Monday, June 25, 2012

ABNA Re-Cap with Winner Alan Averill

In this year's ABNA series, Alan Averill has the last word.

Hey, everyone. I'm Alan Averill, the dude who won the general fiction portion of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Gabrielle has invited me to write a guest post here on her fabulous blog, and so of course I was more than happy for the opportunity. Unfortunately for her, I'm also kind of drunk with power. A guest blog post? I've never written a guest blog post before. This is crazy! I can talk about WHATEVER I WANT! Like, for example, did you know that the three-toed sloth takes more than a month to digest its food? No kidding. Here, take a look at this lazy guy:

D'aaaaw! He's so cute! Look how lazy he is, just hanging there like that!

...Huh? I'm supposed to talk about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award? ...Really? Oh. Well, this is awkward. Um, right. Okay. Let's do that then. Although the sloth is a lot cuter than me. I'm just saying.

So I entered the ABNA back in January. My book, The Beautiful Land, had been trying and failing to find a publisher (or even an agent) for the past 2 1/2 years, and I figured I had nothing to lose by sending it into the contest. And so I sent it in and then promptly forgot about it until I started getting email notifications that I was passing through the various stages. By the time I got to the final three, I was a nervous wreck. And when last Friday finally rolled around, I was relived that it would finally be over one way or the other.

So on Friday, Amazon and CreateSpace flew everyone out to Seattle. ..Did I say everyone? Ha ha! I meant to say everyone but me. See, I live in Seattle. More than that, I actually live about four miles from downtown Seattle where the festivities were being held. So I took the light rail to the hotel rather than flying -- which is fine, by the way. I'd thought about heading out to some obscure island in the Puget Sound and making Amazon fly me in via helicopter, but that seemed like pushing my luck in the big scheme of things. Anyhoo, Friday night the finalists all got together for dinner, which was great. We all kind of adored each other from the get-go, and I'm not sure if we're all just magically compatible or had some kind of foxhole camaraderie going on or what, but yeah, it was a big lovefest. We ate dinner, looked at the water, and talked about writing and life and all that. I don't actually have a lot of writer friends, so it was kind of fun to hit the books as it were. After that a couple of us went to a local watering hole for a beer before heading to bed.

Saturday morning we all met again for breakfast, along with a couple of Penguin reps and a man named Thom Kephart. Thom works for Amazon, and as far as I can tell his job is basically to be the Wolf from Pulp Fiction. Any time things seemed like they were going to break, Thom was there being all calm and fixing them. I'm kind of envious of him, because I'm more of a panic-and-freak-out kind of guy. Anyway, breakfast was over by 9 and everyone went their separate ways. The other contestants went out to see the city sights, but since I live here and had already seen them, my wife and I decided to go see a movie. I was really nervous at this point -- and hadn't slept much the night before -- and we thought something calm and quiet would be appropriate. 

...So of course, we went to see Prometheus. 

I don't know if you've seen that movie, and I won't spoil anything here, but let me just say that if you're looking for a calm, quiet film, this is NOT it. I walked out of the theatre even more panicked than when I'd come in, which of course was not the point at all. So with visions of disembowelments running through our heads, my wife and I changed clothes and headed over to the main event. 

I'll cut through the rest of the night because it's pretty much one big blur anyway. They offered us food, which I was too nervous to eat. I walked around and met some nice people whose names I cannot remember. Some people talked for a bit -- including the finalists, who were all poised and clever and spoke like they had been doing it all their lives. And then there was me, who decided five minutes before I went up there to rewrite my entire speech. I think it went well, but honestly I can't remember. And then, after all that, they finally announced the winners. Regina Sirois (a woman from Kansas who literally could NOT be nicer) and me.

It's strange to fight for something your entire life and suddenly have it happen. I've been writing since I was a little kid, and seeing my work in a bookstore has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. And when someone stands behind a podium and tells you that's actually going to work out, your brain doesn't really know how to react. There's this combination of relief and joy and almost...I don't know. Sadness? That's not quite the right word, but it's close. I've been trying to scale this mountain for so damn long, and all of a sudden I'm coming down the other side and my brain just didn't know what to do. I know I talked to people after they called my name. I know I got up in front of them and said...something. And I know a lot of folks were gracious and kind and very, very good to me. I wish I could remember it so I could call them out here and thank them by name, but it's gone. Seriously just gone. Biggest night of my life and the middle of it is just this weird blank blur. 

I've calmed down some since then, but the surrealness of the entire event has not gone away. I've talked to my editor at Penguin. I'm doing interviews (and guest blog posts wooo!) on various sites. And I'm actually starting to think about life after this, and about my next book, and about how, with some dedication and a lot of luck, I might actually be able to make a living out of this. Not a crazy living, mind you. I'm not going to buy a gold car anytime soon. But enough to feed the dog and pay the bills and keep the walls of my stomach from clanging together. I might be able to actually get paid for making up stories, which is something I've been doing for free my entire life. And that, man, is just incredible.

So big thanks to Amazon, CreateSpace, and Penguin for hosting this contest. There is not another even like it in the world, and it's such an extraordinary opportunity for writers. If you're thinking about entering, do it. Do it, do it, do it now, because there is no way in hell that I should be here right now, and yet I am. Which means you can be here too. Also thanks to my fellow contestants -- all of whom are amazing. And finally, thanks to Gabrielle for letting me hijack her blog. It's got to be hard to work on a blog every day and all of a sudden find a big oaf like me stumbling around in it, but she seems to be handling it with grace and tact. 

PS - What's that? You want another picture of the sloth? In a box? While he's smiling? Aw, sure! Why not?!

1 comment:

Gail said...

Congrats, Alan! Loved your description of what it felt like to have this wonderful achievement. Well deserved!