“Sweet Land of Bigamy” is not a linear novel. It skips around in time, sometimes by a decade and sometimes by a matter of days or hours. The unexpectedness of the opening scene — Helen hiking up the Black Elk Mountains with the Hindu pundit who’s to perform her (second) wedding ceremony — is a frightfully fresh scenario, the perfect doorway into a thick, thorny story.”
More by Maggie Galehouse: “Sweet Land of Bigamy”
I was nervous there would be my dad and daughter only, in attendance, but my reading at Braun Books in Cedar City was amazing! Summers in Cedar City, Utahns know, means the Shakespeare Festival. So arrived into a town and scene already pulsing with the love of words and stories and live performance.
Did this reality make me want to sink my head into my shell when I realized I was reading to an audience full of actors and critics? YEP. It did. Because while I’ve always been complimented on my reading style and I know I bring a lot of energy to a reading, I am, actually, not a Yale or Oxford or what-have-you-trained performer like most all other people on stages in Cedar City are.
Luckily the festivalgoers who came to my reading were forgiving. And related to me, if not by blood, by deep friendships. My aunt, the actress Sallie Cooper, brought her five friends who make the yearly trek to the festival — including a long lost friend of my own, Jim Martin — to the store. One of my mother Helen’s oldest friends, the brilliant theater critic Nancy Melich, was also in Cedar, working at the festival. She and her family all came. Megan, the new owner at Braun Books brought in a number of her own friends, too, and some writers from Cedar City. She also went out of her way to make the event a good one — she had sandwiches and strawberry water and cookies!
As with the reading at Brazo’s, my favorite part of the event was the Q&A. I think this is because — as I said in answer to one of Megan’s questions in the Q&A — I spent years writing and rewriting the novel. Then I was hunting for agents and publishers and then marketing it. During all this process, somehow, I hadn’t thought much about the book itself. I don’t think I’ve had a long discussion about this draft of the novel with anybody. I don’t know what people think or what they like or what I missed. The Q&A is the place I get to take a breath and philosophize and be proud I’ve written a novel.
A last lovely side of the Braun reading was that Lila met a little friend: Cam, whose mother worked at the bookstore. The Thursday after the reading the girls reunited and played for hours, and hopefully, they’ll be pen pals. Later in the evening Lila got to see her first play: Moliere’s Scapin — a pretty baudy play that went almost entirely over her head. Luckily it was bright, and the actors were phenomenal, and she loved it anyways. So did my dad, by the way — said it was the best play he’d ever seen.
Last Thursday was the first book launch for Sweet Land of Bigamy. The audience was full in all the right ways: family and old friends mingling with new friends, friends I hadn’t seen in years, friends who were once students, and friends I hadn’t seen in so long I never would have suspected they would come out to see me. There was a sizable group of people I’d never met before, too, and that was surprising and exciting in totally different ways. Brazos sold all but four of the 60 books they’d purchased, too! For this inkling of a moment I tasted like what the famous must feel all the time.
The whole event reminded me a lot of my wedding, in this way: all those faces of people I wanted to talk to and catch up with, but I was too busy signing books to get to chat! Probably the only day in my life I’ll have that problem — the debut of my debut novel in the city I live in — but it was glorious to have the problem at least for a second.
The energy in the room was amazing,and everybody laughed when they were supposed to, and nobody looked bored out of their minds. And the Q&A was actually fun. It went smashingly.
The only problems I really had were in the signing of books themselves. First of all, I can’t sign my name the same way twice. Second, I am incapable of scrawling the same thing on everybody’s book, so I had to think of something for everybody. And this caused the third glitch: right after the first book I signed, I overheard somebody say, “There’s no way we’ll get through this line if she goes that slow.” So when my friend Tom came second, I told him I’d just sign my name, and I’d sign something more personal later. But then I couldn’t stick to that, so poor Tom was the lone person unsigned, thrown under the doubting-myself-bus!
Throwing nostalgia in the face of 21st century expediency that snubs the book tour in favor of blog or media tours, I’ve been planning a number events in my favorite little book stores across the west. My family and I intend to make a vacation out of it, meet all the friends we have missed for too long along the way, and crown it by attending the long anticipated wedding of two of our best friends.
