Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Big News

It's been a wild month for me and today feels like a very big day.

Let me back up. About six months ago, I took a job managing the editorial department at an educational publisher focused. They were interested in my mix of experience in writing and history, as well as my multicultural sensibilities. I was excited about the opportunity to help children get a more complete and nuanced picture of social studies.

I got to really like the members of my department and others at the company as we worked toward that vision and got some cool things accomplished, though. As the current pandemic really hit the US, though, they decided to reorganize my department into another. I was out of a job.

Since then, I've been thinking a lot about what might come next. While I'm still looking for a regular job, Nicole and I also did some math about what we need and have felt like maybe it's time now to see if my long-term dream (which has always felt kind of impossible) could actually happen.

For 14 years, my driving passion has been to write challenging, sophisticated literature that speaks deeply to my religious community. I've gotten really good at it as a playwright, poet, essayist, blogger, novelist, history writer, screenwriter, literary translator, and creative midwife for others. As readers of this blog have noticed, though, it's gotten tough to squeeze in as much writing as I'd like between so many other obligations.

My books have sold quite well by the standards of niche-work-about-a-small-minority-community-rarely-covered-on-college-syllabi. The odds of selling enough books to literary-minded Latter-day Saints to survive off royalties, though, are extremely low.

Losing my job made me take a serious look at another model. On the website Patreon, people make monthly pledges to support artists they appreciate, subscribing to their work. I decided to create a Patreon page for my own work.

It feels like a good model for someone whose work means a lot to a relatively small audience. Support from as many patrons as they are people in a ward would be enough (with Nicole's income from teaching and a little side work from me), I could focus most of my time on creative writing.

That's a big deal. In two centuries, one of the main barriers to Latter-day Saints having "Shakespeares of our own" like Orson F. Whitney longed for way back in 1888 is that we're not organized well to economically support them.

It's outside my comfort zone to try and organize funding, but I feel like this is the right moment in my life to at least try. If you're appreciated my work (and are fortunate enough to have some stable income yourself), I hope you'll consider pledging.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Reading at Writ & Vision Thursday

I'm going to be doing a reading at Writ & Vision in downtown Provo at 7 pm this Thursday.

I'm excited: I love to read my work, but I don't actually do so very often. And I have never before attempted to do a retrospective covering all five of my books plus work from four more that are currently in various states of production.

It's going to be a wild ride.

I'm still messing around with different structures for linking the different pieces I'll read together. I've played with a chronological approach, reflecting on 14 years as a very Mormon writer. I've played with a thematic approach, going through different things I think literature can do and giving examples. I tried one system my brother called "group therapy for our colonized self-shame." I've thought about just lining up the books like a buffet and doing a taste of the recently published, the "classics," and then closing with the sneak peaks.

As I was driving him home tonight, my brother suggested maybe taking passages from "Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg" (my short story in the forms of fictional folktales which is also sort of a speculative, fantastical autobiography) and then reading other works that expand on the themes. That would be a trip. I think I might do it.

Anyway, I hope you can come and I promise I'll do my best to help somebody laugh (in case they need to laugh) and somebody cry (in case they need to cry) and leave everybody seeing the world just a little bit differently because that's one thing I'm quite sure we all could use some literature to do.

-James

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