Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I'm happy to report that the editing process for DREAM HOUSE ON GOLAN DRIVE with Signature Books is moving right along.

The release date may be slightly delayed from the original schedule (August 15, 2015), but . . . it should be shortly after that.

I've already been tapped by the Utah Humanities Book Festival for a reading in September (more on that later) and hopefully there will be a book launch in Salt Lake City which is famous for it's scrappy independent bookstores dedicated to local writers.

Meanwhile, here's a short interview of me talking about my forthcoming book. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Dream House on Golan Drive," New from Signature Books

Announcing my first book: Dream House on Golan Drive, forthcoming from Signature Books (Salt Lake City) August 2015.

It is the year 1972, and Riley Harley finds that he, his family, community, and his faith are entirely indistinguishable from each other. He is eleven. A young woman named Lucy claims God has revealed to her that she is to love with Riley's family. Her quirks are strangely disarming, her relentless questioning of their life incendiary and sometimes comical. Her way of taking religious practice to its logical conclusion leaves a strong impact on her hosts and propels Riley outside his observable universe and toward a trajectory of self discovery.

Set in Provo and New York City during the seventies and eighties, the story encapsulates the normal expectations of a Mormon experience and turns them on their head. The style, too, is innovative in how it employs "Zed," one of the apocryphal Three Nephites who with another immortal figure, the Wandering Jew of post-biblical legend, engage regularly in light-hearted banter and running commentary, animating the story and leavening the heartache with humor and tenderness.

Paperback | Fiction
300 pp. |  $24.95
Signature Books

Monday, December 15, 2014

Getting Back to Basics

This is my new personal mantra--the advice I would give everyone, especially our national government right now.

How did we get into the intractable place we have arrived as a country, as the human race?
1) We have not stood our ground, or even known what our values (as opposed to our "doctrine") are.
2) We have not acknowledged or negotiated the fundamentalism by which each of is gripped (that means me and you...all of us.)
3) We have not had the good sense or humanity to know that in public discourse and in governance, compromise is the only thing that will move us forward. In short, we refuse to compromise for the benefit of the collective. 

I am proposing a grass-roots movement. Our leaders are currently lost. They are beholden to what they think the public--their public--wants from them. (Again...that we identify the population as "publics" now, instead of a singular, collective "public" speaks to our dilemma.)

Stand Your Ground
Check Your Fundamentalism
Compromise for the Benefit of the Collective

So what do we want from our leaders: our Senate, our House of Representatives our state legislators, our governor and our president? Do we want a ship that is righted and mobile; that moves through the mighty ocean of our little lives with authority and grace?; do we have the pragmatic and mature view to understand that, despite the relentless drum-beat of consumerism--what Hollywood and Madison Avenue are saying--individuals have never gotten everything they wanted?

I submit that we have to learn to subdue self interest so that all of us, with each other, can cobble together a world and a life that we can grant our children and grandchildren with, if not assurance, than at least hope. 

How are each of us implicated in the disaster that has become our American civic self? 

I am reminded, again, of why I started this blog, and how often I have gone astray myself from what, in my gut, I realize is a truth borne out of my own brutality to others and myself: I am responsible in part for the disaster and the redemption of the world in which we are all citizens. As are each of us. I am part and parcel to the complaints I level, in face-to-face conversations at home and on the street, in the office, in social media, in published documents, in the e-forums that have become the new town square.

It's a little house we all live in. But we'll be fine if we can just learn to dance well with everyone else. So first ask yourself the questions: How does everything implicate me? In what way do I contribute to it all? I'll ask those questions too.

Stand Your Ground
Check Your Fundamentalism
Compromise for the Benefit of the Collective

In my next three posts, I'll try to address each of these steps listed above. I invite you to join the conversation. I want to hear your views, your questions, your concerns--all presented with civility, intelligence and, if not with the ever-elusive if not impossible cut-and-dried solution, than at least with a design for a way forward.

If you have something to say you're not allowed to say it through zingers just to win points. Here's Rule #1: State first how you are implicated in the problem before you start looking outward, and be prepared to place your comment in a context that will actually move the conversation--and potentially our society--forward. Rule #2: (see Rule #1).

As a people, we can set the standard for our leaders who appear to have lost their way.

I don't know if the ship of public discourse and governance can be righted. But I do know that the only way out of our current malaise is through it. What we have to work with is the evolved human impulse to communicate, to cooperate and to listen. 

