2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review
By Andrew Hall
Part 2: The Mormon Market
Wm notes: portions of this bibliographic review rely on comments from sources who have chosen to remain anonymous. As I said with his report on independent Mormon publishers posted here at AMV last July: I’m personally confident that Andrew has used his anonymous sources judiciously and within standard journalistic practices. But also keep in mind that the comments here represent particular points of view.
(Note: I am now posting at Dawning of a Brighter Day, the blog of the Association for Mormon Letters, a weekly column covering the world of Mormon literature. The focus is on published fiction, but I also cover theater and film. I also link to recently published literary works, news, and reviews. I hope to make the brief column a convenient gathering place for authors and readers to announce and follow news about the field each week.)
In this section, I will look at the Mormon fiction market by analysing recent trends, introducing each publisher, noting books that have received especially strong reviews, and noting the passing of a beloved author.
Despite the troubled economy, the number of literary works published by Mormon market publishers rose considerably in 2010. This was despite the fact that the publishers owned by the Church’s Deseret Media Companies, Deseret Book Publishing and Covenant Communications, stood pat on their annual output. The rise was due largely to an increase in the number of fiction works published by independent publishers Cedar Fort, Leatherwood, and Valor. Publishers report, however, that the book-selling economy remained stagnant in 2010, which means that more authors and more books crowded into the market, increasing the competition for market share.
Mormon publishers have lagged behind the general publishing world in making their works available as ebooks, although that appears to be going through a significant change this year. Cedar Fort was the most active publisher in this area, with most of its current catalogue available at the Kindle store. Deseret Book started making its books available in late 2009, and today it has over 1000 books available for the Kindle, although the vast majority of those are non-fiction. Only a tiny selection of its most popular novels are currently available. In January 2011, however, Deseret Book Company will launch its Deseret Bookshelf app for the iOS platform (iPad first, then iPhone, and iTouch), with future plans for expansion to the Android platform. “We anticipate we’ll have more than 2,000 titles available by the time we release the app,” said Matt McBride, e-pub product director for Deseret Book, “with literally hundreds more coming monthly.” Deseret Book says it will also continue to make more books available for the Kindle. I do not know if Covenant books will be available on the Deseret Bookshelf app. Covenant had also been slow to venture into the ebook market, only beginning to make titles available for the Kindle in 2010. Still only half of its current fiction catalogue is available in that format. Granite, Wido, and Parables have all of their books available as ebooks, Valor has about half, and Leatherwood has less than that, although it reports that it is working on getting all of its books available.
Looking at trends in the Mormon publishing field, in 2010 historical novels and mystery/suspense titles were down slightly, while romance, particularly the lighter “chic-lit” genre, was up. Young adult fiction, which Mormon publishers have often avoided out of concerns that it is less profitable, was up strongly. Most interestingly, the number of novels which contained no significant Mormon characters or settings rose considerably. Even Covenant Communications, which traditionally has been the publisher most insistent that its books contain specific LDS references, has loosened up on this requirement—somewhat. Managing Editor Kathryn B. Jenkins explained, “Most of the books we publish with little or no specific LDS content are from the Regency romance period—which occurred before the Church was organized in 1830. We have one book, by Michele Paige Holmes, that we will release in February that contains no LDS content, but that is extremely unusual. In the overwhelming number of cases, our policy is that fiction needs to have LDS content. Our policy remains unchanged: our fiction titles need to have LDS content unless they occurred during a period before the Church was organized.”
I will next discuss each Mormon market publisher, name the ownership and editing principles when I can figure them out, and discuss their output for the year. I will start with the two Church-owned publishers, Deseret Book Publishing and Covenant Communications.
The Deseret Management Corporation is the for-profit management company for the assets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Its CEO is Mark H. Willes. The division of the company that operates the media subsidiaries is Deseret Media Companies. It includes the KSL Broadcast Group, the Deseret News, Deseret Digital Media, and the Deseret Book Company. The Deseret Book Company’s CEO is Sheri L. Dew, and its VP for Publishing is Boyd Ware. The Deseret Book Company runs eight major business units. One of them is Deseret Book Publishing. Another is Covenant Communications, a separate business unit located in American Fork, away from the rest of the Deseret Book Company units. The other six business units are Deseret Book Retail, Seagull Book, Excel Entertainment, Time Out Events, Deseret Book Direct, and LDS Living Magazine.
