminary. The rule is — the deal with the government — they can have their place, but they can’t to outreach. No proselytizing. Anyway, I do some business with one of their guys.”

“From Utah?” Deb says.

“From Idaho. His name is Jebediah, for real — do you believe it?”

“No, Yerucham and Shoshana,” I say. “Jebediah is a very strange name.” Mark rolls his eyes at that, handing me what’s left of the joint. Without even asking, he gets up and gets the tin and reaches into his wife’s purse for another tampon. And I’m a little less comfortable with this than with the white bread, with a guest coming into the house and smoking up all our son’s pot. Deb must be thinking something similar, as she says, “After this story, I’m going to text Trev and make sure he’s not coming back anytime soon.”

“So when Jeb’s at our house,” Mark says, “when he comes by to eat and pours himself a Coke, I do the same religious-police thing. I can’t resist. I say, ‘Hey, Jeb, you allowed to have that?’ People don’t mind breaking their own rules, but they’re real strict about someone else’s.”

“So are they allowed to have Coke?” Deb says.

“I don’t know,” Mark says. “All Jeb ever says back is ‘You’re thinking of coffee, and mind your own business, either way.'”

A bigger compliment comes later in the story when (as the title suggests) they talk about Anne Frank, and speculate that — in the event of another holocaust — Jeb the Mormon friend would definitely risk his own safety to hide their family.

The part that really jumped out as echoing our own discussions of “Is it a religion or a culture??” was this:

“There is such a thing as Jewish culture. One can live a culturally rich life.”

“Not if it’s supposed to be a Jewish life. Judaism is a religion. And with religion comes ritual. Culture is nothing. Culture is some construction of the modern world. It is not fixed; it is ever changing, and a weak way to bind generations. It’s like taking two pieces of metal, and instead of making a nice weld you hold them together with glue.”

It’s interesting because I could swear I’ve heard an argument like this from the Mormon side, but the Jews were the ones who (supposedly) were supposed to be a culture and an ethnicity in addition to a religion… What do you think?

A road-trip out of crazy: “Hippie Boy,” by Ingrid Ricks

Dad was a master salesman who could talk anyone into anything, and life on the road with him was the wildest adventure any kid could possibly imagine. Unfortunately, since he was often unreliable and occasionally violent, it wasn’t always the good kind of adventure — but it was a great escape from a home run by a crazy (and also occasionally violent) control-freak of a step-dad, who reeked of the meat that made up his entire food pyramid. That’s the world of teenaged Ingrid Ricks in the story Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story.

The fact that her family is Mormon is important for the story, yet Ricks does an exceptional job of keeping Mormonism as the background setting instead of focusing the camera on Mormonism itself. It shouldn’t be exceptional, but when the events of a story rely heavily on things that are peculiar to Mormonism, there’s a great temptation for the author to put his/her arm around the reader’s shoulder and say, “Let me tell you what Mormonism is like…” Or to write a story that is self-consciously dripping with Mormonisms. Ricks succeeds at making the Mormon themes clear without shoving Mormonism in your face.

The most Mormon-specific aspect of the story is the mother’s fervent belief that she needs to rely on priesthood authorities to make her most important life decisions for her. No matter how much bad advice she gets (and acts on), she has a terrible time letting go of the belief that the advice must a priori be good advice that comes from God. This point reminded me quite a bit of Emily Pearson’s story Dancing with Crazy. But one interesting part of Ingrid Ricks’ story is that you see that the priesthood leaders’ advice isn’t always bad. Ingrid’s mom makes some harmful decisions — based on massively bad advice from the first bishop in the story — but the second bishop helps solve their problems (with the assistance of Ingrid’s older sister Connie, who engineers the flow of good advice). The second bishop also gives good advice to Ingrid, and the cool part is seeing her learn to analyze that advice herself, and decide what is the best course of action for herself and her family.

