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And the Whitneys Go to…

April 26, 2009

Here are the winners (you can read the liveblogging transcript here)

Best Romance: Spare Change, by Aubrey Mace
Best Mystery: Stephanie Black, Fool Me Twice
Best Speculative: Brandon Sanderson, Hero of Ages
Best Historical: Abinadi, H. B. Moore
Best Youth: James Dashner, the 13th Reality
Best General Fiction: Waiting for the Light to Change, Annette Haws
Best Novel by a New Author: Angela Hallstrom, Bound on Earth
Best Novel: Traitor, by Sandra Grey

Okay, so, um, I got three right in my Segullah post: Stephanie Black, Annette Haws, and Angela Hallstrom. I felt very strongly that those three books deserved to win something (each was nominated more than once), and I’m so glad they did.

Congratulations to all winners, and finalists, are in order. Way to go!

And to those who didn’t win, if you read this, and it’s any consolation, you can know that I (and I’m sure many others) was pulling for you. I hope to read you in the finals again next year.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2009 6:35 pm

    I wish The Reckoning would have won something, but overall, I’m pleased with the results. The caliber of finalists really was great overall.

  2. Emily permalink*
    April 27, 2009 12:35 am

    I have several books I wish would have won something; The Reckoning is on my list, and so is Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. And I liked Seeking Persephone and Taking Chances too; I wish all three of them could have won. I’m most bummed about Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, though. That was a great book. But I guess de gustibus non est disputandum, we ought not argue over taste.

    I really loved reading and analyzing all the books, though. Reading McKee’s story structure book at the same time taught me to read like a writer in a way I’ve never done before, and that’s been fun for me. I so appreciate your help in finding all the books, and I also appreciate everyone who works on the committee–you all should pat yourselves on the back as well!

  3. April 27, 2009 11:17 pm

    Thanks, Annette and Emily. I felt the true honor was simply being named a finalist because that phase of the competition was determined by a small group of dedicated, experienced writers, editors, and readers.

    The final phase seems to be more about which of all these well-written books are best known and liked (either through mentions on LDS blogs or presence on LDS bookstore shelves). I realized half-way through the conference on Saturday that mine was a long, long shot because very few beyond the judges would even have an opportunity to read The Reckoning unless they ordered it on Amazon or borrowed one of the few copies floating around.

    Perhaps, like Angela Hallstrom’s publisher did, I should have sent free copies of my book as a PDF attachment in emails to members of the Whitney Academy. But, then, Sarah Eden did that and she still didn’t win. In truth, I don’t believe it’s possible for a self-published book to win a Whitney (under the current judging conditions) because we can’t get the shelf presence in any bookstore, let alone an LDS bookstore. That shelf presence leads to book reviews on blogs, etc. I hope to be proven wrong in the future.

    In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and the gala banquet, and I’m very grateful that the Whitney Academy opens this competition to ALL LDS writers, whether they have published traditionally or self-published… whether their books feature LDS characters or not. After all, if it’s excellence in literature that we’re after, then all avenues ought to be open since, as Mormons, we are encouraged to build the kingdom, as well as strengthen it.

    I’m not sure why, but I don’t feel compelled to write about Mormon culture. Perhaps it stems from my many years outside of that culture (other than my years at BYU). In any case, as Orson Scott Card put it in his acceptance speech the other night (read by Rob Wells): my purpose is not to write truth, but to write truthfully. That means I need to follow my inclinations. My next book may include a Mormon character (or two)… or it may not. If it does, it may well be embraced by LDS publishers and I may be fortunate enough again to be up for a Whitney.

    Regardless of how it turns out, you may be sure I’ll return next year to applaud the growth in literature among members of the Church.

    Like you, Emily, I thought Jessica Day George’s prose was breathtaking!

  4. Emily permalink*
    April 28, 2009 3:12 am

    Tanya, self-publication does put you in a tough spot. I am grateful I was able to get my hands on a copy of your book; I did not buy all the books, even the easily accessible ones in bookstores and the library. I couldn’t possibly afford it. Luckily, Annette and Josi and others helped me access the ones I had not read. I am so grateful for that–I wanted to give every book a fair chance, and I just couldn’t afford to do that unless I borrowed some of the finalists.