Deseret Book Publishing uses two imprints, Deseret Book, for LDS-focused product, and Shadow Mountain, for values-based, non-religious product. The unit also runs Shadow Mountain Records and Zion’s Mercantile (décor and art). Deseret Book Publishing has three “Publishing Directors”, or book acquisitions editors: Jana Erickson, Cory Maxwell, and Chris Schoebinger. Maxwell handles historical fiction, biography, and doctrinal titles. Schoebinger handles children’s/young adult fiction and non-fiction, as well as the majority of the Shadow Mountain titles. Jana Erickson handles general fiction, inspirational, and self-help titles. Deseret Book Publishing published 19 novels in 2010, which is about the same as it has done for the last four years. 10 of those were through the Deseret Book imprint, and 9 through the Shadow Mountain imprint. Schoebinger reported, “We have separate meetings as we discuss the different imprints and their respective titles. But essentially the same people work on both imprints.” The company plans to publish 22 novels in 2011, 11 at each imprint. Brandon Mull’s final Fablehaven novel was the company’s best-selling novel of the year. Gale Sears and Josi Kilpack wrote the bestselling novels aimed specifically at the Mormon market.
Shadow Mountain has had amazing success on a national scale in recent years with middle reader and YA fantasy novels, and responded with a significant rise in such titles in 2008 and 2009. Deseret Book may have felt that they overextended its fantasy line, as they published fewer fantasy works in 2010. Schoebinger insisted they will continue to publish in the genre, including a new fantasy series by Tyler Whitesides that will commence in 2011. Commenting on the company’s success in juvenile fiction, Schoebinger said, “I think the key has been our grass-roots efforts. Authors need to beat the pavement. It takes time and energy to get noticed. We started these efforts with Obert Skye, who’s been wildly successful at touring schools and visiting bookstores across the country. These are NOT pleasure trips. Our touring authors get very little sleep and sometimes don’t see their families for consecutive weeks. We’ll continue to partner with national publishers where we think it makes sense. Obviously, we have a great relationship with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing [which has published the paperback editions of several popular Shadow Mountain series].”
I spoke to two authors who published with Deseret Book Publishing after working with independent publishers in the past. One commented, “They are the biggest, and the hardest to break into. Being published with them is like winning a medal that says, “I am good at what I do!” . . . As one would expect from a church owned organization, the royalties are always on time and always accurate. They treat their authors well enough. Emails are seldom answered in a timely fashion as if they are simply too busy. They do a few classy things like the author/artist dinner, and Christmas cards.” Another author said, “The biggest difference is the support that Deseret Book gives in regard to marketing. My book is in every catalogue and several magazines. I do a lot of my own promotion and Deseret Book matches my efforts and supports everything that I do. They are also interested in creating a career for me, which means they work with me on revisions and help my book be the best it can be.”
>Covenant Communications, formerly an independent company founded in 1984, was acquired along with its sister company Seagull by the Deseret Management Corporation in 2006. Although it is owned by the same entity, it is an entirely separate business unit, with its own acquisitions, editing, design, and production, and marketing departments. Barry Evans runs the unit as General Manager and COO. Kathryn B. Jenkins is the Managing Editor, and Kirk Shaw and Samantha Van Walraven are the book editors. On the relationship with Deseret Book, Jenkins commented, “Our businesses are kept completely separate as far as day-to-day functioning is concerned. We don’t know what their upcoming titles are, and they don’t know what ours are. We don’t put our heads together at all for planning purposes. Since they own us, of course, we are financially linked, but that would be the only thing other than top-level management that we share. We have benefited tremendously from being owned by the Church as far as having an easier time with permissions and related issues, and enjoy strong and visionary leadership from Deseret Book.” Despite their common ownership, there remains real competition between the two business units.
Covenant published 30 novels in 2010, which is the average number it has produced for the last seven years. It plans to continue at that pace in 2011. Kathryn Jenkins reported, “Our strongest fiction genres right now and for the foreseeable future tend to be suspense, romance, and historical. We have never been able to do very well with either fantasy or young adult genres, but are going to be offering several of those in the next few months with energetic new authors and marketing plans.” Their best selling fiction titles for 2010 were Chris Heimerdinger’s Sorcerers and Seers and Anita Stansfield’s Dickens Inn romance series.
