Michael De Groote, Deseret News
Norene Uchytil

PROVO, Utah — When the Whitney Awards were first created to honor Mormon authors, some people questioned whether the awards could get enough quality submissions for each category.

"Both years have really proven we definitely can," said Robison Wells, director of the Whitney Awards. "Especially in that best novel of the year category, they are all just phenomenal books."

The winners of the 2008 Whitney Awards were announced on Saturday, April 25, at a dinner event at the Provo Marriott.

The winner of the Whitney Award for the best novel of the year was "Traitor," by Sandra Grey. "Traitor" follows a woman who joins the resistance in France only to be captured by the Nazis and interrogated by a conflicted German who must make a decision of life or death. Sandra Grey is the pen name of Norene Uchytil, who lives in St. Johns, Ariz.

"One time ... I was listening to a book on tape and it got a little raunchy," Uchytil said. "And my husband said, 'Norene, you can write better than that.' "

Online reviews agree with her husband, lavishing praise like this assessment from Tristi Pinkston "(This is) one of the best LDS historical fiction novels I've ever read, and I have to tell you, I'm hard to impress. ... Sandra Grey is amazing."

The best novel by a new author was "Bound on Earth," by Angela Hallstrom. The novel follows a multigenerational Mormon family. The book recently received a 2008 Association for Mormon Letters award as well. Hallstrom spoke about the path to being published. "I got a lot of rejections. It was a difficult book to try to market."

The best romance was "Spare Change," by Aubrey Mace. In her acceptance speech, Mace spoke about how it feels to have a book published. "It's been just like a dream. It's been more than I could ever imagine."

The best mystery/suspense novel was "Fool Me Twice," by Stephanie Black. Black joked about the last time she had received an award. "I think the last time I received anything was in high school when I was selected as most likely to have 12 children and still want more. I have five, by the way."

The best youth fiction was "The 13th Reality," by James Dashner. Dashner said writing the series has completely changed his life. "Not the least of which, I used to be an accountant. Now I am a full-time author; it's the greatest most wonderful dream I've ever had." His new book, "The Maze Runner," will be published by Random House this Oct. 6.

The best speculative fiction was "The Hero of Ages," by Brandon Sanderson. The book is the third in Sanderson's "Mistborn" series. Sanderson is currently writing three books to complete the late Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" fantasy series. "That's an enormous thing for him — taking over for the king of fantasy," Wells said.

The best historical novel was "Abinadi," by Heather B. Moore. Moore won a Whitney in the same category last year for her book "Land of Inheritance," which was part of her "Out of Jerusalem" series of novels. In her speech, Moore said that her son complained that her book "killed off the main character. ... You made everything else up — you could have changed it."

The best general fiction novel was "Waiting For the Light to Change," by Annette Hawes. Hawes said having a book published was "like sending a child out to play in the traffic."

The Whitney Awards also honored Kerry Blair and Orson Scott Card with lifetime achievement awards.

Blair is known within the LDS writing community for her enthusiastic mentoring of fellow authors. She will take over as president of the Whitney Awards next year. "We all went behind her back on the committee and named her the lifetime achievement winner," Wells said. "She's been the driving force in everything here ... and a driving force in the LDS market overall."

She received a standing ovation.

"I don't deserve this award. I don't think it was really given to me. It was given to all of you ... the ones who get up and write every day without the awards. The ones who read each other's manuscripts and clap for each other," Blair said. "On the other hand I'm going to take it home ... and when I die I'm going to clutch it in my hands to see if I can still grab it on the morning of the first resurrection."

Card, who writes a weekly column for Mormon Times and is a nationally recognized author of speculative fiction, was unable to attend the event, but provided appreciative remarks that were read at the event. He wrote, "A lifetime achievement award can be so ambiguous. Is this a subtle way of telling me my life's work is over and it's OK to stop now?"

The Whitney Awards were named for early Mormon apostle Orson F. Whitney.

"One of the whole goals of the Whitney Awards was to show that ... LDS books are just as good as what you can find in the national market," Wells said.

For Wells and other attendees at the event, this year's winners are the proof.

More online

LDS writers attend a novel "boot camp." See the "Arts & Entertainment" section of MormonTimes.com.Heady