Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Christy Awards--Part 2

In 2000 for the first Christy Awards, 80 books were submitted. This year almost 150 titles were submitted, reflecting the growth of Christian fiction. For the first time the contemporary category was broken into two--stand-alone and series—due to the large number of books submitted in that category. Publishers submit books—not the authors. The submission fee is hefty for a contest—I think it’s around $100 per book. Generally speaking, the awards tend to single out the more literary-voiced books in each genre.

I don’t know how many attended the banquet this year. I do know the large banquet room was full of tables. Some publishers host their own tables—Zondervan typically has two. These publishers often pay for their authors’ dinners (Z has always paid for its novelists and provided a seat for us at the Z table) while other publishers don’t do this, and the authors are left on their own. And, of course, there are lots of editors and agents, so many people just find a table that isn’t reserved for a publisher and sit with their pals.

Before dinner the finalists were honored, each one going up front to receive a medallion and have the their photos taken as a category group. There were three finalists for each category. Dinner followed, then the keynote address. After the address, winners were announced. This format has changed every year, and I think this one was the best. This way those who don’t win aren’t left standing in front of everyone as the winner is announced.

Author Bret Lott, Oprah pick for his novel Jewell, was the keynote speaker. Lott and his wife formerly hailed from South Carolina, where he taught Sunday School. They now live in Baton Rouge. He has had 11 books published.

Lott told us that he became a Christian at 18 through a Josh McDowell rally. At age 20, while working as an RC Cola salesman and attending college, he took a creative writing course merely because it fit his schedule. In reading, Lott’s hero became Flannery O’Conner. When Lott decided he wanted to write, he went to John White, a Christian author, and asked him now to be a Christian novelist. White told him, “Write with the integrity of a Christian. See the world with empathy and detail and love—and with all its dust.” That became Lott’s passion.

“The cold world of New York publishing doesn’t quite know what to do with me,” Lott said. He is a Christian writer, and he’s known for writing well—which makes him rather an “idiot savant” to New York. Lott sees his stories as presenting the world with its “dust, with which Christ was familiar.” Christ surprised his listeners with His own stores, Lott said, and through such stories “a reader can come face to face with himself in the dust of life.”

Jewell was his fourth book. Prior to that, he’d published two novels and a book of short stories. Jewell was inspired by the life of Lott’s grandmother, who bore six children, one of whom—Lott’s aunt—had Downs Syndrome. In writing the book, Lott asked his grandmother, “What was your great failure in life?” She replied that she thought she could “fix things” and realized late in life that she couldn’t. From this inspiration came the story of a mother of a daughter with Downs Syndrome, who was always looking to try to “fix it.”

Award Winners:

Contemporary Stand Alone: W. Dale Cramer, Levi’s Will (Bethany). (Dale also won last year for his novel Bad Ground.) Dale’s novel was based on his father, who was banned by his Amish family sixty years ago. In all those years, his father had not been able to sit at the same table with his family for a meal. After reading Dale’s book, the family saw things in a new light and lifted the ban. “For the first time in 60 years,” Dale said in his acceptance speech, “last Thanksgiving my father sat down to eat with his family.” The difference this book has made in the life of his own family has been tremendous. He concluded with the emotional statement, “Look what God has done with the work of my hands.”

Contemporary Series: Vanessa Del Fabbro, The Road To Home (Steeple Hill). In a wonderful south African accent, Vanessa thanked her Steeple Hill editors. (This book was also a finalist in the First Novel category.)

Historical: Liz Curtis Higgs, Whence Came a Prince (WaterBrook). Gracious Liz praised her fellow finalists, telling James Scott Bell (the other finalist who was in attendance) that his book was wonderful, and she was so honored to be in his company. Liz tearfully thanked the WaterBrook folks for all their work on her behalf.

Romance: Deeanne Gist, A Bride Most Begrudging (Bethany). Deeanne, an ABA novelist, told the audience that this novel had sat on her shelf for five years. Then she just happened to read an interview with Dave Long in the CBA magazine and decided to submit the manuscript to him.

Suspense/Mystery: Athol Dickson, River Rising (Bethany). Athol thanked Bethany for all their work, singling out the artist for the novel’s cover, and Dave Long as his editor.

Visionary: Karen Hancock, Shadow Over Kiriath (Bethany). This is Karen’s second win in this category. She thanked Bethany House, also thanking Steve Laube, now her agent and her former editor at Bethany, for so strongly supporting fantasy and pushing for Bethany to publish her work.

First novel: Nicole Mazzarella, This Heavy Silence (Paraclete Press). Nicole said, “This novel grew from my experiencing of God’s grace.”

Next year’s Christy Award banquet will be held in Atlanta.


Kristy Dykes said...

What a great post, B. Thank you for telling us what each winner had to say. As I scrolled down, I thought how varied was each story-behind-the-story, and how inspiring. I felt like I was there.

Thanks again.

Domino said...

Great report! Thanks!

Audra said...

I'm so glad you shared this and what an amazing story behind Levi's Will. :)

Stuart said...

Good summary, and nice seeing a little description in the list of winners. :)


Gina Holmes said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. Makes me feel like I was there. Atlanta isn't all that far. Maybe next year.

Chris Well said...

Thanks for the recap, Brandilyn!

Cheryl Russell said...

Thanks for the reports, Brandilyn!

Shannon said...

This was actually Karen's fourth win ... the first two years they had different category names--futuristic and allegory/fantasy, I believe, had separate slots, before being all combined into visionary last year.

It'll be interesting to see what Dale Cramer will do after taking two in a row himself--what a powerful testimony!

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Brandilyn!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Brandilyn...if you ever want a career change, you'd make an awesome reporter...Great job...thanks