One author wrote of Covenant, “They have been a delight to work with. They focus on fiction and know what to do with it. The royalties have always been paid on time and are accurate. They return emails! I feel like I matter to them. I have my editor’s phone number saved on my cell phone and I know he will answer, and not be annoyed when I call . . . When he sends back edits, I know he isn’t making frivolous changes. I know he’s asking for changes that will strengthen the book, and I want to work hard to do a good job for him, because I know he’s working hard to do a good job for me.”
In July I wrote a piece that described the struggles that independent LDS publishers face. I wrote, “[The Deseret Media Companies] are also able to get automatic access to the two largest Mormon-specific bookstore chains, Deseret Book Retail and Seagull Book. Independent publishers have to submit their completed books to an approval process to get placed on the shelves of these two bookstores, which can take months, and which can act as a brake on a book’s publicity momentum. Two of the most prominent outlets for book marketing, the Deseret Book bi-monthly catalogue and the LDS Living magazine (also acquired by Deseret Book Company in recent years), charge advertising rates which challenge the resources of publishers. Finally, many books published by the Deseret Book Company are sold at the popular Time Out series—devotional-like events promoted from the pulpit which feature inspirational talks by recently published authors and tables full of books published by Deseret Book Company available for purchase during the event.” Several of the independent publishers, particularly Cedar Fort and WiDo, see the Mormon market as just part of their business model, and have published several books by non-Mormons aimed at a national audience.
Cedar Fort (also known as CFI), founded in 1986, and located in Springville, UT, is the largest independent publisher of Mormon books. Lyle Mortimer is the Publisher, Lee Nelson the Associate Publisher, Bryce Mortimer the Executive Vice President, and Heather Holm the Managing Editor. Cedar Fort published 34 novels in 2010, up from 23 in 2009. This is the first time since I began recording numbers in 2000 that Cedar Fort exceeded the number of novels published at Covenant, which lead the market in that category throughout that period. On the average, however, the Cedar Fort fiction authors are less well known than those Deseret Media publishers. Publisher Lyle Mortimer commented, “We actually do an inordinate amount of fiction just because Lee Nelson and I like it so much. Fiction very seldom makes much money. It takes several non-fiction books to kind of cover the costs of the fiction.” Mortimer continued, “We ended 2010 with a 12% increase in sales, our best year ever when last year was our previous best year ever . . . Our sales at Ingram and other national accounts has continued to improve . . . and the LDS market ended up about even. We are hiring 7 new positions within the next month. This will increase our labor force by about 14%. We have very exciting (and large) goals this year and obviously believe we can reach them in spite of the economy.” Although it is careful to publish books that fit currently accepted bounds of Mormon propriety, it is bolder in publishing books that contain challenging or non-mainstream elements than the Church-owned presses.
Cedar Fort has a history of publishing new authors, providing many Mormon writers with their first opportunities. Well over half of its 2010 fiction authors were publication rookies. In comparison, in 2010 Deseret Book published only one new fiction author, and only about 20% of the fiction authors at Covenant were first-timers. At one time Cedar Fort encouraged new authors through an “author participation program”, through which an unproven author was asked to put up a portion of the publication costs, which would be returned if the book sold well. National bestselling YA author James Dashner published his first novel under this program. Cedar Fort discontinued the program approximately six years ago, because it felt it gave them a negative image.
Despite a 22% growth in the size of Cedar Fort in the last 10 years, I imagine it has limited resources when compared with the Church-owned publishers. Their approach today appears to be to produce a huge number of titles (nearly 100 in 2010, when you count all of the non-fiction), and see which authors are able to gain traction on their own. Then they back those titles, at the expense of the others. One author commented, “CFI has a history of not marketing books until they ‘catch’ the market, which usually takes six months or so to be noticeable by which time the initial spark is extinguished. One of my concerns about CFI publishing so many books is that they aren’t giving marketing attention to them. A few will stand out and have better sales, at which time CFI will get behind them and do some marketing, but it’s a very backward form of marketing to me.”
