July 31, 2008

The (local) MSM reviews AFS

Doug Gibson of the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner reviews Angel Falling Softly and with some qualifications declares it

a great read, better than 99 percent of Mormon fiction out there. It also takes our beliefs out of comfort zones, inviting analysis and debate. No matter what happens, we've learned something.

He thinks the details about Milada's financial dealings "slow the pace of the main plot." The guys at Writing Excuses note as well the tendency of writers to cram all their background research into the narrative.

In my defense, the first final draft of Angel Falling Softly had Milada acquiring two companies. We could publish it as Angel Falling Softly--the Wall Street Journal edition. But we decided it was just too much.

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July 28, 2008


The LDS Publisher blog reveals some of the un-nefarious schemes that accompanied the release of Angel Falling Softly. Because there's this notion going around that a bunch of suits at Zarahemla Books sat around tenting their fingers like Monty Burns and saying "Excellent."

Granted, having been employed by some quite small companies, I can attest to the fact that on the Internet, nobody knows you're four guys working out of a basement. Not to reveal too much about the man behind the curtain, but Zarahemla Books is one guy and a handful of idealists working for free food and peanuts.

These problems aren't confined to this genre alone. The stark realities of niche publishing are plainly laid out here and here. I know people will say: "You should publish this kind of book instead of that kind." It's been done. It's been tried. As the screenwriter William Goldman famously put it: "Nobody knows anything."

He was referring to the fact that no Hollywood expert can vouch for a movie's success before its release. The same goes for books. (I'd bet the success of Twilight came out of left field.) Anybody who detects anything other than a seat-of-the-pants "strategy" at work here, think again. We don't know anything either.

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July 27, 2008

There is Power in the Blood

"There is Power in the Blood" by Lewis E. Jones (1899).

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o'er evil a victory win?
There's wonderful power in the blood.


There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary's tide;
There's wonderful power in the blood.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;
There's wonderful power in the blood.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There's wonderful power in the blood.

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July 26, 2008

Yet more AFS "uproar"

Moriah Jovan examines the TBM (true believing Mormon) blogs so I don't have to. I need to subscribe to the "your soul's being damned" mailing list so I can get clued into this stuff earlier. I feel in the mood for some Meat Loaf.

UPDATE: C.H. Hanson scouts out some more TBM blog comments. Picture me holding my head in my hands like John Dvorak. I just don't get it!

Luckily for Orson Scott Card, nobody but a few science fiction and fantasy geeks have read Hart's Hope or Maps in a Mirror. I've read that he's caught flack for making the women in his (Shadow Mountain, nee Deseret Book) "Women of Genesis" series human.

So I shouldn't be surprised, except that somebody who would be offended by books like that should turn away at the sight of the front cover of Angel Falling Softly (now being referred to as "AFS" in some quarters) alone.

But what springs foremost to mind is the same flabbergasted reaction I had when I first came to Utah from the "mission field" and encountered at BYU the thin scriptural and doctrinal comprehension of kids who had attended time-release seminary for the past three or four years.

I could imagine Evangelicals taking me to task for stressing Rachel's maniacally works-centered concept of grace (it's their number one beef, after all), but Mormons?

The weirdest accusation is that this was some sort of nefarious plan to undermine the morals of the Youth of Zion. Okay, that was the plan, but it didn't fit into the fifty-dollar advertising budget (I kid, I kid, though not about the budget).

In any event, Zarahemla Books has a website. The catalog listing at Zarahemla points to my website, which in turn points to my blog. Note the tricky URLs I use. Google my name and both come up at the top of the list.

Yes, it'd be nice to fancy myself a mysterious, shadowy Dashiell Hammett type, slinking through the back alleys of the Big City. Alas, on the Internet, I am a literary open book.

And because this issue has been raised in counterpoint, I would also like to point out that nowhere in Zarahemla's listing or anywhere on my website is Angel Falling Softly described as "LDS fiction."

