Announcing the 2011 INSPY Award Winners

The INSPY Advisory is pleased to announce the 2011 INSPY Award Winners:

Creative Nonfiction: Passport Through Darkness by Kimberly L. Smith

In Passport Through Darkness, Mrs. Smith portrays sacrificial Christian living as the absolutely normal and healthy choice for all Christians. She and her husband are willingly transparent with their weaknesses and present a realistic picture of what a Christian living looks like: hard, messy, and painful, but right and worthwhile. Passport Through Darkness is a powerful story that can change who you are at a fundamental level.

General Fiction: City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell (Henry Holt & Co, September 2010)
We chose City of Tranquil Light because it tells a compelling story with complex characters that feel true to life, characters we care about. Bo Caldwell’s prose is lyrical.

The characters live a very real faith. Everything they do has Kingdom service in mind, yet they never come across as preachy. Their faith is organic. Serving Christ is what they do, it’s who they are. Because of that, this book’s appeal goes beyond that of the Christian community.

Literature for Young People: Saint Training by Elizabeth Fixmer (Zondervan, 2010)

Saint Training is realistic in its examination of religion without stereotype or fundamentalist views. An inspiring read, relevant to young readers and a stand out in its genre. Mary Clare is very down to earth and anyone will be able to relate to her struggles.

Mystery/Thriller: The Bishop by Steven James

Steven James did not shy away from the “tough” questions about God and we appreciate that an author – a Christian author at that, would be up-front and center with the real tough spiritual questions. The Bishop treats the reader as intelligent and with a mind of her own. The plot was engaging and the characters felt real.

Romance: Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Cathy West (Oak Tara, March 2011)

Catherine West gives us a gritty and moving account of the Vietnam War as experienced by an intrepid journalist providing innovation of the setting, time period and subject matter. The edgy realism and poignant honesty that flow from West’s pen in Yesterday’s Tomorrow place it head-and-shoulders above some of biggest bestsellers on bookstore shelves today, and it easily fulfills all the requirements set forth to make it the INSPY Award Winner for Romance.

Speculative Fiction: The Falling Away by T.L. Hines (Thomas Nelson, September 2010)

Non-linear plot lines that all converge without being predictable, responsible treatment of mental disorders without cliche; self sacrifice, demonic encounters and the power of Grace; all these reasons and more make The Falling Away by T.L. Hines the speculative INSPY winner. In his own distinctive “noir bizarre” style, Hines explores powerful truths about life, death and redemption. The author managed to tackle a familiar subject (spirituals warfare) in a most unconventional way. Full characterization meshed with a tight plot that is engaging even for newcomers to the supernatural thriller. Ultimately, more than one character learns important truths about the fallen world we live in and the spiritual dangers one may face from without and within. This novel is an embodiment of the concept that God’s power is made perfect in human weakness.

2011 Creative Nonfiction Judges

The 2011 INSPYS Advisory Board is pleased to announce the judging panel for the category of Creative Nonfiction:

I’m Cori! I’m an editor and I love my job. I live in (generally) sunny California. In addition to reading, I love: God’s creation, blogging, being a ninja, road cycling, tweeting, thinking, walking, admiring Craftsman architecture, playing Boggle, being artsy, loving everything British except for Marmite, making art using typography, hiking, training for the Tough Mudder, being sarcastic, playing tennis, kayaking, wondering about Big Questions, collecting ampersands, sitting in the sun, traveling, wishing I was in Scotland, organizing my books, eating my vegetables, watching Arrested Development, and making lists!

Cori Ashley blogs at Let’s Eat Grandpa!

Amanda Patchin finished her MA in literature in 2011 with a thesis on Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. She now teaches part – time and works on various bookish projects while keeping up with her two preschool sons.  Lover of such writers as St. Augustine, R.L. Stevenson, and Gene Wolfe she can be found with a P.G. Wodehouse novel in her hands most weeks. She blogs at

Deanna Germany blogs at Deanna’s Corner ( and enjoys the fact that blogging has been an avenue to feed her true passion – reading.    She developed this passion during the summers as a little girl when she would walk to the bookmobile to check out as many books as she could possibly carry.     Deanna also is a freelance writer for her local newspaper, The Madison Herald.

Deanna makes her home in Mississippi with her husband of twenty-one years.    She has two sons whom she homeschools.     Not surprisingly, the entire family loves to read.  Deanna says her boys have always had more books than boys.  On Friday nights, Deanna’s family hosts huge game nights where anyone is invited and they are fueled by the southern staples:  sweet tea and snacks.   Two of her favorite books include “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom and The Bible.

There is not a lot to say about myself other then I am a bum who needs God’s love and forgiveness. I am also a long suffering Cubs fan who just hope that he will see his favorite baseball team in the World Series before God call him home.

