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The Lit Blitz Hall of Fame: Jeanine Bee

In the Lit Blitz Hall of Fame, we celebrate authors published in previous Mormon Lit Lab contests by asking their thoughts on Mormon Lit, writing, and life. Check back twice a month for new Hall of Fame interviews.

Previous Lit Blitz pieces by Jeanine Bee:

An Interview with Jeanine Bee

Explain the background of one of your Lit Blitz pieces—your inspiration, your writing process, or why the piece is meaningful to you. 

***Spoiler alert for “The Casting Out of Spirits!” Click here to read it before you read this answer. 

I wrote the piece “The Casting Out of Spirits” in forty-five minutes. I had been practicing the organ in the middle of a weekday. The church building was empty and my organ music filled the chapel. When I stopped playing to turn to the next hymn, I heard what sounded like a door opening followed by carpeted footsteps. I waited for someone to poke their head into the chapel, to wave hello or ask when I’d be finished, but no one ever came. As I started into the next hymn, an intrusive thought popped into my head: “It’s probably a ghost.” I scoffed at the idea. Who would haunt a church building. In the middle of a weekday? How boring. Then I looked at myself, sitting in an empty church building on a weekday, as I have so many times in my tenure as ward organist. That’s who would haunt a church building. An organist. I came home from my practice session and wrote the whole piece before I had to get my toddler up from her nap. It’s not my usual writing process, but I guess you could say the story followed me home and refused to rest until it had been written down. 

What’s one of your favorite Lit Blitz pieces written by someone else?

There have been so many fantastic pieces over the years, it’s hard to choose! Three that I still think about regularly are “Slippery” by Stephen Carter, “The 37th Ward Relief Society Leftovers Exchange” by Liz Busby, and “Proof that Sister Greeley is a Witch (Even Though Mormons Don’t Believe in Witches)” by William Morris (which can also be read in his delightfully strange short story collection, The Darkest Abyss).

What is the best advice you’ve received as a writer?

Once, while I was attending BYU, I was writing a short play, and I couldn’t get the ending quite right. I took my work-in-progress to a writing workshop that James Goldberg was holding just off campus. He read through what I had written and immediately spotted my mistake. “The ending is too neat,” he told me. “What would a real person actually do in this situation? What would you do in this situation?” It’s the simplest advice, but I always go back to it. I want my stories to ring true, and in order to do so, sometimes I have to close my eyes and imagine what motives and feelings I might have in a given situation or what kinds of catalysts might persuade me to make a particular decision. In that way, writing sometimes feels like acting for me.

Tell us about a formative writing-related experience.

In ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Dado, gave the class an assignment to write a two-page retelling of the myth of Helen, Paris, and the golden apple. The next day, I turned in eighteen pages. I had so much fun writing dialogue and characterization, turning the simple tale into a fleshed-out story, that I couldn’t stop after just two pages. Mr. Dado was a short, overly-tanned man with a reputation for being a little grumpy, a touch odd, somewhat demanding. He could have been annoyed at my enthusiasm, just pushing our class through the motions of Romeo and Juliet, marking time through the year. But he wasn’t. He returned my story with positive marginalia throughout. I’ll forever be grateful that he saw the seeds of a lifelong passion in that assignment, and encouraged me to keep growing. 

What else have you been doing, whether in writing, other creative fields, or life?

In addition to the writing I am always doing (this year I will have pieces published in Inscape, Wayfare, and Irreantum), I am currently acting as the fiction editor for Wayfare Magazine. I love having the opportunity to get to know other writers in the Latter-day Saint community and work with them as an editor. I’ve made some good friends, and as a bonus, I get to read all that beautiful, thoughtful, weird, and wonderful fiction before anyone else does! 

You can see the work I’m doing at Wayfare here, and follow my writing on my website or instagram page.

Thank you, Jeanine Bee, for sharing your insights with us for the Lit Blitz Hall of Fame!

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