2018 GAYA Judge Statements

CHILDREN’S BOOK

Judge: Carmen Deedy

Finalist: Dan Carlton, Ollie and the Wise Old Owl

This delightful story may rightly boast an economy of words. The repetitive nature of the story, along with a surprise ending, make Ollie and the Wise Old Owl a perfect bedtime read for younger children.

Winner: Vickie McEntire, Little Bird and Myrtle Turtle

The tale of a character that cares for an unhatched egg––with surprising results––is not an uncommon theme in children’s literature. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, Oliver Butterworth’s The Enormous Egg, and Emily Gravett’s wickedly delightful, The Odd Egg, are among the most memorable of these adoption stories.

McEntire’s gentle wisdom in the treatment of this theme is worthy of commendation. When the bird asks its adoptive turtle mother if it belongs to her, her reply is simple, ” . . . you do not belong to me or anyone else. Your life belongs to the wind under your wings . . . “. These unselfish words reassure the young reader that the turtle, wanting only freedom and happiness for her young charge, is a marvelous parent. And the little bird is fortunate indeed to have her for a mother.

Vergona’s medium, in soft colored pencil, suits the story perfectly.

 

DETECTIVE MYSTERY

Judge: Lynn Chandler Willis

Finalist: Maggie Toussaint, Dadgunmmit

Dadgummit is one of those little gems that’s full of surprises. Original to the core, the imagination that went into creating the characters and the plot line is one to be applauded. I’m not one that generally likes characters in a mystery with psychic abilities but, dadgummit, Toussaint makes this work, and it’s believable. It’s an epic battle of good vs. evil with varying threads weaving the paranormal, Cherokee folklore, energy vampires, friendship and family, into an engrossing tale. Dadgummit is the fourth book in the Dreamwalker Mystery series and features amateur sleuth Baxley Powell. Baxley is a worthy protagonist just trying to take a family vacation but is immediately pulled into a dead body investigation. Told in a straight forward first-person narrative, the novel surprises with a twist at the end. I imagine writing in first-person with a psychic narrator could be challenging but Toussaint makes Baxley authentic and a joy to read.

Winner: Roger Johns, Dark River Rising

It had me with the first two lines. Wallace Hartman had never seen a dead man move, but the guy in front of her was definitely dead, and definitely moving. He just wasn’t going anywhere. Wow! One of the best opening lines I’ve ever read. I knew from those few lines, I was going to finish this one. Roger Johns expertly pulls the reader into a world thick with atmosphere and nuance and populated by richly drawn characters. Lead detective Wallace Hartman is a fully fleshed out protagonist with flaws, determination, and a history that both holds her back and drives her forward. Supported by an expertly-drawn cast of characters, Johns’ debut novel is everything a good crime story should be and more.

 

FIRST NOVEL

Judge: Ravi Howard

Finalist:  Christopher Swann, Shadow of the Lions

Christopher Swann explores intriguing questions about homecomings to cherished places.  When Matthias Glass returns to his alma mater as a teacher, Shadow of the Lions shows moments where the residue of the past echo through the novel.  Some echoes bring solace while others bring conflict.  Swann deliver a spiritedness that includes moments of yearning and haunting in the lives of his characters.

Winner:  Peter McDade, The Weight of Sound

In The Weight of Sound, Peter McDade finds a range of well-honed voices to tell the story of a band from its inception through the many versions that follow.  Writing through an ensemble of narrators can be tricky, but the author finds a compelling mix that gives texture to this ensemble experience.  The narrative revolves as it moves forward, with lead players moving to the periphery as the supporting cast add their stories.   Through writing that delivers visual sharpness and emotional resonance, Peter McDade shows the music world from the studio, the stage, the after party, and the lonely stretches where these characters deal with inspiration, doubt, love, and the allegiances required to make their music last.

 

HISTORY/BIOGRAPHY

Judge: Melissa Cooper

Finalist: Mehrsa Baradaran, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.

The Color of Money looks to the history of black banking to examine the “financial fault line” between whites and blacks in America. Baradaran’s study covers much ground, from the post-Civil War era to the present-day. A thoroughly investigated account of black banks and the ever-elusive promise of black capitalism, The Color of Money uncovers how segregation, racism, and government credit policy cemented the racial wealth gap and guaranteed that the “history of black banking remains a story of struggle rather than triumph.”

