2011 Mormon Literature Year in Review: Pt. 1, Nationally-Published Fiction

This is the first in a series of posts I will do reviewing Mormon-authored literature published in 2011. Posts on Mormon-market fiction, theater, and film will follow.

The trend of Mormon authors writing for the national juvenile market continued to surge in 2011, led by young adult speculative fiction, in particular dystopian adventures and paranormal romances. Mormon authors also made their mark in mainstream speculative fiction, with Eric James Stone winning a Nebula award for Best Novelette, Brandon Sanderson winning the David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy, and several Mormon authors being nominated for Hugo and Campbell Awards. Mormons also produced bestselling novels in mainstream popular and romance fiction.

What we did not see in 2011 was a nationally published literary novel by a Mormon author, nor any non-young adult novels by Mormon authors which featured Mormon characters or issues. With the current “Mormon moment,” I hold out hope that such a book is coming. With the increased scrutiny that will come with the probable Romney nomination, I hope in the next year or two a Mormon author will take the initiative and create a notable work which crawls inside the minds and spirits of Mormon characters.  The critical praise and awards Eric James Stone won from his national peers for a story in which Mormon characters and beliefs played a central role should give hope that such an attempt could be a success beyond the world of Mormon readers.

I count 33 nationally published young adult or middle grade novels by Mormon authors last year, up from 29 in 2010 and 23 in 2009. Nearly all are part of a series. The bestselling of the group was Richard Paul Evans YA debut, Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25. Publishers Weekly called the contemporary science fiction story a “fast-paced, if predictable tale of a teenager with superpowers and the conspiracy that created him”. VOYA wrote, “Short chapters with intriguing titles, excellent writing, and engaging characters make this action-packed story a compulsively entertaining read.”

The success of The Hunger Games series has made YA dystopian future novels hot items. Ally Condie’s Crossed is the second in the best-selling Matched trilogy, about a society which matches young people for marriage. Publishers Weekly wrote, “It is very much a middle book, centering on a transformative journey and setting up the finale to come . . . but vivid, poetic writing will pull fans through as Condie immerses readers in her characters’ yearnings and hopes.” James Dashner’s The Death Cure completes The Maze Runner trilogy. Kirkus wrote, “Dashner again displays his mastery of the action sequence, making readers turn pages even as they become further invested in the well-developed characters. Heart pounding to the very last moment.” Both Crossed and The Death Cure were among the nine books chosen by Barnes & Noble as “Best Books of 2011 for Teens”. Dashner has been chosen to lead the creation Scholastic’s most hyped coming project for 2012, Infinity Ring.

Robison Wells, like Condie and Dashner, started publishing in the Mormon fiction market, before having a series accepted by a national publisher. His national debut, Variant, is the overall best reviewed of the Mormon-dystopian novels, although it has not sold as much as Condie and Dashner.  Both Publishers Weekly and VOYA gave it starred reviews. PW wrote, “A chilling, masterful debut . . . With its clever premise, quick pace, and easy-to-champion characters, Wells’s story is a fast, gripping read with a cliffhanger that will leave readers wanting more.” Variant was named one of 25 of Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2011. In an informal poll I did of Mormon authors and critics, Variant was mentioned more than any other book as their favorite of 2011. Several reviewers raved about the book’s surprise plot twists. Elana Johnson’s debut novel Possession rounds out the dystopia novels. It has received fine reviews, but not on the level of the other three.

Young adult paranormal romance, in the tradition of the Twilight series, attracts more and more Mormon authors every year. Sexual tension and love triangles are common in these books directed towards older girls and women. In 2011 seven authors penned nine books in the genre. The bestselling of the group was Becca Fitzpatrick’s Silence, the third of the four-volume Hush Hush series about a girl and a fallen angel. Colleen Houck started self-publishing her Tiger series, about a girl and an Indian prince who turns into a tiger. It was picked up by a national publisher, which decided to release four volumes quarterly. All of the first three volumes in 2011 reached the bestseller lists, and the first, Tiger’s Curse, was named as one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2011 for Teens. Aprilynne Pike’s Illusions is the third in a four-part series about fairies. Lisa Mangum’s The Forgotten Locket wraps up her time-travelling trilogy. Debut author Bethany Wiggins’ Shifting is the first of a series that uses Native American mythology about shape shifters.

