Thursday, October 28, 2010

Get Ready, Get Set, Nominate

The year is winding down and it's time for LDS fiction readers to give some thought to nominees for the annual Whitney Academy Awards. These honors are awarded in various categories, generally referred to as genres. Genre fiction and popular fiction are terms used interchangeably in discussions of literary works. They don't mean the exact same thing, but their definitions are close enough that I'm not going to quibble. For this discussion, either term will refer to the type of fiction purchased and read most frequently by readers, though literary fiction is not excluded.

I'm often asked to define what the various genre labels mean, and I'll be honest, defining categories of fiction is not as easy as it may sound. Many authors, teachers, librarians, and critics disagree on precise definitions, and for good reasons. What the reader brings to a book is often as critical as what the author put into it. Someone I admire greatly and I have often disagreed over the genre categories various books have been placed in for judging the Whitney Awards. She may see a story of historical significance while I recognize a beautiful love story as the paramount element of the story. I might call a story Young Adult and she sees it as General Fiction.

I'm pleased to hear that this year LDS novels may be entered in more than one genre for Whitney Academy judging. There have been several occasions where a truly excellent book has been a finalist or even won when it didn't come close to fitting the parameters of the category it was placed in and equally sad were the omissions of great books because, though some readers may have thought they were a particular genre, the judges did not. In my opinion there's nothing wrong with a title being recognized in more than one category. Hopefully this decision will make recognition of the truly best books more probable.

At one time the term LDS Fiction was considered a genre class of its own. Now LDS fiction is broken into as many categories as is main stream fiction. Here's a quick, though not definitive, rundown of the various genres.

Romance: This category includes love stories which may be humorous, historical, western, suspense, or mystery as well. Some readers lump all stories considered of particular interest to women in the romance category; others prefer a separate women's issues genre which includes social issues stories dealing with parenting, abuse, divorce, and other subjects generally discussed more openly by women than men. By the way, stories where sexual attraction is the major factor, more so than the actual relationship and emotions experienced by the lovers, is another genre, not romance.

Historical: These stories are set in a previous time period and are related to known facts of that era. They may or may not include historical figures. Unless the setting is historically accurate and the events of that period can be documented, novels in this category are generally considered more speculative than historical. Stories based on a verse of scripture or a little know scriptural character, particularly those from the Book of Mormon where little is known of day to day life and precise locations, sometimes fall into a strange limbo as the background and events are more guesswork than based on fact. Educated guesswork often places these novels in the historical realm, but whether they belong there is questioned by many historical readers. Historical accuracy is of prime importance to readers of this genre.

Mystery/Suspense: Sometimes Mystery and Suspense are lumped together as one genre though they are not precisely the same. A mystery includes a puzzle to be solved while suspense implies high tension and may not even involve solving some unknown question. Both have as many sub genres as writers are able to imagine. Many include a great love story. They can be set in any time period or place, real or imaginary.

Speculative: This category is loaded with sub genres. Some of the most popular are those that make a guess about the future, whether it is the Second Coming, near annihilation of our planet, or Space exploration. Some make educated guesses concerning a previous time period such as the Ice Age or a scriptural time period. Others deal with imaginary demons, monsters, special powers, mythical characters, or life on an alternative world. Horror, especially if imaginary creatures or pseudo science are involved, may fall in this category. Science Fiction and Fantasy are both generally included in speculative fiction.

Westerns: Westerns deal with the settlement of the Western United States. They are usually lighter than historicals dealing with this same time period. Horses and/or cattle usually appear prominently and there is a strong distinction between good and bad. Native Americans often play a role in this genre as do miners, guns, and wild animals native to the West.

Youth Fiction or YA: This category is broken down into all of the same genre classifications as adult fiction though the characters are younger, the language a little simpler, and the stories are of particular interest to a younger audience. There is usually a "coming of age" factor shown as the characters progress toward maturity. Once YA was considered pretty much aimed toward the high school/college age crowd, but now often includes the first post college years when young people first step into the real adult world. On the other hand, when I worked as a librarian, I found more and more books once considered middle readers, suitable for fifth through eighth graders, reclassified as YA.

General Fiction: This is a catchall category for books that don't fall into any other category well. These books range from social issues, explorations of philosophies, to a blurring of several other categories. Sometimes they exhibit elements of literary works. Horror is generally considered a sub genre of General Fiction, especially if it contemporary and closely linked to possibility, but because of its increasing popularity it may be placed in its own genre.