This is one of the most successful bildungsromans I’ve ever read. It’s clear to the reader from the beginning that the family has some pretty dysfunctional parenting. But it’s also clear that the young Ingrid views her parents with the eyes of a child who has never known anything else. Her (often absent) father, in particular, is a larger-than-life figure for her. Through the course of the story, she learns to see both of her parents in a more realistic light — as people who actually weren’t doing too badly, considering the major demons they were battling themselves. And it’s inspiring to see Ingrid and Connie take charge of their own lives (even as teens) and grow up healthy and sane, climbing the obstacles strewn in their path. I hate to use a clich like “triumph of the human spirit,” but at least I’ll say it kind of reminded me of this Suzanne Vega poem:

Kids will grow like weeds on a fence
She says they look for the light they try to make sense.
They come up through the cracks
Like grass on the tracks

If you’re looking for an entertaining adventure that’s more than just fluff, pick up a copy of Hippie Boy!!

Call for Submissions

I am accepting short stories dealing with unconventional Mormons for an anthology to be called “Marginal Mormons.” The stories should be 25 pages or shorter, though length will not necessarily disqualify a submission. Payment will be $20 and one copy of the book, in exchange for perpetual, non-exclusive rights. The stories may be original or previously published, as long as you currently retain the rights. I am not particularly impressed with faith-promoting stories, but I am also not looking to attack the Church. I simply want stories that show unconventional Mormons or new interpretations of doctrine or history. The story does not need to be disturbing but should certainly be thought-provoking.

Please email any stories in the body of the email, but also include them as an attachment. Send to johnnyjohnnyt at yahoo dot com.

Struggling in the depths of Mormon faith: Stephen Carter’s “What of the Night?”

I also learned that the great stories of the world have second acts. This may seem like a silly thing to say, but so many stories set up the problem (the job of the first act) and then resolve it (the job of the third act) with little to no struggle in between. Im here to tell you that its the struggle that makes a story great, because thats the time when the opposing forces are at their most powerful, when they wreak their full havoc on the character.

What of the Night? Stephen Carter makes this statement in the third essay of his personal essay collection What of the Night? — tempting the reader to use this key to understand the collection. Admittedly, the book is not fiction (the author and main character are the same person), and the essays aren’t really sequential (so you can’t expect it to follow a classical story arc). And yet, his three-act model kind of fits.

As you might expect, this book has “act II” in spades. It’s all about the struggle. if anything, it’s a little weak on acts I & III (setting up and resolving problems).

A lot of Mormon-themed books focus on the question “Is Mormonism true?” or on its corollary “Is Mormonism good?” Carter instead tackles the follow-up question: “Aren’t Mormon truths and rituals profound?” He illustrates it with a series of examples such as the weight of the priesthood (power with responsibility), doing proxy sealings in the temple with your family, and feeling the Spirit rolling through the room like a tidal wave as a missionary testifies of the truthfulness of the gospel.

A story with this theme might have an arc like “I hoped and expected that Mormonism would be simple, but then I struggled and discovered that it is complex, ambiguous, and profound.” But Carter’s story arc is more like “I wanted Mormonism to be complex, ambiguous, and profound, and then I struggled and found that, yep, it is,” (which is what I mean about the conflict striking me as a little weak).

Interestingly, Carter’s biggest moment of doubt comes at the end, sparked by the Mormon reaction to Dutcher’s film States of Grace:

Richard had put out a deeply personal story. He had bled it out the way one must in order to make a story true. But then he found himself playing to an empty house. In fact, if you were reading the blogs at the time States of Grace came out, you would have found a lot of Mormons attacking Richard for his story. Whats worse, apathy or antagonism? Richard got both.

I kind of read this as asking: “Given that Mormon faith is so complex and nuanced, why don’t faithful Mormons appreciate rich stories that express that complexity?” And he essentially resoives this problem in the final essay by deciding that he will embrace the complexity of Mormonism — even if many people prefer to see Mormonism as a simple dichotomy: true or false, good or bad.