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Chapters 9 (Winter Splendor)

雨潦 [うろう] Urou (heavy rain)
路門 [ろもん] Romon (path + gate)
仁重殿 [じんじゅうでん] Jinjuu Manor (virtue + weight)
大行人 [だいこうじん] Daikoujin (big envoy)
路木 [ろぼく] roboku; the riboku located at the heart of the Imperial Palace

Buildings of the Naiden

路寝 [ろしん] Roshin (path + sleep); see chapter 2 of The Shore in Twilight
燕寝  [えんしん] Enshin (swallow + sleep); the palace compounds that make up the Imperial living quarters
後宮 [こうきゅう] Koukyuu ("the palace at the back")
長明宮 [ちょうめいきゅう] Choumei Palace (long light)
梧桐宮 [ごとうきゅう] Godou Palace (parasol tree); the home of the Hakuchi.
嘉永宮 [かえいきゅう] Kaei Palace (esteemed eternity)
福寿殿 [ふくじゅでん] Fukuju Manor (blessing + longevity)

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July 24, 2008

Angel Falling Softly "uproar"

My novel, Angel Falling Softly, has purportedly caused an "uproar." (Start here and work backwards.) Well, to be proportionally accurate, a tiny tempest in the teapot of Mormon letters. Get out your microscopes. A Chad Hardy scale of controversy would be more useful in terms of publicity.

I wasn't even aware until I caught a mention on another blog. I mean, about five people outside my immediate family read the paperback version of The Path of Dreams.

And it's not like Parables and Zarahemla are straddling the LDS literary world like modern colossi. I wish it were so. Which is why I harbor the sneaking suspicion that my supposedly offensive book has escaped a truly close reading by those offended (if it's been read at all).

Though while composing this response, another element of orthodox "Mormon fiction" occurred to me: that the narrator must always be an objectively reliable source of the "truth." My narrators are always reliable about what they believe to be the truth. I see where this could prove problematic for some.

In that light, I would like to point out a few of the "orthodox" narrative elements that I do not consider "subtle," but seemed to have escaped the attention of some. Perhaps I should have underlined them.

1) There are two explicit references to Saul and the Witch of Endor. Rachel makes one herself, so she is aware of the thin ice she is treading on. Like Saul, Rachel is one big rationalizing machine. So is Milada.

2) Milada believes herself damned because she committed horrific crimes in her past, not because she is a vampire (her guilt argues for the existence of her soul). I use vampirism to illustrate the problem of a sinner "tak[ing] also of the tree of life, and eat[ing] and liv[ing] forever."

Note the references to "good vampires" in The Silver Kiss and Angel.

3) I didn't want to Milada to degrade into what Erica Friedman calls the "Evil Psycho Lesbian" character, but this is a facet of her personality she wars with (hence her conflicted reaction to Laura). She manages it by drawing lines for herself that she will not cross.

Frankly, she's come a long way in four centuries. And along the way, she has made some terrible yet noble sacrifices on behalf of her sisters. She is not unworthy of grace.

4) Kamilla stands as a stark contrast to her sister. Kamilla lives by a firm moral code. She is a genuinely good person. She despairs at Milada's obsession with their sire. In this case, a vampire's soul is the product of nurture (and personal discipline), not nature.

5) Jennifer's condition in the end is no less manageable than, say, type I diabetes. Her soul is not in jeopardy. Again, see Kamilla's example. Note who ends up as her guardian. (Hint: not the two people who rejected the possibilities of God's grace.)

6) My mom liked it.

Now, to be sure, King Lear shouldn't have been such a chump. It'd be nice if he could have patched things up with his daughters. And nice if Hamlet could have gotten some counseling to get over his "issues" and married Ophelia. But me thinks the plays wouldn't have turned out the same.

UPDATE: The controversy continues here.

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July 21, 2008

Love My Life

If I told you that Love My Life was about two attractive, middle-class, college-attending lesbians, you could probably fill in the rest from the title alone. "Self-discovery" and "owning your life" and "being yourself" and all that. And you'd be pretty much right.

What makes Love My Life such a pleasant experience (I give it demerits only for too much hand-held camera) is that it meets these stereotypical expectations in such a restrained manner. No operatic conflicts, no manipulative psychodrama. The world isn't against anybody, except in the same way it's against everybody. Hardly a strawman in sight (and once sighted, they quickly exit stage left).

The "big reveal" that typically haunts the genre is dispensed with in the first ten minutes. When Ichiko introduces her girlfriend Eri to her father, he informs her in turn that he is gay. And so was her mother (now deceased). Her mother wanted a child and the onus of social conformity being what it was (and still largely is), this was the easiest solution for all parties.