Winner: Dawn Peterson, Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion.

Indians in the Family is an important and compelling history that explores the adoption of Native American youth by whites during the period of antebellum expansion, unveiling how Natives, and the whites who ultimately sought to displace them, used adoption to achieve divergent agendas. Peterson’s eloquent account draws upon archival records to piece together the various motives that inspired this phenomenon. Indians in the Family’s readers will find stories about whites who adopted Native children, and Native families and communities—stories that uniquely illuminate how “family,” nation-building, race-making, slavery, resistance, and expansion, factor in this this little-known chapter in America’s history. In the end, Peterson concludes, “For U.S. whites, the politics of adoption in post-Revolutionary North America was a family story that sought to mask the violence of U.S. territorial expansion, Indian dispossession, and African American servitude” while “For Native people, the placement of children within white homes was a way to support indigenous families and maintain indigenous sovereignty.”

 

INSPIRATIONAL

Judge: Nicole Kearney

Finalist: Candace L. Long, The Ancient Path to Creativity and Innovation: Where Left and Right Brains Meet

Both of these topics are of interest to me. The author provides a blueprint in 18 steps. I absolutely love and agree with the author’s sentiment that ideas can come from God. Her ability to ‘hear inspired ideas and act on them have assisted her clients and her tremendously. I’m thrilled that as she writes about faith, especially for creatives, she reminds them they must apply it. Faith without works is dead. Creatives and non-creatives will benefit tremendously by following the principles. They, along with the 18 steps and working faith will manifest one’s heart desires.

Winner: Deborah Malone, Blooming in Broken Places

Deborah brilliantly weaves her story of despair and being broken with four Biblical women. These women also find themselves in dark places. However, like Deborah, each using their faith, found a way out. The title chapters Keep on Blooming is encouraging. The application questions at the end of each chapter give the reader and opportunity to think about what they read, how it applies to their life and space to write their reflections. The book shares that message that having faith and seeking God allow you to heal your brokenness.

 

LITERARY FICTION

Judge: Gray Stewart

Honorable Mention: Daren Wang, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires

Daren Wang’s debut novel, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires, is a page-turning historical romance that is epic in scope and ambitious in execution. The storyline unfolds across the entirety of the Civil War and involves an ensemble of characters across race, class, and gender lines as they navigate their way through this most perilous period of American history. The author knows his stuff. Sharp period detail resonates throughout the novel and Wang has a striking talent for maintaining tension from one chapter to the next. It’s a terrific read and a worthy addition to the contemporary canon of Civil War fiction.

Finalist: Anna Schachner, You and I and Someone Else

In Anna Schachner’s debut novel, You and I and Someone Else, Frannie Lewis has absorbed the flaws of her parents intact yet listless marriage, and this derails her ability to have an authentic and honest romantic relationship with Jude, a baker grieving the loss of his son. As she hopes to find true intimacy, her father is diagnosed with cancer and she must cope with his decline and manage her mother’s disappointment–all while exploring a relationship with Jude that promises an escape from her parent’s dysfunction.

What begins as a buoyant southern family drama gradually becomes a narrative framed by emotional neglect and profound loss. The novel isn’t a downer, however; the heaviness is negated by Frannie’s wit and resiliency—not an easy thing to pull off. Moving and finely written, You and I and Someone Else is an admirable accomplishment. 

Winner: Man Martin, The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome

Man Martin has won the Georgia Author of the Year Award twice before, once in 2008 for Days of the Endless Corvette, and again in 2012 for Paradise Dogs. His third novel, The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome, shows a seasoned author in full-command of his craft.

The storyline of this comic novel involves the descent and rebirth of its hapless cuckold protagonist, Bone King, a grammarian and English professor who has “unwisely given his heart to words.” Bone eventually learns to prioritize human connection over book-learning and to follow his heart in a wiser direction, regardless of the obstacles before him.

The storyline is cleverly presented through twenty-six chapters which represent the letters of the alphabet and also correspond to entries in his doctoral dissertation. Each chapter begins with the etymologies of a few words, some of which inform the novel’s thematic elements (spoiler alert: the largest of these entries is for the word “Love”). More broadly, it explores themes of language, self-awareness, perception, ego, and the narcissism with which we all contend. A favorite passage:

“What’s going on here? Cash asked with restrained impatience, believing all this was somehow about him […] But Bone had been thinking that he, Bone King, was the focal point of this tableau, and Limongello—the real one—had been thinking he was. Mary thought she was, too, and so, not doubt did Flash and the deputy. […] Yes, Jorge, too, like each of the rest of them was thinking, This is about me, this is another episode in the story that is about what happens to me.”