I urge readers to get nominations in for the 2010 Whitney Awards. Any novel written by an LDS author and released during 2010 is eligible. For this award to be of significant worth in the field of LDS fiction, there needs to be more nominations come from non-industry-related readers. To read more about the Whitney Awards Program or to nominate a novel(s) go here. You can suggest which category or categories you think your favorite novels fit in, but you don't have to. You are also welcome to expand, agree, or disagree with my definitions of the various genres in the comment trail below. I'll even forward your comments to the chairman of the Whitney contest.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

From the Pumpkin Files

 Arazona and Charlie demonstrate a truly sincere pumpkin patch.


Tigger might be too little for candy and trick or treat, but he's sure cute.


They're so grown up now, they won't appreciate this old picture.
Halloween and costumes go together, but there was a time when a few LDS fiction writers didn't need Halloween to dress up and act a bit scary.  While searching for an old picture through some past files, I ran across a few costume pictures from the past.  Remember these folks? Jeff Savage, Rob Wells and Michele Bell really got into those old mystery dramas.  Of course, I had my moments along with Kerry Blair, Betsy Green, and Michele.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to start a Halloween contest


October is half over and we're half way to Halloween, just two more weeks. I tried to think of a Halloween theme for the October Wish List 2 contest, but since LDS fiction doesn't produce many horror novels and I have none to give away, I guess that's not too great of an idea. To be perfectly honest I don't like the creepy, bloody, scary stuff, but I enjoy the little kids' Trick or Treat costumes, the candy, pumpkins, scarecrows, and all of the light, fun side. When it comes to books, my favorite Halloween style covers and titles belong to Kerry Blair, Ghost of a Chance and Mummy's the Word. Both Gregg Luke and Stephanie Black write the kind of suspense that borders on horror, but never quite crosses that line. There are a few LDS writers who write horror, but their books are general market, not LDS. So let's keep to the fun side of Halloween for this contest. I want to hear what your favorite Halloween activities are, what costumes your kids are wearing this year, do you attend Halloween parties, and whether or not you like to read the gory, scary, nightmare kind of books. One more thing, I think it would be fun to post reader's Halloween pictures over the next two weeks. If you would like me to post a picture of your kids, your pet, or you in Halloween costume on this blog, send your photo to bhansen22 at msn dot com. Be sure to mention the name of this contest in your subject line so I won't delete it with my junk mail. The senders of any pictures used will receive a double entry in the contest.
Oh, and lest I forget, the winner of the October Wish List 1 contest is Cindy R. Williams. Cindy send me a list of five or more books on your wish list and your mailing address. Send it to bhansen22 at msn dot com. Remember all followers are included in each contest and those who make comments on any of my blogs during the contest period are entered in the drawing to win an LDS novel of his/her choice from the books sent to me for review.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What Matters Most

I did something Thursday night I haven't done since I was a teenager, and that was a long time ago. I slept for eleven hours straight. My life has been highly stressful the past few years; I've lost to death my father, two siblings, a brother-in-law, and three sisters-in-law. During this period of time, a son-in-law was also severely wounded in Iraq. Added to that were a daughter's, a sister-in-law's, a brother-in-law's, and a cousin's successful battles with cancer. Through most of this time I attempted to keep up my house, my gardens, a Primary class, two days of service at the temple, my writing, and reviewing along with all of the other things we women, wives, mothers, and grandmothers try to do. I constantly nagged myself to work harder, move faster, get more done. All while battling a crippling bout of tendonitis in one knee. I've always been guilty of over scheduling and trying to do everything. The final straw seemed to be accepting an assignment to clean the temple between 9:30 and 12:30 the night between my two temple days last week. It's an assignment I really do enjoy, but by the time I finished my shift Thursday, my mind felt numb and I was barely functioning. I fell asleep around eight thirty and didn't awaken until after seven thirty Friday morning. Since then I've been thinking a lot about President Dieter Uchtdorf's conference talk on things that matter most.

These words stuck in my mind: "When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be . . . If life and its rushed pace and many stresses have made life difficult for you to feel like rejoicing, then perhaps now is a good time to refocus on what matters most."

Illnesses and deaths come unexpectedly, but most other "obligations" can be rescheduled or skipped if we have enough sense to do it. A counselor in my ward's bishopric realized how stressed I felt and had me released from teaching Primary a few months ago. Of necessity I backed off from my previous writing level--hence no book out this year. Cleaning the temple is an important and satisfying experience, so I went even though I was already over tired. I enjoy the comments people make about our yard and gardens and I enjoy gardening. It has bothered me greatly to see grass and weeds marring the beauty of my flowers, so I pushed my knee beyond what it could tolerate. Now there are many gardening tasks I cannot do. I've always been a little "house proud" and with many family members staying with us for short and long visits during cancer treatments and visits to family members in cancer specialty hospitals near us, but far from their homes, I attempted to keep our house spotless and clean sheets on the beds in our spare rooms. Now my knee thoroughly objects when I try to vacuum. My failure to live up to my goals and standards, the times I didn't spend with my children and grandchildren, the ball games and school programs I missed, the book I didn't get ready for publication, all left me feeling guilty. Clearly I'm one of those who didn't stick to the basics President Uchtdorf referred to in his talk.