It’ll all begin when Sweet Land of Bigamy launches in Houston on July 19th, at Brazo’s Bookstore. It’s the first place I ever read my fiction aloud to a crowd, and so befitting. (There may be a secret Myton Daze launch the weekend before the 4th of July, if United will do me right with frequent flier tickets…)
On July 20th I’ll speed over to Dallas and have a reading in a very cool art space called Oil and Cotton. My good friend Evan Cleveland graciously set the event up, and I’ll read with him, and a Dallas poet Joe Milazzo. The Dallas trip means my daughter gets to see one of her favorite people, Evan’s daughter Kirin, and I get to see Evan who I worked with for many years and got used to right about the time he moved.
The Texas tour will dramatically pause, here, to resume in the fall…and the Northwest tour will begin in Utah. Utah, of course, makes sense because my novel is mostly set in Utah. We’ll start in Cedar City, Utah, at Braun Books. I’m excited about this because on this leg of the journey it may only be my daughter, my father, and I. Summer in Cedar City means the Shakespeare Festival, so I hope we’ll get to see something good. Maybe it also means book lovers, which would make me pretty happy. This will come a day after Pioneer Days: the 25th of July. I’m still planning with Megan, at Braun Books, to add a twist to the event catered to her book-buying audience.
On July 27th we’ll head north to Salt Lake City’s King’s English Bookstore: the first place I ever developed a book-buying habit, and one that holds many happy memories for me. The book is a Utah.
After Salt Lake we head north to Missoula, to read at Shakespeare and Company on August 1. I remember buying the Mists of Avalon here, when I was a child visiting my Aunt Patricia and Uncle Stephen. We’ll have a few days here to dip our toes in the Bitterroot and Blackfoot rivers, maybe even Rock Creek, and eat good food, and make good talk with Patricia and Stephen, too. In late June, in Houston, Texas, there’s about no better fantasy than that.
We’ll wind on over to Spokane, then, to read at Auntie’s Bookstore. I’m really excited about this, too, because right in a middle-of-nowhere just northwest of Spokane lives my cousin Nancy, who is my mother Kathleen’s contemporary. I adored Nancy my whole childhood, because she reminded of my mother who I saw very little of then. But now I’ve seen my mother a lot, but I haven’t seen Nancy since I was a tween, I think. She’s bringing her reading group down from Daisy, Washington, and hopefully we’ll get to spend a night there and visit. I’ve always wanted to do this!
We don’t get much time in Spokane before we zoom on over to Seattle for a reading at the legendary Elliott Bay Books, on Monday, August 9th. I feel like a superstar when I think of reading here! Seattle is especially exciting because this is where the wedding we’re going to will be. But it also hosts some of my best friends from many different parts of my life: from elmentary school, and high school, and college, and graduate school, and post school. I think not even Salt Lake City or New York or Houston can boast such a varied bouquet of peoples I will always love.
Before the wedding, though, we head south to Portland for a reading at Broadway Books in Portland. This is the independent bookstore saved by a tweet a few years back. It’s small, and intimate, and just the right space for me and a number of friends I have missed a long time. We’ll also be able to greet some new friends of ours just moving to Portland.
Then we’re done. We can relax. We can see the wedding of some of our dearest friends, then make our way back to Utah pretty fast, and then as quickly, disappear into the Texas moistness.
I, for one, cannot wait.
If you just can’t get enough of me in person or in print, this is the place to come. Thank you for getting this far. I’m going to try to make this blog exciting, but as it turns out, excitement is hard to manufacture. But I’m not a giver-upper, and I hope you’ll keep returning here to find out not only about my book and writing news, but about the research I’m doing on future books, and thoughts I’m having about thoughts you and the rest of the world have had. I have to thank the very kind and inspired folks at Yolk Design for a lot of hard work and patience.
I was speechless to find out, earlier this spring, that the most important essay I have written was selected for inclusion in Best American Essays 2012!
