The Dividends of Cleaning House

May 12th, 2016

This coming weekend, our oldest child is having some friends over. Which, for us, means that it’s time to clean the house. Or at least the living room. This time, though, it’s the end of the semester, coming up on summer, and the kitchen and a few other specific areas are really quite unpleasant, and so it’s house-cleaning time.

And so I spent about an hour and a half just now cleaning house, in the middle of the day, with no one keeping me company. Which is a thing I hate. But I think it’s worth it.

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Recent Book Reviews

May 9th, 2016

One of the things that makes reading more of an effort than it used to be is my sense that when I read something, there’s usually something I’m trying to do with the text. I’m reading to pick up information, or edit something. I’m reading to give feedback to the author, or because my book club is going to be meeting and I want to be able to say something.

Or, sometimes, I’m reading to write a review: a self-imposed duty that comes with being friends with someone, or part of a community, or having taken it on as a commitment in some moment of insanity. Or simply because it’s become an impulse, part of my way of reacting to and processing a book: part of coming to know what I think, and then (let’s be honest here) using it as a chance to speak up and say something. Start a conversation. Because, hey, what’s a better topic of conversation than talking about a book you’ve read?

(Much insight into my character is revealed by the fact that I’m not actually joking about this last. Those with a disposition like mine, I anticipate, will see nothing odd about this: what can be a better topic of conversation than a book? Nothing, obviously.)

Judging strictly by numbers, I don’t actually write that many reviews. But each of them is, for me, a way of grappling with and trying to understand something about writing, about ideas, about myself. A review is an act of cultural and intellectual as well as literary criticism — at its best, in my view at least.

In the spirit of which, I offer up the following small list of books I’ve reviewed in the last year:

There was another book that I had agreed to review, but partway through, I determined that I was not part of the book’s target audience and couldn’t really do the book justice, so I begged off on that one. Getting that off my plate was a surprising relief: not just a matter of one fewer thing to do, but something I had come to dread doing, partly because I didn’t think I could do it well.

It’s not a coincidence that all of these are in the realm of Mormon literature, three about works of fiction, two about collections that include sf&f stories. I’m part of a fairly small community of Mormon letters; there’s a need, I feel, for feedback, for the sense that someone out there is actually reading what you write, as well as for promoting titles people might enjoy. (I’ve been known to print out my book reviews and share them with people from my Mormon congregation, in the spirit of trying to entice them into reading the book in turn.) And there’s a vague sense that in so doing, I might be contributing as well to the development of a conversation not just about literary works but about literature in general within the Mormon sphere.

It’s a small output — smaller than I feel it ought to be, especially when the work I put into the review is nothing compared to what the author put into the writing. But if a review of mine puts one or two more readers onto a specific title, or makes a writer feel that he or she has been engaged with on a meaningful level, or provides me with a new insight or two into life and/or writing, then the effort has paid for itself.

Science Fiction and Mormonism

April 28th, 2016

Every now and then I have literary thoughts, which I feel I should credit myself for here even if they’re published elsewhere. So yesterday I posted an essay titled “The Appeal of Science Fiction for (Some) Mormons” over at A Motley Vision blog. If the topic interests you, I invite you to read and respond either there or here.

River Traffic

March 31st, 2016

Below is an excerpt from an email I sent to a writing friend last night. It then occurred to me that this might interest my various readers on this blog…

As part of my worldbuilding for my fantasy novel, I’m trying to wrap my mind around river freight traffic in an inland area prior to steam power. (By “inland” I mean not near coastlines, outside the influence of tides and estuaries, etc.)

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Tolkien and the Spirit of Amateurism

November 2nd, 2015

Last Saturday, I had the rare opportunity of being interviewed about a topic people more often are attempting to shut me up about: that is, J. R. R. Tolkien and his influence on the modern world. (Requirement for someone’s college course paper, I believe.) No one reading this blog will be surprised to know that I had a lot to say, even in cases where I didn’t necessarily know a lot. But then, isn’t that’s what interviews are all about?

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October 2015 Writing Progress Report

October 21st, 2015

Every now and then, something happens to remind me that I had said I was going to post regularly to this blog. While I think the number of those currently following the blog is probably in the low single digits, I nonetheless feel a certain obligation to keep my commitment, for no entirely clear reason. And so…

A little over three weeks ago, I got feedback from my online writing group on the prologue and first two chapters of what is now projected to be a five-novel series.

This, in case you were wondering, is serious progress. I mean, seriously. And yeah, the feedback I got (which was excellent, by the way; I have the greatest writing group ever) immediately made me set aside what I had written and start reconceptualizing the plan for my first novel, which I’m sure was not what they had been hoping for. But it’s what I needed, and even (kind of) what I had wanted. And I have, in fact, been working on that reconceptualization, and hope to be ready to resume drafting again relatively soon. “Relatively” being, you know, a relative term. Whatever.

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Things Rich and Strange: Mormonism through the Lens of Steve Peck, a Sympathetic Alien

August 14th, 2015

(cross-posted at A Motley Vision website)

Title: Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Short Story Collection
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 219
Binding: Trade Paperback
ISBN13: 9780988323346
Price: $14.95
Also available as an ebook

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Steve Peck is an alien. A kind of geeky-looking one (wholly appropriate for a professor of evolutionary biology), friendly, congenial, but an alien nonetheless. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how, in this set of 16 stories, he so consistently manages to provide such startlingly different, yet at the same time deeply insightful, perspectives on the culture and religion he has adopted for his own.

Which is about the only thing these stories — which range from short to long, humor to pathos, realism to postmodernly zany, contemporary to historical to science fiction — have in common. Eight of them have been previously published, in venues ranging from Irreantum to Covenant to the Everyday Mormon Writer contest. Yet the effect is not incoherent. Rather, it provides a sense of the range of Peck’s work, which includes something that will, I guarantee, appeal to pretty much everyone with the slightest interest in reading fiction about the Mormon experience: highbrow or lowbrow, literary or popular, funny or serious, light or thought-provoking. It’s pretty much all here. And while not every story is equally polished, each provides something interesting and (here’s that word again) different.

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Bad Superhero Ideas

June 1st, 2015

Growing up, I wasn’t that interested in superheroes. I’m still not. I mean, yeah, sure, I watched the Fantastic Four on Saturday morning television, but what kid my age didn’t? I certainly never got into the comic books, which at that time was the medium for superhero narrative consumption.

But times have changed. Superheroes have become a major movie franchise, or several. My children debate the classic Batman versus Superman question. My oldest was a fan of The Tick, and (more recently) Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. And of course no one can escape the impact of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in shaping the esthetics of late twentieth century American culture.

And so it is only sensible that as someone with aspirations to making an impact in today’s storytelling world, I should invent a superheroes series of my own.

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Root Canal

May 6th, 2015

Which kind of says it all, you know? Except, of course, that clearly I’m going to go on and say much more than that…

Last Friday night: intermittent toothache. You know, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if you got something stuck between your teeth. Except that after re-flossing for the fourth time, you clue into the notion that there’s something more going on. I wasn’t even completely sure what tooth it was that was bothering me.

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Wisdom, and the Lack Thereof

March 24th, 2015

February was a hectic month. Multiple deadlines. Multiple projects. Trying to help my family hold onto their collective and individual sanity, at least to the degree that this is still a relevant goal.

Which, naturally, made it the ideal time for me to take on another project: low-income, not all that high importance if I’m to be honest, and nothing I was under any obligation of doing. For no good reason except that it caught my eye, and, well, I wanted to. Did you expect anything else?

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