Thomas Bingaman blogs at My Random Thoughts

Kate Scott blogs at The Parchment Girl where she reviews books in a variety of genres, interviews authors, gives away free books, and writes about book blogging and the reading life. A born and bred New Englander, she splits her time between Richmond, VA and Boston, MA.

Interview with Susan Pohlman

Susan Pohlman’s book Halfway to Each Other is nomianted for an INSPY in the category of Creative Nonfiction.

Summary from goodreads:
The true story of a California couple on the brink of separation who unexpectedly find love again on the Italian Riviera.
Tired, empty, and disillusioned with married life, Susan Pohlman was ready to call it quits. As soon as she and her husband, Tim, wrap up a business trip in Italy, she planned to break the news that she wanted to end their eighteen-year marriage.

During their last day as they walked along the Italian Riviera, Tim fantasizes aloud that, perhaps, they could live there. Susan initially dismisses the notion as nonsense but is inexplicably overwhelmed with a desire to give the marriage another try. Defying all logic, the couple find a school for their children and sign a lease for an apartment. Maybe a life in such a charmed setting could help them find their way back to each other.

Together with their fourteen-year-old daughter Katie and their eleven-year-old son Matt, they trade in their breakneck Los Angeles pace for adventure and a slower, more intimate lifestyle slipping out of the constraints of the traditional American Dream into a dream of their own.

Instead of seeing each other for fleeting moments in the mornings and evenings, the family starts to spend their days together rediscovering the simple joys that bring texture and meaning to all our lives. Travel with them as they stumble upon new customs, explore medieval alleyways, browse street markets, befriend neighbors, learn to cook, and try a new language.

Why do you write creative non-fiction?
I am drawn to nonfiction and memoir because I am deeply moved by the transformative power of God’s grace in our everyday lives. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is a treasure chest of quiet, joy-filled moments and personal acts of great courage that would go unnoticed but for the writer who captures them on the page. Because we walk together on this planet, through a world filled with conflict and opposing ideologies, it is vital that we share our journeys with each other. Exploring the interconnectedness of faith and risk opens our minds to possibility and allows hope to light the way through difficulty.

I chose to entrust the improbable tale of our family’s year of renewal in Italy to the greater community because I think there is a need for true stories that offer hope. Stories that encourage families to stay together and see God at work though their trials as well as their joys.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?
My faith is my story. Until I wove my faith journey into the adventure of Halfway to Each Other, the manuscript lacked the depth necessary to touch hearts in a meaningful way. I come from a large family that loves to laugh and enjoy the ironies of life, so it was easy to dwell on the humor and craziness of what we did as a family, but without exposing the deep spiritual guidance that inspired and challenged me, it meant very little.
The book is about trusting God, putting the sanctity of family first, and fully embracing a life of surrender. The cultural clashes, the travel, the family bonding was real and quite amusing, but all of that paled in comparison to realizing the key to a peaceful heart.

As a craft, I am working on finding that right balance between sharing faith and preaching. I find the former to be more powerful.

Favourite book – favourite movie – favourite TV show?

I have loved storytelling in all of its forms my entire life. My list of favorites would fill pages!

Let’s see, The Book Thief moved me to tears on several occasions. Markus Zusak’s gift of imagery is mesmerizing. Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge was heart wrenching. Her ability to illustrate the deep aches and desires that define human nature was exquisite. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett was simply delightful.

I’m not much of a TV watcher though I was swept away for many seasons by Jack Bauer and his quest to save the world in 24! I do miss him, by the way.

As for movies, I am an indie film lover and have a great respect for the passion of documentary film makers. On the lighter side, our family loves to watch Trains, Planes and Automobiles every Thanksgiving. Though we can recite every line, we still laugh together like it is the first time we’ve ever seen the antics of Steve Martin and John Candy.

How do you feel about blogging? Do you have a blog?

The blogosphere is a great source of information and inspiration. I am just getting started with this and look forward to developing a blog where people can come to share the powerful moments that matter in their lives.
I have a blog that can be accessed through my website,, and invite all to come visit and share in that journey!

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit.

‘Epitomizes’ is a strong word and I hesitate to use it, but I enjoyed Blue Like Jazz. Donald Miller’s courage to put himself and his vulnerabilities on the page was inspiring on many levels. It was a wonderful mixture of personal reflection and the search for meaning. It gives permission to wrestle with questions and explore spirituality in an age where religion is an easy target. I like Anne Lamott’s books for the same reasons.

Quality, faith-driven literature should be a safe place for people to explore their beliefs and to participate in the dialogue; fertile ground to share in the questions and delight in the answers. I applaud all of those writers out there who have the courage to wrestle with faith and proclaim truths in the public arena. It is not an easy thing to do in this era of the “open season” nature of the internet. Cruel and unnecessary comments inevitably ensue when people reveal their faith and the contents of their souls. But let us hold fast the truth that love is always louder and stronger than hate and keep writing what God has planted in our hearts.

