“Three Generations of Sonder” by Chanel Earl

Jane – 1959

We rented a small basement apartment next to the University, so John could come home for lunch if he wanted to. But he often didn’t, which left us alone for ten, twelve, even sixteen hours on some days. And although we hadn’t planned on having another child while he was in school—I didn’t think I could handle a third—Linda was born the year after we moved in, small and screaming.

She was louder than our other children, but more delicate, and when I first saw her, I wondered if she had sensed that she was coming to a mother who felt as small and helpless as she looked. Life was a busy mess with three small children at home. Every day I woke up to cries from the next room. Then I fed, clothed, carried, played with, taught, cleaned, entertained, conversed with, and kept alive three small children until bedtime—when I climbed into a hole underneath my quilts and listened to John snore, waiting for morning.

Time passed. When Linda was over a year old my melancholy began to lift. My husband kept going to school, my kids kept crying and making messes, but my soul started to open up to moments of joy. The kids splashing in the bathtub or bringing me bouquets of dandelions. Classical music on the radio. Chocolate. Rain. Creating the perfect Baked Alaska.

And then—in what I expected to be a completely ordinary moment—shortly before her second birthday, during a weekday lunch hour, Linda grabbed my face between her two little hands and pulled it close to hers. She had strawberry jam on her fingers, and I wanted to pull away, but I could tell she had something important to say. She was born of me, but was more than just an extension of her mother. She was a real person, with desires and opinions of her own.

“Jam!” she screamed excitedly. Then she let go, and I wiped my smiling face, while she took a bite of her sandwich.

Linda – 1968

I don’t understand exactly why it hit me at that time. I remember thinking that my life, and the world around me were both falling apart. My parents had decided to get divorced, my uncle had just returned—injured—from Vietnam, my older siblings were pushing forcefully against every boundary, trying to find out what they could get away with.

And I—nine years old—felt like I was beginning to vanish, like I was evaporating into an atmosphere of violence and contention, slowly floating away, alone.

Then, although I neither expected nor sought to be, I was enlightened. I remember the very moment.

It was during primary. I was sitting next to the window, looking out at the parking lot, watching the wind and rain come down in sheets. It swirled around in the gutters and disappeared into large grates near the sidewalk. I was feeling sorry for myself, almost crying, and I noticed the other children laughing all around me. The teacher was telling a story.

I turned back to the window. Outside, a woman got out of her car and headed into the building. She didn’t have a jacket, just a dress that flipped around her legs with the wind. She raised her hands to protect her face and ran to the building.

I was warm and dry. And then I did start crying, to myself, as I turned back to class to listen.

Jessica – 1996

I was fifteen. Mom was driving to the grocery store. I was sitting in the passenger seat listening to “Piano Man” on the radio for the first time.

“I thought this was a happy song,” I said. “It’s called ‘Piano Man.’ I thought it was about, like, a happy man that played the piano for kids or something.”

She didn’t look at me because her eyes were on the road, but she responded by singing along with the music.

I always liked mom’s voice, even though I would have been so embarrassed if she sang like that in front of my friends. I probably should like her voice though, she was the person who sang me to sleep at night when I was a baby, not that I had any memory of it. Today she sang louder than usual, her alto fit right in with the voice on the radio, and it seemed like she had been waiting for a chance to sing this song for years. She knew it really well, and I wondered why I had never heard it before.

“He’s happy.” She said during a harmonica solo, “and he’s playing the piano for people, even if they’re not kids.”

I rolled my eyes at her, thinking she probably just liked the song because it was as old as she was. “Yeah, but they’re all sad. This song is depressing.”

I turned it down as we hit the corner of University and Fourth, next to the Walmart. Mom tapped the steering wheel as the next song came on, whatever it was. I just looked out the window at the cars—then at the people in the cars. It seemed like every car had one person in it. They were all waiting at the light, looking bored. Some of them played with their hands. One lady looked at herself in the mirror and picked at her teeth. A teenage boy was either singing or monologuing. A college student, probably only a few years older than me, crouched low over the steering wheel. She looked tired, and I wondered what kind of day she was going through.

“I’m not the center of the universe.” I thought. “All of these people have places to go and things to do and none of them have anything to do with me.”

“Family Tree” by Merrijane Rice

… I will liken thee,
O house of Israel,
like unto a tame olive tree …
Jacob 5:3

I don’t remember
how we started,
who was grafted into whom,

who first strengthened roots
and tamed bitter thoughts
to tenderness.

