Whitney Awards 2008 Finalists announced (yep, that’s what I thought)

If you haven’t seen it yet, the finalists for the 2008 Whitney Awards have been posted. As expected, Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom is nominated in all three categories it was eligible for (novel of the year, new author, general fiction). And as expected, Angel Falling Softly was not a finalist in any category. And as expected, the presence of some national titles (in particular Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile, and the final volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series) on the list seems a bit unfair even though such titles are sold in LDS bookstores and consumed by LDS readers and written by Mormon authors and so fit the basic parameters of what makes a work a piece of LDS/Mormon fiction.

And yet all of the above (as well as the characteristics of the other titles that made the cut) are in keeping with the audience for the Whitney’s and are about as good a portrait of what the field looks like in terms of reader popularity and sales as you are going to get.

Should Bound on Earth win Best Novel of the Year (and should it also win an AML award — which seems likely) it will join last year’s winner On the Road to Heaven as a) a strong indication of the type of domestic, plain-style Mormon literary realism that does well with middlebrow LDS readers and b) establish Parables and Zarahemla as the best bets for writers and readers interested in Mormon literary fiction.

For the record, I’m not interested in comments bemoaning or defending the finalists. The Whitney Awards is a positive development in the field and a class act (at least in terms of their marketing/pr efforts and products — I can’t speak to how it is run in other areas). But it’s one only one aspect of the past year in Mormon literature and as lovely as awards are, they are at best a reductive form of validation and criticism. Although let’s be honest: The Whitneys have way more credibility than the Grammys.

The Whitney Awards take place April 25 in Provo. Tickets (which are $35) are available here. Hopefully the awards committee arranges to liveblog the event again. The liveblogging was quite entertaining last year.

21 thoughts on “Whitney Awards 2008 Finalists announced (yep, that’s what I thought)”

  1. Annette posted a comment that got nuked by our spam trap for some reason and in trying to get it approved I lost it. Sorry about that.

    Here it is:

    “I love the entire Whitney program and what it means for LDS fiction.

    One bit to clarify, though–it’s not an award for LDS fiction, per se. It’s an award for any fiction written by LDS writers–why Sanderson, Card, and Meyer fit the parameters just fine.”

  2. And my reply is:

    I know. But the overall effect is still a bit odd in that the Covenant and associated authors are writing for a specific audience with specific parameters while the national authors are not.

  3. And to keep commenting on my own post:

    I’m not satisfied with the descriptor “plain-style” above. I’ve used transparent style in the past but no longer find that one satisfactory — because no style is transparent. We’re talking about language here.

    Any suggestions?

  4. .

    No. Sorry.

    I couldn’t decide what to say about the Whitneys on my own blog and I feel the same now. Other than throwing congrats at Angela, what is one to say?

  5. William,

    Following your link to the Whitney Awards website, it looks like LDS bookstore owners/managers represent the majority of people who will be voting on the final ballot. I’m guessing that means that any book not widely stocked by LDS bookstores–including any titles from Zarahemla (which isn’t carried by DB)–won’t stand a chance.

    I also admit to curiosity as to how individuals are selected as part of the “Whitney Academy” (those who vote on the final ballot). The language on the site says, “This Whitney Academy is comprised of industry professionals, including authors, retailers, bloggers, critics, publishers, and others.” Yet I don’t see Chris Bigelow, Orson Scott Card, William Morris, Margaret Young, Doug Thayer…

    Elsewhere on the website, they say that the Academy includes “All eligible LDS authors.” Looking at the list, it’s really unclear to me what that word “eligible” means. I’ve emailed a query to them, and will share whatever answer I get. (I also put in a plug for A Motley Vision and William as possible Academy members.)

    All of this isn’t meant as a negative comment on what they’re doing. The more the merrier, if it brings additional attention to Mormon literature. It’s just not clear to me where the they’re coming from.

  6. Re: the style of On the Road to Heaven: I’m not sure I’d call it “plain” style either. “Folksy” doesn’t seem quite right, but is closer to what I saw. Sometimes, it seemed to me that the folksiness was a bit affected–as if Newell was trying too hard to copy the kind of language he would have used back when he was a kid.

    William: Have you written elsewhere about this “plain style”? If not, I’d love to see a post describing what you see as its defining characteristics–with contrasting examples of works that don’t use that style. Maybe after talking about what it’s like, we can come up with a better idea of what it is.

  7. Hey guys,
    My apologies. Updating the Whitney Academy page of the website is next on my to-do list. It’s old, from last year when the eligibility requirements were a lot more strict.
    Here are the current requirements. You have to meet at least one of the following criteria:
    1. Be a current member of the LDStorymakers
    2. Be published with a traditional publisher (not self-published or vanity press) within the last five years
    3. Be a previous or current Whitney Award Finalist

    Also, to William’s point about national authors being included in the mix: that’s for a few reasons. First, if our goal is to show that the best LDS books can compete with nationally published books, then why not let them compete? But, from a more practical standpoint, there’s just no good definition of what “LDS fiction” is. Does it have to be from a traditionally LDS publisher? Include specifically LDS content? Have an LDS theme? We figured that, rather than get into that kind of subjective debate, it was simpler to open the awards to all LDS authors.

  8. I think it’s a good solution, Rob. It doesn’t mean that it’s a satisfying one, but if you look at the titles and then you look at the voting members then you have a pretty good percentage of those doing work in LDS fiction (which as Rob notes and I have explored is not always easily defined).