Concerning marketing, Mortimer commented, “We spend nearly 20% of our budget on sales and marketing. We get in front of buyers nationwide. Often, (because we do risk a lot on first-time authors) we aren’t as successful as we would like. We feel we have been successful when we have given a first-time author a shot. I subscribe to Mark Twain’s quote, ‘The great public is the only tribunal competent to sit in judgment upon any literary effort.’ Once that great tribunal has spoken, I am not going to try to convince them they are wrong. As a result some first-time authors are disappointed. Because we risk more on first-time authors than other publishers do, you may hear that disappointment more often from the CFI direction. If the press or rumor mill points out that a minor proportion of our authors are dissatisfied, our only alternative to quell that kind of disquiet is to quit doing so many first-time authors. We believe there are diamonds out there and we want to mine for them. The only problem is you don’t always know what you have found until you get it washed off and cleaned up and set in front of the light.”
Authors wishing to publish with Cedar Fort should not expect extensive editing of their manuscripts. One author reported, “I’ve heard of an author getting a few edits here and there, but others have told me that not a word was changed in their books before press–so the editing is spotty. I will say that I have seen an improvement in recent years–it seems like some books are actually edited and proofed, but some still are not.”
Another author reported, “CFI has its advantages. They are fast in production, and for the most part they have really nice covers. They don’t edit very much. That light editing is what really keeps them from being huge contenders in the market. The potential is there, but they fall short because they don’t take that extra step to get involved in the editorial process. They are unyielding in their contracts.”
Another author reported, “I felt that CFI missed the mark on editing in several books I picked up this year . . . I continued to be very impressed with Cedar Forts covers and overall formatting of their books, I think they are as good, if not better on some books, as any other publisher in the market. Sometimes their covers tend to ‘match’ one another too well, but overall I think they’ve done an excellent job . . . I have noticed some improvement with editing, but am surprised that I continue to find editing issues . . . I’m impressed with the number of books CFI is putting out and glad to see so many new authors getting published with them since Deseret Book and Covenant don’t seem to be taking on many new names, but I would like to see improved quality in the editing and in some of the story development. I have said for many years that CFI is the strongest publisher in the market next to Deseret Book and Covenant. I feel that if they would pay more attention to editing and really work hard at choosing only those books that are exceptional, then support those authors and market those books, they could be a stronger company than they have ever been. They have some excellent authors publishing with them right now.”
Mortimer and Nelson reacted strongly when I shared these quotes with them. They commented, “If what you have written is true, we’d certainly be out of business. Instead we have averaged 22% growth for the last ten years . . . We’ve paid the most advances ever this year, starting at about $2,000. The largest advance we ever paid was $50,000 . . . Cedar Fort has been able to grow even when the LDS market has remained level by publishing more and more non-LDS book. We are the largest publisher in the world for Dutch Oven cookbooks, and are now publishing a wide assortment of other cookbooks, plus an increasing number of garden, camping and outdoor titles.” Concerning the editing, Mortimer responded, “We don’t spend a lot of time reconstructing fiction work. If we don’t think it will fly, we won’t publish it or we send it back to the author for revising. We try very hard to keep the author’s voice and maintain the author’s integrity (probably harder than most publishers). The work remains the author’s work and not our work. Very, very seldom will you find typos and gross ‘publishing’ errors.” Mortimer then insisted that every book they released had gone through significant editing and changes.
Mortimer continued, “We are getting more and more recognition from nationally established authors. We signed Dave Wolverton yesterday. We signed [national romance author] Carla Kelly a month ago. Patricia Davis is now on board. There are many others we expect to announce in the next few months. By attrition we may be spending less and less on first-time authors. Again, this makes me a little sad. That’s where the real excitement and satisfaction is.”
Although there is frustration among some Cedar Fort authors about the amount of editing and marketing that the publisher provides, I also heard from several authors who said they realized the strengths and weaknesses of the company when signing their contracts, and were happy with the results. For more details about publishing with Cedar Fort, here is an interview with the Cedar Fort acquisitions editor about the process of submitting, and here is an interview with the public relations director about their marketing. The bestselling 2010 novels at Cedar Fort were Cartels and Combinations by Mike McPheters, The Widower’s Wife by Prudence Bice, The Carpenter’s Miracle by Judd Parkin, The Christmas Stone by Liz Carlston, City of Angels by Sheralyn Pratt, and The Hoarders by Jean Stringham.