It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Over-scheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.

It's a hard lesson, but I think I, and most other people, need to learn to let go of some things. We need to decide what is the most basic essentials and let lesser time consumers go. President Uchtdorf listed four important areas which he considers most important in our busy, cluttered lives. First he suggests we "turn to Heavenly Father and seek His wisdom regarding the things that matter most." His list is comprised of four areas he considers vital, beginning with our relationship with God. Second is our families. Third is our relationship with our fellowman. And the fourth, but not necessarily the least important, is our relationship with ourselves.

May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God's creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally.

I'm going to take President Uchtdorf's challenge to simplify my life and to focus on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship. I've picked one thing from one of the four basics he suggested and plan to concentrate on letting it improve my life. I could have picked many goals, but if I choose too many, I won't accomplish any of them well. I plan to keep the basics firmly in mind as challenges come my way and learn to separate what is truly important from those things that don't really matter or can be done at another time. I hope others will accept his challenge too. Pick just one area where you can improve and decide on one specific thing you can do to simplify and improve your life. Then do it. I plan to.

Monday, October 11, 2010

OUT OF INK

I know I've neglected a lot of things lately, but this is downright annoying. I'm out of ink. I attempted to print a few pictures I've taken lately and discovered I've neglected to update my ink supply. That's one of those details I usually watch closely.


As a writer, details are something I try to watch closely, but like my ink supply, I sometimes get careless. I double check facts; I watch spelling and grammar like a hawk, but my punctuation has been known to be on the careless side. I know the rules; I really do. That doesn't mean I follow them. I throw in commas wherever it seems natural to pause, I'm generous with semi colons and I can never quite remember when to use an em dash and when to let thoughts trail off in three little dots. I always think that when I finish a manuscript, I'll fix the punctuation, but too often I miss something. (By the way, Annette Lyon currently has a great mini-lesson on semi colons on her blog).


I love authors who work realistic details into the background or setting, use details to make a procedure clear, or add these bits to make a character someone the reader can relate to. Without these tidbits, a novel becomes like the pictures I tried to print this morning, blurred streaks of gray. Yes, a story can get bogged down in too much trivia, but a careful writer learns the details of the setting for his/her story, studies the occupation, time period, and social customs the character would know, and develops a character whose physical description and idiosyncrasies remain constant--unless there is a deliberate change for plot-related reasons.


Getting the details right involves research, reviewing facts, and paying attention. I know my editor would appreciate more careful attention to detail in the way I use punctuation and as a reviewer who has recently read some really poor novels and some really good ones, I think I can safely say readers will show their appreciation for better attention to details, on writers and editors parts, by repeat purchases of books by those authors who watch the details.


Now about those pictures I tried to print. Until I get to a store that sells ink, this is the best I can do.



First trophy!My grandson, Brandon's first soccer team.


P.S. The current contest ends this Friday, so get those comments made.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Running Late

I'm sorry I'm late posting the winner of my September Wish List 2 contest. I was out of town most of the week. I loved the comments concerning the future of LDS Fiction posted on Meridian and I'm glad so many of you enjoy LDS Fiction and took the time to read my article and comment. I like the new Meridian format that gives readers an opportunity to comment directly on columns and features they like or dislike, and allows them to add something they find pertinent. So many people who enjoy LDS fiction live nowhere near a store that carries this fiction and must depend on ordering online, over the phone, or by mail which adds to the cost of the books. Comments by readers added to my reviews are a big help for readers everywhere to make choices concerning books to order or to pick up when they are able to visit a bookstore that carries LDS materials.

Now to announce the winner: Vicki Firth Please contact me within a week at bhansen22 at msn dot com to give me your wish list and mailing address.

A new contest begins now and runs through October 15. The past few weeks have been extremely stressful for me and I haven't found a particular theme for this contest (October Wish List 1), so I'm going to ask you to comment on any topic connected to LDS fiction or you may ask me questions concerning my own writing, reviewing, or anything writing related. If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does. (I'll also decide whether or not a question is appropriate).