Interview with Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans’ book Evolving in Monkey Town is on the shortlist for creative nonfiction.

Summary from Goodreads:
In Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evans recounts her experiences growing up in Dayton, Tennessee, a town that epitomized Christian fundamentalism during the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. With fearless honesty, Evans describes how her faith survived her doubts and challenges readers to re-imagine Christianity in a postmodern context, where knowing all the answers isn’t as important as asking the questions.

Why do you write creative nonfiction?
Because fiction intimidates me.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?

For me, the biggest challenge in writing about my faith is that it is always changing. Like a lot of twenty-somethings, I’m going through that quarter-life reevaluation of things, struggling through some difficult questions about life and faith and Christianity. So rather than sharing these grand spiritual insights with my readers, I find myself writing about the highs and lows of the faith journey, the view from wherever I happen to be. As it turns out, this ever-evolving approach to faith is a bit more universal than I originally thought, because readers seem to really connect with the idea that faith is less about certainty and more about risk. So the challenge is also the benefit. I’ve made my readers feel less alone in the journey, and now I feel less alone too. And isn’t that the point of writing? To feel less alone?

Favourite book – favourite movie – favourite TV show?

To Kill a Mockingbird, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Arrested Development

How do you feel about blogging? Do you have a blog?

I’ve been blogging for about three years at and I absolutely love it. Blogging gives me the chance to interact with readers in a way that really informs and strengthens my writing. It’s a bit like conducting a little focus group three times a week. I get to test out my ideas to see which ones stick and which ones flop. It’s not always representative of my best writing, but the blog keeps me disciplined and reader-focused…and as a first-time author, it has given me a platform I might not otherwise have.

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit

I was going to say “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller, but then I saw that it’s nominated in the same category as “Evolving in Monkey Town.” 🙂 Having lived south of the Mason Dixon my entire life, I’m a big fan of Southern lit – particularly the work of Harper Lee, Flannery O’Conner, Wendell Berry, and Walker Percy. Southern writers have a way of highlighting the religious hypocrisy of their characters and their culture while remaining unconditionally compassionate toward them through it all. I love that. And I think it epitomizes what good faith-based literature should look like.

Interview with Matthew Paul Turner

Matthew Paul Turner’s book, Hear No Evil: My story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost is on the INSPYs shortlist for creative nonfiction.

Summary of Hear No Evil (from Goodreads)
If you’ve ever had the opening bars of a song transport you back in time or remind you of a pivotal spiritual moment, Matthew Paul Turner’s honest—and frequently hilarious—musings will strike a chord. Straightforward and amusing, Hear No Evil is Turner’s “life soundtrack,” a compilation of engaging personal stories about how music—and music’s ability to transform—has played a key role in his spiritual life.

Groove along on his journey as young evangelical Turner attends forbidden contemporary Christian concerts, moves to “Music City” Nashville, and dreams of becoming the Michael Jackson of Christian music.

Cosmic and compelling, keen and funny, every page is a new encounter with the people, places, and experiences that have taught the music-editor-turned-author some new things about God, forced him out of his comfort zone, and introduced him to a fresh view of grace along the way.

Why do you write?
I don’t believe I can help it. Writing is a part of me in some ways. At the age of twelve, I was the kid carrying around a large notebook filled with poems, songs, and stories that I had written. Even before that, I’d invented a world of “Christian” forest animals who loved Jesus and hated the skunks and snakes. Creating ideas with words has always been a part of who I am. I also write because I love the power of story and the art of connecting words into thoughtful sentences. But probably most of all, I value the bond that humanity shares through narrative. There’s always a thread of connection in a person’s story to which I can relate. And those small connections can be healing, make us laugh, and bring us hope. At the very least, “connecting” to a person’s story is a welcomed reminder that we aren’t alone.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?
The biggest challenge is just being honest. Sometimes Christian culture can be sort of brutal on those who share the truth about their faith’s doubts, fears, and failures. Whenever one becomes honest, we run the risk of not fitting into our culture’s “ideal” Christian book. But I think honesty about faith is worth the price we pay, because people connect to a storyline that details a faith that is unwrapped or missing a few of its parts. At least, that’s the kind of faith I can relate to.