Granite Publishing and Distributing, located in Orem, UT, is the Mormon publisher I know the least about. Jeff Lambson founded the company in 1995, and continues as the President of the company. It has been reported to me that Lambson sold the company some years ago, but remains in charge of day to day affairs, but I have not been able to confirm who the present owner is. Granite published eight novels in 2010, which is about even with what they have done over the last ten years. They also distribute books published by others. Their novels tend to go by relatively unnoticed in the Mormon market.
One author reported, “When I had books currently being published by Granite, they were very kind to me . . . My books were edited very professionally by Granite. The marketing was minimal and less than I would have wanted, but they are a small company with a low budget for marketing . . . My overall impression of Granite remains favorable.” Another author commented, “They did one marginal edit on my book and almost no advertising, which unfortunately I didn’t understand would be the case . . . I hate to be negative, but it’s been very disappointing and I won’t be working with them again.”
I discussed three small independent publishers, Leatherwood Press, Valor Publishing, and WiDo Publishing, in some detail in my earlier article on independent publishers. Here is an update on the three.
Leatherwood Press, which publishes fiction under its imprint Walnut Springs Press, is owned and founded by Garry P. Mitchell, and is located in Salt Lake City, UT. Linda Prince Mulleneaux is the Managing Editor. They published twelve novels in 2010, and have moved into second place behind Cedar Fort as the most active independent publisher of Mormon fiction. Mulleneaux reported that Walnut Springs will publish at least twelve novels in 2011. When I noted to Mulleneaux that all of the recent fiction authors were female, she responded, “That is because we mainly publish romance, which tends to be written by females. As we delve into genres such as fantasy, urban fantasy, and sci-fi, we’ll no doubt publish more novels written by males.” Walnut Springs’ bestselling author in 2010 was Ronda Hinrichsen.
Candace Salima is the founder and owner of Valor Publishing Group, founded in 2009 in Orem, Utah. Valor got off to a very strong start in late 2009 and early 2010 with an announced slate of twelve books from a mix of new and established writers, and the coup of acquiring the rights to a previously unpublished manuscript by the late W. Cleon Skousen. In May 2010, after publishing five novels to start the year, it put all books scheduled for release in the spring and summer on an indefinite hold, reportedly because of difficulty acquiring funding. Also, several authors reported that the company did not keep its commitments in terms of marketing. When the publication hold stretched on into the summer, several authors asked for and received back the rights to their books. Two founding members of the Executive Board resigned around the same time for unspecified reasons. Two of the returned books have since been picked up by Cedar Fort, and the rest have been self-published. Since the summer the company has been quiet, although one remaining author claims that her book is close to being released. Salima, a political activist, recently created her own cable TV talk show.
WiDo Publishing, based in Salt Lake City, was created by the family of Karen and Bruce Gowen in 2007. Kristine Princevalle is the Managing Editor. It published two novels each in both 2009 and 2010, and reports planning to publish five to seven books in 2011. Although all of its books so far have been by LDS authors, WiDo staunchly avoids the term “Mormon publisher”, and half of the authors scheduled for publication in 2011 are not LDS.
There are four publishers working in the niche market of literary Mormon fiction: one well-established house, and three one-person (or one-family) businesses. Altogether, they produced seven works of literature in 2010. Only one of those seven was a novel, therefore I will talk about the individual non-novels in Part 3 of this review.
The most prominent of the literary houses is Signature Books, a well known publisher of books on Mormon issues, particularly histories and collections of primary documents. It was co-founded in 1980 in Salt Lake City by the current owner and President George D. Smith. Among the staff members are Gary Bergera (acquisitions editor) and Tom Kimball (marketing). It published two literary works in 2010, a poetry collection and a short story collection. It plans to spend 2011 publishing only non-fiction, and will return to publishing a small amount of literature in 2012.
The most active of the three small literary presses is Chris Bigelow’s Zarahemla Books, which has published an average of three works a year since 2006. In 2010 it published two short story collections and a collection of literary essays, which by early December sold a cumulative total of 410 copies. Bigelow reports having three more books planned for 2011, but added “I’m a little burned out and don’t see myself personally doing much else with Zarahemla beyond 2011 . . . This is par for the course for me on volunteer things: I tend to last five solid years and then feel ready to move on . . . That said, there’s no reason to ever shutter Zarahemla. I would like to keep it open for qualified editors with book projects that they have already perfected with the authors and that sound like they would be good to publish.”