    I’d love to get your take on Mormon culture (although I also found your depiction of Iraq fascinating)… because I’d love for you to do what you did with The Reckoning: force LDS characters to make hard choices.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot today: I think that what I’d like to see in LDS lit is more Mormon characters who are not forced to be good all the time. More conflict that’s internal, character-driven, not just external. That is Satan’s plan, after all: forcing everyone to be good. But God’s plan is for His children to exercise agency and experience consequences. I would like more writers, even genre writers who typically have more external conflict, to really allow their characters to make crummy choices instead of forcing them to be good.

    I speak as a critic here, not a writer; I know it’s a tall order.

    You did that so very well in The Reckoning that I’d love to see how you handled LDS characters too. But if that’s not where your heart lies, well, follow your bliss :-).

    (and thanks for stopping by my little blog here. Annette, you too. 🙂 )

  5. April 28, 2009 3:27 pm

    Emily, I’m so glad you appreciated The Reckoning. I know the violence entirely turned off some readers and probably sealed its fate as far as the Whitneys go. But anyone familiar with what that country has gone through over the past four decades would have found anything less traumatizing almost laughable and unrealistic. I just couldn’t write it any other way.

    I entirely agree with you about what we need to make LDS literature more truthful. The unfortunate thing is that almost all the LDS publishers (with the exception of Zarahemla which seems to go out of its way, at times, to paint a negative picture of the Church) are leery of printing anything that really shows that type of struggle by LDS characters… they’ll get too many complaints from their pool of customers, the vast majority of which appear to want entertaining stories that don’t make them squirm. And I don’t blame them: after all, they’re in it to make money (all of which, I assume, ends up going back to the Church–a good thing) so they need to give the customers what they want.

    So, I will continue to aim for the national audience, whether I have LDS characters or not. After all, we need more truthful writing and, as you said, “more Mormon characters who are not forced to be good all the time.”

    It may not get me a Whitney, but it will certainly help me write better. This is not to say that all the writers being published by LDS publishers aren’t producing excellent work. Many of them are. I really came away from the conference quite impressed. And I sincerely believe it will only get better as LDS readers become more like you: ready to move on from the milk to the meat.

    If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend the Sesquicentennial Lecture given by Orson Scott Card at the BYU Library on March 13, 1980. It was titled, “A Mormon Writer Looks at the Problem of Evil in Fiction.” You should be able to locate it here:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a more accurate take on the whole dilemma.

  6. Emily permalink*
    April 29, 2009 3:53 am

    The violence was intense sometimes, it’s true. But it worked for me; it made the book more true, and did not feel gratuitous.

    I hold onto the hope that it’s possible to make LDS literature more truthful while still respecting genre conventions; I thought Fool Me Twice did a great job at this, for instance. Whereas some LDS-themed mysteries feel compelled to made all non-members convert by the end of the book, this book had a natural character arc that allowed for interest in the Church, but not necessarily sudden conversion. It was so refreshing to me. I think it’s possible to write to a higher level within the genre, if you know what I mean.

    What is your next national-audience book about?

    And I think there are many LDS readers who are ready to move from milk to meat. The main problem is that they’ve tried LDS fiction in the past and gotten burned, so they don’t want to try again. I know this because every time Segullah does a post about LDS lit, we get many “tried it, don’t like it” and a few who say “try it again, it’s improved.”

    It has absolutely improved, no question. But. You can still find LDS lit out there, published within the year, that plays into all the stereotypes about LDS lit. So if someone wanted to give LDS lit another try, they’d have to navigate around those books (which sell well; they are very commercial) to find the hidden gems.

    Again I say, hooray for the Whitneys, for bringing out books that otherwise would have been overlooked.

    I love the Card piece. I think he nails it. Depicting evil is very different from advocating evil.

  7. April 29, 2009 7:18 pm

    Tanya, I was fascinated by The Reckoning. I lived in the Middle East for a time, so I was caught up from the beginning (and dreading what would happen). I read all of the Whitney Finalists this year in a marathon 6 weeks and I was really impressed with what I read. There were a couple of surprises on the winners, but I love that the Whitneys is doling out recognition to a hard-earned craft.

    On my Whitney, I was very surprised because N.C. Allen and Jennie Hansen have been publishing successfully for years longer than I, and Toni Sorenson has received several prestigious awards, and Sandra Grey was the “judges pick” (how they get into the “best novel” category).

  8. Andrew H. permalink
    May 11, 2009 5:16 pm

    2009 Utah Best of State award

    Literary Arts

    Fiction: ANNETTE HAWS, Waiting For the Light to Change

    Historical Fiction: HEATHER B. MOORE, Abinidi

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