But I believe the Master
planted us together,
left us alone a while

not to make us desperate,
but to give time for turning
toward each other

to nourish away weakness
before we wither.
He waits at the gate,

hand poised
midway between grief
and hope.

“Orpheus Sings to Mary and Martha” by Emily Harris Adams

Lazarus is sealed up in the tomb, sleeping in the viper’s den.
And I know that you, like me, will want your God to set him free.
Lazarus is slipping down the path where I lost Eurydice again.

My Eurydice was sweet, with eyes innocent and open.
I thought to buy her freedom: offering my song and love, boundless as the sea.
Lazarus is sealed up in the tomb, sleeping in the viper’s den.

The path between life and death is rife with both Gods and men.
As traveler of that path, let me warn you: only Gods go and return safely.
Lazarus is slipping down the path where I lost Eurydice again.

Of all you have to offer, perfection is the only bid you can make and win.
And as good as you are, perfection is beyond your means to give or be.
Lazarus is sealed up in the tomb, sleeping in the viper’s den.

At the command of anyone less than a God, no tomb will open.
So, ask your God, not for a bargain, as I did with Hades and Persephone.
Lazarus is slipping down the path where I lost Eurydice again.

Ask your God to be the price, the ransom, the trade for men.
And ask for more than Lazarus. Ask for Eurydice. Ask for me.
Lazarus is sealed up in the tomb, sleeping in the viper’s den.
Lazarus is slipping down the path where I lost my Eurydice again.

“Perfection Is a Fullness” by Jeanine Bee

In the spring of 2020, all the temples were closed.

A few days later, my grandma showed up in my living room. Which wouldn’t have been so concerning had she not died twenty years ago.

At first I thought it was just me. An effect of extended isolation on my mental well-being, perhaps. But then some of my neighbors took to social media.

Does anyone have any tips for getting rid of ghosts??
You have one too?
3 at our house. They’ve taken over the basement!
Maybe garlic?
That’s vampires.
Try sprinkling peppermint oil around your house and putting a dab of clove oil behind your ears.

It soon appeared that every home in the neighborhood had at least one visiting relation. And as the days stretched on, we learned that the phenomenon was not limited to our suburb. A homeowner in Texas accidentally shot a hole through his back door when he wandered into his kitchen and found the specter of Davy Crockett rummaging through his junk drawer. And one couple in France was abruptly awakened on a Sunday morning to find Benjamin Franklin snuggled in between them like a child who’d had a nightmare.

Our new houseguests couldn’t communicate audibly, so we were left to conjecture as to their sudden arrival. The church released a statement about how, since the temples were closed, perhaps these spirits were seeking refuge in the home, another holy place. They quoted scripture—“neither can we without our dead be made perfect”—and they said that we’d been focusing on baptizing the dead, but now it was time to learn from our ancestors. Personally, I wasn’t sure what my grandma could teach me without any kind of discourse. It seemed like she just wanted to watch me go about my day, though I felt a little self-conscious, having her eyes on me all the time. I tried asking her questions, but she didn’t attempt to answer. Larissa Palmer down the street found an old Ouija board and thought that it might be a promising way to communicate with the spirits. They didn’t seem interested, though. Her own ghost rolled his eyes when she pulled out the board, finally indicating the letters that spelled out the phrase, “Put that nonsense away and find me a damn cigar.”

But it didn’t actually matter why they were here. We couldn’t get rid of them, so we adapted. A new trend appeared on social media called “ghosties,” where people would post selfies with their ghosts. Unfortunately, the ghosts didn’t appear on camera, so most of the pictures just looked like a normal selfie of you, standing in your empty bedroom, pointing at nothing.

Some people started attaching social status to the quality of their haunting. After digging through their family tree, the Millers proudly announced that the monk who regularly interrupted their family scripture study with wild gesticulating was none other than Martin Luther. And Sister Jordan, who had always faithfully done her family history work, claimed to know immediately that the woman who sat stoically in her late husband’s easy chair was Harriet Tubman. Both women seemed pleased with the company.

Of course, most of us just kept living our lives. Rebecca Cho told me that her great-aunt Deborah had taken to following her around the house, shaking her head disapprovingly as she watched Rebecca complete housework. It was a little obnoxious, sure. But Aunt Deborah also taught Rebecca some great recipes, standing over her shoulder and pointing at the spice cabinet as Rebecca cooked.