Mette Ivie Harrison’s Tris & Izzie, the only stand-alone book among the paranormal romances, sharply divided reviewers. Based on Tristan and Isolde, it is about a high school girl who is secretly a sorceress, and her attempts at using a love potion go awry, leading to a series of attacks by supernatural creatures. Orson Scott Card wrote that Harrison for the first time has written a comedy that is “funny all the way through.  It’s also great adventure . . . Think of it as a funny antidote to Twilight-mania. And this time the hero is actually a hero, and not a blood-sucking impossibility.” Other professional reviews were less generous, and reader reviews have been vicious. Part of the problem may be the cover, in which a half-clothed couple embrace on a rowboat, which appears to  have misled some into thinking it would be a more angsty teenage love story.

The next set of books is also fantasy, but does not lean so hard on the romance, aiming for a mixture of teenage boys and girls. Brandon Mull made the leap from the midsize publisher Shadow Mountain to a major national publisher with A World Without Heroes, the first in his Beyonders series. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “Inventive trials and supporting characters boost this otherwise standard-issue quest fantasy . . . Mull provides his young protagonists with a foe as genuinely clever as he is powerful and rescues an ambling plot with a devastating climactic twist. Readers fond of fantasies that don’t take themselves too seriously will enjoy this trilogy opener.” Similar in tone are two fantasy quest novels from Shadow Mountain, Obert Skye’s Beyond Foo: Geth and the Return of the Lithens, the first in a new Foo series, and M. L. Forman’s The Horn of Moran, the second in a series.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be seen as the inspiration for a pair of fun novels about butt-kicking young women taking on paranormal creatures while still experiencing normal teenage challenges. Kiersten White’s Supernaturally is the second of a series about a girl who works for a secret paranormal creature control force. There is romance, but not nearly as heavy as in the Twilight-type books. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “It’s a goofy, amusing ride for anyone. As in the previous book, Evie’s voice is the best part of the story, as she balances her supernatural abilities against typical teen concerns and obsessions. A tasty bonbon for those who like their romance mixed with supernatural adventures.” C.J. Hill, a new pseudonym for Janette Rallison, produced Slayers, about a rich socialite girl who discovers her destiny as a slayer of vicious dragons. She is part of a team of kids trained at Dragon Camp. Think Percy Jackson meats Buffy. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “The fish-out-of-water rich-girl device is surprisingly effective once the characters start developing and campers take on the [dragon] threat . . .  Frustratingly ridiculous and sometimes sloppy, but also enjoyably campy—redeemingly so.” Rallison, using her real name, also penned My Unfair Godmother, a comic sequel about a girl and her inept fairy godmother. The review in VOYA stated, “The mixture of fantasy and reality should not work, but Rallison makes the unbelievable work right alongside the contemporary problems, creating a fast-paced, humorous, and entertaining story.”

Finally, Heather Dixon made her literary debut with Entwined, a young adult retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses story. Booklist, in a starred review, wrote, “This first novel is richly imagined with a gothic feel, and Dixon’s descriptions of the many dances are thrilling. Although the general story line will be familiar to readers of Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball, this romantic fantasy is darker in tone . . . The story gracefully explores significant themes of grief and loss, mercy and love. Full of mystery, lush settings, and fully orbed characters, Dixon’s debut is both suspenseful and rewarding.” The book split reviewers; many mentioned the lush writing and fascinating magic system, but also the slow pacing in the first 2/3 of the book. Dixon is an artist as well as an author, and I highly recommend looking at her charming and hilarious cartoons at her Story Monster blog.

In this ocean of magic and monsters, there is a small handful of non-fantasy YA novels. In her last several books Carol Lynch Williams has used a raw, provocative tone to tackle some dark, difficult scenarios, almost daring her audience to run away. Miles for Ordinary is about a 13-year old girl struggling to care for her mentally ill mother. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews wrote, “Far more frightening than a ghost story, the novel achieves complete realism as Williams shows readers events through the eyes of a young girl whom the child-protection system has failed. Nevertheless, Lacey has so much spunk that readers are sure she’ll survive. The author has crafted both a riveting, unusual suspense tale and an absolutely convincing character in Lacey.” Publishers Weekly wrote, “The unfolding of details of Lacey’s home life and her anxieties create a suffocating atmosphere; the climax (which brings to mind Norman Bates and Baby Jane) may be too disturbing for some. This is tautly written psychological horror.”