This book challenged me because my own answer to his question is different. Aren’t Mormon beliefs and rituals profound? I’d say, “Not really, but that’s not what’s interesting about Mormonism.” But that’s just my personal bias.

One of the biggest insights I’ve learned in my time on the Mormon-interest Internet is that different people like and value totally different aspects of Mormonism. Sometimes believers think that the only reason to value Mormonism is because it’s Right and True. Then, after concluding that it’s not right or true, they discover that it’s still interesting or valuable for other reasons. (Others don’t, and — after breaking up with the church — never bother to give it another thought.) So it’s nice to see another viewpoint on what’s interesting about Mormonism.

Naturally, even if I only partially relate to him, I don’t want to dismiss Carter’s position as wrong (whatever that might mean in this case) — certainly his essays aren’t dismissable fluff. He’s written some lively stories and has crafted some memorable images and metaphors:

We called it a Cheerio mouth. A perpetual O of many interpretations. An O of concentration; reciting the sacred Om; or caught by surprise, open for a sharp intake of breath. Or perhaps an awed whistle. But always, always his mouth was a tender shape. A mussel pried from its shell.

All in all, What of the Night? is a fascinating literary portrait of a thoughtful and earnest person finding meaning in Mormon faith.

Johnny Townsend’s Mormons in life and imagination!

Have you ever wondered what spirit prison would be like?

Mormons believe that when people die, their spirits go to either “spirit paradise” or “spirit prison” to await Judgment Day. They also believe that missionaries from spirit prison can teach the gospel to spirits in spirit prison (who can be baptized for dead — perhaps allowing them access to the nicer accommodations in spirit paradise). But this doctrine opens up more questions than answers. For example “Why wouldn’t someone accept the Gospel once they’re dead and can see that it is true?” or “What’s the point of the ‘Earthly test’ if you can change your answer after death?”

These questions have plenty of answers, to be sure, but they can’t have any definitive answers, because the Prophets, Seers, and Revelators (who are authorized to pronounce on Mormon Theology) don’t “emphasize” (i.e. ever talk in public about) such doctrines. At least not since that embarrassing “Quakers on the moon” prophetic speculation a century or so ago.

Yet Mormon lore is loaded with amusing scenarios that could fire the imagination! What about those other planets full of people who supposedly share the same Heavenly Father with our planet? Or what about “the Three Nephites”? Do they get lonely when their families grow old and die? Considering all of the potential, I often wonder why Mormon lit doesn’t have more speculative/fantasy fiction. Perhaps taking the doctrine too seriously is an impediment to letting your imagination run wild — it causes the critics to worry too hard about whether you got it “right”. And the trouble with that is that you’re never going to get it “right”. Even the play Saturday’s Warrior — as saccharine and faith-promoting and fun to perform as it was — drew complaints from the CoJCoL-dS leaders for promoting a wrong, wrong, wrong picture of what the “pre-existence” is like. Not that they’re much help in describing the “right” picture or anything, but — whatever your Mormon-lore speculation may be — you’ll have no difficulty finding Mormons who will explain to you that it’s wrong.

That’s one of the reasons why I found Johnny Townsend’s new book Mormon Fairy Tales so much fun!! Without fretting about what the theology is supposed to be if it were pinned down, Townsend takes you on a voyage to explore the rich-but-undertapped imagination of Mormonism. I loved his portrait of spirit prison! He really nailed it — not in an official doctrine sort of way, but in a sort of “if you know Mormonism, you know this is what it must be like” way — and what a prison it is!

But flights of fairy-tale fantasy aren’t the only strength of Townsend’s work. He also captures the feelings and personalities of a variety of people on the fringes, fitting their lives into Mormonism and Mormonism into their lives.