It’s fitting that this present moment—this one right here, right now, is about what happens to Man Martin.

 

MEMOIR

Judge: Guatam Narula

Finalist: Stephen Corey, Startled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural 

Spanning three decades, Startled at the Big Sound is an essay collection that draws from the breadth of Stephen Corey’s life and career experiences. Whether it’s finding unintentional poetry in roughly translated Korean adoption papers, bonding with an erstwhile high school friend over breakups and the music of Roy Orbison, or bemoaning the literary herd mentality that made the word “limn” popular for a number of years, readers will find in Corey a discerning and moving voice.

Winner:  Christopher Martin, This Gladdening Light: An Ecology of Fatherhood and Faith 

Disillusioned by the “artificial light spread by industrial Christianity,” Christopher Martin is in search of a new theology. Through a spiritual pilgrimage consisting of treks amid the Appalachians, unsuccessful backyard gardening, and (above all else) the births of a son and daughter, Martin’s faith is renewed by “the God I met in my children…a God who could be human.” Steeped in the physical and political environs of the American south and spiritually inheriting from both Thoreau’s Walden and Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodThis Gladdening Light is a poignant, lyrical, and heartfelt expression of the divinity within our planet and ourselves.

 

POETRY CHAPBOOK

Judge: Beth Gylys

Finalist:  Kathy Kincer, After the Transplant  

The harrowing and heart-breaking death of a child serves as the lynchpin of this book whose unflinching examination of loss is balanced with a keen eye for detail and an admirable, winning emotional restraint.

Winner:  Jane Simpson, On the Porch, Under the Eave

With lyrical beauty, formal clarity and a deft light touch, the poems of this chapbook explore childhood, family, forgiveness and the death of an aging parent in poems that are complicated, sonorous and nuanced.

 

POETRY FULL-LENGTH BOOK

Judge: Elizabeth Hughey 

Finalist: Danielle Hanson, Ambushing Water

This book is wonderfully wild! A man eats his wife’s ashes in his cereal every morning. An elderly woman’s breasts are like “pelican beaks full with fish.” Flies make nests of our dreams, and anything can be part-bird or part-bug. Shadows are important. So are puddles. They are possible worlds to be explored — “the water not as a mirror but a window” to be climbed through. Danielle Hanson’s poems reside in shadows and daydreams, but they are not whimsy. They are weighted by emotion. Inside an empty mailbox there is a longing, a loneliness, and Hanson allows that emptiness to evolve into “a small species of bird/with the call of late night radio.” I swear, I have heard that bird call before. I really love these poems.

Winner: Andrea Jurjević, Small Crimes

Andrea Jurjević can draw the beauty out of anything. In her poems set during the Croatian war in the 90’s, “Bombs start to rain like massive white chrysanthemums” and “smoke tusks coil from burning leaf piles.” There is a nostalgia, in Small Crimes, even for the darkest parts of life growing up in a war-torn country. Amid the litanies of savagery and slaughter, we see locals find their old routines, like the “men playing chess on the corroded hood of a Volkswagen, against the backdrop of the bludgeoned courthouse, the toothless library.” Nature, too, does its thing, reviving in green and “the gold-glow of lichen” from its decay. The most important force in Jurjević’s poems, though, is certainly love, which persists in all its forms — lust, longing, heartbreak  — in the poems that take us with them all the way from Croatia to America. This is such a gorgeous book.

 

ROMANCE

Judge: Susan Sands 

Finalist: Marilyn Baron, The Alibi

Smooth. That’s the best way to describe Marilyn Baron’s writing style in this romantic suspense. Her ease of storytelling instantly immersed me into the world of Merritt Saxe’s complex web of lies, intrigue, and romantic complications. Her boss’s insistence that Merritt remain his alibi, her boyfriend’s refusal to commit, and her constant desire for something beyond what her current life offers keeps Merritt forging ahead. Meeting a handsome stranger puts things into perspective and strengthens her resolve to fight for her future. The characters were engaging, and the dialogue realistic and entertaining. The story kept me guessing until the end. Marilyn is a gifted author!