The nationally published novel which most directly deals with Mormons and Mormon culture in 2011 was Emily Wing Smith’s second novel, Back When You Were Easier to Love. The protagonist is a small-town Utah girl who goes on a road trip in a desperate attempt to reconnect with her estranged boyfriend. The culture shock of moving from Utah to a California university town is a major part of the story, and the protagonist goes to pains to differentiate between her belief and culture. Publishers Weekly wrote, “Joy’s voice is sturdy, and her articulations about loss and belief are thoughtful and often moving. Self-acceptance and both the comforts and restrictions of the Mormon religion and identity are central themes in this sweet story.” Less positively, Kirkus Reviews wrote, “The faith that is shared by almost all the characters mingles into the narrative in an unusual and kind of quirky way. The church is never the focus, just a natural part of the environment, making it a refreshing element in an otherwise shopworn plot . . . Short, present-tense chapters with some lists and almost poetic interludes interspersed keep the pages turning relatively painlessly. Light, clean and completely predictable, this charming romance has a decidedly old-fashioned feel.”

Lindsey Leavitt’s Sean Griswold’s Head mixes humor with a serious family illness, a father who has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. School Library Journal wrote, “While the path that Leavitt paves for her protagonist is somewhat predictable, the likable characters will have girls gravitating toward the novel. Though the book takes a light look at a teenager coming to grips with a parent’s serious illness, it is refreshing and realistic without being overwrought with angst.” Kristen Chandler’s 2010 debut Boys, Wolves, and other Things that Might Kill Me was my favourite YA novel of the year, a lovely environmentalist drama. Her second novel, Girls Don’t Fly, has gotten nearly as strong reviews. Kirkus Reviews writes, “A familiar premise—girl realizes her boyfriend is a jerk and then meets someone infinitely better—is made fresh with quirky particulars. Readers will relate to Myra’s simultaneous desire for life to be different and exciting and fear of change . . . A sweet story that will appeal to romantics and birders alike.”

Here are my estimates of the bestselling new Young Adult novels of the year, based on the NYT, USA Today, and other bestseller lists (numbers refer to the highest place the book reached on the NYT Children’s Hardback or Children’s Series list, and how many weeks it was on the list).

  1. Evans, Richard Paul. Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 (1, 6)
  2. Condie, Ally. Crossed (2, 7) (probably will be a bigger seller than Evans in the long run)
  3. Dashner, James. The Death Cure (2, 5)
  4. Fitzpatrick, Becca. Silence (2, 4)
  5. Mull, Brandon. A World Without Heroes (1, 8 )
  6. Houck, Colleen. Tiger’s Curse (6, 4)
  7. Houck, Colleen. Tiger’s Quest (5, 2)
  8. Houck, Colleen. Tiger’s Voyage (3, 1)
  9. Pike, Aprilynne. Illusions (9, 1)
  10. White, Kiersten. Supernaturally (9, 1)
  11. Dixon, Heather. Entwined
  12. Johnson, Elana. Possession
  13. Wells, Robison. Variant

Ten Mormon authors produced nationally published Middle Grade novels in 2011. Jessica Day George’ Tuesdays at the Castle is about a plucky 11-year old princess and a living magic castle that choses the kings, and adds rooms whenever it wants to. “Darling” is a word I most often read in reviews. Children’s Literature wrote, “For readers who aren’t quite ready for the romance of Gail Levine’s smart fairy tales, but need a jolly adventure with lots of action, excitement, and devious pranks, this book is a certain winner.” Of the authors and reviewers I surveyed, it was one of the most often mentioned book recommendations. It was one of twenty-six books chosen by Barnes & Noble as “Best Books or 2011 for Kids”.

Kimberley Griffiths Little, with Circle of Secrets, sets a magical story in the Louisiana Bayou country for the second year in a row. It has received glowing reviews. Bloggin’ ‘bout Books wrote, “Circle of Secrets is a Cajun ghost story that’s spooky enough to send delicious little shivers down the spine, but not scary enough to cause nightmares. In fact, it’s the perfect blend of natural terrors (gators, bullies, abandonment) and supernatural frights (ghosts, bumps in the night, etc.), which combine to make this a shivery, atmospheric read. Mostly, though, it’s a warm, enchanting story about a young girl coming to terms with her imperfect family and, of course, herself. In case you can’t tell, I loved it.”

Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright’s The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale has received starred reviews from Publishers’ Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal. It was also named one of 66 of Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2011, as well as a Parents’ Choice Book Award. School Library Journal wrote “The fast-moving plot is a masterwork of intricate detail that will keep readers enthralled, and the characters are well-rounded and believable. Language is a highlight of the novel; words both elegant and colorful fill the pages: alacrity, scrivener, thieving moggy . . . Combined with Moser’s precise pencil sketches of personality-filled characters, the book is a success in every way.”

Matthew J. Kirby’s second novel, Icefall, a mystery set in mythical Viking lands, was nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America, and awarded a Parents’ Choice Book Awards. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, wrote, “Kirby turns in a claustrophobic, thought-provoking coming-of-age adventure that shows a young woman growing into her own, while demonstrating the power of myth and legend. Kirby’s attention to detail and stark descriptions make this an effective mood piece.” Jennifer Nielsen’s second novel, Elliot and the Pixie Plot, continues her fantasy Underworld Chronicles. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “Nielsen cleverly keeps the action and humor flowing from one silly obstacle to the next as Elliot tries to meet the demands of the angry Pixies . . . Definitely a series to invest in for those who prefer their fantasy a bit light.” Kirby and Nielsen will write novels in the James Dashner-led Infinity Ring project, both of which will come out in 2013.

Other Middle Grade novels included volumes #3 and #4 in Julie Berry’s graphic novel Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys series, Lindsey Leavitt’s The Royal Treatment, the second in her light fantasy Princess for Hire series, debut author E. J. Patten’s complex fantasy adventure Return to Exile, Obert Skye’s major publishing house debut Wonkenstien: The Creature From My Closet, a graphic tale written very closely to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid style, and debut author Tyler Whitesides’ Janitors, a humorous fantasy reminiscent of Brandon Mull’s Candy Shop Wars series.

In adult speculative fiction, several Mormon authors were nominated for prestigious literary prizes for their work in 2010. Eric James Stone’s story “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette, as well as being nominated for the Hugo Award for the same story. Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story, the third year in a row that he was nominated in the category. Brandon Sanderson, Jordan Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells were nominated for Best Related Work for their podcast Writing Excuses, Season 4. Dan Wells and Larry Correia were both nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings won the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel.  Sanderson had been nominated three times before in the past, and this year he won despite having his co-authored novel Towers of Midnight nominated as well.

In 2011, Brandon Sanderson published the short novel The Alloy of Law, a stand-alone Mistborn novel, set 300 years after the events of the previous trilogy, in a Western milieu. Kirkus Review wrote, “Sanderson’s fresh ideas on the source and employment of magic are both arresting and original—just don’t expect rigorously worked out plot details, memorable characters or narrative depth. Think brisk. Think fun. Butch Cassidy territory—ignore the tumbleweeds and enjoy.” William Morris wrote “Vintage Sanderson but in condensed (and more fun) form. YMMV, but I liked it quite a bit — the progression of the magic system and how it works in a semi-industrialized society is very cool.”

Orson Scott Card had one new novel, a novella, and three co-authored graphic novels in 2011. The Lost Gate is the first in his fantasy Mither Mages series, about a family with magic powers, set in the contemporary world. Reviews for the book have been mixed. Kirkus Reviews writes, “Card always writes with insight and compassion about children—here it’s the irrational, arbitrary and often just plain stupid adults who fail to convince. An uncharacteristically lumpy series opener, though Card’s storytelling skills and devoted audience guarantee success.” William Morris speaks for a number of reader reviews I have seen when he wrote, “I liked parts of it quite a bit, but it takes much too long to get to those parts.” Card’s co-authored three comic book/graphic novels, all the first of new series. Formic Wars: Burning Earth, a prequel to Ender’s Game, co-written with Aaron Johnson, Dragon Age, based on a computer game, co-written with Aaron Johnson and Mark Robinson, and Laddertop, a space adventure drawn (by illustrator Honel A. Ibardolaza) in manga style. Publishers Weekly wrote of Laddertop, “The main characters in this volume are largely female, strong and intelligent, a wonderful departure from male-dominated extraterrestrial offerings. Ibardolaza’s muscular art blends manga and Western aesthetics. An intriguing beginning; readers will clamor for the follow-up.”

