Friday, April 30, 2010

Announcement Time

The winner of the last contest never claimed her prize so I drew two winners today. They are Rebecca Talley and M. Gray. Please contact me at bhansen22 at msn dot com to claim your prize. Please give me a list of five or more LDS novels on your wish list (preferrably ones I have reviewed on Meridian in the past few years) and I will send one of the books to you. Occasionally every book on a winner's list have already been claimed; in that case I'll ask for a second list. Please include your mailing address and something in your subject line that will identify you as a winner or refer to my blog.

The May A contest begins tomorrow. Same rules, same prizes.

There was a time when I wrote a weekly editorial for the newspaper that employed me. Sometimes it became difficult to find a topic to write on. I was always grateful for the Town Council because their meetings always gave me fresh subject matter. I've been blogging now for almost two years and again I've reached that "what can I write?" point. I'd rather not review books in my blog on a regular basis because so many bloggers do that and I review LDS fiction for Meridian Magazine. There are also enough bloggers interviewing other writers. So I'm turning to readers. In the comment section suggest topics you'd like me to discuss. All reasonable suggestions will be worth an entry in the contest for the first half of May and if I use your suggestion, you'll be a guaranteed winner. This (or these) winners will be in addition to the winner of the drawing.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


As I looked over the list of Whitney Winners I was pleased to see so many really well written books on the list of winners. There are a few disappointments too, but I won't go into that. For those who don't know, Whitney Awards are presented to LDS authors, supposedly for their outstanding contributions to LDS fiction, but actually to any LDS author who garners enough votes for a particular piece of fiction published in the previous year whether it espouses LDS standards or not. Ironically, only one award this year went to a novel with any reference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though all of the winning authors are LDS and the majority are books compatible with LDS standards. The one work that actually mentions the Church is In The Company of Angels by David Farland (Wolverton), the story of the handcart company that became stranded on the Wyoming plains. Though not his usual genre, Wolverton certainly deserves recognition for this remarkable book.

There are a number of definitions of what constitutes an LDS novel and the Whitney Academy takes the broadest view, merely requiring that the author be LDS. Other definitions are more narrow, requiring some positive reference to the LDS culture, faith, or values, the use of clean language, and being neither excessively violent nor sexually explicit. My personal definition leans toward the latter, but doesn't exclude any novel that promotes ideals in keeping with the moral values set by the tenets of my faith. I'm always conscious, too, of that well known phrase "virtuous, lovely, or of good report." I'm not sure if some of what passes for LDS fiction today could pass this last test.

Orson Scott Card was recently honored by the Washington DC Chapter of the BYU Management Society. He spoke of the important role of storytelling in maintaining the core values of our country and our culture. He spoke of how the failure of a society results from the failure to tell stories based on the values of that society. As cultural stories deviate from core values, those values are replaced by lesser, negative, or destructive values. Several comments he made during his speech impressed me a great deal as he spoke about what he knows best, writing fiction. He said, "I've watched an increasing number of fiction writers turn away from the old values and use their fiction to advocate the inefficient or destructive replacement of values." He went on to advise that individuals "tell a better story, stand up for values, even if they invite ridicule from the intellectual elite." This is advice it would be well for LDS writers to take to heart. If we don't create literature that exemplifies our standards, we will be among those who invite rot and corruption into our culture from the inside. And just as our faith isn't for Sunday only, our adherence to Church standards in our writing shouldn't be for only those books we write for LDS audiences.

I'm certainly not advocating trite conversion stories, sugary sweet simplifications, fiction that is thinly veiled preaching, or more magic/miracle solution stories, but I wonder if we're trying hard enough to write stories within the framework of our beliefs. Perhaps it's enough to point out our memberships or involvement in various fields of endeavor such as politics, law enforcement, science, education, etc. We can show the effects of good parenting. We can unabashedly send our characters to church. We can create characters of sound moral fiber. And we can avoid glamorizing negative, immoral behavior. Of course, our characters will make mistakes, but we can show their realization and repentance of those wrongs. We don't need to whitewash our villains, but we don't need to wallow in their evil; our emphasis should be on the efforts to prevent or stop evil.

I have a lot of faith in LDS writers. We are blessed to have some superb writers at this time with testimonies of the Gospel. Whether we write for members of our own faith or for the general market reader, it is my belief that we should stand firm for those core beliefs we know to be true. I teach six-year-olds in Primary and there's one thing, above all else, I strive to instill in these children and that is that choosing the right, God's right, supersedes all else. If we remember that, we can write the powerful stories that will ensure the continuance of faith and hope among our people.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A few blogs worth reading

I spent a few minutes looking over a few of the blogs linked to mine today and found several to reccommend. First read Jeff Savage's blog on Six LDS Writers and a Frog. He has some helpful and easy to understand definitions of terms used casually in writers' circles, but found to be confusing to newcomers. By the way, I'm comfortable with both "dialog tag" and "speaker attribution", even attribution tag is okay with me.

Next check out LDSPublisher. I find the use of "different than" instead of "different from" a particularly annoying example of poor grammar in an increasing number of books I receive to review. It has become so common, many copy editors consider the terms interchangeable, but to me it's wrong and stops the story cold. One new publishing house irritates me with almost every book with this sloppy copy editing error.

Anyone interested in childrens' or young adult literature should check out Shermeree's Musings. The author is a childrens librarian for the Salt Lake City Library System and keeps readers appraised of new books, old favorites, new trends and awards given to outstanding books in youth areas.

