Sharing the Polygamy Burden

Dialogue 4202/Summer 2009.

Both SP Bailey and I have polygamy-themed short fiction in the current issue of Dialogue (unless fall's out; it may be).

Shawn's story is of a type I'm seeing a lot of in both fiction and verse of late --- especially within Mormondom, but that may be more reflective of my reading. The story, "Triptych: Plural", is three shortshorts apparently connected by nothing other than a touching on polygamy. The first is a Mormon couple moved to Pennsylvania and the first hints of fallout when the wife makes a polygamy joke (except for half a page of excruciatingly unreal dialogue, this is the probably the best of the three; a great glimpse into two marriages). The second, Boy Scouts tour an old polygamist's home and admire the trapdoor he used to hide in (this is the weakest of the three although it does have a hilarious moment that certainly makes the whole thing worth it). The third finds a newly wed Mormon couple on a long plane flight when the polygamy's long shadow suddenly and unpleasantly rears up (this one is flawless and sharp).

My only real complaint with "Triptych" can be rephrased so it's not a complaint at all. Watch:

What we seem to be witnessing here is the development of a new form of storytelling wherein there is no single story, and the existing stories ain't the point. The point is topic or theme or situation and by examining such from a series of viewpoints, we begin to triangulate its location and significance. And that's an interesting development.

I need to take a ride on that boat and see how it feels from a creative standpoint.

My story on the other hand ("The Widower") is a true short story in the classic sense. And, needless to say, it's awesome. So follow the link and read it.

Other than that, I'm not planning on analyzing it. I may read it and if I do, I may change my mind and revisit it, but as it is, I feel I've mentioned it enough.

Instead I'll include a letter I received after the story appeared in print (it also went to D's editors), with permission of the letter's author. It's a dandy. If you want to read more about "the Widower" from me, I'm adding a "The Widower" tag so you can view all the old mentions.

    June 17, 2009

    Mr. Jepson,

    I just finished reading "The Widower," in _Dialogue_ Vol. 42.2 (2009). Thank you for writing "The Widower." I found the story enjoyable, unpretentious and hard working.

    Fiction that is richly tectured and densely packed challenges me and, perhaps, intimidates me. I usually lay richly textured and densely packed fiction aside with the intent to pick it up at a time in the future when my energy level is high and I am prepared to deal with density. For me those two conditions seldom occur together. So I have much richly textured and densely packed unread fiction lying about.

    On the other hand, I was forced by circumstance to put "The Widower," aside twice. Tonight I waited for my wife to go to her meeting. The, with alacrity, I picked up my _Dialogue_ found my book mark, and read with "the Widower," with much enjoyment.

    Some fiction is pretentious. It is probably true that I am intimidated by such fiction. I think of myself as a simple man. Writers who write to impress other writers seem to abound--especially in Mormon fiction. And some of it is bad writing. John Ciardi said, "If a man means his writing seriously, he must mean to write well. But how can he write well until he learns to see what he has written badly. His progress toward good writing and his recognition of bad writing are bound to unfold at something like the same rate." For me writing seriously means writing for readers, not for other writers and literary types whose pretentions are as transparent as their prose is opaque.

    "The Widower," is a hard working story. Some fiction writers expect the reader to do all the heavy lifting. Some fiction writers think convoluted adverbial phrases are indispensible. Some writers wouldn't be caught with a straightforward plot, characters and storyline like "The Widowers." I think, frankly, such writers will be caught dead and buried--perhaps ostentatiously, but will be little mourned.

    In "The Widower," you give the reader realistic detail--how it feels to throw papers on an early morning newspaper route. That's meat and potatoes stuff. God bless it. Your characters are warm, rich, good people who, God Bless Them, don't overtly honk their warmth and richness and goodness. You, as the author, keep ahead of the reader, but not too far ahead.

    As I said, I found "The Widower," enjoyable, unpretentious and hard working. Again, thank you for writing the story.

    I thank _Dialogue_ for publishing "The Widower." When my subscription to _Dialogue_ comes up for renewal, I'll renew.

    With best wishes.

    Larry Day

Thank you, Larry. This is one of the kindest letters I have ever received.


  1. Ha! I love your rephrased complaint, and in turn expect that you will love my set of stories in the following issue of Dialogue. It's like Shawn's "Triptych" but with five.

    And: that's an awesome letter. Other than fame and riches, I don't think an author could ask for anything more.

  2. .

    It is a great letter.


    And next issue, seven!

  3. Wow: fantastic letter.

    Have downloaded; will read very soon. Treat! I'm still thinking about that leprechaun/cauldron story: shudder of awesomeness.

  4. .

    This one's totally different, I assure you. :)