In 2011 Subterranean Press published a limited edition version of Card’s Hamlet’s Father, a novella imagining a backstory to Shakespeare’s play, which was first published in an anthology in 2008. The book got a negative review in Publishers Weekly, which wrote, “The writing and pacing have the feel of a draft for a longer and more introspective work that might have fleshed out Hamlet’s indecision and brooding; instead, the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia.” In September a small internet/Twitter firestorm blew up, where netizens accused Card of linking homosexuals with pedophilia. Card replied on his website that the PW review and other critics misrepresented his book, and the pedophile father in the book is not presented as a homosexual. Moriah Jovan wrote a detailed review in which she defends Card from the charge that he equates pedastry with homosexuality. However, she did think the work was an artistic failure. “The . . . thing I found problematic was in its execution: To call this a retelling is…generous. Hamlet’s Father is basically Cliffs Notes with entertaining dialogue and some backstory thrown in to answer the question ‘Why?’”

Larry Correia, who was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, had four novels published in 2011. Hard Magic and its sequel Spellbound were the first two volumes of the Grimnoir Chronicles, a “diesel punk” fantasy, about a private eye with the magical talent of being able to alter the force of gravity. Jessica George wrote, “[It] has everything: X-Men-like powers, noir-esque writing, action, romance, mid-air zeppelin battles, and lots and lots of guns. What always pleases me about Larry’s books is that he creates not only great male characters, but his female characters are wonderful. There’s not a single dumb bimbo to be found, but instead we’ve got complex and realistic women, the perfect matches for the equally well-written men.” William Morris wrote, “Quite the rollicking ride. Characterization that goes beyond what you’d expect from the pulp noir setting. Fantastic action scenes and a coherent overarching series plot. Warning: it’s an incredibly violent novel.” Correia also produced Monster Hunter Alpha, the third in his fantasy series, and Dead Six, a counter-terrorism adventure co-authored with Mike Kupari.

Eric James Stone did not rest on his Nebula laurels in 2011. He had eight new short stories published, many of them at Daily Science Fiction. He told me he thought his best story of the year was “They Do It With Robots” (Daily Science Fiction), with “Freefall” (Daily Science Fiction) and “A Lincoln in Time” (Heir Apparent: Digital Science Fiction Anthology 4) rounding out the top three. A collection of his previously published short stories (plus one original), Rejiggering the Thingamajig and Other Stories, was published by Paper Golem in 2011.

Dan Wells’ I Don’t Want to Kill You, the third and final volume in the horror/fantasy John Cleaver series, received just as many glowing reviews as the first two entries. Kirkus Reviews said it “is a study in profiling, and interested readers with strong constitutions will be unable to put it down (or turn off the light). John continues to evolve as a character, and the tantalizing conclusion hints at a new beginning. Frighteningly good.” Wells, who was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, also self-published a dark comedy, A Night of Blacker Darkness, which is said to have an A Series of Unfortunate Events-esque fell to it.

David Farland co-created a new publishing business, East India Press, where he published the fantasy novel The Nightingale as an enhanced ebook (as well as a paper version). The enhanced version included illustrations, animations, a soundtrack, and annotations from the author. His Author’s Advisory Conference Calls series on writing advice appears to be quite popular among authors. Tracy Hickman and Stephen Kent also had speculative fiction novels published in 2011.

Among short story authors, Brad R. Torgersen had a very active year, with three stories published in Analog, including the December cover story, “Ray of Light.” He had several other stories appear in Inter Galactic Medicine Show and other venues, and his November 2010 story “Outbound” received the AnLab, the Analog reader’s choice award. Emily Mah and Nancy Fulda also both had well-reviewed stories published in Analog or Asimov’s, two of the leading three science fiction magazines.

The bestselling new hardcover novel by a Mormon author in 2011 was Glenn Beck’s The Snow Angel, a family Christmas novel co-written by Nicole Baart. It was published by Mercury Ink, Beck’s own imprint at Simon and Schuster. The book spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, peaking at #4. A children’s illustrated book version, co-authored by Shadow Mountain editor Chris Schoebinger and illustrated by Brandon Dorman, was also published. Richard Paul Evans produced two inspirational novels for adults (besides his YA bestseller discussed above), Miles to Go a sequel to The Walk and Lost December, a contemporary prodigal son story. Both reached #5 on the New York Times bestseller list. British mystery author Ann Perry also had three novels published in 2011, Treason at Lisson Grove, the 26th in her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, Acceptable Loss, the 17th in her William Monk series, and A Christmas Homecoming, her 9th Christmas novel. Jason F. Wright’s The Wedding Letters, a sequel to The Wednesday Letters, also appeared in 2011.

