“What can you tell us about the Lambda Literary Awards that most people don’t know?” Blinded by camera lights, sweat trickling down my face, I considered the question. This was my first time at the awards. Why would I have any insider information? Was there some secret to be discovered? Are the Lammys controlled by the Illuminati? In the end I rambled incoherently, the camera man appearing relieved when I finally finished. Then I walked into the crowd of authors and book lovers to discover the truth for myself.
The evening began with a cocktail reception—an hour of free drinks and mingling that I wish had gone on longer. Not just because of the booze, but because this part of the Lammys was most conductive to conversation. The actual awards ceremony required respectful silence, and the music pumping at the after party made comprehension impossible. Only the cocktail reception provided the right environment for getting chatty. Picture a room filled with men and women dressed to the nines, half of whom (myself included) wore a “Holy crap! Who are all these people?” expression. The other half conversed comfortably, as if they spent all their time at such events. The situation would have been intimidating if not for the extremely supportive genre I work in. Case in point, fellow finalist Eden Winters soon tracked me down.
Absolutely ravishing in a gold dress and speaking in a smooth country drawl, Eden had me charmed in about two seconds flat. We were soon joined by talented novelist Barry Brennessel and his partner Dave before we set out to track down Jim Provenzano. Together we represented four of the five finalists in the gay romance category, leaving only Mel Bossa, who I don’t believe attended the event. I’m pleased to report no animosity among finalists, no hint of backhanded compliments or distasteful jabs. Romance consistently dominates best-seller lists of gay fiction, so I worried that egos would be involved. Instead, goodwill and kind gestures filled the evening, making me prouder than ever of our little community.
All too soon it was time for the awards ceremony. Even as we headed toward the auditorium, I was having misgivings about a winner being announced. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to win, but I also wanted the same for the other finalists. Every nominated author had friends, family or fans somewhere cheering them on, wanting the best for them. And each of my fellow finalists hoped this was the moment their hard work would be recognized by the most illustrious literary award for queer fiction. I felt nervous in equal parts about losing or winning, since neither option sounded ideal. To make matters worse, we weren’t allowed to bring our drinks to our seats. Maybe this was for legal reasons, or perhaps they wanted to prevent us from drinking ourselves into comas. Nerves and alcohol aren’t the best combination, although I bet I wasn’t the only one willing to risk it.
The celebrity guests and presenters have already been well covered by the press, but I will say it’s a testament to their talent that—despite my feverish wishing and worrying—I was soon able to relax and enjoy the show. The acceptance speeches were exceptionally moving, with a recurring theme of how books can soothe the feelings of alienation that haunt us while growing up. The diversity on display filled me with a similar comfort of community. Lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual and transgendered—all present were celebrating a love of books in general, not just those being honored this year.
Which brings me to the result of my own book. Something Like Summer didn’t take the prize. I kept telling Andreas beforehand that I would be okay no matter the result. When the winner was announced, I found that to be true. The title that did win, Jim Provenzano’s Every Time I Think of You, is an easy book to concede to. Not only is it beautifully written and well executed, but like me, Jim was one of the few self-published finalists this year. I know first-hand just how much work goes into being an indie author and how much more doubt there can be without a publisher backing you up. I would have been happy to see any of my fellow finalists win, but it felt like a victory for indie authors that a self-published book won a Lambda award this year. After the result was announced, poor Andreas held his breath for nearly half an hour waiting for me to get mopey, but after a bunch of reassuring smiles and hand squeezes (and a few kisses) he realized that things really were all right.
The after party was a stroke of genius. The winners got to celebrate their achievement and enjoy congratulations while the rest of us kept our spirits high on the dance floor. Now is probably a good time to remind you that all attending were either book worms or story tellers. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a dance floor filled with word nerds, and my presence there certainly didn’t help the cool factor, but damned if it wasn’t one of the most fun nights of my life. I’ve been to a lot of parties and defiled more than one dance floor, but because of the company I kept, the night was without compare.
If I could answer that initial question now, I would tell the camera man that the Lambda Literary Awards aren’t just about selecting the best books of the year. The Lammys are a celebration of who we are and who we love. It’s a tribute to those before us who hoisted the light of hope and inspiration. It’s also a message to those just beginning their journey, showing them that we have many reasons to come together and rejoice. And for an author, the Lambda Awards are a damn fine excuse to temporarily leave the lonely work days behind and make new friends. Someday I still hope to snag one of those pretty trophies, but even if I never do, getting to meet such fine people was prize enough for me.
Jay Bell is the author of Something Like Summer and Kamikaze Boys, books that are heavy on heart and have a touch of heat. He’s also written a couple of fantasy novels that are seriously in need of more love from you guys. For real! They’re needy!
*Super cool bonus!* Andreas has put together a PDF of photos and sketches he made during our trip to New York, including more shots of the Lammys. Check it out here. It’s free! Hitting the right arrow key should let you toggle through the pages.