My First Win


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Photo: Donna F. Aceto

I can be so awful, especially when I get nervous. That’s my excuse anyway. It was certainly the one I used on the night of the Lambda Literary Awards. I was grumpy and rotten to my girlfriend Jemma. I shouldn’t have been. But when I want something—badly—I tend to behave badly.

From the start, it was a weird experience. I found out, by accident, that I had been nominated for the award. My publisher submitted my book Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, without my knowledge and I just happened to stumble upon the nomination list online.

After waiting impatiently for months, I nearly jumped out of my chair when I saw my name on the list of finalists.

I quickly Googled my competitors in my category Bisexual. Wow. I was thrilled to be included in such amazing company: Lisa Diamond for Sexual Fluidity, Honor Moore for The Bishop's Daughter, Ron Suresha for Kinsey Zero Through Sixty and Edmund White for Rimbaud.

I started preparing my “Congratulations—I’m so happy for you—You really deserve it” face. I mean these writers are serious competiition. The Bishop’s Daughter had been reviewed in Newsweek. Edmund White has written a zillion books and was being honored by Lambda Literary with a 2008 Pioneer Award. And Ron Suresha is a seasoned writer and editor.

It was at that moment when I realized this was going to be one of those “it was an honor just to be a finalist” sort of situations. I partly wanted to go to the ceremony to be a part of all the excitement and halfway didn’t—because I was so sure I couldn’t possibly win.

But Jemma insisted that we go. She was convinced that I would win and sure that even if I didn’t, it would be a great chance to meet writers and other players in the LGBT publishing universe—not to mention spend a weekend in one of our favorite places, New York City.

I took plenty of time making travel arrangements, but what I didn’t do, was write any kind of speech. And, weirdest of all, I didn’t buy, let alone shop for, anything to wear. In my world, that is some serious denial. But the night before we left for New York, I remembered I had a brand new dress hanging in the closet. I knew I’d need it for something.

When we finally arrived in New York City, I felt terribly unmotivated to go anywhere. Our flight got in late. We had a hip, comfy suite at Smyth Tribeca. It was raining, and there was tons of construction around the hotel.

Reluctantly, I tied back my hair, pulled on my dress and white patent stilettos, and let Jemma drag me into a cab.

And that is when my bad behavior really set in. We were running late, of course. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Traffic was at a standstill and I was nervous—really nervous. I bitched and moaned about how we would never make it and how we shouldn’t even bother to go.

When the cab dropped us off in front of the venue, I crossed against the light and almost got run over. We raced in the building. And, as luck would have it, we were actually a few minutes early. I had the time wrong—of course. We found my editor, Brooke Warner, and publisher, Krista Lyons-Gould, from Seal Press, had a quick glass of wine and headed in.

While looking for our seats, I got the opportunity to meet Charles Flowers, executive director of the Foundation. He told us to keep looking, my name had to be somewhere. We never did find it. So we settled on a pair of seats about halfway up the theater in the middle of the row.

By that point, my grumpiness had given way to full-on nervousness. I kept trying to will myself to enjoy the experience, to be in the moment, but I was like a little girl who couldn’t quite get settled into her seat, and I was relieved when the ceremony finally started. Two awards were given right at the start. Then my category came up. “And the nominees for the Lambda Literary Award in bisexual writing are…”

They said each of our names and showed our book covers on a giant screen on the stage. I realized I was holding my breath.

“And the winner is…” They opened the envelope just like at the Oscars. “Jenny Block for Open.” I don’t think I realized at first that they called my name. I sat there, sort of frozen, until I heard Jemma say, “You won, baby. You won. You have to go up there.”

It felt like the longest walk ever. “I’m sorry it took me so long,” I said when I finally reached the podium. “But I’m wearing my big girl shoes.” I apologized for not preparing anything. I thanked my girlfriend and editor and publisher, completely forgot to thank my husband, daughter, and parents and somehow managed to walk across the stage and back to my seat.

I sat in shock. I tried not to cry (I am a very ugly crier). Jemma kept looking at me and grinning. And the rest of the show went by in a flash as did the reception afterwards.

I still can’t really believe it. Whenever you want something really, really badly and then actually get it, It just seems surreal—and lucky. Very lucky. And, I’ve got to tell you, it feels good. Really good.

Would I do anything differently? Just one thing—despite all my nervousness, I’d thank all the people in my life who made winning that Lammy possible. Writing, as solitary an experience as it might seem, is actually anything but. And I didn’t write Open or win a Lammy alone.

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