Johnny Townsend has written at least ten books of Mormon stories. So far, I’ve read only two (Mormon Fairy Tales and The Circumcision of God), but I’m planning to read the rest — and you should too, if you’d like a fun and interesting new perspective on Mormons in life and imagination!

Im with shuck face

Shuck Face Shirt

The Salt Lake Tribune reports: Deseret Book wont carry Utah authors latest novel

This latest book from James Dashner contains language some of our customers would find offensive, said Gail Halladay, managing director of marketing at Deseret Book …

The Scorch Trials, the story of teenagers trekking across a dystopian landscape …

includes words such as damn and this sucks, as well as the phrase shuck it.

So far, 38 44 readers like this Trib comment:

“But they’ll carry Glenn Beck’s bound toilet paper?”

Cue facepalm* and what the holy scrud? … soundtrack courtesy of the Sons of Provo (available at finer Deseret Book outlets everywhere):

*Then again, Dashner attended BYU and currently lives in South Jordan City with his wife and four children. How the heck could he not know the G-rated lexicon of permissible Utah non-profanities? Whatever. His bannination is still shuckin’ bullfit (say that ten times fast).

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Arts and Literature Edition!

It seems like we haven’t discussed arts and literature in a while, and then boom! A whole bunch of projects show up at once — including things that you bloggers at home can do! (Is this a Fall/”back to school” thing? Or something else?) First, non-fiction. The Mormon Lit journal Segullah is offering a fifth anniversary issue on the topic of marriage. On a related note, Holly is planning to edit an anthology of essays by Mormon women on marriage. Here are the rough guidelines:

I want essays by Mormon women who married non-members. I want essays by Mormon women who married in the temple at 18 and are still in love with their husband 30 years later, and still admire him for the way he administers the priesthood. I want essays by Mormon women who elected not to marry in the temple. I want essays by Mormon women who can’t get married in the temple to the man they really love because they can’t get a temple divorce from their first no-good husband. I want essays by Mormon women in plural marriages. I want essays by Mormon women who lost their faith after their temple marriage. I want essays by Mormon women whose husbands lost their faith after their temple marriage. I want essays by Mormon women who left the church with their husband and think it was the best thing ever for their marriage. I want essays by Mormon women who are married to another woman, Mormon or otherwise. I want essays by Mormon lesbians who married men. I want essays by straight Mormon women who married gay men. I want essays by Mormon women in interracial marriages. I want essays by Mormon women who are the primary breadwinners in the family while the husband stays home. I want essays by Mormon women who, to their chagrin, never married and feel betrayed by Mormon promises of fulfillment through marriage. I want essays by Mormon women who haven’t married and don’t particularly intend to, for reasons specific to Mormonism or otherwise. I want essays about widowhood. I want essays about divorce. I want essays about Mormon marriage and menopause. I want essays about a magnificent third marriage.

See her post for details on how to submit an essay. In other non-fiction, I know of some people who are planning a volume of exit stories. As far as I know, they have not announced open submissions, but if you’re interested in contributing, email me (chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com), and I can give you more details and pass your essay along.

In fiction, the submission deadline for the “Monsters and Mormons” anthology is coming up fast! (But if you think you have an LDS-interest genre story in you, it’s not too late.) Also Sunstone Magazine is announcing their call for submissions for their annual fiction contest. Additionally, for a while I’ve been kind of toying with the idea of doing a fiction anthology of exmo writers. There have been so many fiction anthologies of (faithful) LDS writers, and even a handful for the borderlanders, but none specifically for formons (as far as I know). I’m not looking for exit stories (for that, see the previous paragraph) nor for exposes of why Mormonism is bad and wrong, but stories just because we have stories too, and we have different perspectives on Mormonism. Sort of a “Sure it’s not true, but it’s still interesting…” as the guiding theme. This is still in the ideas stage though. Anyone interested in collaborating on this, please email me (again: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com).