Eri doesn't bother coming out to her cold, conservative father, as she has enough problems just relating to him as a woman not interested in conforming to traditional gender roles. So Love My Life isn't a by-the-numbers family melodrama. No raising banners and crying revolution. No weepy realizations. And her father isn't ever going to change either.

Eri and Ichiko are just as circumspect with their peers. Conventional social norms in Japan are not as threatened as breathless reports in the popular media might suggest. A recent survey conducted on NHK's Cool Japan program, for example, found that the overwhelming majority of teens favored preserving the hierarchal language reflected by senpai-kouhai (senior-junior) relationships.

So the first half of the movie is mostly an exploration of Ichiko's tight circle of friends, meeting her mother's past lover, a comedic subplot about a girl who has a crush on one of Ichiko's gay friends and thinks Ichiko is his girlfriend. And several scenes between Ichiko and an amazingly tall girl with a Mohawk that together make a little short story by themselves.

Things between Ichiko and Eri reach a crisis point when Eri breaks off the relationship in response to her father's ultimatum—that he sees no need to support a woman trying to get into law school. If she doesn't get accepted on the first try (the equivalent of the LSAT in Japan can be taken retaken on an annual basis), he'll cut her off.

It is at this point that Ichiko realizes she has defined most of her adult life in terms of being Eri's girlfriend. Sensing as well that his daughter has fallen into a wallowing funk, her father encourages her to try her hand at translation. When she finishes, he evaluates the manuscript and observes that she has promise, but needs to work at her craft.

So he introduces her to his editor, who is looking for somebody to evaluate English-language books being considered for publication (essentially write book proposals). What follows is a nice montage about the back-and-forth process of getting a manuscript right. (It brought to mind memories of working with Richard Romney and Larry Hiller at The New Era.)

In the meantime, her father also tells Ichiko, she ought not get too hung about Eri doing what seems to be the right thing for the wrong reason (to prove herself to her father). Sometimes what matters is being motivated to get off one's butt and do something, to start creating—for whatever reason—and let the profound reasons come later.

It's an odd juxtaposition, but Love My Life struck me as the lesbian, twenty-something version of Whisper of the Heart. In the latter, teenager Shizuku finds the discipline to become a writer from her boyfriend's dedication to his own goals. Like Ichiko's father, Nishi-san encourages Shizuku while making it clear she's not going to hit the ball out of the park the first time at bat.

As things turn out, Eri's the one who (perhaps unrealistically, though these things do happen) ends up hitting the home run. But as this all takes place off-stage, I don't take it as an obviation of the above point. In any case, the long denouement delivers an unrelentingly happy ending. And yes, this meal comes with dessert (if you don't know what I mean, add a few winks and nudges to that).

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July 17, 2008


If you didn't like Ghost in the Shell, you're not likely to like the sequel, because much of is more of the same, although so much of the more looks absolutely fantastic. The most striking and intricate noir cityscapes since Blade Runner. On the other hand, even if you loved the original, you won't necessarily love the sequel, because, well, much of it is more of the same. It all depends.

Ghost in the Shell—to date the best interpretation of William Gibson's cyberpunk classic, Mona Lisa Overdrive—stands alongside Blade Runner, Dark City and The Matrix as one of the handful of films that do the genre any cinematic justice. Consequently, Innocence, as with all such sequels, begins burdened with the expectation that it will somehow out-geek and out-pontificate the original.

To be sure, it doesn't have as many problems as those dreadful Matrix and Star Wars sequels. It avoids resorting to empty philosophical babble (scripted by people not as smart as their characters) in an attempt at faux profundity. There's nothing worse than film makers, who after the fact discover that they produced something profound, and then the next time around try to be profound on purpose. The results are always ugly.

Babble there is, but it's not empty. Director Mamoru Oshii started with good material, and it's been ten years since Ghost in the Shell. But Ghost is the Shell was structured to make a particular existential argument, and with a compelling female protagonist (Motoko). At times, Innocence turns into a My Dinner with Andre (with androids). Hey, I liked My Dinner with Andre, but you want to tell Batou and Togusa to shut up and go shoot some more yakuza.