Parables Publishing was founded in 2006 by Beth Bentley of Woodsboro, Maryland, and has published one or two books a year since then. It published one novel in 2010, Robert Goble’s Across a Harvested Field. Bentley said of her house, “Primarily we want to be known for realistic, contemporary LDS fiction . . . I want to publish the kinds of books I most want to read—namely about thoroughly engaging characters with LDS values, dealing with challenging, real-life problems. I’m not interested in gratuitous apologetics or inspiration. However, if some of that is organic and fundamental to the plot, it’s fine. Humor is a plus, but preachiness and easy, pat solutions are a really big turnoff.”
Eric W. Jepsen’s Peculiar Pages, founded in 2009, is an imprint of Elizabeth Beeton’s Kansas City, MO publication company B10 Mediaworx. It published Out of the Mount: 19 From the New Play Project, and in 2011 it intends to publish a short story collection, Monsters and Mormons.
One new publisher debuted in 2010, Alan Rex Mitchell’s Greenjacket Books, located in Vernon, UT. Mitchell, the 2000 winner of the Marilyn Brown Unfinished Novel award, says, “we are oriented toward a male LDS audience, hoping the LDS housewife will buy books her sons and husband will read. One example is Regulating BB, an LDS sports/missionary book, and we hope [our upcoming] Mormon Vampire parody will attract LDS teen boys who will enjoy poking fun at vampire novel. We would like to do more doctrine books.” Greenjacket produced four books in 2010, all of which were written at least in part by Mitchell: a playscript, a new novel co-written by Mitchell, a reprint of an older Mitchell novel, and a non-fiction work on the causes of the current recession. Greenjacket plans to produce 5 to 6 works in 2011 (this time primarily by other authors), including perhaps four literary works.
Over December and January I did an informal survey of Mormon authors and reviewers of LDS, asking them to name their favourite Mormon novels of the year. The books I will mention in each genre were those which were mentioned by significant numbers of the readers I questioned.
The most highly regarded author among her peers, according to my informal survey, is Josi Kilpack. Kilpack produced the third and forth in her series of cozy Sadie Hoffmiller culinary mysteries, Devil’s Food Cake and Key Lime Pie, for Deseret Book. Jennie Hansen said “with Devil’s Food Cake she delivers a polished novel that can hold its own anywhere.” Jeff Needle wrote, “Kilpack knows how to keep a story moving. There isn’t a boring page in this book. And just when you think you have the plot figured out, Kilpack throws a curve ball, and you’re back to square one in trying to figure out just what’s happening. There are no uninteresting characters. But there are plenty of characters to dislike. I found myself being surprised again and again as I had to re-evaluate my feelings about some of the players . . . A delightfully addictive series to sink your teeth into.”
Kilpack is currently the President of the Whitney Academy, which means her books will not be considered for 2010 Whitney Awards. There are several other very strong contenders in the Mystery/Suspense category. Covenant published two highly lauded mysteries, Jeffrey S. Savage’s A Time to Die, the third in his Shandra Covington series, and Stephanie Black’s Cold as Ice. In the suspense/thriller genre, the title I heard praised the most often was Gregg Luke’s psychological/medical drama Blink of an Eye. Other strongly reviewed books included Traci Hunter Abramson’s Crossfire and Backlash, both from her Navy SEALS “Saint Squad” series, Steve Westover’s FBI mystery Defensive Tactics, Rachelle Christensen’s fast-moving romantic suspense novel Wrong Number, and Julie Coulter Bellon’s kidnapping thriller Dangerous Connections.
YA fantasy is nothing new in the Mormon market, Shadow Mountain has published many such volumes in recent years, Cedar Fort had seven YA fantasy novels in 2010, and Walnut Springs and Valor published fantasy titles. Covenant, which has largely avoided speculative fiction in the past, in 2011 will begin a space-opera science fiction series. With the enormous load of Mormon authors who are releasing YA fantasy through national houses, those being published specifically for the Mormon market can be overlooked. Within the fantasy genre, contemporary paranormal had been seen as beyond the Mormon publishing pale, but in 2010 Shadow Mountain released Rachel Ann Nunes’ Imprints, about a girl who can read human emotions and memories left on physical objects. For the most part, the Mormon publishers avoid works which feature both LDS characters and fantasy elements. Fantasy is fine, as long as firm wall is kept between it and the reality of LDS life. The one exception to that rule is time-travel fantasies, pioneered by Chris Heimerdinger, where a contemporary LDS (usually a teenager) goes back in time to a moment in Book of Mormon or Restoration history. There were three such novels in 2010, Jeffery Savage’s Restoration fantasy The Fourth Nephite looks to be the strongest of the group. Of the YA fantasy novels that had no Mormon content, the best reviewed were Donna Hatch’s fantasy romance Queen in Exile, and Dixie Owens brain-transplant fantasy Becoming Kate.
