2016 AML Awards Finalists #3: Comics, Novel, Picture Book

We are excited to announce the finalists in the Comics, Novel, and Picture Book categories of the 2016 Association for Mormon Letters awards. Middle Grade Novel, Young Adult Novel, Poetry, and Short Fiction were announced previously, and we will be announcing the other category finalists over the coming week, including Creative Non-Fiction, Drama, Film, Religious Non-Fiction, and Video Series. The final awards will be announced and presented at the AML Conference at Utah Valley University on April 22. The finalists and winners are chosen by juries of authors and critics. The finalist announcements include blurbs about each of the books and author biographies, from the author and publisher websites.


Scott Hales. Mormon Shorts, Vol. 1

From the creator of the popular webcomic The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Mormon Shorts is a collection of Mormon-themed comics, cartoons, and tweet-length microstories that capture the endearing quirks and curiosities of the Mormon people.

Scott Hales is a writer and cartoonist from Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the creator of the webcomics The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl and Mormon Shorts. Scott has an MA and PhD in English from the University of Cincinnati and a BA in English from Brigham Young University. He has published on American literature, comics, and Mormon fiction and poetry in various journals, including The Edgar Allan Poe Review, International Journal of Comic Art, and Religion and the Arts. He has also published fiction and comics in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and Sunstone. Scott currently lives in Utah with his wife, Sarah, and five children.

Anthony Holden. Precious Rascals

A collection of comics chronicling the life and times of the Holden family. It’s full of stories that encapsulate the last 8 years of their lives raising a house full of wild children.

Anthony Holden is a cartoonist and illustrator working in Oregon. He spends his daytime hours trying to balance playing with children while making art for film, television, comics, and books. His favorite breakfast food is waffles. His comics  and drawings can be found at: twitterfacebookinstagram, and tumblr.







Brandon Sanderson (story), Rik Hoskin (script), Julius Gopez (art), and Ross Campbell (colors). White Sand

On the planet of Taldain, the legendary Sand Masters harness arcane powers to manipulate sand in spectacular ways. But when they are slaughtered in a sinister conspiracy, the weakest of their number, Kenton, believes himself to be the only survivor. With enemies closing in on all sides, Kenton forges an unlikely partnership with Khriss — a mysterious Darksider who hides secrets of her own. White Sand brings to life a crucial, unpublished part of Brandon Sanderson’s sprawling Cosmere universe.

Brandon Sanderson was born in 1975 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Brandon was finishing his thirteenth novel when Moshe Feder at Tor Books bought the sixth he had written. In 2005 Brandon held his first published novel, Elantris, in his hands. Tor also published six books in Brandon’s Mistborn series, along with Warbreaker and then The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the first two in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. Four books in his middle-grade Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series are being released by Starscape (Tor). Brandon was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; the final book, A Memory of Light, was released in 2013. That year also marked the releases of YA novels The Rithmatist from Tor and Steelheart from Delacorte.


H. B. Moore. Slave Queen, Thomas & Mercer/Amazon. Omar Zagouri Thriller Series #3.

Israeli Special Agent Omar Zagouri’s latest case is his most dangerous—and his most personal yet. The discovery of secret sixteenth-century letters unveils a plot between the sultan Suleyman and his chief wife, Roxelane, to change the course of the Ottoman Empire. A descendent of Roxelane, Zagouri learns he has an enemy whose revenge has been centuries in the making. Targeted by an antiquities collector who’s also descended from a chief rival for the ancient throne, Zagouri soon uncovers a modern-day conspiracy that threatens the lives of his family and the security of a nation.

Heather B. Moore is the USA Today bestseller and award-winning author of more than a dozen scripture-based historical novels which are set in Ancient Arabia and Mesoamerica. Heather writes her historicals and thrillers under the pen name H.B. Moore. She also writes women’s fiction, romance, and inspirational non-fiction under Heather B. Moore, including The Newport Ladies Book Club, the Amazon bestselling anthology series A Timeless Romance Anthology, the Aliso Creek series, and the USA Today bestseller Heart of the Ocean.

Julie J. Nichols. Pigs When they Straddle the Air. Zarahemla Books.

A novel in seven stories. These stories trace the arc of a family narrative in which mothers abandon their children for the best of reasons, fierce daughters reclaim their heritage, and the gap between spiritual health and the expectations of LDS culture affects the outcome of every episode. Poet Annie MacDougal, feminist Riva Maynard, and Riva’s daughter Katie spiral in and out of these seven “incidents” spanning more than three decades, along with the men and women they learn from and love.

Actively curious LDS. Anglophile. BYU grad in permanent exile. Companion to some of my husband’s horseback adventures. Health enthusiast: clean food and daily fitness. Momwifegrandmajuju. Northern California native. Professor of creative writing (Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah). Redhead. Reader. Runner. University of Utah alum. Writer. Her work has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, The Journal for the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning, and elsewhere.