Paranormal romance author Christine Feehan produced the bestsellers Savage Nature, Dark Predator, and Ruthless Game. Lynn Kurland, an author of fantasy romance, produced Spellweaver and One Magic Movement. Publishers Weekly said of the latter, “A solid and intriguing story . . . This entertaining tale will please Kurland’s fans with familiar characters, quirky and authentic details of castle living, and high-spirited banter.” Amanda Ashley’s Bound By Night was one of eight books nominated as Best Vampire Romance of 2011 for the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards. Heidi Ashworth’s Regency romance Miss Delacourt Has Her Day received some positive notice. Brenda Novak saw all three of her romantic suspense Bulletproof Trilogy published in 2011, starting with Inside. RaeAnne Thayne and Rebecca Winters round out the adult romance field.

With the increased ease of publishing ebooks through services such as Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle store, many authors are self-publishing. Also, tiny Mom and Pop publishing houses are opening which promise to go beyond simple POD services, offering editing and marketing help. WiDo Publishing is one such publisher, but since many of the books they have published have been for the Mormon market, I will discuss them in next week’s post.  Rhemalda Publishing is another such house. Founded by Rhett and Emmaline Hoffmeister, a Mormon couple living in Wenatchee, Washington, they have so far published mostly fantasy novels, although they are open to other genres. They have published twelve novels since their first in November 2010, and have fourteen scheduled for 2012. While the majority of their authors are not Mormon, two are, Michelle Davidson Argyle, a former editor-in-chief of Utah Valley University’s literary magazine, who wrote the spy thriller Monarch, and Amber Argyle, who wrote the magic fantasy Witch Song.  Another such house is Pendrell Publishing, owned by Kamilla Quast and based in Culver City, California, which specializes in young adult fiction.  It has published six novels so far, including the Lani Woodland’s paranormal fantasy Indelible, the second in the Yara Silva Trilogy.

Here are my estimates of the bestselling Mormon novels of the year, according to the New York Times and other bestseller lists. The lists do not include the young adult novels listed above. Numbers refer to the highest place the book reached on the NYT list, and how many weeks it was on the list.

Hardback:

  1. Beck, The Snow Angel (4, 11)
  2. Evans, Lost December (5, 7)
  3. Evans, Miles to Go (5, 5)
  4. Feehan, Dark Predator (3, 4)
  5. Sanderson, The Alloy of Law (7, 3)
  6. Perry, Treason at Lisson Grove (20,1)
  7. Perry, Acceptable Loss (22, 1)
  8. Card, The Lost Gate (34, 2)
  9. Feehan, Dark Prince (34, 1)
  10. Perry, A Christmas Homecoming (35, 1)

Trade Paperback

Feehan, Darkest at Dawn (33, 1)

Ford, Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (from 2009) (8, 52)

Mass Market Paperback

  1. Feehan, Ruthless Game (2, 4)
  2. Feehan, Savage Nature (2, 5)
  3. Sanderson and Jordon, Towers of Midnight (11, 6)
  4. Feehan, Dark Peril (16, 3)
  5. Kurland, One Magic Moment (16, 3)
  6. Card, The Lost Gate (27, 2)
  7. Correia, Monster Hunter Alpha (23, 1)

Plus, Ender’s Game for 11 weeks and The Host for 3 weeks.

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14 Responses to 2011 Mormon Literature Year in Review: Pt. 1, Nationally-Published Fiction

  1. Wm Morris says:

    Please note that all the quotes from me were taken from my GoodReads reviews. While those are public, and I am fine with them being quoted, they also reflect a very readerly response on my part (as opposed to a critical one) and are usually written within a day or so of finishing the book. I find that my opinion often changes with time, or, especially, if I think the book merits re-looking at and analyzing with my literary critic hat on.

    That being said, out of the books that I have read of those mentioned above, my favorite, upon reflection, is definitely I Don’t Want to Kill You.

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    Whew! Frankly, it’s exhausting to read all those titles, let alone think about reading the books themselves. Thanks for this impressive list!

  3. Thanks for the mention! I would also point out that Nancy Fulda won the 2011 Jim Baen Memorial Award for her story, “That Undiscovered Country.” Kudos to Nancy, as that’s not only a national award with a major publisher attached, but comes with publication to the Baen web site, and professional payment to boot. Huzzah, Nancy!

  4. Kenneth Pike says:

    As always, a much-appreciated effort–thanks for putting this together.