Innocence is built upon the foundation of a great idea—that the only way to make a robot "real" is to clone a human soul—and is buttressed by the eternal question of what ends justify what ends. The lead, though, is buried by one too many is-this-a-dream-or-reality sequences. Perhaps Oshii thought the idea too obvious and thought it necessary to muddy the waters. Complexity is one thing, but I prefer stories that don't rely on a tangle of tangentialities to keep the audience from figuring out the ending.

The last twenty minutes is worth waiting for, except that it also prompts you to ask why the middle third couldn't have been at least ten minutes tighter or ten minutes more relevant, and why we had to wait this long for Motoko to show up and provide something more than whispered subliminal warnings and cryptic clues you'd only remember if you'd watched Ghost in the Shell about fifty times.

Oshii admits this on the commentary track, which is doubly annoying. Better to embrace clarity in the first place than ask for forgiveness afterwards. But I still recommend the film. There's something to be said for being too talky and too cryptic rather than too dumb. Too much Matrix leaves the eyes glazed over with its self-important navel-gazing. Too much Star Wars actually kills brain cells.

Moreover, I'm not yet ready to give up on hand-drawn animation, especially when it comes to human characters. Even in zillion-dollar productions like Shrek, digitally animated people have that Final Fantasy look that ends up looking less human than traditional pen and ink drawings. Besides, if you can't tell the difference between "real life" and "art," then what's the art for? The Louvre would replace the Mona Lisa with a (digitally scanned) photograph.

One final gripe with the R1 DVD release specifically is that the subtitles combine the closed-captioning track with the subtitle track, which is unbelievably annoying. I spent about five minutes fiddling with the remote and failed to find a "normal" subtitle track. A big boo, hiss to distributor DreamWorks. They can do better than this.

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July 12, 2008

Chapters 5-6 (Winter Splendor)

Strangely (well, not really), the world of the Twelve Kingdoms appears to lack a Southern Hemisphere.

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July 10, 2008

In praise of Anne

On the occasion of the Modern Library edition of Anne of Green Gables--thus elevating it to the status of "classic"--Meghan O'Rourke argues that this tribute is wholly and entirely deserved.

And I--a long-time Anne fan (and as a young man entirely captivated by Megan Follows)--heartily concur.

Anne has a huge following in Japan. Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoshifumi Kondo--who would become the creative core of Studio Ghibli--produced a 50-episode television series based on the books in 1979.

Kondo's Whisper of the Heart features an Anne-like protagonist (who wants to become a writer), as do many of Miyazaki's heroines, from Kiki's Delivery Service to Howl's Moving Castle.

Today (meaning tomorrow), NHK's Good Morning, Japan ran a story about the opening of a new Anne of Green Gables exhibition in Tokyo, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the book's publication.

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July 07, 2008

Selling "Twilight" in Japan

The Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer are marketed mainly as "light novels" in Japan. Each book is broken into a three volume set, but numbered sequentially as a unified series.

This is common practice to make paperbacks more portable, to make them "read fast," and, yes, to maximize margins.

The light novel typically uses the A6 (4 x 6 inch) format, and has a glossy color cover. The content is genre fiction, with a dozen or so pen and ink illustrations. Furigana are included to help with the pronunciation of difficult kanji.

The large green characters across the cover of the first volume read: "Twilight 1" (Towairaito). The Japanese title translates as "The man I loved is a vampire." All the books follow this design and have individual titles (so far there are nine volumes).

What with the pining and the angst, the mysterious and/or supernatural boyfriend(s) who seem to live in a world of their own, and the "ne're the twain shall meet" theme, the Twilight series is a good fit for the Japanese young adult romance market.

UPDATE: Twilight was first published in two A6 volumes (4 x 6 inches), with the original cover art. The three-volume sets, illustrated by mangaka Ryuuji Gotsubo, are in JIS B6 (5 x 7.25 inches).

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July 05, 2008

Chapters 3-4 (Winter Splendor)

重嶺 [じゅうれい] Juurei (heavy summit); capital of Ren
潭翠 [たんすい] Tansui (deep water jade)

The Horse Gate or gomon (午門) is the name of one of the twelve gates surrounding a city.

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July 01, 2008

More about "Twilight"

I haven't read the books and so can only point to what other people (whose opinions I trust) are saying. My sister Kate and her friend Carole take on the series at length on Kate's blog. Additional related commentary here.

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