Shawn Vestal. Daredevils. Penguin.

At the heart of this debut novel, set in Arizona and Idaho in the mid-1970s, is fifteen-year-old Loretta, who slips out of her bedroom every evening to meet her so-called gentile boyfriend. Her strict Mormon parents catch her returning one night, and promptly marry her off to Dean Harder, a devout yet materialistic fundamentalist who already has a wife and a brood of kids. The Harders relocate to his native Idaho, where Dean’s teenage nephew Jason falls hard for Loretta. A Zeppelin and Tolkien fan, Jason worships Evel Knievel and longs to leave his close-minded community. He and Loretta make a break for it. They drive all night, stay in hotels, and relish their dizzying burst of teenage freedom as they seek to recover Dean’s cache of “Mormon gold.” But someone Loretta left behind is on their trail…

Daredevils is Vestal’s debut novel. A collection of short stories, Godforsaken Idaho, published by New Harvest in April 2013, was named the winner of the PEN/​Robert W. Bingham Prize, which honors a debut book that “represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.” He also published A.K.A. Charles Abbott, a short memoir, as a Kindle Single in October 2013. His stories have appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Ecotone, The Southern Review, Cutbank, Sou’wester, Florida Review and other journals. He writes a column for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane,Wash., and teaches in the MFA program at Eastern Washington University.

Dan Wells.  Over Your Dead Body. Tor. John Cleaver series #5

John and Brooke are on their own, hitchhiking from town to town as they hunt the last of the Withered through the midwest— but the Withered are hunting them back, and the FBI is close behind. With each new town, each new truck stop, each new highway, they get closer to a vicious killer who defies every principle of profiling and prediction John knows how to use, and meanwhile Brooke’s fractured psyche teeters on the edge of oblivion, overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of dead personalities sharing her mind. She flips in and out of lucidity, manifesting new names and thoughts and memories every day, until at last the one personality pops up that John never expected and has no idea how to deal with. The last of Nobody’s victims, trapped forever in the body of his last remaining friend.

Dan Wells is a thriller and science fiction writer. Born in Utah, he spent his early years reading and writing. He is he author of the Partials series (Partials, Isolation, Fragments, and Ruins), the John Cleaver series (I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don’t Want To Kill You), and a few others (The Hollow City, A Night of Blacker Darkness, etc). He was a Campbell nomine for best new writer, and has won a Hugo award for his work on the podcast Writing Excuses; the podcast is also a multiple winner of the Parsec Award.

Picture Book

The judge for Picture Book went the extra mile, and wrote citations for all of the finalists.

What Would It Be Like? By McArthur Krishna. Illustrated by Ayeshe Sadr & Ishaan Dasgupta. Amberjack Publishing.
From the title through every brightly colored page of the book, What Would It Be Like? showcases author McArthur Krishna’s most auspicious talent: asking the right questions. Focusing on roles for girls and women, we wonder about personalities from Isabel Allende to Marie Curie, from Annie Oakley to Sandra Day O’Connor. Wide-ranging but still carefully annotated, this picture book is short enough for a bed time read, perfect to prompt big dreams. Enthusiastic and lively, Krishna covers fourteen different women and asks over 50 questions through the brightly colored pages and ends with this solid advice: “There is only one of you–and the best you can give the world is to be your truest self. Be you.”
McArthur Krishna comes from a pack of storytellers. With a master’s degree in communications from BYU, she co-owned Free Range, an award-winning marketing business focused on telling social justice stories. After she moved to the Magic Land of India, she got married and started writing books and raising kids.
Ayeshe Sadr & Ishaan Dasgupta work together out of their small studio currently in New Delhi , India. A textile designer and a graphic designer respectively, Ayeshe and Ishaan found a common love for illustration and created 211 Studio in 2009. Through the years they have worked on a wide variety of illustration projects, ranging from children’s books, food packaging, wedding cards to restaurant murals. They find inspiration in mythology, fine art, textiles, nature and try to incorporate those elements into their work. When not working or spending time with their two cats, they love travelling and cooking.


Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families. by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding. Illustrated by Caitlin Connolly. Deseret Book.
In some ways, Our Heavenly Families is more workbook than narrative, organized around fifteen key ideas exploring the Mormon doctrine on family. The writing is masterful in allowing room for readers to reconcile the true complexity of lived family life with doctrine, quotes from LDS leaders, and even The Family Proclamation. McArthur Krishna’s knack for asking evocative questions is again on display, prodding readers to connect more deeply with the concepts at hand while leaving many conclusions open ended for personalization. The structure and content of the writing, however satisfying, comes second to the remarkable illustrations by Caitlin Connolly. Not only does her visual work reinforce the themes at hand, Connolly has produced a book full of iconic
religious art, deeply symbolic and spiritual. Her visual work is so complete and intelligent it competes with the text for impact, a truly unique contribution to our Mormon cultural landscape.