Stand Your Ground
Check Your Fundamentalism
Compromise for the Benefit of the Collective

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Announcing Signature Wedding Ceremonies

What does a writer and editor do who needs more cash and is a cracker jack at events?

He gets ordained. That's right, gang. If you need a wedding officiant I am currently available. I do traditional weddings (with or without mention of deity), unusual weddings in unusual places, and I also am honored to marry same-sex partners.

I'm located in Salt Lake City but am willing to travel within reason. My first two ceremonies will be free. (If you're happy with my services, I'll ask you to recommend me.) 

So pony up and get hitched. 

Contact me through my blog or at [click here]  

"Your wedding ceremony is the signature of your love." 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dave's Editing and Writing Services

I hope you're enjoying my "Little House" blog. I've recently joined Thumbtack offering my professional services as an editor and writer.

Thumbtack is a new way to find professional services, including help with editing and writing your copy, stories, books, blogs and other written material.

Thanks for considering Dave's Editing & Writing Services on Thumbtack.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Even in Paradise/You Have to Pay Attention": Review of "House Under the Moon"

This review originally appeared in 15 Bytes Magazine in December. "House Under the Moon" was a finalist for the 2013 15 Bytes Book Awards in poetry. I liked this book partly because I've met Michael personally in Logan where he and his family live, and partly because he's a practitioner of Buddhist meditation, something I've been dabbling in for a couple of years. "Dabbling" is perhaps the wrong word for it. It's become a discipline for me, this Zen thing, and one that I would recommend. My introduction to meditation was through the writings of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh whose mindfulness work seems to have penetrated the West to reach many. like me, who have never had an entree into Eastern thought and spirituality. Not sure when I can call myself a "Buddhist," if ever, but I have to say that of late mindfulness/meditation has been transformative for me. And this book of poems sort of helped me understand that, calling yourself this or that, Buddhist or not, is the least important thing to worry about.

In his 2012 collection House Under the Moon, it’s clear that poet Michael Sowder has suffered for his art, as spiritual seekers do. The first section (“Homecoming”) starts with a kind of post mortem of the life previous—another marriage, a father whose marginalia in a book sends the mind reeling in memory and loss, perhaps old systems of thinking, feeling and believing. The direction is linear, forward in direction, away from something and home to a new hearth that in the second half (titled “Housekeeping”) becomes eastern, circular and curiously joyful.

This book circles back on itself, devouring its own tail, elevating the reader through language and image, literary/mythological/religious references and the personal to arrive at a proposed existence in which “only dancing/will make sense,/breathing Her breath,/His, until you find yourself/looking out the irises/of every stranger’s eyes.”

Sowder’s work here is also intensely domestic, many of his poems about raising, as a mature man, two young sons who, are, variously, talismans, mirrors to the poet’s internal landscape, and the embodiment of both God and the universe. In “December, Hiking with Aidan, Eight Months Old,” fathering is a practice

…but not much
noble silence. Instead, I attend to
fist-clenched panics and moon-mouthed

And in “Hiking at Oselong, Tebetan Buddhist Monastery of Andalucia,” again with his son, he is quick to exult, “It’s like we’re in the Home of the Immortals./The Pure Land of the Bodhisattvas!” but then doesn’t hesitate to tell us, after he trips and the two of them somersault down into a critical heap, that “Even in paradise,/you have to pay attention.” And yet even crumpled together in what could have been a disaster, this fright makes electric life and the world: “True north everywhere.”

The squalls and temper tantrums, the doubts and the dangers of keeping house—keeping life—resolve again and again to the poet’s corrective to let go, to breathe, to…dance. And it’s both exhilarating and, occasionally, a little too self-centered. But in the end, this is if far from a celeb’s “how-I-am-glorious-me” tome. For one thing the language is always fresh—even revelatory– even if the references to rishis of the Veda, Simone Weil and esoteric books on eastern religion start to pile up.

The form and tempo of these poems vary from a vertical, mostly one-word line shape poem (“Into darkness”) to the arresting “Note to Self” whose lists accelerate in the head like the voice of a slam poet:
Only when you take the job of janitor, your name
Scrawled in an unknown tongue above the door
Of a room in Her temple of the dawn
Will you ever redeem your forfeit life.