Winner: Sally Kilpatrick, Bless Her Heart

A preacher’s wife walks into a strip bar…and the whole town finds out by sundown. Sally Kilpatrick does a wonderful job of giving readers what they came for—if what they came for is complete entertainment and a side-splitting tale of Southern angst. Posey Love is the perfect wife to Chad, the local upstart preacher. He believes she should be obedient. Obedience isn’t exactly Posey’s strong suit, but Lord, she tries. Until Chad gets busted with a favorite member of his flock. Posey has already had her heart blessed so many times she can’t count, being the town hippy’s daughter. But this throws her into a life spin that has the old biddies in town flapping their jaws beyond anything that’s happened in her past. Her coming to Jesus is one for the ages, but small towns are funny. They take care of their own, even if they whisper behind your back while doing so. Sally wrote a fantastic tale and her book shines bright.

 

SHORT STORY COLLECTION

Judge: Stephanie Storey

Finalist: D. B. Martin, Terror Tales Vol. 1

D.B. Martin is a master storyteller and these Terror Tales will make your heart race from start to finish. Each story rips along at a fast clip, and each comes to shocking, yet perfectly inevitable end. Beware: once you start this collection of short stories, you won’t be able to put it down.

Winner: Michael Bishop, Other Arms Reach Out To Me 

This is a beautiful collection of short stories. Deeply human, unexpectedly funny, and profoundly insightful about the truth of the human condition, reading this collection was like wrapping up in a beloved blanket. Some books tell a good story. Some are beautiful written. Some give you insight into what it means to be human. Some make you laugh and cry. This collection does it all. It will wrap you up and won’t let you go.

 

SPECIALTY BOOK

Judge: Jill Frank

Finalist: Jimmy Carter, The Craftmanship of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter became well known for his support for Habitat for Humanity. This book describes his relationship to making furniture for the past 35 years, so- no matter one’s interest in the art of woodworking itself, or the day to day reminiscing of cabin lifestyle, the detailed depictions and explanations of Jimmy Carter’s craftsmanship are absorbing. The photographs in the book are used as a smart descriptive tool in charting Carter’s relationship to craft based decision-making.

By recounting his woodworking experimentations, he’s made a functional book about the accessibility of this creative practice.

Winner: Jason Thrasher, Athens Potluck

The interviews in Athens Potluck’s are deliberate and careful documentation of a subculture that has been able to thrive within a music loving community. The photographs are the strongest part of the book project – they carry the interviews. They are smart, thoughtful descriptive environmental portraits that give all of the stories a proper context.

This book is the perfect outlet for the beginnings of an archive of the quiet creative scene in Athens. Thrasher’s hypersensitivity to the granularity of the musician’s experiences is a thread throughout all of the stories. I imagine that future iterations of this project would include wildly different music tastes and more of a range of lifestyles. Regardless, Thrasher made a lovely coffee table book that complicates and enhances my perception of Athens, makes me want to live there…

 

YOUNG ADULT
Judge, Marie Marquardt
 

Finalist: McCall Hoyle, The Thing with Feathers

This beautifully written story addresses the experience of living as a teen with epilepsy, a theme not often explored in Young Adult fiction. When the novel begins, Emilie Day has been homeschooled, living alone with her mother on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her mother determines that it’s time for Emily to start attending the local high school, but Emily feels certain that the plan will end in disaster. What follows is a warm and inspiring story of new friendships, first love, the bond between mothers and daughters, and one girl’s struggle to overcome her fears and live life fully.

Winner: Aaron Levy, Blood Don’t Lie 

At once heartbreaking and hilarious, Blood Don’t Lie weaves together a deeply personal account of bullying with broad reflections on what it means to be a Jewish teen in the contemporary world. Aaron Levy perfectly captures the voice of Larry Ratner, a thirteen-year-old boy who muses that he would start a Short Persons’ Club, if he weren’t worried he’d be the shortest person in it! Grappling with what it means to become an adult, Larry maneuvers through difficult, sometimes devastating, and always morally complicated circumstances at school and at home. The themes are heavy in this story, and Aaron Levy offers no easy solutions to the problems Larry faces. But Larry’s refreshing, honest, and funny voice keeps readers engaged — and rooting for him! — from beginning to end of this compelling novel.