Ten years ago, if you were giving a ‘report’ on LDS fiction, most of what was being written was romance and historical. There were a few other genres represented here and there, but not many. Anyone who has paid attention to the LDS authors of the last few years have surely noted a change in what’s out there now. There’s still romance and historical, but other genres are making an impact. As president of The Whitney Awards for 2010, I was very surprised with the popularity of mystery/suspense; it had more official nominees than historical did.
While romance was strongly represented, we had a lot of books that were harder to classify. As LDS authors follow the trend of the national market, genres are blending and blurring more and more all the time—which makes categorizing books a bit of a headache. This year we’re asking the authors to confirm the category rather than try to choose it ourselves and by asking their opinion we are, of course, getting lots of feedback. Such as:
“My book’s kind of a suspenseful romantic historical with some paranormal mixed in.”
“Why don’t you have a category for thrillers, they really aren’t mysteries.”
In 2010 we were able to split the Youth Fiction category into Youth Fiction General and Youth Fiction Speculative due to the fact that there were enough official nominees to keep both categories competitive. It’s the first time we’ve been able to add a new category and was very exciting for those of us who have watched the Whitneys grow. We look forward to the day when we have enough nominees in enough genres and sub-genres to keep each category awards very specific.
One division I’m especially hopeful for is breaking Mystery/Suspense into three categories: Mystery, Suspense, and Thrillers. While each of them are about finding a solution while seeking justice, each genre has something unique to offer. Heather Moore, whose books have been called ‘Historical Thrillers’ due to how high the stakes are in her Book of Mormon novels, gave me the following definitions:
Mystery: A crime is committed in beginning of the book, rest of story is solving the crime “who-dun-it”. The inciting incident often happens off stage and the reader knows as much as the protagonist.
Suspense: The plot is spent trying to stop the crime or catastrophe from happening, a smaller scale setting than a thriller. The reader often knows more than the protagonist, anticipating danger a second sooner than the main character does.
Thriller: A suspense novel that has grander proportions, pacing is “break-neck” speed, consequences are world-wide, death is a viable threat, villain drives the plot, and the hero is forced to overcome the obstacles set in motion by the villain. Reader often sees more than the protagonist does, but not always.
There are critics who claim that the three different types of mystery can’t realistically compete against one another. As I said we hope they won’t have to forever, but each of them share enough similar elements that they work well in a category together. The solution for splitting categories sooner rather than later is to get more great mystery/suspense/thrillers written and in the hands of readers.
The hope of this happening is validated by the fact that all of these sub-genres ARE already represented in LDS fiction. If readers want a cozy mystery, they can read Betsy Brannon Green, Tristi Pinkston, Carole Warburton, and my culinary mystery series. If they want suspense, they can find that with Betsy Brannon Green (she writes in a variety of genres) as well as Stephanie Black, Jennie Hansen, Rachel Ann Nunes, and some of Gregg Luke’s work. If a reader wants the stakes even higher, the potential fall out even more devastating, you can find thrillers from writers like Gregg Luke, Traci Hunter Abramson, Steve Westover, Donald B. Anderson, and Julie Bellon.
This certainly isn’t an all-inclusive list—and it’s 100% subjective because I only have my own experience to draw from–so let me know what I’ve missed. Of all the genres I read, and I read most of them, my favorite curl-up is with a well paced, well written suspense novel that stops time in my world while I wonder how on earth the character’s world will be saved. I hope that in future years we get more and more into the market and making an impact. Looking at the last ten years gives me great hope for the next decade of LDS writing.
And, don’t forget that nominations for the 2011 Whitney Awards are open. Go to www.whitneyawards.com for more information.