    I notice that you didn’t include Dan Wells among the Young Adult authors and I think that bears some discussion. His American publisher for the John Cleaver books is of course Tor, which we are all accustomed to thinking of as a general sci-fi/fantasy imprint–nevertheless, internationally the John Cleaver story is sold as YA, and Dan’s upcoming dystopia “Partials” will have him touring with other YA authors for HarperTeen/Balzer & Bray. I don’t think that means we’ll be seeing more paranormal romance and YA dystopia authors nominated for the John W. Campbell award, unless of course Tor decides to really tap that market. But it’s interesting that you followed Tor’s lead and put Dan in the “adult speculative fiction” category even though the content of the series would suggest otherwise. Not that I think this was a mistake, necessarily, but it makes me wonder how much of the general snootiness directed toward mainstream YA fiction (especially the romantic sort) might dissipate if it were not explicitly labeled “teen.” If I publish a contemporary, non-fantasy, phenomenally well-illustrated middle-grade novel this year but it has a nice grown-up imprint on it, can I still be in the running for that “literary” title you’re longing to read?

    Looking forward to part two.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      Kenneth,

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think Dan Wells considers his John Wayne Cleaver stories to be YA fiction (based on my recollection of an interview or conversation with him), though they are often marketed as such. So far as I can tell, the majority of his readers are adult, at least in the U.S.

      It’s a tricky issue. Is the presence of a teen protagonist going through the process of growing up enough to qualify a book as YA? Even professionals disagree. I remember that my own book was often reviewed as a YA title, even though I’d never thought of it as a story that would particularly appeal to teen readers.

      • Kenneth Pike says:

        My wife is doing an event right now, but when she returns I’ll ask if she remembers how Dan himself characterized I Am Not a Serial Killer back in 2009–all I recall from their presentation at the Whitney’s that year was that Dan had sold the book into Germany as a YA (and a lucrative one at that) but not had any success finding a YA publisher stateside. This, of course, is the other side of your “professionals disagree” coin–many “coming of age” novels do not read the way a given young adult market wants them to read, whether the author intended them as YA or not. As for Dan’s stateside readers, I don’t doubt that most are adults–but again, is that because of the content of the book, or because of who published it, how it was marketed, and so on?

        Further, the growth of the YA market over the last few years has inspired many authors (Mormon or not) to dabble in or even move entirely to young adult literature, so Dan’s case is especially interesting in that a lot of writers are getting the opposite push–many agents have been asking the question, “could we do this as a YA?” Because at least some writers who get pushed that direction (ostensibly for marketability purposes) find it distasteful, the story behind the pluralistic classification of the John Cleaver books is, I think, deserving of some attention.

        • Jessie says:

          Not that anecdotal evidence matters, but both my local libraries have Dan Wells’ books (and yours Jonathan) in the adult fiction section, not YA. I believe that in both cases the decision has been based on content, the fact that the books were not published by a YA imprint, and the writing style of the books is not particularly YA. Having a teenage protagonist does not automatically make a book YA.

        • I’ve heard Dan say a few times that his I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER series is for adults. It’s the European markets that have marketed it as YA.

        • Kenneth Pike says:

          Finally remembered to check this with my wife–at the 2009 Whitney’s Dan had sold the series to Tor, so my memory was faulty there.

          While having a teenage protagonist does not “automatically” make a book YA, when it comes right down to it, what does make a book YA for all practical purposes is that it is labelled YA by the publisher and marketed to young adults. Which is of course my substantive point; content-wise I tend to agree with Dan’s European publishers, but because that’s not how the book was marketed stateside, it has been evaluated in a completely different light. Which perhaps lends some credence to the reluctance of authors who don’t want their work tagged as YA for “marketability” purposes, and leads me to wonder how many “literary” novels Andrew overlooked this year simply because they weren’t marketed that way.

        • Andrew H says:

          Kenneth, I understand your point, but I did spend plenty of space talking about YA and Middle Grade novels, especially those which have received strong reviews for their “literary” merit. I value those novels, and do not think that I missed any. I would like to see more nationally-published fiction for adults which take on Mormon issues, but that does not mean I want to see less non-religious YA.
          I see that the term “literary” rankles, but I do not mean it in a way that speaks pejoratively about other novels. I mean an adult novel that focuses more on psychological depth and character rather than narrative and plot, the focuses of mainstream commercial fiction. I probably read more mainstream commercial fiction than literary fiction, I like them both. I am simply noting the current state of what Mormon authors and the houses that publish them are producing, and hoping for a wider variety of offerings.

