Wednesday, June 6, 2018

William Morris Q&A (Sister Greeley)

Today's finalist is "Proof That Sister Greeley Is aWitch (Even Though Mormons Don't Believe in Witches)" by William Morris. Here's our Q&A with him about this story:

One thing we loved about the story is the way it implicitly explores the network of relationships among the women in a ward. In the real world, how do you see inter-generational relationships influencing young Mormon women?
Based on my experience--which is limited because I'm a male member of the church--young Mormon women both want and are leery of the influence of older Mormon women. They are leery of being judged and found wanting. Or they are leery because they have different cultural and/or political attitudes. But they also know that maturity can bring wisdom, and that there things they can learn, especially when visiting teaching/ministering and serving side-by-side in callings is working the way it should.
I will add that in my (again, limited) experience young Mormon women really appreciate it when middle-aged and elderly women are open (in a charitable way) about the challenges they had when they were younger. It helps them know that they aren't alone. They aren't weird. They aren't defective. And things get better, but you have to work at it and they never actually get perfect in spite of how things might sometimes appear.
It's also awesome when older women ask young Mormon women to help them with things where the young women have expertise (like technology--but other areas too).

Some of the practices Heidi describes seem old enough to be just outside living memory for the people around a young Mormon woman growing up today. How do past generations of Mormon women play into that network?
Hopefully they play a large role, but I'm not sure that they do. Or at least not as deeply and widespread as perhaps they should. Back in 2006, I wrote a post for A Motley Vision called Holding to the traditions of our mothers. In it, I wrote:
"What happens when our daily practices — our material life, our life with materials — is suffused with their spirit, with the way they do/did things?
Let’s find out. I propose that all of us seek out our mothers — especially our aunts, great aunts and grandmothers — and learn from them whatever it is they do best. Not only cooking, but quilting, gardening, sewing — all the practices that arose out of gospel teachings, pioneer heritage and the conditions of life and history."
Since that time, these kinds of material practices--especially pickling and bread-making--have become much more widespread among young people. I would hope that Mormon women (and men) who engage with them tie them not to a fashionable but vague notion of authenticity but rather to the previous generations, especially the material culture of their mothers. And I'd add to my call above that I'd recommend starting with the women who are still living, but then also seek out (and, if needed, preserve) documentation for women who have passed on to other side--letters, journals, cookbooks, personal/family/ward histories, etc.

You told last week what you'd like to see more of in Mormon literature: what in Mormon literature are you most bored with?
I'm tempted to say novels about male Mormon missionaries engaging in high-jinks and short stories about middle-aged, white Mormon males from the American West have minor crises and epiphanies, but that's not entirely true. I think any subject or theme or setting can be interesting and innovative.
I suppose what I'm most bored with are works of Mormon literature that don't show any awareness of what has already been written or that engage in simplistic tropes. I don't know that we need more conversion or de-conversion stories or feminist awakenings or male mid-life crises. Not unless they're done in ways that add to the conversation rather than re-create it. I mean, I totally understand the impetus to write such works if that's what your personal experiences are, especially if you're a newer writer. But that's not what I'm interested in reading. And there's so much more to explore.
I'm also tired of genre fiction for the Mormon market that takes Christian or mainstream American fiction trends, files of the serial numbers, hastily magic markers on a Mormon serial number or Mormon-level appropriateness in content, and then presents the finished product as something of good report.
Finally, I'm bored with Mormon literature always being a referendum on the possibility/impossibility of Mormon literature (esp. vis a vis that whole Shakespeares and Miltons of our own quote). But that's such an old complaint of mine that to complain about it now also bores me. Let's just have some fun with MoLit, you know?

You told us last week where to read your work: what's some other Mormon Lit you'd recommend?
In all seriousness: read through the Mormon Lit Blitz archives. There's good short fiction and poetry to be found in Dialogue, Sunstone, and Irreantum. But if you want a quick, satisfying way to explore the wide range of modern Mormon lit, the Mormon Lit Blitz is the place to start. Also: pretty much everything from BCC Press (especially Third Wheel by Melissa Leilani Larson) and Zarahemla Books (especially Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen and the story anthology Dispensation, edited by Angela Hallstrom). A few older titles that influenced me: Nothing very important and other stories by Bela Petsco, Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell, Salvador by Margaret Young, and For the Strength of the Hills by Lee Allred. Also: if you haven't seen the documentary New York Doll by Greg Whitely, then track it down--it can be streamed for free if you have Amazon Prime.


  1. I've mentioned this before, but one of the things that draws me to Mormon Lit Blitz year after year is that the format/venue/length allows me to experiment with different techniques I otherwise wouldn't.

    It allow allows me to see other writers' experiments. Wm.'s story today is one such example-- it would never occur to me to structure a story that way, but Wm. pulled it off nicely.

    1. Thanks! It was a fun story to write, although I didn't see the turn at the end coming when I first came up with the idea.



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