Favorite book – favorite movie – favorite TV show?
My favorite books…
“Naked” by David Sedaris (Love his storytelling style and humor)
“Grace (Eventually)” by Anne Lamott (Love her witty honesty about life and faith)
“Orthodoxy” by GK Chesterton (The ideal mix of wisdom, wit, and story)

My favorite TV shows…
“Grey’s Anatomy” (Fantastic storyline set to really good song choices)
“Dexter” (A raw look at the human condition–one of the best shows ever on television)
“Law & Order: SVU” (Sometimes a cheesy storyline that ties up in 60 minutes is the best kind of escape)

My favorite movies…
“Dead Man Walking” (Beautiful depiction of forgiveness and grace)
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (This Swedish-made film is filled with “Ah-ha” moments and mysteries–storytelling at its finest)
“District 9” (Good Sci-Fi tells a fascinating unbelievable story while offering commentary about how the film maker sees the world: This movie does both brilliantly)

How do you feel about blogging? Do you have a blog?
I love blogging. And yes, I blog: I also enjoy Tweeting–@JesusNeedsNewPR

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit.
Like those on the “Creative Non-fiction” panel, I think Rachel Held Evan’s book “Evolving in Monkey Town” is an ideal example of honest, compelling, well-written story. In addition to her story and the questions that she wrestles with, I love Rachel’s book because of its strong voice. She brings a unique and personal tone into her story. So often, “Christian” books–especially in the non-fiction category–all sound alike or similar. But not Rachel’s. Her personal “voice” shines throughout and is a welcomed breath of fresh (literary) air. Kudos to the panel for recognizing the creativity and light in “Monkey Town”!

Interview with Dean Nelson

Dean Nelson‘s book God Hides in Plain Sightis on the INSPYs shortlist for Creative Nonfiction.

Summary of God Hides in Plain Sight from Goodreads:

Have you ever had a conversation that went far deeper than the words spoken or an experience where you felt you had participated in something sacred? Although these situations may seem unexplainable, they are reminders that God’s grace surrounds us constantly and shows up in manifold ways. In this colorful, story-driven introduction to sacramental living, veteran journalist Dean Nelson offers all Christians a way to see the presence of God amid the chaos and monotony of everyday life. Each chapter emphasizes a different kind of sacramental moment, showing how it can be a lens through which we can see more of God.

Why did you write God Hides in Plain Sight?

I had been thinking about and experiencing the presence of God in the details of life, but didn’t know how to communicate this idea in any sustained or useful way. When I started considering the Seven Sacraments of the ancient Christian Church, I felt that this was a means by which to show others how God is fully Present in the Now — in meals, conversations, transitions, vocation — all of life.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?

The challenge was in wondering whether these sacred moments are just coincidences (I really don’t believe they are), and the benefit is in that by telling stories about this kind of thinking, it can awaken in others that same Holy Presence. Once you’re paying attention, you can see the activity of God in all of it.

Favourite book – favourite movie – favourite TV show?
Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow” is one of my favorite books. I read it while on a three-week hiking trip in Tibet. Favorite movie might be Shawshank Redemption. Or maybe Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (don’t watch that with your children). Favorite television show — do the Stanley Cup ice hockey playoffs count?

How do you feel about blogging? Do you have a blog?
I do blog, but not as often as I’d like to. I haven’t factored it into my routine yet, but I’m working on it. My blog is at

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit.
I would go back to Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. It has values, conflict, big questions, unresolved issues, and faith-driven characters. It’s a book that makes me want to live a better life.

Creative Nonfiction Judges

The 2010 Inspys Advisory Board is pleased to announce the judging panel for the category of Creative Nonfiction:

Ronnica is passionate about books and her faith, having degrees in history and ministry. She currently lives in North Carolina and blogs at the Ignorant Historian.

Kim Allen-Niesen
Los Angeles, CA
I’m co-founder and writer of Bookstore People, a blog that reviews independent bookstores and discusses various literary topics. I write personal essays that someday I’ll get around to sending out for publication. I’m currently finishing my training as a Spiritual Director through Christian Formation and Direction Ministries. I’m in elder in PCUSA although I am not actively serving at the moment. I am an attorney. I practiced for 18 years, but retired three years ago and currently only volunteer monthly with Christian Legal Aid.

Kristin Russell lives in Nashville with her husband and son. She is a hairstylist and writer, and you can find more of her at Hair in my Coffee.

Thomas Bingaman

I am a bum who needs God’s love and forgiveness. Most of my reading is non fiction, but I do enjoy the occasional fictional book. It is not uncommon for me to reread a book to catch anything that I might of missed the first time I read it.

Favorite books read this year:
Annie Dillard: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Pete Peterson: Fiddler’s Gun
Walt Wagerin Jr: Book of Sorrows
C.S. Lewis: The Great Divorce
Jared Diamond: Gun Germs and Steel the Fate of Human Societies

Currently Reading
Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddel-Hart
Jean Bethke Elshtain: The Jane Addams Reader

Amy Bennett is a 32 yo Christian WAHM to 7 and 5 year old girls and wife to a Highway Patrolman in South Carolina. She blogs at Permission to Peruse.