As for me, my grandma’s arrival didn’t really change my day-to-day. For the most part, she didn’t demand any attention. She often sat in the corner of the room, an adoring smile on her face as she watched my kids play together, or read over my shoulder as I worked on a writing project. I was nine when she had died, and most of my memories of her were tainted by cancer. I didn’t remember her looking so fresh, with plump cheeks that pinked up when she smiled. Sometimes she would stand by the bookcase and indicate to a book she wanted me to open, and in a quiet moment we would sit on the bed together and flip through a Romantic poetry anthology or a collection of fairy tales. I hadn’t known how much she loved reading. And one day I found her sitting at the piano, her eyes closed, her fingers poised, melting down into the keys as she tried to play a song. I sat on the bench next to her, and she looked excited, pointing to one specific book of Debussy songs. I flipped through the pages until she motioned for me to stop at an Arabesque. The book fell open easily, the spine worn on what was one of my own favorite songs to play. And as I sat at the piano, my fingers strong and willowy, my grandma closed her eyes and placed her wispy hands over mine, and together we swayed as the notes filled every empty place.

“Resurrection by Easter 2020” by Selina Forsyth

Our god has slept,
though somewhat fitfully,
for a few days. Maybe weeks.
How we long for the promised return,
preferably stronger than before.

But resurrections, we have learned, require a sacrifice.
This time it is not heart nor spirit our god demands
(we have already given these)
but lungs –
perhaps a million,
perhaps two.
The lungs of the aged, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned –
all probably strangers –
and those who dare to care for them.

Though our god cannot offer itself for us,
as we have heard some Gods do,
it wins our devotion with this exalted vision:
a zion society
in which “every man prospers according to his genius,
and every man conquers according to his strength.”

But if the lungs that Mammon requires end up being yours or mine,
instead of our distant brother’s
(we were never his keeper anyway)
will we still say “all is well in zion, because zion prospereth”?

 

9th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz Finalists and Schedule

On Monday, we announced the long list of 24 semi-finalists in this year’s Mormon Lit Blitz.

A publication schedule of the 12 finalists is as follows:

Monday June 8: “Resurrection by Easter 2020” by Selina Forsyth
Tuesday June 9: “Perfection is a Fullness” by Jeanine Bee
Wednesday June 10: “Orpheus Sings to Mary and Martha” by Emily Harris Adams
Thursday June 11: “Family Tree” by Merrijane Rice
Friday June 12: “Three Generations of Sonder” by Chanel Earl
Saturday June 13: “Airplanes that Crashed: A Book of Mormon Coloring Book” by Jared Forsyth

Monday June 15: “Final Report” by Mattathias Westwood
Tuesday June 16: “Portal Friends” by Annaliese Lemmon
Wednesday June 17: “Part Heaven” by Madison Beckstrand
Thursday June 18: “O Nosso Cão Stromberg” by César Augusto Medina Fortes
Friday June 19: “In the Locker Room at the Temple” by Darlene Young
Saturday June 20: “Brother and Sister” by Scott Hales

We hope you’ll join us on this website to read this year’s finalists and vote on your favorites! To keep up with the Lit Blitz and other Mormon Lit Lab projects, you can also follow our Facebook page or sign up for our email list.

9th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz Long List

It’s been a busy spring for us. We’re currently working toward the release of a print and electronic anthology featuring the finalists from the first five years of the Mormon Lit Blitz. We partnered with the Confradia de Letras Mormonas to sponsor a Spanish-language Mormon literature contest. And, of course, from June 8-June 20th, we’ll publish 12 finalists in the 2020 Mormon Lit Blitz.

We are grateful for the members of the Lit Blitz community who have been consistently submitting their pieces since the first contest in 2012, and we welcome all of the new voices who submitted for the first time this year.

Every year after receiving submissions, we review every entry blindly (without author names) and rank them based on literary merit, how the piece will interact with our audience, and originality and/or experimentation. Getting down to 12 finalists is really difficult. As we thoughtfully select pieces that add to the vision of the Mormon Lit Blitz, we traditionally publish a long list of 24 or so pieces that stood out to us before whittling the list down to the 12 finalists.

This year’s long list (alphabetized by author’s last name) includes a wide range of pieces, including poetry and flash fiction, our first-ever coloring book, and even a short play:

“Crematory Services” Emily Harris Adams
“Orpheus Sings to Mary and Martha” Emily Harris Adams
“I’ve never had the pleasure” Madison Beckstrand
“Part Heaven” Madison Beckstrand
“Perfection is a Fullness” Jeanine Bee
“The Dance” Kathy Cowley
“Three Generations of Sonder” Chanel Earl
“Airplanes that Crashed: A Book of Mormon Coloring Book” Jared Forsyth
“Earthquake” Selina Forsyth
“Resurrection by Easter 2020” Selina Forsyth
“O Nosso Cao Stromberg” Cesar Fortes
“Brother and Sister” Scott Hales
“Classifieds: Used Car, High Mileage” Marianne Hales Harding
“Lucky Wounds” Eric Jepson
“Portal Friends” Annaliese Lemmon
“Drowning in the Great Salt Lake” Kristin Perkins
“Perspective” Katherine Gee Perrone
“Author and Finisher” Merrijane Rice
“Family Tree” Merrijane Rice
“Give Me Alice Springs” Jeanna Mason Stay
“Push” Jeanna Mason Stay
“Final Report” Mattathias Westwood
“Gethsemane” Darlene Young
“In the Locker Room at the Temple” Darlene Young

Congratulations to all the semi-finalists! We’ll announce the finalists here on Friday, May 29. To keep up with the Lit Blitz and other Mormon Lit Lab projects, you can also follow our Facebook page or sign up for our email list.

9th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz Call for Submissions

Since 2012, the annual Mormon Lit Blitz contest has encouraged people to use Latter-day Saint ideas, values, beliefs, or imagery in very short stories, essays, poems, or other forms of writing.

We are still accepting submissions for our Spanish-language contest, created in cooperation with the Confradia de Letres Mormonas. We are also now accepting submissions for our regular annual Mormon Lit Blitz contest.


Details: 

Submissions for the Ninth Annual Mormon Lit Blitz writing contest are due by the morning of 18 May 2020 to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com. Submitted works may be in any genre so long as they are under 1,000 words and designed to resonate in some way with an Latter-day Saint audience. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are acceptable. Up to three submissions are allowed per author.

Finalists will be posted on the Mormon Artist magazine website (lit.mormonartist.net) in June. At the conclusion of the Lit Blitz, readers will vote for their favorite pieces, and a $100 prize will be given to the audience choice winner.

For updates about the 2020 contest, follow the Mormon Lit Blitz Facebook page.

To facilitate the judging process, we prefer to receive submissions as .doc, .docx, or .pdf attachments with the author’s name and contact information in the body of the email but not included in the attached text. Please email submissions and any questions you may have to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com.

By submitting, authors give us nonexclusive rights to publish their work electronically. As stated above, previously published work is fine if you still have the rights to the piece and if it meets the above contest requirements.

If you would like to support our efforts to create space for Mormon literary work, please consider making a monthly donation pledge on our Patreon account.

Mormon Lit Blitz Pandemic Reading

Reading recommendations list selected by Mattathias Singh Goldberg Westwood

Meetinghouses and temples all around the world are closed. General conference next week will be attended in person only by the speakers for each given session. These are unusual times for worship around the world, as community leaders try to buy medical professionals some time to understand the novel coronavirus and prepare hospitals to meet needs as well as they can.

Even with meetings canceled, though, this is no time to go on spiritual cruise control. Strange times raise important questions. We may not be able to meet as wards, but we need chances for reflection and worship as much as ever.

At the Mormon Lit Blitz, we’ve been inviting writers to think about Mormon life and possible Mormon futures since 2012. Like the oil in the parable of the ten virgins, we’re finding that past years’ writing has prepared us to process our present situation.

Here are some pieces, organized by topic, you might find it useful to read over the next few weeks.

Imagining the Church Facing Times of Crisis

Several Mormon Lit Blitz finalists have imagined how the Church might face major crises.

In Jonathon Penny’s “A Voice Not Crying In the Wilderness,” a zombie outbreak makes worship more restrained and reflective:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2014/11/a-voice-not-crying-in-the-wilderness-by-jonathon-penny/

Katherine Cowley’s “Waiting” explores what it means to have life go on when the world is going crazy:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2016/02/waiting/
Anneke Garcia’s “Oaxaca” asks us to imagine how outside stresses can be catalysts for reflection and growth:
Food
At a time when many of are eating our food storage, fasting for global solutions, or simply shopping for the next things to eat, here are two pieces about food:
Marilyn’s Nielson’s “In Bulk” takes on the shock of shopping for many in a culture where that’s no longer a norm:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2012/02/day-one-marilyn-nielson/
Wm Morris’s “After the Fast” imagines what it might mean to break a fast after 40 days and nights:
After the Fast https://lit.mormonartist.net/2018/06/after-the-fast-by-wm-morris/

Service and Stress

In times of crises, people are looking for ways to serve. 

