The Saskatchewan Book Award speech I should have given

We’ve all laughed at those actors who win major awards and become completely flustered at the microphone, because they didn’t really expect to win and so they didn’t bother to compose an acceptance speech.

I have a little more sympathy with them now, because pretty much the same thing happened to me on November 30 at the Saskatchewan Book Awards gala dinner when, much to my astonishment, my novel Spirit Singer (Awe-Struck E-Books/Earthling Press) won the Regina Book Award for best book written by a Regina resident.

The other books shortlisted for the Regina Book Award were of such high caliber that, frankly, I still can’t believe Spirit Singer came out on top.  Just look at this list:  Ven Begamudré’s YA fantasy The Phantom Queen (Coteau Books); Gail Bowen’s latest, The Glass Coffin (McClelland & Stewart); Frances Greenslade’s non-fiction memoir, A Pilgrim in Ireland (Penguin Books); Norman Henderson’s Rediscovering the Great Plains (Johns Hopkins University Press), Britt Holmström’s novel The Wrong Madonna (Cormorant Books), and Dianne Warren’s collection of short stories A Reckless Moon (Raincoast Books). Several of these authors are previous Saskatchewan Book Award winners; A Pilgrim in Ireland won the Non-Fiction Award this year.

Fortunately, as I sat there watching the other winners receive their awards, I had been toying, in a kind of “wouldn’t-it-be-nice” sort of way, with what I might say if I were to win, understanding, of course, that I didn’t have a chance.

The result was that I said a little bit of what I wanted to say–but not everything.

And so, here’s the acceptance speech I would have given, had I written one in advance (lines in italic are ones I included in some form or other in what I actually said):

Thank you very much.  It’s very nice to win.  This award comes as a complete surprise to me, because I never in a million years expected to win in a category that includes such a stellar collection of short-listed books, particularly with a book that is both aimed at young adults and a fantasy novel, to boot.  Those of us who labor in the fields of science fiction and fantasy sometimes feel ourselves on the fringes of these kinds of awards; there are still plenty of people in the literary world who look down on science fiction and fantasy as second-rate forms of writing, not equal to mainstream ‘literature,’ and it’s nice to feel that perhaps that age-old condescension is beginning to fade somewhat.

“This award is gratifying for a couple of other reasons.  One is that this book was first published not in traditional paper format, but as an electronic book.  There are dozens of companies now that are publishing their books primarily, and sometimes solely, in electronic format.  You don’t hear much about them when e-books are discussed; in the media, most of the focus is on what the big traditional print houses are doing in the e-book field.

“When the independent e-book publishers do get mentioned, it’s usually with some of that same condescension that has long been the lot of science fiction and fantasy writers (and others who write in what are called ‘genres’–romance, mystery, etc.).  The accepted view seems to be that e-book originals must be second-rate, and that independent e-book publishers are little more than vanity publishers.

“There certainly are vanity e-book publishers out there, who will publish anything for a fee; but there are also many publishers, like my own, who edit and publish the work at their expense and recover their money from the sale of the books they publish, just like traditional publishers.

“I hope that the success of Spirit Singer may go some way toward convincing readers that there are good books to be had in e-book format, regardless of whether or not they are first published in paper by a traditional publishing house; that ‘original e-book’ doesn’t automatically translate to ‘bad book.’

“There’s a second reason I find this win gratifying.  My current project is a children’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, who is of course the father of this kind of book–and who was also a devout Christian.  Spirit Singer is the most implicitly–not explicitly, but implicitly–Christian of my books; I hope Tolkien, and his friend C. S. Lewis, would have approved.

“I hope my father would have approved, too.  He was a preacher in the Church of Christ, either full-time or occasional, all his life.  He would have been gratified if I had become a preacher, too, but it didn’t work out that way.  I don’t want to suggest that Spirit Singer is preachy, because it certainly isn’t, but while it is a pure fantasy set in a world where Christianity does not exist, its fantastic elements arise out of a Christian mindset…the mindset instilled in me by my father through an upbringing that is very much responsible for the kind of man I am today, and, inevitably, the fiction I write.

For that reason, I want to dedicate this award to my father, who died in April.

 “Thank you.

That’s what I wanted to say.  Of course, it would have been too long a speech…but I would have made it, if I had been prepared.

Instead, I’ve delivered it here.  Better late than never!

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