Together the poems often articulate recurring themes–that the poet (and presumably to whom he speaks) must arrive at “…the country/where what is inside me/can be born inside You…” and “…to learn/to break a fall by letting go/of what you want.” And yet these themes, all tributaries to becoming one with God and the universe, thread through varied contexts: means of suicide (“Checking Out”), re-birth and love (“Ever Since,” “When I First Pulled Onto the Highway of Love”), marital conflict (“When You leave my house”), even a prayer (“Aidan Looks at the Moon”).
And, at the book’s end, looking backwards, the effects have been sublimity, delight. It has been a recounting of how we somehow emerge from old life that has been painful and dark, confusing and self-destructive. The trouble that the poet has experienced, including, at one point, a kind of perverse penance he alludes to in an earlier life passage, seems to burnish him, propel him forward, bleed new life and new light.

In the 7-part “Delicate,” one of the more memorable poems of a categorically memorable book, the verse moves from macro to micro and back, beginning at the speaker’s son’s blue eyes above the mustache from mother’s milk, to the “just weightless architecture” of the vaulted night sky to a wife and mother lying injured on the side of the road to the brutal wildness of orphaned fawns “crying in ferns by the trail./Spotted, tiny, crying out./To us?/To the world?” to the emergency medical technician with a blanket to the next morning with boys “drink[ing] milk and honey from sippy cups” to…well, to all of it, converging as it only can in good poetry:

Our boys’ voices, the warmth
of our bodies, a house finch’s song, Jennifer
opening the door, her beauty,
fragility, all held lightly, none of it
ours, cared for, vanishing.


House Under the Moon
by Michael Sowder
Truman State University Press
(2012) 85 pages
Photo by Niki Baldwin
Photo by Niki Baldwin

Michael Sowder is a poet, writer, and professor at Utah State University in Logan where he lives at the foot of the Bear River Mountains with his wife, writer Jennifer Sinor, and their boys, Aidan and Kellen. His first book of poetry, The Empty Boat, won the 2004 T.S. Eliot Award and his chapbook, A Calendar of Crows, won the New Michigan Press Award. His nonfiction, which explores themes of wilderness, poetrics , and spirituality, appears in Shambhala Sun, The Wasatch Journal, and several essay collections.

Raised in an Irish Catholic family, Michael Sowder was trained as a meditation teacher in a tantric yoga tradition in the 1970s and subsequently practiced meditation in Buddhist and Christian mystical traditions. He is the founder of the Amrita Sangha for Integral Spirituality, an organization that explores and teaches the practices of the world’s contemplative traditions.

Barbara K. Richardson’s Tributary, Winner of the 15 Bytes Book Award, 2013

In the fall of 2013 the winners of the first annual 15 Bytes Book Awards were announced. As the literary editor of this online arts magazine, I had the privilege of working with other magazine staff and the editor, Shawn Rossiter, to determine all the particulars of launching a new statewide program of this type. In part, the 15 Bytes Book Awards was in response to the fact that the Utah Book Award went on hiatus. (Whether it returns is still in question.) But, being an art magazine for adults, we decided to limit the categories to literary fiction, poetry and art books. This seemed enough for the first year. At the moment we are engaged in the second iteration of what we hope we become an annual affair perhaps someday expanding its categories to include narrative nonfiction.

The winner of last year's fiction award was Barbara Richardson's Tributary, a novel set in the 19th Century. I had the privilege of writing the review/citation for this extraordinary book which, coincidentally, falls within my own long-term interest in Mormon letters. I found this book not only worthy of a 15 Bytes book award, but also worthy of note for those within the admittedly small but rather obsessed cadre of "Mo-lit" enthusiasts--a group to which I often feel ambivalent toward, even though my own forays into writing suffer (or benefit) from my seeing Mormonly. (With apologies to Emily Dickinson's phrase to describe her own poetry as "seeing New Englandly.")

I fear still, and perhaps always will, as I express below in the review, that Mormon literature, such as it was, is and might in the near future become, will fail to find an audience. One thing is certain: no one is in charge of this train--not the institutional church, not its dissidents, apostates and true believers either within our without the academy, and not its rank-and-file. There are broader, indiscriminate and enigmatic forces blowing through the attempts of not only Mormon writers but every writer right now...not only technological but social forces (both of which continue to profoundly inform each other).

In the end, serious writers of every stripe can only do what serious writers have always done and what they've always been called to do: write and write well. Perhaps writing well is like loving well. It is its own reward. 


Review of Barbara K. Richardson's Tributary

Remarkable as Barbara K. Richardson’s novel Tributary is, it is most remarkable, perhaps, because it seems to be one of the first literary works in memory that positions the history of the Great Basin in the broader context of its time. Set in the years following the arrival of the Mormons to Utah, this sprawling tale told in the first person dignifies the region, if rarely the “saints” who people it, with the weight of its narrative. Here the territory is not just a placeholder in the story of the west—or in modern parlance, a “flyover state.” Its heroine, plucky Clair Martin—the woman with the red stain of a birthmark on her left check—is its product, and its curse, its orphan and its lay prophetess. Clair is a proto-feminist—not entirely likable—and, lucky for the reader, stained with much more than just the splotch on her face.

