We're closing out the first week of the Mormon Lit Blitz with William Morris's "After the Fast." Here's our Q&A. Feel free to add your own questions in the comments.
Stories about the Three Nephites are a classic Mormon genre. What made you decide to join the tradition?
I included a character that was one of the Three Nephites in last year's Lit Blitz entry "There Wrestled a Man in Parowan," but the story didn't require interpreting it that way, which delighted me because it seems like a lot of the stories that use the Three Nephites as a way to discomfit the institutional church and/or orthodox Mormon characters. A valid approach, to be sure, but not one that interested me so I figured I'd get mine out of the way (because, yes, every Mormon writer has to have a Three Nephites story). But then earlier this spring, the notion of what it'd be like to try to eat again after fasting for forty days and forty nights started rolling around my brain, and, like it always does, my brain revolted against the strictures I had tried to set for myself (like the time I decided I wouldn't be writing Mormon faithful realism anymore and then three weeks later wrote the most Doug Thayerish story ever). And it is easy to see why a Three Nephites story is irresistible: as doctrine and folklore, it's unique to Mormonism, and the mysterious stranger who is helpful but also a bit unsettling is a classic character trope.
Have you ever eaten colivă?
I have. It was given to us either by a recent member or a long-time investigator. I believe she had made it not for a recent death, but for placing on the graves of loved ones. The version I had was starchy and chewy and not as sweet as it looked. Nor did it have cocoa powder on it or dried fruits in it. It was quite filling, though, and that's the most important thing for young missionaries.
Was your time in Romania an influence on the story thematically at all?
Honestly, the ending of the story came as a complete surprise to me. More so than most of the stories I write. I wasn't planning on drawing on my mission experience at all. Indeed, I didn't know that the Third Nephite would go back to the dead woman's house until I wrote it. I had originally planned to take him to his favorite restaurant and have the story be more about aesthetics and memory than about grief and honoring the dead. And once he's at the house, he ends up in the basement. And what would be in the basement but food storage? And so then what would be a better way to break his fast than with food storage? But what are you going to do with barrels of wheat? And then that's where serving a mission in Romania and being able to draw on that experience paid off.
What would you like to see more of in Mormon Literature?
More novel-length fiction about sister missionaries. More stories about older Mormons, international Mormons, urban U.S./Canadian Mormons, rural but non-Intermountain West Mormons, etc. More fiction and nonfiction that takes Mormon history and theology/doctrine/folk beliefs seriously. More stories about single Mormons and childless Mormons and single parent Mormons. An alternate history novel where the United Order works and Mormons become the world's leading communitarians. An anthology of Mormon satire that skewers the larger world as much as it does Mormon life and culture. A romance novel where a recently married couple figure out how to mesh their differing backgrounds and orthopraxises in relation to Mormonism and the ending is happy but also bittersweet.
And, of course, more readers of Mormon literature, more venues where Mormon writers can publish their work, and, ultimately, actual paying markets for Mormon writers, especially fiction writers.
Where can we read more of your work?
Most of my Mormon-related short fiction from 2003 to 2015 can be found in the story collection Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories. I have also edited two anthologies: Monsters & Mormons and States of Deseret. For more Mormon stuff visit A Motley Vision. And for my non-Mormon market work, see Frozen Sea Press.