        • I’ve read quite a few YA horror novels marketed in the US, and Dan’s doesn’t really fit in that category. His serial killer series is much more graphic and intense. Although I can see how it would be considered “for kids” in the German market. Their “adult” thrillers/horror stories are extremely graphic language-wise and sexually. On PW, it announces PARTIALS as his debut YA. And on his agent’s blog, Sara Crowe lists I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER under her adult titles.

        • Kenneth Pike says:

          Heather–yes, as noted in my original comment, I agree that the book was marketed that way for the American market (as further evidenced by the market-oriented sources you indicate). The point I’m driving at does not really depend on whether we can decide here where that particular book “really” belongs.

          Andrew–we do seem to re-tread some of this ground annually but I don’t want to give you the impression that I think you haven’t given YA/MG enough column-inches; your efforts are obvious and appreciated. I guess I’m just beginning to wonder whether you’re asking the wrong question–whether the right question is not, “why aren’t there more mainstream literary offerings from LDS authors,” but “why is the market for straightforward ‘literary’ works so much harder to crack than the genre markets in which LDS authors excel?”

          I don’t think a complete answer is possible, but part of the answer may simply be that the current market for literary fiction is largely incompatible with our culture. In the eyes of many, that’s probably damning with faint praise, but I think there’s something to it. At a recent event with my wife, I believe it was Janette Rallison (though we’ve already seen in this thread how sharp my memory can be) who shared the story that her kids don’t like to pick up books with “stickers” on them–that is, awards stickers. Because, as they explained to her, the sympathetic characters always die in books with stickers.

          I would frankly be stunned if there were not in fact many LDS writers out there penning fabulous works of literary fiction, in the sense that they are focusing on psychological depth and character rather than narrative and plot. However, we are a peculiar people. Painting with a broad brush: we tend toward optimism. We find comfort in cultural conformity. Many of us are uncomfortable or even unfamiliar with the prevalent tropes of literary fiction–racial oppression, exploration of sexual identity, crumbling families, and the like. This is not to say that we have not suffered as a people in the past, or that we do not suffer as individuals now, or that we are incapable of exploring the psychology and character of others. But it may be that the reason you didn’t get the LDS literary novel you wanted this year is not because it wasn’t written, but because the market for “literary” works didn’t want what LDS literary authors had on offer.

          Now I’ve painted perhaps an unfairly bleak picture of what it means to be “literary,” but I don’t mean to suggest that all such offerings are alien to us as Latter-day Saints. For example, the only really disappointing bit of Jamie Ford’s patently literary At the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is that we’ll probably not see another work from him before 2013. But look at what the literary market has to offer in general and ask yourself, how many of these books are going to be written by someone who is happily married, raising happy children, with the help of a happy ward family? (Not to say that all of us are so situated, only that many are.) I’m confident that the answer is probably “some,” but I’d be surprised if it were “many.”

          I think you’re right to observe that heightened national interest in Mormonism creates increased opportunities for those LDS writers aspiring to literary publication, and in that sense I think we are of one mind in hoping that such a work is undertaken and published. I do think there is more “literary” work going on in the genres than you’ve owned up to, but I’m comfortable agreeing to disagree on that point. Nevertheless your editorializing (which I do not for a moment begrudge) tends to cast a bit of a shadow over the list of remarkable things “our people” have accomplished in the last year–as if the primary unspoken question of the entire annual report is, “why are we churning out so much (caveat: enjoyable!) genre trash?”

          I think the better question is, “the so-called literary market is in general down on conservative family values and (especially) organized religion; how can we realistically expect that market to treat LDS authors?”

  5. This is a great 2011 round-up and SO many titles to read and keep track so I give you kudos, Andrew! Thank you for the wonderful mention of my novel, CIRCLE OF SECRETS. After decades of writing and rejections, it’s pretty darn exciting to see it listed. I’m also happy to report that last month CIRCLE received a starred review from School Library Journal!.

  6. Edward says:

    I suppose if you want a graphic psychological thriller written by a Mormon you could always check out the “Freedom from Conscience” series. The two books, “Freedom from Conscience – Melanie’s Journey” and “Freedom from Conscience – Melanie’s Awakening” both deal with a vigilante serial killer. She is quite complex and in the sequel you learn that the teacher who she was in love with and who introduced her to killing had been an inactive-Mormon. The book is more in line with English thrillers in that the brutality is more left to the imagination but can be rather psychologically disturbing.

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