Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I learned from judging the Whitney Awards

Okay, first things first, the Whitney Awards is a program to recognize great writing by LDS people. Some of the books have LDS characters and themes, but many do not, and there were big national titles that qualified this year all over the place from Anne Perry, Allie Condie, James Dashner, Brandon Sanderson, Jessica Dy George, and Richard Paul Evans--and this list is nowhere near complete.

I had a book nominated for Whitney last year and my second book, Rebound is currently up in the romance genre, but I don't think I had any idea how much work, or how difficult judging was until this year.

Last summer I was asked if I would judge in the historical category. When I look at some of the other book lists, I'm relieved that I'm reading historical: Romance has twenty books; YA speculative has twenty-four books, and YA general has another twelve books (and some of the judges are reading in BOTH YA categories!). I've spent most of the past two weeks working my way through the books in my category--of which there were nine, though there are only seven listed on the website.

This was an eye-opening experience for me in many ways. First, because I haven't read a lot of historical books of late, and I was amazed and excited about the incredible skill some of these writers have. Second, because deciding how to rank the books was so hard! There were definitely more than five books this year that deserved to be finalists, and trying to figure out how to rank them was no picnic.

But this is Writing Wednesday, so let me get back on track--the things I learned from reading these books:

1) Most of the time a complex plot is an incredible thing, but sometimes, it can be a detriment. As a reader, I need to be able to fall in love with at least one character, and spend enough time with them to worry about how things are going to turn out. If I don't spend enough time with someone I can care about, I guarantee it's going to be hard for me to care about the book. And if I want my readers to care about a character, I need to make sure they get enough face time to make it real.

2) Even someone who is appallingly evil, given pure motives, becomes likable. This gives that characters so much more depth and richness, makes them more real. This is something I'm going to strive to improve in my own writing.

3) The Catholic church circa 1275 thought eunuchs couldn't go to heaven because they didn't face temptation. Really? What happened to the other six deadly sins? Okay, this was way off topic, but I'm still shaking my head over it.

4) I'm still awed by anyone who has the guts and fortitude to write historicals because as much as I'd love to finish that WWII story I started like a decade ago, the research still scares me, so hats off to all of the authors, whether they make the top five or not.

And nominees, the competition was fierce, so be proud of what you accomplished, and that you made my job hard, whether your book becomes a finalist or not.


Steve Westover said...

Good post. Very interesting

Stephanie Black said...

It's fascinating to learn about the process from the judge's perspective. Thanks, Heather!(And what are the two historical nominees that aren't listed on the website?)

Rachelle said...

This was a fun post to read. There are a lot of great books up for awards this year. I think every year the talent gets better and better.

Heather Justesen said...

Thanks for the comments guys! Stephanie, the other two books were Abish: Daughter of God by K.C. Grant and "The Father I Never Knew" by Orin Parker.

It was kind of funny, I read the section of the scriptures that mentions Abish only a few days after finishing the story!

Stephanie Black said...

Thanks, Heather! I'm playing the Whitney guessing game right now, trying to read books I think might be finalists. It will be interesting to see how many I guessed right (I hope a lot . . . wow, do I have a lot of reading to do!).

Anonymous said...

My absolute favorite bad guys have good to them, or some sign of redeemability. Much more fun than someone who's always been bad and is just bad to be bad.

Nichole Giles said...

True points, and good luck with ranking. That's got to be a way hard job. Congrats to all the nominees.