Outside of fantasy, two other YA novels which received strong attention were Ally Condie’s last (at least for now) Mormon market book Being Sixteen, a serious novel about teenage sisters and bulimia, and Becca Wilhite’s cute romance My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions.
Although there was much highly lauded Mormon literary writing in 2010, most of it was in short story or literary non-fiction form, and thus will be covered in the third part of this series. Some notable general adult fiction included Annette Lyon’s Band of Sisters, Braden Bell’s The Road Show, Michael Knudsen’s The Rogue Shop, Robert Goble’s Across a Harvest Field (which won the 2010 Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel competition), and G. G. Vandagriff’s Pieces of Paris.
Meridian Magazine reviewer Jennie Hansen listed two novels set in Russia, Gale Sears The Silence of God and Sandra Grey’s Trespass, as her two favourite Mormon market books of the year, and many of my correspondents agreed with her. The Silence of God is based on a true story of a LDS family in St. Petersburg in the 1910s, living through those momentous years of Russian history. Trespass is the third in Grey’s sweeping World War II series, this one set primarily in the immediate post-war Soviet Union. Close behind those two in terms of strong reviews was Oh Say Can You See, the fourth volume in L. C. Lewis’s War of 1812 Free Men and Dreams series. H. B. Moore’s Alma the Younger and Marianne Monson’s The Water is Wide, about a British convert in the 1840s, also received strong notices.
Second to Josi Kilpack, the book that my informants mentioned the most as their favourite Mormon market novel of the year was Sarah M. Eden’s Regency romance Courting Miss Lancaster. Another frequently mentioned romance was Julie Wright’s contemporary comic LDS romance Cross My Heart. Other romances getting favourable reviews included Heather Justesen’s suspenseful romance Rebound, Carol Warburton’s The Legend of Shannonderry, set in 19th century England, Kaylee Baldwin’s first novel Meg’s Melody, Rachael Renee Anderson’s comic romance Luck of the Draw, and Michelle Ashman Bell’s Hometown Girl.
The author Linda Sillitoe passed away on April 7 at the age of 61 of a heart attack after a long illness. Sillitoe is probably most remembered for her investigative reporting for the Deseret News and Utah Holiday magazine in the 1980s, and her 1988 book Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders (co-authored with Allen Roberts), which chronicled the Mark Hofmann bombings in Salt Lake City in 1985 that killed two people. Of her eight published books, four were literary works (all published by Signature Books): two novels, a poetry collection, and a short story collection. She received the Association for Mormon Letters Award five times: twice for poetry (in 1977 for “The Old Philosopher, Letter to a Four-Year-Old Daughter”, and in 1993 for her book of poetry, Crazy for Living), once as a combined award in poetry and fiction (1981 for “Lullaby in the New Year” and “Demons” (Sunstone May-June 1981)), once for criticism (1980, for her article “New Voices, New Songs (Dialogue 13.4, 1980)), and once for a novel (1988, Sideways to the Sun). She had short stories anthologized in two landmark Mormon collections, 1983’s Greening Wheat: Fifteen Mormon Short Stories, and 1992’s Bright Angles and Familiars. Signature Books wrote of her, “She was an advocate for those who have been marginalized by society: minorities, gays, abused women, the chronically ill.” Author and editor Lavina Fielding Anderson said Sillitoe was “one of the strongest and earliest voices for Mormon feminism . . . I loved the suppleness and subtleties of her style. Her poems, written as a young mother balancing child-rearing needs with the passion to write, articulated those dilemmas, discovered afresh every generation, as well as they’ve ever been done. Her novel, Sideways to the Sun, made her the voice of a sisterhood taking both Mormonism and motherhood seriously.”
Literary works (novels, short story collections, poetry collections, etc.) published by LDS publishers. (Wm says: the table no longer fits within the page guides of AMV so click on the link to view it)