Of the many questions this Western epic raises in the course of its scene-shifting from Brigham City to the Mississippi Delta and back to the Utah/Idaho border is, what happened to those 19th Century Mormons who left their tribe?

Not since Frank C. Robertson’s gritty biography of a homesteading family titled A Ram in the Thicket has the story of this lost generation of the American West been visited so grippingly. Clair is fiercely independent, not willing to marry, though willing to love, not only her beloved Tierre— the nine-year-old black orphan from Louisiana who ends up returning to the high mountain desert with Clair—but a scheming sheepherder whom she beds. Clair is the first to say that she holds a grudge against the Mormons who raised her, trammeled her spirit, attempted to marry her off as a plural wife, and, finally,  looked the other way when one of them tried to rape her. And yet still she resonates, as humans tend to do, with the civilizing force of her youth even as she relentlessly critiques it, resists it and stubbornly makes it somehow her own.

Only “the continuous body of earth,” the landscape seems to give Clair sustained solace from psychic injuries that alternately torture and beguile her, that and the authenticity and spirituality of the Bannock and Shoshone, equally “marked” in her view as is Tierre (who eventually marries a Shoshone)—equally set apart with the “mark of Cain,” as is she.

The “white and delightsome” race of the righteous, a Book of Mormon phrase that has only recently been excised from scripture by apologists, sticks in her craw throughout this lyrical outing. And yet as with those who will follow her—outsiders of every stripe from what can seem like a hermetically-sealed and ideologically-driven community—Clair forms her family from those who, like her, have been “marked.” And the character of that nascent family, first in New Orleans but especially later near the River Raft Mountains in what is now Box Elder County, is a character yet to be fully formed and fully validated. (Might there be a sequel?)

Still, as with another Western spiritualist and mystic lover of the land—Terry Tempest Williams—Clair is too smart and too resilient to dismiss out-of-hand the clay from which she has been formed. Despite this novel’s ending with Clair’s initiation into Native ritual, I don’t believe Clair (or Richardson) is capitulating to the self-righteous rose water wash some insist—mostly Anglos—on splashing Native American culture. Nor is there a capitulation to bald pantheism. These don’t seem to be the answers to Clair’s dilemma based in longing for both independence and community. The beauty and rigor of Tributary stem from a tension, what author Levi Peterson referred to as “a fierce, grieving thing,” that rises uniquely in the people Clair can’t quite claim as her own any longer (if she ever could), but to whom she can never look away.

One of several books published by the new Torrey House Press, Tributary seems to have been largely overlooked by critics and the public since its publication last year. (The exception being, of course, that it was a finalist for the Willa Literary Award, named in honor of Willa Cather.) Is there a market for this stunning novel with the admittedly antique—sometimes arch–diction, 20-plus years in the making?

Perhaps not. Why?

For the devout the book isn’t certain enough in its moral (read: Mormon) purpose.

For the modern-day LDS apostate, it doesn’t burn the beast far enough to the ground.

For the “Latter-day Sometimes Saint” (to quote a poem by Carolyn Campbell), it’s offensive because it’s not a critique borne out of his or her own idiosyncratic complaints.

And for the outside observer living here in the gumbo of this self-described “peculiar people” with their lively but checkered history…will they also ignore Tributary under the old pretense that it is artistically inferior or worse, provincial? Bigotry not only knows no skin color; it knows no religion. And that, dear reader, is the cultural conundrum quite specific to where we live.

Perhaps only Clair Martin, the magisterial outsider/insider with the stained left cheek, could narrate a penetrating expose of just that. She’s already done a pretty brilliant job of getting the lay of this enigmatic land that is as much about an idea and its proliferating but largely reactionary counter-ideas as it is about rock and juniper, alkaline flats and big sky.
Tributary by Barbara K. Richardson
Torrey House Press (September 2012)
352 pages

About the Author
Barbara Richardson’s debut novel, Guest House, launched the first literary Truck Stop Tour in the nation and was a fiction finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2010. In Tributary, she claims the land of her Mormon ancestors who settled the northern Salt Lake Valley. Richardson earned an MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University. Barbara is also an avid environmentalist. She now writes and designs landscapes in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Visit the author’s website: