3/17/09

How Do the Whitneys Work?

Due to our lively discussion here on the Whitneys and some of the questions raised, the Whitney powers-that-be have posted a detailed explanation of their processes on the Whitney website.

Maybe we should all go read that before we continue the conversation here.

My Opinion:
I personally think the various Whitney Committees do a great job. While there are some novels that I think should have made the cut for Novel of the Year that didn't, and other novels that I think should not have made it that did, overall, I think the finalists are representative of LDS fiction.

The one issue I have with the current Whitney policy, and this is no secret to them because I've voiced it to several of the Whitney Committee members (and Robison, I'm hopefully going to stir up enough of a hornet's nest that you will fix this), is that if ANY novel is excluded from consideration for ANY reason whatsoever, you will not get a fully representative award.

As it stands now, novels by Whitney Committee members are excluded. For 2008, this means that Josi Kilpack's book, Her Good Name, was excluded. (I don't care that Josi doesn't mind. And I don't care that the situation is created by your basic bylaws. You need to fix it!) Her Good Name may or may not have made it to the finals, but the fact that it was excluded is not a good thing.

Anyone agree with me??? Let's start a virtual riot and force them to change their policy!! Please express appropriate outrage in the comments. Slogans and placard ideas welcome.

8 comments:

Emily M. said...

Thanks for the link, and for taking the time to explain the process-that was very helpful.

So each novel can win only once? How do you decide which category trumps? Say a novel was nominated more than once, and would have won more than once. How do you decide which category the novel ultimately ends up winning?

Tristi Pinkston said...

As a note of explanation, Josi's book was excluded because Josi is a member of the Whitney Committee. If her book were to be eligible, with her on the committee, that would be seen by some as unfair, would it not? That's why the rule is in place, is to avoid the appearance of favoritism. The only way around that is to create a rule saying that no author can participate on the Whitney Committee.

RobisonWells said...

According to the rules, the order is: 1) Best Novel, 2) Best Novel by a New Author, 3) Genre. So, if a book wins Best Novel, then it will ineligible for the other awards.

And LDSPub, our reason for excluding committee members' books is because we don't want to appear biased. And, as you can see from the other comment threads, that appears to be a real concern. (However, our hope is that in the future we'll have more non-authors on the committee...)

Emily M. said...

Thanks for the explanation, Robison. :-)

LDSP, I can see your concern that excluding Josi's book is not fair. But it seems from the comments on this site that there is a concern about favoritism among Whitney finalists. I don't see how you could get around that without having non-authors on the committee.

Stephanie Black said...

And the exclusion only applies to the Whitney Committee. Books written by the category judges are still eligible. They just don't judge the same category in which they compete.

Th. said...

.

Without radical transparency, I can't agree although I would like to.

I was interested to learn that winning best one thing can prevent you from winning best another. I think that's a strange but good policy.

J Scott Savage said...

Wow, stop checking blogs for a week or two and you miss all the controversy—I mean fun. I think these discussions have been great for the awards. And for the authors. Having been a judge for the first time this year, I can tell you without a doubt that the process works. You may not like every book that was nominated, but you can be 100% confident that it got there honestly.

I was new to the judging process, and I found that it was much easier to make a decision using the head to head comparison process for choosing the five finalists than assigning a score. In a 1-10 point process, everything is given equal weight. The writing was an 8, but the story was a 4. Or the story was an 8, but the writing was a 4. So a twelve is a twelve. But did the writing make up for the story so that you didn’t even realize the plot was weak until you looked back? Or did the strong story eventually make you forget about the writing errors? But when you are asked one book at a time which was better, A or B? It makes it much easier to choose. At times I actually even had to go back and compare the two books again to decide a tight race.

For me personally, I was weighing the overall effect of each book. Bad writing pulls me out of a story, but if the story is weak to begin with, great writing alone doesn’t do it for me. People ask me all the time what my favorite books are, and I stumble for a clear answer. There are so many I like for different reasons. But ask me which book did you like better, “The Graveyard Book,” or “Hunger Games,” and I can instantly tell you which and why.

If you feel a book was undeserving of its nomination or placement as a finalist, you must go back and look at the book. If one part of the book is weak, something clearly made it strong. What worked? My first book Cutting Edge had a million things I would go back and do differently. But the story was so strong that it is still many people’s favorite of all my books.

