Today I am super excited to welcome the fabulous Jay Bell to the blog. Jay was one of the nominees for the Lambda Literary Awards, a prestigious award for LGBT writing, for his book Something Like Stories (yay Jay!). While he sadly did not win, he was kind enough to offer us his “boy reporter” services to share what the experience was like. So welcome Jay!
Award shows normally revolve around happy winners who are full of tearful “thank yous” and victorious grins. Ever wish they would focus on the losers instead? What are they going though? Are they crying for a different reason? Do they feel at all thankful? Well stick with me, because I’ve got the inside scoop. As you hopefully noticed, the Lambda Literary Awards took place on Monday in New York. Only a handful of awards exist to celebrate books that feature guys loving guys, and none are quite so illustrious or have such a deeply rooted history as the Lammys. You can learn more about their history on their site, but I want to transport you to the actual awards ceremony momentarily so you can experience it all for yourself. Ready? Let’s go!
Your night begins with a cocktail reception, and if you’re anywhere near as cosmopolitan as myself, this means you ask the bartender for a Coke because your stomach is already churning with nerves. Throwing alcohol into the mix could have disastrous—perhaps even volcanic—consequences. The hors d’oeuvres are ignored too, since they lack the comfort that only rich desserts can provide. Instead you opt to have your photo taken on the red carpet. Smile! Very nice. Now it’s time to mingle, which is intimidating in itself because everyone is dressed so sharply, and as a result, they all look terribly important. Luckily you’re in good company, and as you talk with one person and then another, you start to have fun. Writing is a solitary business. Sure, we’ve got editors and cover artists, but most of those interactions take place as long distance correspondences. Switching from flying solo to being surrounded by a small herd of equally bemused writers is an adjustment at first, but a good one, and it doesn’t take long before that room full of strangers starts to feel more like friends.
Then the actual ceremony begins, and this is where it gets tense for any attending finalist. You want to know one thing and one thing only: Did you win? There are quite a few categories to get through first, each with their own amazing books and hopeful creators. The organizers don’t allow anyone to take alcohol into the actual ceremony, which is probably wise, because the temptation to drink yourself silly—stomach be damned—while waiting for the results is too great. It’s fortunate then that the master of ceremonies, Kate Clinton, is an exceptional entertainer and keeps tension in check with her cutting sense of humor. This is a welcome distraction, and not the only one. As the proceedings unfold, one highlight is watching the various winners take the stage. Not a single person accepts their award without great emotion. Tears are shed, stories are told in shaking voices, and many hearts are moved. Others are clearly empowered by their victory, the trans community especially and those who are more fluid in their gender identity. Their battle for equality is just beginning, and with a long road ahead, a prestigious award acts as a form of validation, and more importantly, will provide lasting encouragement. Then the big moment draws neigh. They’ve announced your category! Your name and your book’s cover art appears on the screen, but you can’t really focus because your nerves are back in full force, and you’re wishing you had prepared an acceptance speech. Just in case. Then the fateful envelope is opened and the winner is revealed, but is it you?
In my case it wasn’t. Running with that scenario, imagine how you feel when someone else’s name is called, and they aren’t even there to accept the award. You are though, along with your friends and maybe even a spouse, all of you putting on a brave face, when admittedly, everyone is feeling bummed. This passes quickly though. It’s not hard to get back into the spirit as more authors take the stage to claim their prize—and hey, at least the suspense is over. You can relax now, and if you have any trouble with that, there’s the after party. Drinking and dancing! What better way to blow off steam and shake away disappointment? Any glum faces you see when first arriving at the party soon look a lot happier, including your own. Those who don’t win often say it’s still a great honor to be nominated, and you know what? It’s true.
As for me, I honestly wasn’t expecting to win. My nominated novel, Something Like Stories, is an odd book. It’s the seventh in a series, comprised of short stories highlighting minor characters, with a character guide and timeline at the end. Stories is an unusual release for me, and I couldn’t imagine any judges who hadn’t read the first six books getting the full emotional impact. (Although anyone wanting to start from the beginning can currently get the Something Like Summer eBook for free). So I was okay with not winning. I had already won previously and was one of those dreadful people who couldn’t make it to the ceremony that year. Because of that, I never got my moment on stage, and while I would still love that chance, I left the celebrations this year feeling enriched. Not only that, but I found a new appreciation for just how important these awards are.
The Lammys aren’t a popularity contest. I’ve seen oft overlooked books win, despite not having the backing of a major publisher or impressive sales figures. It’s for writers such as these that an award can be so beneficial. Too many talented authors in this genre have become discouraged and given up. Winning an award—especially in such a grand fashion—provides comfort on those dark and doubtful days. No matter how bad the royalty checks are, or how dismissive the reviews, at least a Lambda award winner can comfort themselves with that beautiful glass trophy, and finalists can still hold their heads high and reminisce about the amazing ceremony they attended. The Lammys don’t pull any punches when it comes to making this genre feel just as significant as those cluttering up airport bookstores, and I can’t think of any other time of year that authors of queer literature get to feel like rock stars.
The Lambda Literary Awards also helped remind me what a powerful force for change queer literature can be, and how many lives it helps heal. So many voices are shouting into the void, and I’m proud that this organization takes some of the most underrepresented and provides a platform from which they can be heard. Any time books are elevated and celebrated, whether through the Lammys or a review site like this one, we all benefit. In that way—be you author, publisher, or reader—we are all winners.