Lee Allred’s “Beneath the Visiting Moon” explores isolation and ministering:
Wm Morris’s “The Joys of Onsite Apartment Management” reflects on the mundane nature of most service–and the inspiration that comes with it:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2015/05/the-joys-of-onsite-apartment-building-management-by-william-morris/
 
Church and Temple
A time when temples and meetinghouses are closed might be the perfect time to reflect on what they mean to us.
Jonathon’s Penny’s “Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” does the hard work of trying to capture what the temple does in language:

https://lit.mormonartist.net/2014/06/yawheh-prologue-to-the-temple/

Laura Hilton Craner’s “The Primary Temple Trip” works both ward and temple into a single classic short short story:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2014/06/the-primary-temple-trip/

Kelli Swofford Nielsen’s “The Back Row” points out what we might be missing when we lose the chance to sit in the back of the chapel:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2016/06/the-back-row-by-kelli-swofford-nielsen/

Social Not-Distancing

Along the same lines, a period of social distancing might be a good time to think about what it’s like to be around a lot of people: 

Cesar Medina Fortes “A Sunday at Laginha” reminisces about spending time with all the neighborhood kids:
Melody Burris’s “Something Practical” is a comic love letter to ward gatherings and their unexpected delights:

https://lit.mormonartist.net/2016/01/something-practical/

For those separated from close loved ones, Merrijane Rice’s “Mother” may feel timely:

Coping with Absurdity
As humans, we respond to the overall feeling of strangeness in a time of disruption as much as to any specific event or concern. We’re all trying to find ways to cope with the absurd.

Wm Morris’s “Last Tuesday” is about strange happenings:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2016/06/last-tuesday-by-william-morris/

Emily Harris Adams’ “Second Coming” deals with the space between hope and trouble:

https://lit.mormonartist.net/2012/02/day-four-emily-harris-adams/

And finally, Annalisa Lemmon’s “Death, Disability, or other Circumstance” is a story about dealing with disorienting change:
https://lit.mormonartist.net/2015/05/disability-death-or-other-circumstance-by-annaliese-lemmon/

Enjoy the reading! If you’re so inclined, join the legacy by submitting to this year’s Mormon Lit Blitz or by making a monthly donation pledge on our Patreon account.

Book of Mormon Creative Reading List

As we study the Book of Mormon this year, many people will turn to commentaries and scholarly works for additional insight. It’s a good time for those: from the Maxwell Institute’s new 12-part The Book of Mormon: Brief Theological Introductions series to four new Book of Mormon-related titles forthcoming at BCC Press in January alone, there’s plenty of new material to consider.

At the Mormon Lit Lab, of course, we also feel strongly about the power of literature to invite our imaginations into conversation with scripture.

Over the past eight years, a handful of Mormon Lit Blitz finalists have drawn inspiration and imagery from the Book of Mormon. At a glance, we noticed:
“Remnant” by Sarah Dunster
“New Rhythm” by Tanya Hanamaikai
“Daughters of Ishmael” by Annaliese Lemmon
“Rumors of Wars” by Zachary Lunn
“Curelom Riders” by Annaliese Lemmon
“Slippery” by Stephen Carter
“Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales

We’d also encourage you to take time this year to try out a poetry collection or novel inspired by the Book of Mormon. Some options include:
Estampas del Libro de Mormón by Gabriel González Núñez 
Psalm and Selah: A Poetic Journey Through the Book of Mormon by Mark Bennion
The Book of Laman and The Book of Abish by Mettie Ivie Harrison
The Nephiad by Michael R. Collings
“Book of Mormon Story” by James Goldberg (in Out of the Mount: 19 from New Play Project)
Daughters of Jared, Alma the Youngerand Ammon by H. B. Moore
“Gift of the King’s Jeweler” by Steven Peck (in Wandering Realities: Mormonism Short Fiction)

We’d love to take time at different points during the year to share more short works inspired by the Book of Mormon. If you have a poem, short story, or essay under 1,000 words you’d like to share, please submit by email to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com with “Book of Mormon Lit” in the subject line and we’ll consider it for online publication.

Happy reading–and writing!

-Mormon Lit Lab