As far as having diversity of judges, I would be okay with that as long as they are still the target audience. It makes no sense to have someone who doesn’t enjoy reading romances as a judge on the romance panel. As an author, you write to a target. It makes me laugh when someone complains that Farworld would be better for a middle grade reader. Of course it would. That’s who I wrote it for. If you read Twilight as a vampire book, you will probably not like it. But read as a romance, it takes on a whole new strength. So if you want men as romance judges, great! But they MUST be fans of the romance genre.

Finally LDS pub, I agree with you that no book should be excluded. I’d say that someone on the committee could recuse themselves on anything involving their book. Besides it might create more controversy—which as I said above is only good!

Anonymous said...

Laundering the Whitneys

The titles of my favorite novels come and go, but laundry duty will always be with me.

I read a novel about an elderly man and decide its meh, okay. Not a classic. The writing is good, far from brilliant, but transparent enough not to annoy me and that’s okay if only the story were more engaging. It’s the kind of novel where the wash gets done on time, the dishes never pile up, and the kids can count on three square meals a day. That’s a fair review to share with my friends, but it probably won’t get published in the New York Times. But, hey, I’m not a critic, just a reader.

The story didn't grab me. I didn't relate. The main character is forty years older, male and he’s dealing with the complications of old age. What kind of plot is that? I need something a little more appealing. Exciting. I’m a happily married housewife with four kids. My husband and I are trying to pay the mortgage, put a little away for the future, and raise sane kids without killing them. The demands of life make the romance of my college days difficult to replicate. In fact I’m not even sure if replication is the right approach. I tried that with my kids and look at how they turned out. I love a good romance novel and I’m not going to give up my thing no matter what my weird, nosy, self-taught psychologist, neighbor friend tells me over the backyard hedge about romantically obsessive thirty-something novel readers.

Then I get the call. It’s about my father. He's in trouble. He can't afford special care. Neither can I. And could I put him up in our extra room until we figure out something better? The first things I notice are his frequent slips of memory. It’s part of the degenerative disease that brought him to me. His seemingly insignificant fears are me frustrations. His idiosyncrasies become my aggravation. How is this going to play out for me? For my family? I put off wondering how it’s playing out for him and I pray for a solution. A cure. That’s a faith-filled prayer, isn’t it? The faith to heal. That God has power to cure my father and relieve me of this terrible burden.

But the relief I’m praying for has already been delivered. It’s occupying the spare room. I just haven't prepared a place to receive it. Yet.

I begin to notice my father’s anguish. He’s losing his sense of purpose in a life that was, until recently, filled with purpose. His childlike questions are, at first, annoying, but in his innocence I find terms for endearment. A smile on his face is worth a hundred prayers and I begin wearing my knuckles thin on heaven’s door, begging not for my happiness, but for his, searching not for my escape but pleading for his welfare. The mathematics of life, seen through his eyes, becomes a simple equation. The totality of his blamelessness, his virtue, his incorruptibility, his pure love communicate a cure. God didn’t anoint me his savior. Somehow, in the imperceptible sum of eternity’s calculus, I understand. God anointed my father the healer.

It’s been over six years now. My father is still with me. One son is on a mission. A daughter is in college in another state. There are two teens at home. I come across that novel about the elderly man and I remember it barely registered at “meh, okay” on the likeable-ometer. But heck, I’ve got some time, and nothing better to read. I’m surprised by how I’m riveted to every detail. The story is palpable. The human interaction enthralling. The hope ennobling. The poignancy plumbs the depths of my soul. It’s the kind of novel where the wash builds up, the dishes don't get done, and the kids have to forage for their own food. I hold the novel and cry. What was I thinking when I assigned this masterpiece to the trash heap of mediocrity? It’s a classic. It’s touching. Every word poetically penetrates my heart.

I discover that I’m not ground of the same optical prescription I was when first I read this timely work of art. The novel didn’t change. I did. And that is the secret garden of novel reading. I see myself seeing through a lens of a different color and over the course of my reading life I accumulate an eyeglass case bursting, filled with spectacles for blocking the sun, for farsightedness and shortsightedness, one with a feminine touch and another for my husband’s masculine keenness. There’s one prescribed for youthful impatience, and another for childlike innocence, and all of the glasses ground for the purpose of helping me read. In focus.

The laundry still piles up, but for a very different novel today than yesterday. And tomorrow it will back up behind yet a very different story.

Best of luck laundering the Whitneys.