Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Five Mormon Stories I'll Never Write...

I'm not a creative writer, although I spent at least a decade of my life--if not more--pretending that I was. During my awkward years as an undergraduate, I wrote a lot of poetry and the opening paragraphs to about four dozen or so short stories. Sometime, if I'm ever lacking something to say, I'll post one of them for laughs.

Smart alecks, of course, in that endearing way of theirs, like to say that those who can't write short stories critique and analyze them. I'm not sure this is entirely true, although it might be true for me. Personally, though, I like to reverse the formula and say that those who can't write criticism write short stories instead.

Thinking about it that way helps me sleep at night.

I place this on the table because I have been thinking lately about some ideas for Mormon fiction that would be interesting to read, if not impossible to write. Here are five of them:

1. A genuinely heartbreaking EFY love story.

I never attended EFY as a youth, but I always made fun of those kids who came back having experienced a C.O.W., or Crush Of the Week. Apparently, they are very common at EFYs--and remarkably short-lived. In fact, come to think of it, I've never encountered any married couple that first met and fell in love at EFY.

Of course, I don't get out much.

Anyway, the impossible specifications are these: the story has to be really heartbreaking (no bathos here), but it can't under any condition involve death, suicide, law of chastity violations, premortal life reunions, or any version of Chris de Burgh's "The Lady in Red." No exceptions.

Good luck, writers. If you can make this story work, you can do anything.

2. A Mormon metahistorical romance.

The principle challenge of this particular work of fiction would be to understand exactly what a Mormon metahistorical romance is.  I like to think of it this way: what would happen if Thomas Pynchon or William T. Vollmann took on the  Mormon nineteenth Century?

Personally, I think we Mormons have not yet taken full advantage of the many narratives our PIONEER ancestors have bequeathed to us. All too often, Mormon historical fiction stops as soon as it reaches the Salt Lake Valley--as if nothing interesting happened after the Saints arrived in Utah.

I also think we need to be willing to toss the history into the blender, mix in some modern-day stuff, and see what happens when it gets spilled on the counter. If I had a lot of money, I would pay promising Mormon fictionists to write good historical fiction:

"Hey kid, wanna make a million bucks? Write a metahistorical romance about Rafael Monroy."

3. The Moroni Dialogues


This is my idea for a stage play.


Ever wonder what Moroni and Joseph Smith talked about during the four once-a-year conversations they had on the Hill Cumorah? I do. That's why I want someone to write this stage play. (I'd throw in the possibility of a film adaptaion, but I've never seen a good depiction of the Angel Moroni on film. I mean, take a look at The Book of Mormon Movie and tell me I don't have a point.)

I once seriously considered writing this play. I imagined Moroni as a kind of peddler figure in ragged clothes. Rather than appear in a bright conduit, he would just show up. Of course, my idea never got beyond that point. My stumbling block was the dialogue itself. Nothing I came up with was very profound. I wanted it all to be down-to-earth and on-the-level, but my weak dramatugical skills couldn't make it happen.

So, I leave the idea to a playwright more skilled than myself. Maybe someone who has actually written a real play before.

4. The Divine Prequel


Here's another idea that fascinates me: the story of God before he became God. Who was he? What was he like? What was he in to?

I mean, we know the vague basics of his life--that is, he was like us--but this story would go into significantly more detail. In fact, I have always imagined that this piece of fiction would end with a big reveal, a (pre-Lady in the Water) Shyamalanesque twist that clued us in on the main character's future identity.

Of course, the main obstacle for this story is its potential for sacrilege. Which is kind of why it's still on the back-burner of my mind. That, and I don't want it to be reduced to a satire. I want to read this story from a writer who takes the idea seriously.

5. The Orson Pratt Cannon


This Mormon steampunk story takes inspiration from alleged accounts of Joseph Smith's prophesies about missionaries being sent to the moon in order to preach to its inhabitants.

Basically, the story would involve Brigham Young and Daniel H. Wells authorizing Orson Pratt to build his "Stratosengine"--a massive cannon he plans to use to shoot his missionary-minded brother Parley to the moon (Jules Verne style)--as long as they can first use it for a long-distance shock and awe attack on Johnston's Army.

I almost started to work on this story until I discovered that Orson Pratt was on a mission in England during the Utah War. Of course, that was not an insurmountable technicality. For a while I imagined Pratt making use of the Greenwich Observatory, or having the England mission be a front while he was down in Iron County, Utah working on the Stratosengine.

Mostly, I lacked the time necessary to do justice to the idea.

That said, I still think it's an interesting story. If someone wants to steal this idea, all I ask is that I get a substantial share of the royalties and film rights. I also want the story's epigraph to read: "To Scott--for the idea!"

That would mean a lot to me.

6 comments:

  1. Rad ideas Scott. I'm working on a short story (as of now) about a fallen spirit who turns "good" in mortality and helps pre-mortal friends against evil, in an anti-hero sort of way I suppose... Yeah.

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  2. Most of these (I have to admit) would send me screaming in the other direction. The Moroni dialogues, though... that one seems really potentially interesting. It leaves me vaguely regretful that drama is a genre I know nothing about as a writer.

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  3. .

    1. I can't believe you're denying me bathos. I hate you.

    2. I don't know about the metahistorical angle, but it sounds like a great book. Also: do you know Paul Bailey?

    3. This is a great idea.

    4. I like how Eric Samuelsen handled this idea (indirectly) in "Gaia."

    5. I'm happy to say that someone has written half this book already and it is excellent. It was submitted to M&M and I wish we could have taken it. (Would have had it been A finished and B not a novel.)

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  4. Since I'm already about six chapters into the fictional account of Orson Pratt and Oliver B. Huntingon going to the moon in 1869 in n a pimped-out version of a Jaredit barge, I'm going to set aside my current writing project and finish the thing.

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  5. .

    Now you have to. Thousands of rabid Low-Tech World fanboys are starting on their manuscripts as I type.

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  6. Tod--Interesting idea. It's like a darker version of "Added Upon"

    Jonathan--Thanks for the shout out this week on your blog. I think I'm in the same boat as you are when it comes to writing drama. I have no idea technically how to do about it--which is among the many reasons why I'll never write it.

    Th.--
    1. Sorry.
    2. Yes,I've heard of him--but I've never read anything he's written.
    3.Thanks.
    4.I also need to read "Gaia," but I've heard good things about it.
    5.Now that I know this, I no longer feel obligated to write it.

    Thom--I'd be interested in reading it when it's finished. You're approach to the story is a bit different from mine, but I like how you've brought Huntington into it. I was going to bring him into my story as well, but as an obnoxious sycophant who pesters Pratt time and time again about going to the moon. I was also going to end my story with Sarah M. Pratt, his first wife, sabotaging the whole deal.

    Anyway, keep me updated on it. Like I said, I'd like to read it. Also, say the word and I'll call the fanboys off. (Of course, I don't think you have to worry since they'll probably tackle the EFY story first.)

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