Gregory Hill’s novel, “East of Denver,” beat out 5,000 entrants to win the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
In the book, son Shakespeare Williams returns to his family’s shambling farm, “east of Denver,” in Eastern Colorado to care for his father, Emmett, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Together, the father-son pair plan a bank robbery.
Hill, a library assistant at Penrose Library, wrote his novel, “East of Denver,” to capture a less depressing side of Alzheimer’s disease through dark humor after his father was diagnosed several years ago.
The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest is an annual event. It is sponsored by publishing companies such as Amazon.com, Penguin Group, Hewlett Packard and CreateSpace, and was introduced in 2007 to help unpublished authors.
The contest is judged in five rounds by editors and top reviewers from these companies in addition to Amazon customer voting entries.
According to Hill, he had no great expectations for “East of Denver.” He entered his novel into the contest and didn’t give it another thought.
For Hill, the process of writing was simply an enjoyable experience, he had no expectations.
As the grand-prize winner for the general fiction category of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, Hill received a publishing contract with Penguin Group and a $15,000 advance.
“It was a very big surprise after getting so many rejection letters. I’m still getting rejection letters for ‘East of Denver’ in my mailbox,” said Hill.
Hill is a 1995 graduate of CU-Boulder with a BA in English Literature. He began his writing career with 130 rejection letters for his first unpublished novel.
According to Hill, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy made him realize a book does not necessarily need a plot to be a good read, and thus “East of Denver” was born.
According to a Time Magazine book review by Lev Grossman, the book has only the barest “ghost of a plot.” But Grossman goes on to explain the characters and voices are strong enough that the book doesn’t need more than a ghost.
The novel “East of Denver” took Hill about two years to complete. Hill says he wrote sporadically with an average of only four hours per week.
“I sit and wait until an idea appears, something that seems clever. Then I let it simmer for a few months and will not start writing until I have the first and last line figured out. All I have to do is fill in the middle,” said Hill.
Hill didn’t write the book for any reason other than the pleasure of the process.
“Every second was pure joy. I had no expectations. When you create art without expectations all the greed falls away and all that remains is refined sugary goodness,” said Hill.
Hill has been working at the Penrose library as a library assistant for 11 years. After spending so much time with books and purchasing books for the library’s collection, Hill’s appreciation of books and authors has grown. Hill says being around books all the time has helped him realize the honor of being recognized for his work.
“After having seen thousands of books by great authors move past my desk, it’s a truly humbling experience to be published,” said Hill.
Hill offered some advice for aspiring authors.
“When I was in college, I heard over and over that no one writes a good novel until they’re 30. I didn’t write until my thirties and that was a mistake,” said Hill.
This novel isn’t the end for Hill’s writing career. His love of writing fueled, Hill has plans for the future.
Besides harboring a secret ambition to do stand-up comedy, the author is working on his next novel.
“I’m mostly through with my next novel. It’s the tale of two brothers in 1975. One is a rancher, the other is a part of the American Basketball Association. It involves prehistoric megafauna,” said Hill, who adds that he is a big fan of the giant sloth.
“East of Denver” will be published on July 5.
Mark your calendars because the author will be doing a reading of his work at the Tattered Cover Bookstore on 2526 East Colfax at 7 p.m.