From the back cover: These seven stories trace the arc of a family narrative in which mothers abandon their children for the best of reasons, fierce daughters reclaim their heritage, and the gap between spiritual health and the expectations of LDS culture affects the outcome of every episode.

Poet Annie MacDougal, feminist Riva Maynard, and Riva’s daughter Katie spiral in and out of these seven “incidents” spanning more than three decades, along with the men and women they learn from and love.

This book began with stories I wrote in the late 80s and early 90s for my dissertation (1994, University of Utah). My Ph.D. is in fiction writing, so short stories were the medium I chose to develop. The dissertation did not start out being a "novel in seven stories." It was a collection of unrelated stories, some of them experimental, but many of them exploring the difficulties of being an educated, unorthodox woman in Utah Mormon culture in the 70s and 80s. Several of these were published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Catalyst, Sunstone, and elsewhere. They won awards and were reprinted in anthologies. After the collection was approved (with the same title, explained elsewhere), and the Ph.D. in hand, I ambitiously started writing a new work, a novel. It began with these words:

All this began, like a fairy tale, with the arrival of a stranger.  Wizard, I thought in the flash of rescue, though he looked like an ordinary fisherman…

I wrote for months, but it didn’t take that long to know that the characters in the novel were the same people, fleshed out and carrying on in quite headstrong ways, as had appeared throughout my dissertation, though I'd given them different names. And the novel was just a continuation of their lives and concerns. I needed the dissertation stories for my novel to make most sense.

Lots of things intervened. In 1998, two of the stories caused me to be kicked out of Brigham Young University, where I’d been teaching since 1980 (another story, for another moment). From 1996 to 2002 I studied hands-on healing work back home in northern California with a charismatic teacher, Lansing Barrett Gresham, (see www.inawareness.com)  and co-authored two books with him. I joined the creative writing faculty at Utah Valley University (then Utah Valley State College) and earned tenure there. My husband and I saw our children go on missions, marry, have children of their own. The novel gathered dust…

Over several years, I worked desultorily at developing the connections between the relevant dissertation stories and worked at some new ones that rose like phoenix birds (or like pigs that fly) from the shards of the novel, drawing the characters and issues together into a climax that seemed inevitable, and a resolution that reflected the love I felt around my people. Ultimately this book took shape: Pigs When They Straddle the Air, a novel, really, in seven nonlinear episodes. 

 

Pigs When They Straddle the Air
By Julie J. Nichols