    Also: I appreciate the vote, Jonathan. I actually was invited to join the voting academy but demurred because I knew that I would not be in a position to judge most of the titles selected. I just don’t read that much of what Covenant publishes. Part of that is that lack of interest, but part of it is also that I don’t have good free access* to it unless I commit to reviewing it, and I prefer not to make that kind of commitment.

    * And this is important because, sadly, I have zero entertainment budget.**

    **Okay so it’s not zero — we pay for Netflix (two at a time plan), but we also don’t go out to the movies or pay for cable/satellite.

  9. Congratulations to Angela and the other finalists. The Whitneys can’t be everything to everybody, but they are definitely a positive overall. And although the big national sellers seem to get enough love without winning these kinds of honors too, excluding them would certainly make winning a Whitney mean less.

  10. .

    re: the style question —

    I would call On the Road to Heaven conversational perhaps. I haven’t bought Angela’s book (and everyone’s missed my broad hints that I would read and review a free copy) so I can’t compare them.


    Jonathan said:

    Following your link to the Whitney Awards website, it looks like LDS bookstore owners/managers represent the majority of people who will be voting on the final ballot. I’m guessing that means that any book not widely stocked by LDS bookstores”“including any titles from Zarahemla (which isn’t carried by DB)”“won’t stand a chance.

    This wasn’t so last year. Maybe Robison can comment on this (as regards the loosened participation requirements), but maybe these folks’ reading is broader than their selling? I don’t know, of course, I only have one LDS store in the vicinity and I don’t spend much time there. I buy my LDS books online (or receive them free from various sources) so the way I am sold things is not typical.

    Anyway, my point is don’t count Angela out yet. Vibeswise, she definitely seems to have a lead.

  11. My thoughts on the style question: plain style worked for me.

    Having read both books, I would say that _On the Road to Heaven_ was more beatnik-y and conversational. But I attributed that to the fact that the book was an homage to Kerouac. _Bound on Earth_ more accurately reflected the typical Mormon-speak style, especially when it comes to the way women talk among themselves. Perhaps that difference again reflects the author’s personality and bias?

    “Plain style” worked for me because neither book was striving to imitate some unnatural form–even though one was Kerouac baptized. That voiced worked because it was natural to the narrator. Hmmm . . . maybe “organic” (if that wasn’t such a loaded word these days) or “natural” style is what you are looking for? Those aren’t very creative suggestions, but they’re all I’ve got!

  12. William, I don’t think the financial is going to play as big a part this year, from my understanding. I’m hearing that some publishers are willing to send PDFs to judges. And if you’re not interested in judging certain categories, no one’s saying you’re obligated to.

    I’d like to see you read some of the genre fiction that’s been nominated for novel of the year. I’d be willing to bet you might be surprised by it.

  13. Thanks, Sariah. That’s good to know, especially since I have an old-school pda that I can read e-books on (converting PDFs to Mobipocket works great).

  14. .

    This financial question is a tricky one, isn’t it? I mean — like Laura I could ILL stuff, but I find using the library oppressive. I prefer reading several books at a time and having a timelimit on one cramps my style.

    I want to give more LDS lit a chance but I can’t afford to buy the bad stuff to find the good. One thing I like about the Whitneys is how it winnows things down. But I still have to drive forty minutes then pay full price.

    Poor, poor Theric.

  15. I found that ILLing stuff worked very well in the Bay Area because there a lot of libraries that stock Mormon books in California and Nevada and if not it was usually not that long and difficult to get stuff from Utah.

    Of course, I could get quite a bit through Link+ and was using ILL through an university library so that sped things up quite ab it.

    Sadly, it’s much harder here in Minnesota. In fact, although I know there must be another option so far I’ve only found how to ILL titles from libraries located in Minnesota.

  16. Theric said:
    “Maybe Robison can comment on this (as regards the loosened participation requirements), but maybe these folks’ reading is broader than their selling?”

    We don’t look at ballots individually, so I’m not sure how the bookstores voted. I do know that not all of the bookstores who received ballots actually voted (though they still outnumbered all other types of voters). I also know that On the Road to Heaven won by a decent margin.

    One thing that Zarahemla (and other publishers) did last year was offer PDFs of their novels to the voting academy. I think that helped a lot to get On the Road to Heaven a fair chance.

  17. I like the description “conversational style” for On the Road to Heaven. (Like Theric I haven’t yet read Angela’s work–sorry, Angela.)

    For me, “plain style” implies a “transparent” prose style that attempts to draw no attention to itself. I don’t think that’s an accurate description of Newell’s style. Instead, he’s trying for a specific voice that is, in fact, one of the drawing point of his writing (if you like it, which I mostly do).

    Is Angela’s novel first person (as Newell’s is)? I would think that a first-person POV would make a “conversational” style a more likely descriptor, though I’m not prepared to say that a third-person conversation style is impossible either. Would you describe a third-person narrative that consisted largely of narrated conversations as “conversational”? Or would the style that’s outside of quotation marks count, in that case?

  18. I know it’s a difficult word to actually make your mouth say, but, the word “colloquial” as a style indicator seems like it might be viable here.

    Roget’s gives me these alternatives to colloquial: chatty, common, conversational, demotic, dialectal, everyday, idiomatic, jive, popular, street, vernacular.

    I like “demotic” for its trippingly-off-the-tongueness. 😉

  19. Demotic is an excellent word. Thanks, Scott!*

    *(cause i don’t if Mormons can claim jive)

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