Many LDS authors are making last minute plans and arrangements to attend the LDStorymakers conference and awards banquet this Friday and Saturday. This is an organization for LDS writers and writer wannabees. There will be classes taught, opportunities to meet with editors, and a lot of net working taking place. Unfortunately I won't be there this year. I have another committment for that day, but I'll be following closely the results of the awards presentation and sending good thoughts and doing a bit of background cheering for the presenters and finalists involved.

Please continue to send questions, make comments, or just share your Whitney thoughts. Each will count toward the present contest.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Winner of the April-A contest is jendoll70! She gets two books, one from the kick-off for this contest and one from her wish list. jendoll, please send me your mailing address and a list of at least five books on your wish list and let me know which of the Whitney finalist books listed you would like. Contact me at bhansen22 at msn dot com .

Now for the new contest. Every time I do a book signing or speak to a group, I receive a lot of questions about myself, about writing, about my books, or about the LDS book market in general. I've decided to open my blog for the next couple of weeks, until April 30, to questions from readers. Any question asked, I'll try to answer. And each question or comment will give the submitter another chance to win a book from his/her wish list. So on with the questions beginning now. You get one chance if you're a follower and another chance(s) if you comment or ask a question.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Contest ends tomorrow!

Last chance to get your name in the hat for this contest. Ends at noon tomorrow.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Summer in Paris

Since I don't review Young Adult fiction for Meridian, but I like this particular YA novel, I'm going to say a few things about Summer in Paris here. Michele Ashman Bell is a much-loved author of several types of books including romance, middle reader mysteries, Christmas stories, and now a young adult novel that touches on several YA themes. There's a mystery involved, there's romance, there are value deciscions, and there's a strong coming of age factor.
A summer in Paris sounds like a young girl's dream. There are a couple of major problems involved though. Kenzie is being sent to her aunt and uncle's farm in Paris, Idaho---not Paris, France. Her father has lost everything in a bad business deal and her parents are estranged from each other. In addition Kenzie's boyfriend and best friend are showing too much interest in each other and with Kenzie out of the way . . . Then there's her dream of becoming a professional dancer and there certainly aren't any world class ballet schools in Paris, Idaho. She arrives at the Salt Lake International Airport and is met by a cousin who is rude, dresses badly, drives too fast, and is a little short in the common sense department. His friends are worse. Her aunt is kind but expects her to complete a long list of chores each day. One person captures her interest, but he's the one person she's warned to stay away from and the prime suspect in a series of arson fires being set in the small community.
As I've thought about this novel, I wondered just what it is about the story that made me like it. Admittedly the author is a dear friend and I've enjoyed her other books, but there is something more. I liked the emphasis on family helping family and a recognition of the importance of family relationships. I liked the awareness that many people struggle with in discovering their own individual paths in life. Michele handled well in a nonjudgemental way the tendency of people (not just teenagers) to cave in to peer pressure even when it goes against the true wishes or values of an individual. I didn't like the nonchalant attitude toward stealing gas, vandalism, and reckless behavior exhibited by Kenzie's cousin and his friends which I feel should have been dealt with in a stronger way. Having grown up in small rural Idaho towns myself, I found some of the negative behavior and attitudes realistic, but I would have liked to see more of the stronger, better-equipped-for-life young people too.
The mystery was fun, but I guessed the villian wrong. The romance didn't dominate the story. Overall it was a fun read and I encourage others to try it. My copy isn't available for contest winners; I plan to pass it on to my daughter who reviews Young Adult novels for the City Library.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Guest Blog

My daughter, Janice Sperry, and I have different tastes in the books we read. She loves fantasy; she even writes fantasy, and so since I prefer the kind of books where problems are solved through intelligence, perseverance, and superior reasoning ability and she likes problems solved through magic, mysterious creatures, and strange potions, I asked her to guest blog for me.

There are a few things in life I've had to accept. First, my pre-baby body is never coming back. Second, the laundry will never be done. Third, my mom will never like fantasy. I like fantasy, particularly humorous YA. (My favorite fantasy is where I'm skinny again and there isn't any laundry to do.)

When my mom asked me to guest blog about why people like fantasy, I thought about it. I thought about it while writing my shopping list. I thought about it while grocery shopping (and that could be why I forgot to get carrots), and I thought about it while we ate dinner. And then I realized that I spend a lot of time with food and that brings me around to chicken.

Most people like chicken. My oldest child likes chicken as long as it is in nugget form. My daughter loves chicken enchiladas and my youngest likes chicken in any form as long as he is in the right mood and the stars are properly aligned. I like chicken with stuffing. My point is that we all like chicken but we like to do different stuff to it. We have different tastes.

Story lines are like the chicken. Take this one: Girl meets boy, they fall in love, disaster strikes, they part company, something amazing happens, they get back together. Sounds like a great story right? No way. It's boring. Now, add a gumpy frog, a magic sock, and a missing princess and I'm interested. My mom? She'd pass. But take that same original story and add a spunky cowgirl, a wild horse, and a fancy pistol. My mom would pick up the book (I wouldn't).

A few years ago I joined a book club in my neighborhood. I've read a lot of books that I never would have chosen for myself. I recently finished The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It's a murder mystery but I liked it anyway. I've also read Jane Austin and didn't like it. (My mom and I agree on that one.)

So the next time you're at the library, pretend you're at a restaurant and pick something new from the menu. Your favorite genre will still be waiting for you if your experiment leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

And here's where we agree. There are all kinds of delightful surprises waiting for those who are willing to try something different.