If you’re not not up to writing a story or essay for an anthology just yet, you can always hone your skills by posting on the Internet, either for the 1000+ strong exmo reddit community or for us here at Main Street Plaza (at this point, I imagine I don’t have to remind you of the contact info. 😉 ). Or you could read some banned books for “Banned Books Week.” If theater is more your thing (and you’re in Utah Valley), go see the New Play Project. If you’re more into the visual arts (and you are or know a kid), you might try this evolution and art contest — my kids are already planning their entries! (Be careful, though, the visual arts can be dangerous.) And if none of those work for you, there’s even an opportunity in the exmo culinary arts!

Shifting gears a bit, we have a number up updates on where people are at in their journey through Mormonism. Kaylanamars has posted her exit story: Emotionally I Just Can’t Handle It. Eliza R. Snitch seems to have resigned herself to not resigning from the church (and the girl with kaleidoscope eyes follows up with some discussion of people’s judgements of that decision). Maureen celebrating one year out of the church, and Hypatia has moved on to accepting the dreaded A-word. (Actually, I’d be a little wary of the A-word, too, if we have to agree to all of the tenets of personal failure’s evil atheist agenda, but some of them are pretty good.) And — for all of us who have left the faith — fMh Lisa reminds us of how our moms may well be taking it personally…

Let’s close this edition with some mysteries! What’s up with the person who decorated this car? TBMs and modesty: for it or against it? And will you be a “smoothie” in the next life?

Have a great week, yo-ho-yo-ho a hearty Talk Like a Pirate Day to yeh, and good luck on all of your creative projects!!

“These beautifully flawed vessels”: The Conclusion of ExMormon!

LDS Godhead

I love to joke around. I’ve got the perfect joke for just this occasion. It’s an oldie, so stop Me if you’ve heard it:

Way back when Jesus and I were creating the world, I turned to Him and said “Hey Jesus, let’s create a really gorgeous mountainous region, with lakes and rivers full of fish, beautiful canyons, waterfalls, valleys, and peaks…”

Then Jesus said “But Dad, that’ll never fly! Everyone will want to live there, and it will get so crowded, it will suck!”

Then I said “I’m one step ahead of You Jesus, My boy! Why do You think I created Mormons?”

Hahahahahahahahaha!

I’m just kidding, of course! The Mormons are My chosen people these days, so that’s why I love having a little fun with them!

Now this whole idea of leaving the only true church is so completely nuts that I couldn’t help but be fascinated when I noticed that some of My children were organizing a whole conference just for people whom I was planning on sending to outer darkness. Being omniscient and all, of course I knew it was going to happen. But that didn’t make it any less entertaining to watch!

Not the conference itself, mind you — heavens, no! I avoided that like the plague! A bunch of egg-headed lectures on History, Theology, Philosophy and any other dry poindexter subject that My naughtiest children could possibly research at length! Yawnsville! It was as bad as Sacrament Meeting! Well, almost.

But there was plenty of fun stuff going on in the coffee houses and bars in the surrounding area. Here’s what I saw: Read the rest of the story

ExMormon — The Final Chapter!

Many of you are no doubt aware that almost all of the novel ExMormon has been posted online — serialized from here. And now it’s getting to be time to finally post the last chapter! There’s just one catch:

Remember how I’ve said that each of the individual novellas can be read alone? Even the gratuitous love scene. The stories are connected, but you don’t need to have read the earlier ones to understand the later ones.

Well, that changes with this chapter.

The Exmo Conference chapter is a lighthearted wrap-up where Elohim watches how the various apostates’ lives have turned out. But that means that you have to have read the earlier sections to get it. Fortunately, you have nearly a month. (And, according to my statistics, it’s not hard at all to read any one of the eight-and-a-half novellas in one sitting.)

But if you want to pick and choose, here are the choices:

Young Women’s: Slumber parties, sibling rivalries, and praying for a testimony are all on the agenda for a good Mormon girl like April.

Continue reading “ExMormon — The Final Chapter!”