Caitlin Connolly is an artist living in Provo, Utah. Her artwork often explores the female experience as she seeks to understand herself and all women more fully. Her artwork is a part of private and public collections and can be viewed comprehensively at caitlinconnolly.com.


Bethany Brady Spalding likes to stir things up in the kitchen and in the community. She has founded programs to promote health and nutrition in the USA, South Africa, and India. Bethany currently leads a regional coalition in Richmond, Virginia, to create a healthier food environment for at-risk children. She finds joy eating spicy dishes and exploring wild places with her husband, Andy, and their three fiery girls.


She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. By Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell. Illustrated by Charlotte Janssen. Shadow Mountain.
She Stood for Freedom is the biography of a young white girl who came of age in the 1960’s and joined the Civil Rights Movement. Her passion for justice and the concurrence of history propelled her to center of some of the most storied protests and demonstrations of the time. You’ve heard of the Freedom Riders, sit-ins at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington: Joan’s experience is an insiders view that scales these monumental events to more relatable proportions. Her story is especially powerful in its careful consideration of the events and actions that shaped this young activist as a child to become a woman who would teach “You can never go wrong by doing what is right. It might not be easy, but it is always right.” The illustration style is a compelling blend of found objects and real photographs to represent a kind of forgotten truth, capturing the ephemeral nature of memory itself. The images add thematic strength and realism and further shape and refine this powerful biography.


Loki Mulholland, a native of Virginia, is an award-winning filmmaker, and the son of Civil Rights legend Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. Loki has won multiple film festival awards, Best of State, and the Filmed in Utah Award. In addition, he has received over thirty Telly Awards for his various work in commercial and industrial films. His first book, She Stood for Freedom, is an illustrated children’s book about the life of his mother. His award-winning film, An Ordinary Hero, also about his mother, appeared on PBS. Loki has spoken all over the country on the subject of the Civil Rights Movement and current race relations.

Angela Fairwell attended South Carolina State University where she earned a degree in business management. She has been involved in a number of charitable organizations, including the Family for Literacy program, which strives to combat childhood illiteracy by donating new books to children from low-income families.

Charlotte Janssen: I was born in Maine to German parents living in America under the Marshall plan. In 1973, my family moved to Iran, which we fled during the revolution in 1979. Back in Germany, I studied painting at the University of Arts in Berlin from 1986-1989. I dropped out and travelled the world as a street musician and performance artist. In 1991, I picked up my brushes again and started organising art shows wherever I travelled. 1995 I moved to New York. In 2000, I opened a restaurant to showcase my work in Brooklyn. In 2005, I started to narrow down my color spectrum to teal, white, black and rust. In 2009 I reintroduced collage and this element created a real conversation that keeps evolving.


Defenders of the Family. By Benjamin Hyrum White. Illustrated by Jay Fontano. Cedar Fort, Inc.
A superhero theme layered over the call to “defend the family,” White is ambitious in his attempt to simplify a uniquely Mormon and sometimes painfully inchoate doctrine into a children’s picture book. Although his efforts are ocassionally unwieldy, White strives to incorporate some more complex issues with sentences like “Fathers and mothers are partners, working side by side together to take care of their family. While moms and dads both have special gifts, sometimes dads may nurture and moms might provide for the family’s needs.” Defenders of the Family captures a dominant doctrinal theme of our times, ensuring that it will act as an artifact of Mormon culture in years to come. Most importantly, Defenders of the Family makes the finalist list because this is the one book that my children begged to read again and again. Bright colors and clever comic book formatting result in a read-out-loud picture book that clearly appeals to the intended reader.


Benjamin began an epic comic book collection as a boy and always cheered for the good guys like Spider-man. He developed his superpower of dancing and met his beautiful wife, Keenan, at BYU while part of the International Folk Dance Ensemble. They now live in Utah Valley with their five children where Ben teaches Seminary. Ben enjoys dates with his wife, cheering on sports teams with his sons, and having dance parties in the driveway with his girls. He is also the author of the children’s book, I Hope They Call Me On A Mission.

Jay Fontano:  I am an illustrator. I love to have fun and like to make people laugh. I love watching movies and cartoons. I enjoy spending time with my family camping and hiking in the mountains near our home. My wife and I have 6 children and a dog. I grew up in Utah, Hawaii, and Nevada.  I attended school at BYU and also studied character animation through AnimationMentor.com.  I am determined to help others enjoy the journey of life. If my art makes you smile, laugh, or simply feel good- I feel like I’m doing something right. I hope you enjoy what you see.

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