I was lucky to have found AML. I could easily have never known of its existence. It has been such a blessing in my life that I get panicky sometimes about how easily I could have missed out on it. That’s why I work so hard to get the word out about it--I have no doubt that there are other people out there who would be equally blessed by it if they knew about it. That’s also why I volunteer my time and money to participate and serve as fully as I can.
I found out about AML when a dear friend who knew I was looking for places to publish my LDS-themed work forwarded me an e-mail from Chris Bigelow about Irreantum. I was so excited about what I saw going on with Irreantum that I subscribed immediately to it and to the AML-List.
The AML-List changed my life.
Let me back up a little. When I was a teenager (in Salt Lake City), I noticed that almost all of my teachers in school were active Mormons—except for my English teachers. I think I had one practicing LDS English teacher in six years. This was disconcerting to me, especially since I thought of myself as an English person first: writing and reading were my passions. Also disturbing to me was that I couldn’t find any really quality fiction written by Mormons. People like to give gifts from Deseret Book (where all the literature is “safe,”) but, in comparison to the classics I was reading in my English classes, these books were shallow, sentimental and preachy. What did all this mean? Does a person need to abandon the church in order to appreciate or produce really great literature?
When I got to BYU some of my concerns were alleviated. I met some amazing people who were passionate about great literature and about how it informs a life of faith. I loved my education there and just soaked everything in. While I was there I found out about Orson Scott Card and one or two other LDS authors who were producing what I thought was worthwhile literature (Eugene England, Douglas Thayer, a few others). But I was sad there were so few of them.
Fast forward five years or so and I discovered AML-List. The first thing that got me excited about it was that I recognized some of the people who were commenting: Marvin Payne, Steven Kapp Perry, some professors from BYU. The second thing I noticed was the amazing things people were discussing—things like how to include/depict evil in literature in a way that is ultimately moral. What a moral literature looks like. Why we have so few really great works by Mormons, and how we can get more. What role criticism plays in the development of quality work. How stay-home moms can find ways to fit writing into their lives without the Mormon-guilt of knowing your family is sacrificing for your “little hobby.” Wow, wow, wow!
I was so impressed by the intelligence of the people commenting that I was intimidated to comment myself. Once in a while I ventured a little comment. But inside, I made a goal to become worthy of mixing with these people. I went to an informal activity—dinner and conversation at a restaurant—and someone said to me, “And what do you write?” At the time, I realized that I really hadn’t written anything I was proud of, nothing to mention to these people. I answered, “Nothing. I’m just a fan.” Which, I decided later, was fine—only I didn’t like it. I realized that I wanted to write, and wanted to write something I could talk about proudly. More than that, I wanted to write to and for these very people. I wanted them to be my audience, as I was theirs.
I wrote my first short story, “Companions” in direct response to a discussion that was going on on the List about point of view. It still is the best story I’ve ever written. I’ve written quite a bit since then, and all of it, really, with my AML friends in mind as an audience. Personally, I think my work has benefited greatly from having them as my audience. I’m striving to write to their level, and will continue to grow because of that striving. (I have to include here, too, a little thanks to Harlow Clark, the poetry editor at Irreantum who published some of my very first poems, lousy as they were, as a way to encourage me. It worked. I’ll always be grateful, Harlow.)
As my confidence grew, my ability to converse with and make friends with people whose talent was intimidating to me grew also. I’m very proud to call these people friends now, people who I think are doing amazing things that I’ve been able to witness in early forms (Scott Bronson’s Stones, for example, which is groundbreaking). And when I dare to let some of them read early drafts of stories or poems and then learn from their criticism, I always get better. Every artist should have such a group to write for and learn from.
I can’t imagine my life without AML now. I definitely don’t think I would be thinking of myself as a writer and investing time into my practice without the influence of AML. It’s one of the biggest blessings of my life.
If you would like to find out what it’s all about and meet some really cool people, come check out our annual meeting on April 7. In order to increase membership, we are going to have it be FREE THIS YEAR!!!!! And if you’re coming from out of town, here’s the offer of the day: the first one who asks may stay in my spare room (with bathroom) if you are coming to attend the meeting! Now who could refuse such an offer?