The essay “You Owe Me” was first published by Michigan Quarterly Review, and is about my experiences teaching for Writers in the Schools at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. I worked there during a very magical period, when there was a classroom full of teachers and kids pulling each other through the obvious difficulties of living in a cancer hospital. I couldn’t write a word about any of this work during almost a decade of teaching, but when it came out, it flowed non-stop. I am so proud the essay was noticed (and astounded and thankful).
The series editor, David Atwan, told me it fit well with the other people who will be in the book: but I don’t know who they are yet! I was too shy to ask, and now I’m not going to look until I get the book, but I’m really excited to find out. It sort of feels like I’m at a surprise party, hiding in the dark with a bunch of strangers who might turn out to be not strangers, after all, but my literary heroes.
Sweet Land of Bigamy by Miah Arnold is a dramatic and humorous debut novel about one woman who dared to love—and marry—two very different men. When Helen Motes finds herself on a Utah mountaintop getting married to a besotted young Indian poet, she can’t quite figure out how she became a bigamist, and she certainly doesn’t want to be one. Helen worked hard to create the stable middle-class life her childhood denied her, so sabotaging her first (and decidedly still legal) marriage to a nice Mormon man wasn’t part of her life plan. Yet with her original husband away in Iraq, and her new husband ready to agree to everything she ever wanted, deciding which husband to keep proves to be torture. How Helen’s life led her to this point–and what she plans to do with these two “keepers”–are the driving questions behind Miah Arnold’s heartfelt debut about an unlikely bigamist and her circle of family, friends, and husbands. Weaving in multiple continents and unforgettable characters, The Sweet Land of Bigamy is a funny and surprisingly touching exploration of what marriage can be.
Miah Arnold discusses Sweet Land of Bigamy YouTube interview with the publisher, Ben LeRoy. July 2012: Miah Arnold: Sweet Land of Bigamy An interview with Catherine Lu Houston NPR’s The Front Row July 18, 2012 Bigamy as Allegory An article by Lisa Carricaburu The Salt Lake Tribune July 20, 2012 Review: Sweet Land of Bigamy A review by Maggie Galehouse The Houston Chronicle July 22, 2012 Book Review: Sweet Land of Bigamy a review by postmormongirl July 22, 2012
REVIEWS SHORT FICTION:
“How She Rathered” (published in Nanofiction)
Review by New Pages
“Miah Arnold presents us with a bone rattling story about a woman who starts collecting teeth in “How She Rathered.” She steals these teeth from under countless pillows, filling a sack in less than one hour. Finally, “At home, when she emptied its contents into her tub, they nearly filled it. Without the salivic gleam of their usual context the teeth looked like kernels of bathtub.” She fills the bathtub and lays down in the teeth, submerging herself in them. Finally, she swishes the “loose teeth between her own teeth.” You have to read the story to discover the end, but I could not help but be haunted by the woman who swims in loose teeth as a way she discovered “to be something less upsetting than a woman.”
“Snap by Miah Arnold is a plainspoken, magical realist piece set in a domestic setting. Told in the first
person, the scene is set with the narrator sitting in the office of “the tailor,” which is reminiscent of a dentist’s office. She has made the appointment with the tailor because her soul has turned black, and the tailor’s profession is to go inside and clean it out. Two assistants turn into a purple, slimy essence and jump into the narrator’s body, then force her out and blow her skin up like a blimp, so that the tailor can fit inside comfortably to get his job done. Once out, the narrator slides into a temporary body for the remainder of the procedure. With only his legs sticking out of the narrator’s body, he questions her about decisions she has made, actions she has taken, and thoughts she has thought but not said – all of this he can see from inside. The story ends with the tailor finishing the cleaning and the narrator
jumping back into her own body, at which time the tailor instructs her to take a shower before she leaves and make a follow up appointment with the secretary on her way out.
I tend to be a fan of the strange and off-kilter, and Miah Arnold’s story is just that. Her voice is that of a
contemporary, female Poe. Her images are exquisite and extremely vivid: “…the tailor, hooking his fingers into my nostrils and pulling me to a fast ninety degree position.” And her descriptive details almost made me wet my pants. One of my favorite lines in the piece is, “The tailor reminds me of a demonic chicken.” Miah Arnold’s dark humor and tendency towards the oddball state of mind make her someone I definitely plan to look for in the future.